"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (30th anniversary revisit)

July 3, 1991

There are a few interesting summer of ’91 movies – STONE COLD, THE ROCKETEER, HARLEY DAVIDSON & THE MARLBORO MAN – that I skipped in this series because I’d already reviewed them in a form I felt satisfied with. If I had more time I would’ve like to revisit them for completism, but you know how it is.

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY is one I wrote about in 2007 (with a pretty good comparison to E.T.) and more definitively in 2017 on the occasion of its 3D re-release. But when I decided to do a summer of ’91 series I knew it was the summer of T2 and it had to be included. So this is meant as a supplemental review about its place in 1991, but I think I’ve come up with some pretty meaty stuff to discuss (in addition to silly stuff about toys and video games and crap if you’re more interested in that).

This is the fifth part 2 (including 2 1/2s) of the summer – after FX2, MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE, NAKED GUN 2 1/2 and SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER – so let’s start by examining its approach to sequelization. In 1985, James Cameron told Cinefantastique “we’ve got a story worked out” for a TERMINATOR sequel, and that there were “two ways it could go… It will either wait 18 months until we’re done with ALIEN II and then we may do it. I have a suspicion they won’t want to wait that long because they’ll want to follow closer on the heels of the film’s success. In that case what will happen is that we will oversee it at one remove, and select a director. We’ve got a story worked out, but it hasn’t gone beyond the talk stage.”

Fortunately he was wrong – due to rights disputes between Hemdale and Carolco it took 7 years, during which time he not only made ALIENS but also THE ABYSS, and innovations in computer generated imagery pioneered on the latter made the “mimetic poly-alloy” Terminator possible. That’s maybe the most unlikely part of TERMINATOR’s leap from part 1 to part 2: that it went from low budget underdog to groundbreaking reinvention of cinema. It’s hard to express to people who weren’t there how new it was to see something like the T-1000. The liquid metal turning into Robert Patrick, and then Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video 4 months later, made the world fascinated with “morphing.” We had seen increasingly impressive practical and optical effects throughout the heyday of ILM in the ‘80s, but they all seemed like they were progressions of tried and true techniques. This felt like something we’d never seen before, never thought about before.

It was such a once-in-a-lifetime intersection of cool idea and game-changing technology that it has completely ham-stringed every subsequent Terminator sequel (which have indeed been done with Cameron “at one remove”), because no variation on a Terminator ever seems as new and incredible as the T-1000 did. So that’s one major reason why this is a great sequel, but far from the only one.

It opens with a redo of the future war sequences from the first film. Kind of like how the beginning of EVIL DEAD 2 was sort of a remake of the first film done with more filmmaking experience and resources (in this case approximately 15 times the budget of the first film). The look is very similar (still taking place at night and feeling like a horrible nightmare) but with improved effects and larger scale. The landscape no longer seems crammed onto a small soundstage, there are more skulls, more soldiers, more Hunter-Killers, and it’s easy to forget but the look of the T-800 endoskeleton was a surprise reveal in THE TERMINATOR – he gets blown up and you’d think he’d be dead but he emerges as a still functioning (if limping) metal skeleton. So we take it for granted now, but the opening featuring a bunch of Stan Winston’s creations marching into battle is announcing okay, we are continuing from there, but bigger and badder.

Yes, it follows some beats from the original. You got your Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator and your other guy being zapped into present day L.A. naked (improved optical effects there), stealing clothes and weapons and searching for a Connor – this time Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, KING KONG LIVES)’s ten year old (no fucking way – to me he’s 13 for sure) son John (introducing Edward Furlong), the future leader of the human resistance, boss and son of Kyle Reese, who said he “taught us to smash those motherfuckers into junk.”

His life is very different from his mom’s, so this cat and mouse section is very different, not to mention the great new twist that both visitors from the future are Terminators and one was reprogrammed to protect him. The heart of the story is this buddy movie between a kid and a musclebound robot that does whatever he says. Sarah later talks about him as a father figure, but he’s more like a dog. He teaches him stuff, hangs out with him, gets him to do tricks, laughs at him, gets frustrated with him.

One thing I thought about during this millionth viewing is what an unusual but perfect dynamic this premise provides. It’s always entirely believable that John asks this robot question after question about how he and the T-1000 work, sometimes to understand what’s going on and sometimes just because he thinks it’s fuckin cool and wants to know more. It’s also built-in that the Terminator will answer every one of these questions straight forwardly without hesitation. That gives Cameron an absurdly easy method for explaining all the rules of this world that will be important and/or that he wanted us to know because they’re cool.

And it’s just very unusual to have a main character who will always answer questions directly and literally, not argue or hesitate or hold something back. He’ll tell John if he disagrees but he won’t argue. When he almost kills those random musclemen in the parking lot and John yells “Put the gun down!” he instantly places it on the ground. No questions asked. You wouldn’t want every character to be like this, but it’s really cool to have one.

(Again, there’s no equivalent in the first movie.)

Another job for some great sequels is to take a character we like and push them to a new and even more interesting place. Of course Cameron had done that outstandingly in ALIENS. Ripley was already a great character in ALIEN, but I think in her Oscar nominated performance in ALIENS Sigourney Weaver took it to the next level – such a full and interesting character processing the trauma of what she’s been through and lost, then reluctantly going back to where it happened because she’s the best one for the job, clashing philosophically with much of the team, but bonding with Hicks and Newt, before facing the down the Queen with both more physical force and more emotional layers than anything in the already perfect first film.

Without being a repeat, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor goes through an equally impressive transformation. I love the way it follows up on the ending of THE TERMINATOR but not directly – we find out that yes, she stayed in Mexico to have her son and train him for leadership, but at some point she “tried to blow up a computer factory, but she got shot and arrested.” The first shot of her in the sequel starts on her now-ripped arms as she does pullups in her cell in the maximum security wing of the Pescedero State Hospital For the Criminally Insane.

As I mentioned in my RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II review last year, Cameron’s draft opened with Rambo in a mental hospital, and I’m glad he got to use that for this instead. This script is co-written with William Wisher, who had provided additional dialogue for THE TERMINATOR, wrote the novelization, and acted in the Cameron films Xenogenesis, THE TERMINATOR and THE ABYSS.

I really believe that the primary archetype for what constitutes a “badass woman” in movies from the past 30 years came specifically from a template trying to copy T2 Sarah Connor. As an example, when the now-semi-cancelled Joss Whedon was a writer on the original TOY STORY he wanted to include Barbie, who would’ve driven up and said “Come with me if you want to live” as she rescued Woody from Sid’s house in “a commando style raid.” So his idea of the opposite of what you would expect from Barbie was Sarah Connor. The archetypical female action hero of the ‘90s.

But that template never captured Sarah in full. You can put on a tank top, army pants and sunglasses and smoke cigarettes like Sarah, but that’s not gonna get you there. You can have attitude, but that’s not enough either. The woman we saw forced to go from waitress to humanity’s hope overnight without missing a beat has been hardened in every way over the 7 years – physically of course, but also emotionally (the older I get the more crushing it is to see her repeatedly reject John’s attempts to connect with her) and with her world view (being the only one who knows that 3 billion people are going to die in the near future will fuck you up).

These days there are criticisms of this type of character for allegedly empowering women by simply giving them traits perceived as masculine. Or, more specifically, by making them violent. I wouldn’t dismiss that outright, and don’t feel qualified to. But I think there’s much more to Sarah Connor than muscles and gun training. She’s really fuckin cool in that way that I know no better word for than “badass,” but it’s not in the obvious way. She’s complicated. Damaged. Furious. She has no time to be fun or nice. But you do know she loves her son. And that she’s learning from him. In some ways her utter badassness is a symptom of her pain – a flailing attempt to convince herself she can deal with the un-deal-with-able. It’s hopeless, but what the fuck else is she supposed to do? She has a job to do with her kid and she fuckin does it. She has to prepare him to save humanity, and right now she has to protect him from this fucking newfangled Terminator.

I’ve long noted how the T-1000 (Robert Patrick, DIE HARD 2), one of the scariest cinematic villains of the ‘90s, spends most of the movie (by choice!) in the form of an LAPD officer, four months after the beating of Rodney King had put the spotlight on them as a particularly brutal police department. One thing I hadn’t thought much about is that, were it not for the marketing telling us Arnold was the good guy and this dude was the bad guy, we would’ve been meant to assume not only that Arnold was the one coming for John, but that this other guy was the Kyle Reese, the one referred to in Sarah’s voiceover when she says “As before, the Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John.”

So (completely by accident) the character could sort of follow the arc of many naive white people of the time who thought of cops as Officer Friendly until the advent of consumer camcorders showed them what kind of savagery a mob of the motherfuckers would love to do to a human being if presented with the opportunity. That would’ve been a pretty cool switch up.

Instead we know from the beginning what’s up, and we know the irony of him acting like he’s a nice guy here “to protect and serve” (the motto painted on his car showcased in a shot repeated from the first movie). It’s a movie that sides with the so-called troublemakers who have been failed by these authorities. Since being taken away from his mother, John has been arrested for trespassing, shoplifting, disturbing the peace and vandalism, and apparently hasn’t been caught yet for hacking ATM machines. His current foster parents Todd (Xander Berkeley, who was in TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME with Hamilton) and Janelle (Jenette Goldstein, who in the first five years of her career racked up Vasquez in ALIENS, Diamondback in NEAR DARK, an episode of Max Headroom, plus parts in MIRACLE MILE and LETHAL WEAPON 2) have “had it with that goddamn kid” and see him as a pain in the ass juvenile delinquent. “That’s right, officer. What’s he done now?”

But we get to see that this supposedly bad kid is not only a good kid, but represents a way ahead for humanity specifically because he rebels but rejects violence and searches for kinder solutions than those his mom believes are necessary. He makes the Terminator follow his non-killing rules and disobeys what he’s been taught by risking himself to rescue his mother and then to stop her from enacting a Machiavellian assassination plan (though she thinks better of it before he arrives). Other than that unfortunate, aborted terrorizing of computer genius Miles Dyson (Joe Morton, THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET) and family (S. Epatha Merkerson, SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT and DeVaughn Nixon, TO SLEEP WITH ANGER), the Connor crew exclusively battles cops and security guards who don’t know what’s going on and are unwittingly fighting for the benefit of our future machine overlords. Just doing their jobs. The T-1000, on the other hand, guns down a random mall janitor, tosses a truck driver (Cameron’s former job) out of his vehicle, and slaughters the innocent (even if they’re dicks according to John and his friend) foster parents.

One horrible irony that really jumps out at me in this day and age is that after Sarah decides to spare Dyson’s life, even though she believes killing him would save human civilization, some random cop (Dean Norris, I believe) who has no idea who Dyson is or what’s going on in the building just casually shoots him anyway. Given the information the police have they should assume he’s a hostage, but they just run in and kill him for no reason. One of the most accurate things in the movie.

Since this is a summer retrospective this is my chance to talk about all the merchandise and other tie-ins for T2. Like many a mainstream movie aimed at adults, they had a music tie-in. The movie poster was on the cover of the single for John’s favorite Guns ’N’ Roses song, “You Could Be Mine.” But there’s not an album’s worth of popular music – the soundtrack was the great score by Brad Fiedel.

And only now have I learned that there was an unauthorized “Terminator 2 Dance Theme” by someone called “The Object.” It’s kind of a MORTAL KOMBAT-ty electronic dance version of Fiedel’s main theme. There are different remixes, but at least one version has samples of a fake Arnold saying “Hasta la vista, baby” and (for some reason) an interview with “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase about Survivor Series.

But even though T2 was aimed primarily at adults, nobody was fooling themselves – it was the movie of the summer for kids too. In those days we agreed as a society that a violent R-rated sequel to a low budget movie by a Roger Corman guy could also sometimes be the most exciting movie of the summer and that kids might as well get in on it with toys and video games and shit.

Like DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD, SUBURBAN COMMANDO and SCANNERS II, T2 has a major scene set an arcade. And of course it was adapted into multiple video games: an arcade one, I think two different versions made for NES and other systems, one for the Gameboy…

…which actually spends more than half of the (admittedly short) game with adult John Connor breaking in, capturing and reprogramming the Terminator that becomes Uncle Bob. And it has some adorable art of little John Connor, complete with Public Enemy t-shirt. Yet another video game adaptation of the movie was released in 1993 for the Sega Genesis and Super NES. Also at that time there was Terminator 2 Judgment Day Chess Wars. “Terminator Is Back… In a Deadly Game of Chess!” (A chess game with Terminator characters who then fight in a futuristic battlefield.)

There was also a pinball machine and CD-ROMs of things like screen savers and audio clips. And a board game. And of course Topps trading cards and stickers. And some pretty cool model kits.

Beginning in September, Marvel Comics published a 3-issue comic book adaptation. These things are not usually very good, but kind of interesting to me to imagine how much of the completed film was available to them when they made it. They certainly captured the look of John Connor in his Public Enemy t-shirt, and subtleties like how fuckin cool Sarah looks running down the Pescedero hallway with the absconded baton.

But some scenes you gotta assume they didn’t see how it was staged in the movie (video arcade) or what the actors look like (Todd looks more like Bruce Wayne than Xander Berkeley; they definitely didn’t know what Danny Cooksey’s Tim was gonna look like; Dr. Silberman is a chubby guy, like maybe they didn’t realize he was the same character from the first movie). Of course, some of the R-rated language has been goofily rewritten like a TV dub (“Your foster parents are kinda dorks, huh John?”; “Chill out, jerkwad.”) But even while condensing the story, there’s at least one big scene we didn’t get to see until the special edition released on video in 1993: the one where they open up the Terminator’s head to turn his learning switch on, and John has to stop Sarah from smashing the CPU with a hammer.

The adaptation is credited to Gregory Wright. According to Wikipedia he was a writer for Marvel Comics such as Sensational She-Hulk, Deathlok and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. With artist Jackson Guice he created a Daredevil character called Crippler who is said to be based on Willem Dafoe in STREETS OF FIRE.

The coolest thing about the adaptation is that it’s drawn by Klaus Janson, who I think is best known as Frank Miller’s inker on the entire-pop-culture-of-the-world-changing mini-series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I love that Janson’s art here completely avoids the formulaic super hero drawing styles of the time in favor of a more expressionistic cartooniness. A few panels are awkward or don’t look as much like the actors, and I’m sure some people would hate it, but I think that’s a worthwhile trade off for some really stylish reinterpretations (or preinterpretations?) of classic moments from “THE NEW SMASH HIT FILM!”

“Aye-firmative” – one of two little ALIENS nods in the adaptation.

And yes, despite being a violent R-rated movie, there were many toys. These included Micro Machines (tiny vehicles and figurines of the truck, Hunter Killers, a T-800 skull that opens up with a miniature playset inside), Action Masters (2.5” die cast metal figurines) and best and worst of all a fairly ridiculous line of Kenner action figures.

As I have noted in some of the other summer movie reviews like DICK TRACY and ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, the early ‘90s was a weird time when they were still making toys of wannabe-event-movies like had been so successful for STAR WARS, but the aesthetics had somehow evolved to this hideous type of Saturday morning cartoon design that puffs out the characters into inelegant blobs that neither resemble the actors in the movie or something that a person would want to purposely look at. The worst offender by far is DICK TRACY, where some maniac thought they could get away with smooshing human bodies into the shape of their popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys. I am not a religious person but that was specifically what the Bible was talking about when it said not to do bad stuff.

These are much, much better than that, but they’re pretty ugly little guys, especially after they add the different gimmicks they felt they needed to sell multiple versions of a couple characters. And the funniest part is that they created new characters. Along with all the variations on the T-101 (Battle Damage Repair Terminator, Meltdown Terminator, Power Arm Terminator, Secret Weapon Terminator), T-800 (Endoglow Terminator, Techno-Punch Terminator) and T-1000 (White-Hot T-1000, Exploding T-1000) and a John Connor with motorcycle they have, of course, “Cyber-GripTM with Crushing Claw Action! CYBER-GRIP is the most sinister cyborg of them all! When TERMINATOR gets too close, CYBER-GRIP can reach out and crush him with the awesome crushing power of his Cyber-Claw. Only the strength of TERMINATOR will be able to combat the evil CYBER-GRIP.”

It’s interesting to me that they could make up a character so absurd (he looks more like a Borg or a HELLRAISER III Cenobite than anything to do with Terminator) and stick it on such a beautiful painting for the packaging! Also note here that you can get a free making of TERMINATOR 2 video when you buy any three TERMINATOR 2 toys. Keep that in mind. For example, you could get this ugly fucker right here, Blaster T-1000. I guess they had to make him wide to accommodate the hidden rocket launcher inside him, but did they have to give him those asshole sunglasses? I wonder if he was one of those ones like we saw with ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES where they take a character from some other toyline and alter him?

They also had a “Heavy Metal Cycle – Launches Hyper Missile” the Terminator action figure could maybe steal from some GI Joes acting as bikers, plus “Mobile Assault Vehicle – Launches Attack Missile!,” and the “Bio-Flesh Regenerator Playset and Refills” that molded some kind of jelly over an endoskeleton so you could “Create Your Own Terminator Then Tear Him Apart in ‘Battle!’” I don’t know how crappy the molding substance is but on paper it seems like a cool idea.

The toys continued to roll out into 1992, and then they started a new line called Terminator 2 Future War, which gives us stuff like 3-Strike Terminator, Hot-Blast Terminator, Rapid Repair Terminator, etc., plus a re-release of Cyber-Grip and a horned robot called Kromium who “Grows into a Towering Foe!”

There were also larger sized “Ultimate Terminators” with battle sounds, light up eyes or talking.

Here’s a non-poseable figurine that according to the ebay listing is from ’92 and is 11” tall. It doesn’t mention this but it also would look good on my desk.

The products continued for several years. In 1995 a company called Toy Island, who had been making many ROBOCOP toys for a few years, were given the license by Carolco to make cheap-ass figures from a few other titles. So here’s “T-1000 Morphing Liquid Metal Terminator with Special Weapon Accessory,” with packaging that makes it look like it comes from a cartoon. They also had “Endoskeleton, Not a Man – A Machine with Phase Plasma Rifle” and “The Future of Law Enforcement Robocop The Series with M-16 Battle Rifle,” and I actually have one like this for “Rambo, Champion of Liberty with Crossbow.”

When the T2-3D: BATTLE ACROSS TIME movie ride arrived at Universal Studios in 1997, Kenner repackaged six of the figures for that. They also made a funny looking battle damaged Terminator 12” doll and I’m sure there were plenty of trinkets just sold at the theme park. I never experienced the ride, but it apparently had two new robot designs they could’ve made toys of if their hearts were really in it. Instead, I learned from ebay, they made cheap shit like this badge that says “Police Officer” and then (if available) your name and then “T-1000TM.”

I was a teenager when T2 came out and wasn’t really aware of most of this stuff. So now as I’m searching ebay and checklists on Terminator fansights and marveling at all the junk they made (some of which, honestly, I wouldn’t mind having), there’s one thing that’s really striking. This movie was a merchandising empire for most of a decade, with lots of effort put into coming up with different gimmicks to add to the Terminators to make new products, and making up new characters for them to fight. And in all the dozens of trinkets I’ve come across I don’t see one god damn picture of Sarah Connor. Obviously she’s in the trading cards, but not on the package. She didn’t get an action figure until decades later, when they started being made for nostalgic adult collectors. They needed to save space on the shelves for Cyber-Grip and Kromium, I guess.

Obviously this has to do with the way toys were sold and marketed at the time. They were divided into boy and girl toys and they believed that boys didn’t want to buy toys depicting girls. The lines that did include female characters would usually make fewer of them and they would become the most desirable for collectors (Angela for Spawn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Phantasm for Batman: The Animated Series). With T2 it may have been reasonable to assume that boys would be more interested in rocket-firing robot characters, and I wouldn’t be surprised if John Connor was the character they sold less of. But I think it still says something about the changing times that one of the three heroes, and the one that comes to mind first when I think about what is special and groundbreaking about this movie, is completely absent from the marketing and merchandising. Who’s on the poster and newspaper ads? Only Arnold, and that held for the video releases, until they replaced him with a robot skeleton. (Man, the blu-ray cover sucks.)

The only exception i could find was a special edition 2-tape VHS set that came in a big box that used a collage of the T-101, Sarah and John and the T-1000 in the background. Other than that you gotta wait for 2017, when the 3D-converted re-issue gave Sarah her own poster. And I’ve really enjoyed that the t-shirt company Cavity Colors made two different officially licensed Sarah-centric designs. Maybe it took a bunch of Terminator sequels without Sarah for the culture at large to start thinking of T2 as her movie.

And that tells you something about what was going on in our culture in the summer of ’91 and the baby steps (get it, WHAT ABOUT BOB?) we’ve taken since then. We talked in the THELMA & LOUISE review about how shocked some people were by the simple act of a movie glorifying some women deciding not to put up with any more shit. Perhaps the sci-fi trappings shielded her from bullshit like anti-THELMA & LOUISE weirdo John Leo, but she definitely captured the zeitgeist. And she’s another waitress turned fugitive pushing the needle forward on how women can be depicted in Hollywood movies. Escapee of a hospital where guards pointedly call her “sweetheart” and lick her face while she’s supposed to be drugged (an inspiration for KILL BILL?), where Dr. Silberman shows her off to visitors like a zoo animal, joking about her condition and (correct) beliefs, and forces her to pretend she thinks she imagined the things she’s experienced, only so he can tell her he doesn’t believe her and can’t recommend the transfer she wants. But the fate of the human race literally depends on her, so enough fuckin around, she fights her way out with cunning, fearlessness and brute power. Something we might not have believed coming from 1984 Sarah Connor, but 1991 Sarah Connor – yes, absolutely we do. And we hadn’t seen anything quite like it in a movie of this size.

Maybe they didn’t think that character (the lead of the movie this is a sequel to!) could sell an action movie, or toys, but even without advertising she became an icon to people around the world.

For this viewing I had to go with the theatrical cut, not the 15-minutes longer special edition, for historical accuracy. But I did watch two deleted scenes on the blu-ray that I don’t remember seeing before. One has the T-1000 entering John’s bedroom and scanning for information by running his fingers over everything. Kinda weird. Anyway I wanted to mention it just because it shows us that John hides his box of photos and letters from Mom in the wall behind a Fear of a Black Planet poster. So it’s not just the t-shirt, this kid really is serious about Public Enemy.

The other one is an alternate epilogue that picks up in the future, 30 years after Judgment Day didn’t happen in ’97. The L.A. skyline is futuristic (pictured: Gameboy rendition) and she’s back at that playground from her nightmares, watching grown up John (same actor from the future war scenes, Michael Edwards [SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STAR]) peacefully pushing his kid on the swings. On a commentary track Stan Winston says he’s glad they didn’t use it because he’s not happy with Hamilton’s old lady makeup, but man, they have all this ridiculous BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 type fashion on the background characters, it’s just so silly. I really wonder how much it would’ve affected our feelings about the movie if they had stuck with this! We would’ve had to go back in time to stop it.

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY was one of those movies that defies the common belief that there’s a huge divide between critics and regular moviegoers on blockbuster movies. It was 1991’s highest grossing movie, with almost $40 million more than ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES at #2, but it was also widely praised by critics. For example Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader said it had “All the virtues of the original – intelligent postmodernist irony, spiffy special effects, effective action, tons of destruction, and Schwarzenegger in the nonhuman role he was born to play.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who Cameron later weirdly feuded with over his multiple pans of TITANIC, called it “one hell of a wild ride.” For laughs, I did manage to find a couple of negative reviews from the time. Terrence Rafferty in the New Yorker called it “lumbering and monotonous” with “a heavy-handed anti-nuke message.” Ralph Novak in People Magazine called it “shamefully sadistic, achingly dull and totally predictable.” David Sterritt wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that “TERMINATOR 2 has little to do with culture, or even civilization, in the higher senses of those terms. It’s a monument to nothing but high-tech frivolity and a regrettably shallow conception of visual entertainment.”

At the time, and now 30 years later, and at every point in between, I would have to respectfully disagree.


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32 Responses to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day (30th anniversary revisit)”

  1. This obviously is an all time classic. I love the movie, but it’s the only Terminator movie I like at all. A lot of people would agree with me that T3 and everything after it wasn’t good, but I actually don’t think T1 is great shakes either (clearly I’m in the minority on that).

    A few things I particularly love about T2. FIRST, it makes room for two great leads in the T-800 and Sarah. Either one of them is hero enough for any movie, and a lot of writers might have thought that you can’t make Sarah as strong as this because it might lessen Arnold’s stature in it. But Cameron just made a bigger tent and threw enough in there to give both characters complete nourishment as badasses. I’ll never forget that scene on the elevator as they’re escaping The mental ward, where Arnold is trying to shotgun blast the T-1000 through the ceiling, and Sarah grabs the pistol off Arnold’s belt and starts shooting too. Wait, we’ve got two awesome leads. That was the moment where 18 year-old me understood I was in for an embarrassment of riches that night at the movies.

    SECOND, I love how almost everyone (except for Silberman) more or less behaves rationally. It always amazes me in sci-if and horror when the lead is so incompetent at convincing the rest of the world that something fucked up is afoot. They always get carted off to a cell or sent to their room ineffectually protesting “You have to believe me!” instead of saying “I can prove it, if you look in the backyard you’ll find one of the werewolves I killed!” But not T2. The T-800 proves it to Miles Dyson in seconds by cutting his arm open, and better yet: Dyson believes him and immediately joins the cause! That’s a lot better than the old trope of the character not believing his eyes, staring at his coffee as though it’s laced with a hallucinogen, and dumping it out.

    Finally that first act is perfection. That sets things up so efficiently, one scene right into the next, relentlessly, every second of it so compelling. The whole movie is great, but that first half hour or so is just a feast of interesting reveals and question-seeding at the same time. This movie will always be one of my favorites. (Even if T1 is a not-so-special dated horror flick and all of the other sequels are uninspired cash grabs.)

  2. A shame you never got to experience the T2 attraction. In my mind it’s the only actual sequel to T2. Pretty sure there is a decent YouTube grab of the experience if you’ve not seen (not the same of course but Cameron, Winston and Schwarzenegger and the cast went all out for it). For the time too Digital Domain’s work for it was mind blowing.

  3. I wish they had put the 3D version back in theaters for the anniversary. Missed opportunity.

  4. Joe – I had gone to Universal Studios only once and it was the year before that attraction premiered. Still sad I never got to experience it in person I remember the making of on Fox. I was just blown away by how serious these movie people took a damn theme park attraction. There was no half stepping to be found. They really did view it as the 3rd film in many respects. I’m so glad I got to finally watch the footage years later on the net.

    I had 2 of the action figures. A battle damaged T-800 with interchangeable arm which was a go to toy for me. I also had a T-1000 you had to piece together because it would “explode” that thing would never stay intact for long. The minute you reassembled it and just stood it up somewhere it would just break apart all over again. The Game Boy game I actually begged my mom to buy at Woolworths. When I actually played it I immediately regreted it. Should’ve asked for Dr. Mario instead.

    It’s amazing how major this R rated hype machine ended up being. Those were truly different times.

  5. Franchise Fred

    July 1st, 2021 at 7:46 pm

  6. Franchise Fred

    July 1st, 2021 at 7:47 pm

    Damn I tried to post the thumbs up emoji and it didn’t work.

  7. “One thing I hadn’t thought much about is that, were it not for the marketing telling us Arnold was the good guy and this dude was the bad guy, we would’ve been meant to assume not only that Arnold was the one coming for John, but that this other guy was the Kyle Reese, the one referred to in Sarah’s voiceover when she says “As before, the Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John.””

    Am I wrong – I thought that 100% was the intention. My memory is that the marketing specifically didn’t tell you that Arnold was the good-guy this time, so that they could wrong-foot you. And it didn’t last long, as soon as it came out everybody knew Arnold was the good-guy and Patrick was the bad-guy – maybe the ad campaigns once it came out were different and gave it away. But I really thought that all of the pre-release marketing avoided spoiling that twist.

  8. Klaus Janson is so great, a vastly underrated artist (despite his widespread popularity) and excellent storyteller. From all accounts, he is one of the actual nice guys in comics, something really good to know.

    I think that Terminator toy art could possibly be a work of the noted portrait painter of both Barack Obama and the imaginary character of Oscar from The Oscars, Alex Ross. He had painted the 1990 comic book mini-series TERMINATOR: THE BURNING EARTH for the publisher Now Comics a year before T2 was released, I think just before the license got brought over to Marvel for the sequel. That looks a lot like his earlier art, and he also worked for and advertising agency around that time. Could anyone with a better eye than me identify the artist of that, what do they call it, “blister pack”?

    Well, at least in one instance somebody was aware of who deserved the cover.

    Continuing my annoying habit of talking about the bands I like’s connection to whatever topic is being discussed, I did find a bit more into about the potential inclusion of “I Wanna Be Sedated” in the T2 soundtrack, before Cameron had refined his winning “one song only” soundtrack CD process.


    TIGHT ON YOUNG JOHN CONNOR, who at his moment is ten years old and
    busy reassembling the carburetor on his Honda 125 dirtbike. He has
    ripped Levi’s and long stringy hair. A sullen mouth. Eyes which
    reveal an intelligence as sharp as a scalpel. The Ramones’ “I Wanna
    Be Sedated” blasts from a boom box next to him.

    A WOMAN, JANELLA VOIGHT, stands in the doorway of the garage,
    yelling over the music.

    …John? John! Get in here right now and
    clean up that pigsty of yours.

    The following excerpt is from an April 1991 edition of The Morning Call from Allentown PA.

    The Ramones also will appear in the “Car 54” movie due out this summer. It was directed by Bill Fishman, whose credits include the movie “Tapeheads” and four Ramones videos. Said Joey, “We appear in a punk club playing ‘I Believe in Miracles.'”

    He said the Ramones’ song, “Rock’n’Roll Radio,” will be included in the movie “Highway 61” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” will be on the soundtrack of Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’ Roll” and possibly “Terminator 2” — “if it doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor.”

    The only thing as good as a total badass teamed up with a scrappy kid wearing a Public Enemy shirt is a total badass teamed up with a scrappy young kid wearing a Minnie Mouse t-shirt.

    P.S. I accidently left this comment in the other review window tab I had open, if you can delete that comment I dumbly posted to the wrong thread.

  9. S, you were lucky if you didn’t see the giveaway trailers before release. I think the final theatrical trailer said Arnold was good. Can probably find some old magazine interviews with Cameron to confirm.

  10. S – I don’t remember how close I saw it to opening day, but I definitely went in knowing Arnold was the good guy and Patrick was the bad guy. The trailer I found on Youtube while researching this (after the awesome Terminator factory teaser directed by Stan Winston) has a narrator openly explaining it, and I dug into my old Fangorias and saw that the “Terminator 2 Action-packed preview!” cover story opens with William Wisher telling the story of Cameron pulling out a sheet of yellow notebook paper that said “Young John Connor and the Terminator who comes back to befriend him.” I’m sure I read that at the time.

    So I was always so used to that that it was quite a few years before it occurred to me that it was obviously designed to be a surprise.

  11. Entertainment Tonight spoiled it for me when they said you would control Arnold in the Gameboy game. It confused me because I didn’t think you could be a bad guy in a Nintendo game. (that was before Wario, of course)

    I somehow convinced my parents to take me to see this on their wedding anniversary. I don’t think they regretted it too much

  12. I’m not sure I buy that Cameron was trying to be coy about whether Arnold was the good guy. After all, Robert Patrick’s first action after zapping into 1991 was to kill a cop (they don’t show him using his sword arm, but the sound effect and the cop’s disappearance leave no doubt). And when Arnie steps out of the biker bar with “Bad to the Bone” playing, it becomes abundantly clear that we’re rooting for him. If Cameron was intending a first act twist, he didn’t play it right. Anyway, doesn’t matter.

    Don’t know what else to say about T2, other than that it permanently rewired my brain circuitry when I saw it as a ten year old, instilling in me a permanent love of action movies and film in general. It’s a perfect movie, start to finish.

    It’s interesting to watch the extended version, because it shows the importance of a good and disciplined editor. The scenes themselves are not bad ideas on paper, but in the context of the movie they mess with the flow, or they are redundant, or they feature a clunky performance. For example, the Kyle Reese ghost cameo at the mental hospital is melodramatic and unnecessary, given that Sarah Connor already knows she’s a hunted woman and time is short. So as hard as it is to leave Michael Biehn on the cutting room floor, it had to be done.

  13. That Terminator Dance Remix is so the 90s equivalent of The Splash Band’s disco mixes of John Carpenter’s themes in the 80s!

    In the UK we also, for better or worse, ad a comedy song cash-in, “I’ll be back!” by Arnee and the Terminaters,


  14. “These days there are criticisms of this type of character for allegedly empowering women by simply giving them traits perceived as masculine.” I think about this a lot. I love action movies and I love bad ass women in my action movies, but I have to admit I think most of them are not celebrating women and how they think/act. They are usually a male avatar. Which, sometimes I’m fine with. If it’s a good movie, a good story, good acting, etc. I still enjoy it. I wish there were more of these kinds of movies written and directed by women, though. When I first saw the preview for GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE I was pumped only to be immediately disappointed that it was written and directed by men. I’m not saying I think it won’t be good or anything. I just really wish it had been done by women. There was another movie that came on my radar at that same time that I was also disappointed it wasn’t done by women, but now I can’t remember what it was.

    And I actually have a hard time deciphering if it’s really even an issue. Like, would a woman act differently in this situation or are these actions gender neutral? Or am I conditioned by years and years of male dominated action movies to think anyone would act this way? I can’t say and most of the time I don’t care enough to analyze it. I just think it is a thing that exists.

    As for T2 specifically, I tried to place myself in Sarah’s shoes and think of how I would react. Of course, you can’t really say how you’d react to a traumatic situation until you’re in it, but still. Also a problem, I’m not a woman in the 80s. I was a child in the 80s, but my gender identity didn’t solidify under the same set of circumstances as Sarah. All that said, yeah, I think I would mostly react the same. One difference – I’m not sure I would’ve leaned so hard into the loner, survivalist, everything is about weaponry and military tactics. If I was trying to raise someone I knew was going to be the salvation of mankind against the machines I think I’d want him to have a more rounded education. I’d definitely want him to be tech savvy. Learn as much about machines and computers as possible. I’d also want him to just know as much about everything possible. Just build up his knowledge and intelligence as much as possible.

    Another thing that I think would be vital would be just teaching him to be a good, kind person. Making him a secluded, paranoid weirdo is not going to turn him into a leader of people. It would be important for him to care about people. He’d need to want to save humanity because he thinks they’re worth saving. I would also want to try to build a community of people around him. He’s going to need people to lead. And not just that, I wouldn’t want him to have to carry the load of saving the world on his own. I would want to build up people to help him and maybe even step in for him if I failed to keep him safe or make him into the leader he needed to be.
    Honestly, though, I can’t remember how much the movie really goes into what she’s teaching John, though. Maybe she was doing all of that. Either she was teaching him some of it, at least, because he was a good enough kid to not want the OG Terminator to go around killing people, or maybe he’s just naturally like that.

    One thing I think is interesting, and I’m not sure if Cameron did this on purpose, or if I’m just reading into things, but I wonder if part of the reason Sarah is so withdrawn and cold with John is because she doesn’t know how to be a loving mother without being the stereotypical mother of her time. Like, it’s not just that she’s fucked up because she knows the world is going to end and lots of people, including maybe her and her son, die horribly, but that if she has to eschew the stereotypical mother and take on a more father like role, then she has to turn her back on all traits of mothering. Like it’s all or nothing on being a “mother”. Does that make sense?

  15. Redacted – It’s hard to not see the T-1000 as evil, but I think his first scene is designed to make you think he knocked the cop out and stole his clothes (we don’t yet know he can morph). In fact he just needs his gun. The Arnold Terminator beating up the bikers is of course a retread of stealing clothes from Paxton and friends in the first movie, who were also assholes but it didn’t mean we were rooting for the Terminator.

  16. Maggie – that was the best comment ever on this site.

  17. I think Redacted is right. I have no doubt that at some point in the filmmaking process, Cameron intended the T-800 reveal to be a big surprise, but he’d obviously changed his mind (or, more likely, had his hand forced by the pblicity department) by the time he chose fucking “Bad to the Bone” for Arnold’s intro. That’s a hero cue and there’s no way around it. The T-1000 is running around with his villainous eyebrows being creepy as fuck and Arnold’s out here doing one-liners and pumping Dad Rock. It’s not exactly a mystery who we’re supposed to side with.

  18. What this movie doesn’t get enough credit for, is portraying the “reluctant hero” trope perfectly, heartbreaking and believable. You know how in every damn movie about a “chosen one” the protagonist breaks down at some point and wonders if he is really the right for the job? Fuck that, of course you are! But here? It not just drove the lovely Sarah Connor from part 1 into insanity (Yes, she is right and always knows what she is doing, but damn, you can’t deny that her “by any means necessary” approach is more than once pretty questionable), even John Connor is at this point just a kid and has every right to freak out over it!

    Also in terms of Terminator dance mixes, here are two, that came out pretty close to each other in around 1997 or 1998:


  19. Thank you Maggie, that’s the kind of stuff mostly ignored by the militaristic mindset of action movies and American culture in general. I especially like what you said about a leader needing to have a sense of community. I think it’s often portrayed as just a natural characteristic someone has to have. And then they learn how to shoot guns. You may have answered your own question about whether a woman would likely react differently than a man in that situation.

    The movie does indicate some training in electronics – he says that Sarah taught him how to hack ATM machines, which he later adapts to get past a security door at Cyberdine. And I guess he was given some amount of community in the sense that he knows Enrique and his family and maybe others we don’t see in the movie. But the qualities of kindness and non-violence are traits he has in spite of his upbringing, we don’t know where they came from.

    And it just occurs to me that even the great scene where he calls Todd and Janelle and finds out they’ve been killed by the T-1000 (because Janelle doesn’t know the name of the dog) tells us about these qualities. He was raised with a looking-out-for-#1 philosophy because of his importance to the future, but it’s important to him to try to warn his foster parents they’re in danger, “even though they’re dicks.”

    I really like the points you make in your last paragraph. I never thought about it that way, but it makes alot of sense that the 1991 idea of a mother would seem incompatible with what she thinks is needed for John, but maybe a more modern idea would be more compatible. I think she raised him with a tough love sort of attitude, thinking that being loving with him would weaken him, but I think she regrets that after the turning point when she decides not to kill Dyson and wants to make sure John knows she loves him.

  20. The main trailer for T2 spoils the twist (such as it is), but the TV spots I’ve found dance around it (“One sent to kill! One to protect!”). Given the difference in access at the time it’s nice to think some people may have seen this based on the TV spots etc and managed to be genuinely surprised.

    I think when I first saw half of T2 on Sky Movies when I was 6 or 7 I was confused that SC was running afraid from Arnie. Surely he was the good guy? Kindergarten Cop couldn’t be a bad guy!

  21. I can only speak for myself — and maybe for the two people I saw it with, though obviously memory can deceive — and say that we saw T2 in 1991 with full knowledge of Arnold being the good one based on the publicity and ads …. and that we all discussed how cool a twist it would have been BUT FOR the publicity. I’m convinced it would have played as a twist in the hallway scene in the mall, despite any musical cues or whatever.

  22. Vern, have you seen LOVE AND MONSTERS? I love the way that movie explores the idea of community and masculinity in an apocalyptic world. It’s a totally new and refreshing take.

  23. I still need to see that.

  24. Maggie, that’s a terrific comment! I’m keen to see the unique perspectives a cool female action director can bring to an equally cool action movie concept. And the next 6 months to a year sees a surprising abundance of female-centric action movies coming down the pipeline (I am, quite understandably, not including the no doubt half a dozen mediocre to awful Olga Kurylenko/Ruby Rose DTV vehicles most likely being filmed in Romania or the Czech Republic even as I’m typing this). But apart from BLACK WIDOW, they’re all directed by men. There’s the always terrific Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s KATE, directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, there’s the lovely Maggie Q’s The Protege, helmed by the very capable but very male Martin Campbell and GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE which you’ve mentioned. And a FURIOSA movie in the works too.

    There’s just a mismatch of talent on both sides of the camera based on some past examples. You’ve got Kathryn Bigelow who I consider to be one of the best action film-makers on the planet whose filmography to date boasts exactly ONE female-led title, BLUE STEEL , which I remember as being pretty good. Then again, female-centric movies directed by women directors like the CHARLIE’S ANGELS reboot and BIRDS OF PREY have turned out to be snore fests. I just don’t think Elizabeth Banks or Cathy Yan are good action movie directors. For awhile, Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman seemed like a good fit. Then the sequel happened…..

    Now, a Kathryn Bigelow directed ATOMIC BLONDE sequel? I’d pre-order the blu ray the day they announce filming.

  25. LOVE AND MONSTERS is an underrated delight.

  26. Franchise Fred

    July 2nd, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    The Kate Beckinsale Amazon original Jolt is directed by a woman, but trailer seems to be in the Underworld/Jane Wick mode which I’ll still watch the shit out of.

  27. +1 that those are some super-insightful observations and questions, Maggie. Probably the biggest thing insight I’ve been working over in my own life for the last 20-ish years — and still constantly needing to re-engage and work with — is the tendency toward dualism — false binary choices, all-or-none evaluations, etc. You hit the nail on the end, particularly around the end with the gender identity stuff.

    I remember somewhere or another a few years ago hearing some rap discussion around the show EVERYDAY STRUGGLE, and how basically, everything was now either “hot” or “trash.” And someone was asking, basically, can nothing be just good or mediocre or “an acquired tast,” or whatever? I guess that kind of gun-to-the-head sorting is helpful as a triaging mechanism (it’s easier to sort stuff into two piles than three or ten), and you have the obligatory reference to the reptile brain and fight-or-flight and all that shit. I just think a lot of times people are just too proud or scared or hurt or exhausted or entitled or clueless to just lean into the idea that your relationship to things can change or oscillate or that you can assimilate qualities from others and be flexible and actually get more out of life. It feels easier to posture and stick to what you know, but you lose out inn the long run and what not.

    The weird thing is that I feel very much that way online (less so here, I guess, but even sometimes here) — that feeling where everything is hot takes and bad takes and clap backs and there is this whole internet language for all the ways you better be careful lest you be trash or on the wrong side of some shit. And then I get offline and actually talk to someone in person or on the phone, and I remember that all that stuff is just 99% online brain, where everything is either hot or trash.

    Anyway, beautiful, earnest thoughts. Thank you for them.

    Nothing really left to say about T2 from me, except that I still regard this as the most truly innovative and satisfying expectation-inflation-adjusted action spectacle movie of my lifetime. When I hear people say that there is some other movie that is similarly innovative on this level relative to what came before it (like MATRIX or AVATAR), I’m just like. Naw. None of that trash is as hot as T2.

  28. The Winchester

    July 3rd, 2021 at 6:12 am

    Excellent analysis by all! This discourse is why I continue to come here and feel refreshed by life and not that existential slog i get from Twitter and other places. Thank you everyone!

    T2 was the defining flick of the year for me. They had special screening 10pm the night before, and the crowd was into It! It blew my mind, and I loved every second of it. I strung blue Christmas lights in my room to replicate the Cameron sheen for entire year that followed. Bought a shirt from Sam Goody when I picked up the score (which I’ve lost since and haven’t replaced). Everything about it was thrilling and cool, and subsequent viewings don’t diminish. Near perfect example of what a summer blockbuster should be.*

    Thats crazy about the deleted scene with T1000 feeling the room. I remember that description in the novelization and thinking it was bonkers, but also very cool.

    One thing thats always bugged me, though. When is this movie supposed to take place? I always thought it was 97, which explains the age of John as well as the urgency. If John is 10 its 1995? But its 91? I dunno.

    *I went to a screening of Aliens in 2005 and I was surprised how relentless the thrill ride aspect is of the last hour and change. I had seen it countless times before, and I was still on the edge of my seat. That Cameron guy is going places!

  29. I watched this a month ago with my girlfriend who had *never* seen it before. We watched T1 first, of course, and while she had the vague notion that Arnold might be the good guy in T2 I was careful not to confirm that. And indeed the first section of the movie really does encourage you to think Arnold is still the villain, and so effectively that she was convinced he actually was right up until the moment in the hallway shootout when Arnold tells the kid to duck.

    The other thing that stuck out at me is that there is a point in the movie, beginning when Linda Hamilton goes to the scientist’s home to kill him, when this movie really picks up and just does not stop for at least 40 minutes. Which is crazy because the conversation with the scientist’s family should be a slow-down moment but instead it’s tense as hell, and then they go to the laboratory, the swat teams arrive, etc. Usually my girlfriend and I talk a bit while we watch something but she did not say a single word for that entire stretch of the movie. I think the tension actually does let up a bit in the chase scene after the building explodes—probably necessary because the audience needs a break—but for that stretch of however many minutes it’s just a supremely tense, exciting, and entertaining piece of cinema.

  30. What else can I say about this film that I have seen and owned in every shape of media (Theatres-3 times, VHS, VCD (Video Cassette Disc-anyone not from Asia feel free to be perplexed), DVD, Extreme Edition DVD, Blu Ray Skynet edition) that hasn’t been articulated far more eloquently here?

    Let me get the damn veggies out of the way:

    T2 rehashes the same Hunt-Seek-Kill formula of the original, the T800 has lost some of it’s edge(“I need a vacation” is still a rather unfortunate line to come out of a killing machine), Hamilton’s Rambo Sarah overdoes the Angry Survivalist in a few places and it takes half the movie for me to stop itching to smack the shit out of Furlong’s John Connor. A great performance, but Jesus what a fucking brat! It’s one of the rare weaknesses in an otherwise great script that it’s never really apparent that Todd & Janelle are “dicks” except when they’re referred to as such by John and that Different Strokes kid. The sum total of their dickish-ness amounts to them asking John to clean up that “pigsty” of a room of his, something I’m reliably informed half a billion parents across Planet Earth routinely tell their children.

    But these are but the nit-pickiest of nit-picks for a breathtaking and flawlessly executed slice of action cinema. The storm drain chase sequence, which is what 99% of movies would have climaxed with, is but the opener for an escalating series of action set pieces, shot with clarity and edited with precision. And if the original sneaked in a heartbreaking love story amidst the carnage, here Cameron expertly interleaves a poignant tale of a mother re-discovering her humanity and re-establishing her bond with her son even as a killer cyborg is gradually humanized to become the best surrogate father a boy could ever have. In more peaceful times, they’d be the perfect nuclear family.

    And given how expensive CGI was then, Cameron’s sparring use of it while working his ass off to provide the best practically realized action elsewhere should be an abject lesson for film-makers today.

    I have this fantasy: Every film maker gets a “CGI” quota. Unless 90% of your movie’s population comprises of super-powered beings who fly, wield celestial hammers and vibranium shields or who happen to be horned half-reptile people on the planet Zorg (ok fine…or blue cat people on planets with iridescent flora),you get say, 10mil of CGI for selected scenes. Every thing else, you achieve practically.

    Hey can I CGI a helicopter flying under a CGI bridge? Fuck you, no you can’t! Here’s a real fucking helicopter and there’s a real fucking bridge. Do that shit for real. Smash up real cars. And blow up real buildings. I want to see real fucking squibs when a person is shot. Save the CGI for when winged aliens drop out of the sky shooting lasers out of their ass.

    CGI’s been amazing for realizing comic book visions and fantasy realms. Elsewhere it’s sand on your body after a day at the beach. It’s an irritant that’s sneaked into every nook, crack and crevice. It’s virtually eliminated a palpable sense of danger and a heightened feel of tension from action sequences, which among other things, is why I spend more time revisiting the classics of the 80s and early 90s than I do checking out anything current (unless of course a new Jesse V Johnson or gem from Japan, Korea or HK surfaces sporadically).

    Oh yeah, in summary, T2 is 7 layers of epic awesomeness!

  31. KayKay that’s an interesting idea about having to justify CGI. It often seems to me these days that the reverse is true: “We at HBO like this idea for a miniseries about detectives, but is there any way you can cram in some extraneous opportunities for special effects? Our boutique CGI studio needs to be able to justify its existence… maybe one of the main characters has occasional hallucinations that have nothing to do with the narrative?”

    Watched T2 last night for the first time in many years, btw, so thanks for the motivation there Vern. It feels so relevant. Hamilton’s line when when she’s watching those kids playing with guns (something like “maybe it’s too late”) gave me chills.

  32. Love the website, and Vern your fantastic. I still remember the ‘thrill’ when I stumbled across Seagalogy back in 2008 in the local bookstore. And an appreciation to all the smart posters in the comments sections. Again, this is one is the very few places I read through comments sections, props to you all. I’m missing some – but FranchiseFred, Broddie, Mr Majestyk, MaggieMayPie, CT Holden, lots of other commenters, you always bring some smart, interesting ideas to the fore.

    So context for T2. I was 21 in the summer it was released, and consider the 10 years between 1981 – 1991, like so much in life, the formative years of my film ‘life.’ 1981 was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and that was the first movie I consciously remember realizing that ‘film’ was art. I remember being aware that someone had to ‘make’ this movie. Cinema/films require and act of artistic creation. That it involved craft, etc. And that you could experience and you could look at a film on an intellectual level and that film was open to thinking and studying and could be about something more than just what you were watching. Also, on a personal level – Marion Ravenwood was the first female I seriously crushed on.

    T2 came at 21 years old, and in the intervening decade film had become for me what it remains to this day – a serious art form that deserves to be approached critically and intellectually (at times.) After Raiders I of course watched my first foreign films, discovered what cinema was, and truly entered the world of ‘cinema,’ participated in higher eduction, grew up, started a career, dated etc. By 1991 the shape of my life (especially intellectually) was largely written. James Cameron and Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss (which I will die on my hill defending as his true masterpiece) and T2 were integral parts of my film landscape. And intellectually, these films do warrant thought and study. No other filmmaker making science fiction films has as strong a grounding in SF from a literary perspective – meaning that Cameron draws much of his SF background from the literary side of the genre. Cameron has many times talked about reading SF forming his ideas, not film, and this shows in the sophistication of his understanding of SF tropes/motifs. It’s no surprise that currently Denis Villeneuve is making the best SF films – he talks constantly about the impact SF literature had on him. As a vehicle for truly important ideas – SF literature clearly superses film. In fact I could probably makes a list of no more than 10 films that truly are critical in an intellectual sense to SF generally, whereas a list of novels/short stories would be far, far longer. But I digress.

    I should mention that between 1981 and 1991 I of course started reading about film. Reading film criticism was critical – if people have not read the three ‘Cult Movies’ books by Danny Peary – get on it. At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert was on, Pauline Kael’s writing, Truffaut/Hitchcock, all of it happened in these 10 years.

    I’m putting in biographical details, because my feelings, thoughts for these movies occur within the context of my intellectual growth and discovery of cinema as art.

    Last biographically relevant detail – I thought nothing of flying down to Universal Studios in September 1996 specifically to see T2 – 3D. Saw it twice. It was incredible.

    T2 was the beginning of the end of summer blockbusters in so many ways – the level of craft and thought going into these movies began its decline. Unthinking reliance on CGI took over. All you have to do is consider how the new Jurassic Park films shoot in 2.35 and not 1.85 to understand that the people making them have no idea what they’re doing. Product over art.

    Okay though – T2, some random things that might warrant mentioning, hopefully more than worthless trivia:

    I remember reading a business article in 1991 that T2 was an early example of ‘product placement’ in films. Specifically Carolco did a deal with Pepsi for screen placement. I like to think it’s a sign of what Cameron thought of being told that he had to do something in his film that both times a Pepsi machine is seen there is a violent murder involved – the maintenance guy in the hall when the Terminators first meet and when the hospital security guard is killed by the T-1000.

    In the little seen novelization of “The Terminator”, which I do not believe was ever available as a new book in the US, it had a British publisher, and was published in paperback in 1985, as Dr. Silberman is leaving the police station, he is hoping that he will make it home in time to see ‘Douglas.’ While I was waiting in line in 1991 for 10 hours to get into the first show of T2, one of the things I did was re-read the book. When Silberman turns to the hospital attendant and calls him ‘Douglas,’ it was one of those ‘moments’. I’ve always wondered about that. I don’t remember if the T2 novelization ever addressed that. I don’t think so. I see the ‘Terminator’ novelization goes for $200.00 used now. Both of the novelizations contained many neat little details and story extensions/backgrounds. I’m pretty sure the ‘Terminator’ book even had some stuff at the end where they named Cyberdyne and was already involved in finding the arm/chip and such sinister shenanigans began. Also the first book has a great detail that I don’t think was even filmed and then cut from the movie – in the future Skynet knows that Sarah had a pin permanently placed in her leg for a broken leg, but not when it occurred, so the Terminator is mutilating each victim, trying to check to see if it killed the correct person.

    Of course I was impressed and noticed in 1991 that Sarah/John/Terminator hid out in a Benthic Petroleum station, ties to The Abyss.

    Full props for Cameron being smart enough to hire Linda Hamilton in 1983, somehow knowing that her having a twin sister would totally make filming the sequel 7 years later that much easier!

    A detail that Danny Peary makes in his Cult Movies 3 book that I never really see mentioned is Cameron’s presentation of violence/pain. People who are hurt in Cameron’s movies really suffer, violence is presented in a particularly physically harmful way – people screaming, bleeding, cry, suffer. Sarah’s scream at the end of Terminator when she pulls the metal, echoed when she’s shot in T2, the sound design and yells and cries of pain when Arnold shoots the hospital security guard in the knees, and when they escape the Cyberdyne building. Peary also mentions how Sarah and Reese’s love making appears painful. I think the best example in T2 of the physical pain of injury, and death is Dyson dying, Jesus the sound and pain and effort of his last breaths. That track into his eyes going dim. These little beats are pretty completely unique in the genre/world of big budget filming to Cameron alone. Of course, intellectually, the entire ark of Sarah Connor involves the pain she suffers emotionally about the horrible reality of what is happening to her son. She becomes more inhuman that the Terminator, and her surviving that and regaining the love of her son and humanity is the entire point of the movie. They win because of that love.

    The entire bad Arnold/good Arnold. Yeah in July 1991 there was absolutely no secret, even long before the trailers hit that Arnold was the good guy. Although, the beginning of the film never gives it away, what I’ve always noticed is not that they disguise the fact that the T-1000 might not have killed the cop he first meets, it’s that they disguise to some degree the fact that Arnold doesn’t kill any human in the movie either. He never actually kills anyone at the biker bar (onscreen) at the beginning.

    I watched a few of those film reaction videos on Youtube related to T2 – and it’s pretty apparent that people who have no idea about good/bad Arnold do not know that he’s a good guy until the hallway encounter. They think that the T-1000 is a good guy, or that both Terminator’s are bad guys. One women even spends sometime after Arnold meets John worrying that it’s a double cross and Arnold will still be a bad guy. She comes around to good Arnold after they escape the hospital together. So full props to Cameron for being smart enough to know that 30 years in the future enough time would have passed that an entire generation of people would have forgot about the film, Arnold would have become just another old, former politician and an entire new method of watching movies would have been invented that allows people to experience the movie fresh, in the best, most suspenseful way.

    There’s a great video essay about the style of “No Country For Old Men” somewhere on Vimeo I think highlighting how much of the shots in that film, especially involving Chigurh, look like the way Arnold is shot and lit in T2. And how NCFOM is remarkably like a classic 1973 bit of American bad ass cinema called “Charley Varrick.”

    I totally think of T and T2 as one cohesive film unit. All the other Terminator films are no better than pedestrian at best (T3) to everything else being garbage. Dark Fate has some very good performances, but is still terrible. Dark Fate is the only ‘sequel’ with good performances – and Arnold really is his best ever in these movies. It’s no surprise that his other, most human work is with Cameron in True Lies, Cameron gets good work out of him.

    The novelizations of Terminator and T2 are two of the best written novelizations around. The best novelization I read was of course Orson Scott Card’s “The Abyss.” Also know surprise that a SF writer of Card’s ability would produce it, it makes sense given the SF literary pedigree of Cameron.

    To me, the entire centre of T and T2 is Sarah Connor though. Her journey is the entire through point of the films. And Linda Hamilton in T2 gives a performance for the ages – from the incredible physical transformation (when she gets that billy club and does the little hop/run and skip, that is the most baddest moment in a film ever – no one has ever caught in the smallest detail what real, real physical toughness says and is – she will kick anyone’s ass. All the silly big muscle posing that goes on, even in the Terminator movies is instantly humiliated by that.) And of course her psychic pain in T2 is the emotional core, the conflict within herself, especially the scenes at Dyson’s house tear my guts out every time I watch the film. It’s a good thing that Jodie Foster won the Oscar for 1991 – because even though both women from Thelma & Louise were also nominated, plus Bette Midler and Laura Dern, it took Jodie Foster in another one for the ages to best her. Hamilton should have been nominated. How many contemporary blockbusters have a scene to match Sarah’s breakdown when she refuses to shoot Dyson to death?

    And no, I most emphatically do not think that “Silence of the Lambs” is anywhere close to being as good as T2.

    I always wonder what would have happened to James Cameron if he had continued development on a script for a book called The Minds of Billy Milligan that was called The Crowded Room. The thought of a guy with his ability technically and artistically coming at a small scale ‘character’ study of someone with multiple personalities (played by John Cusack) intrigues. If it had worked what unknown roads would he have maybe followed down. I mentioned Denis Villeneuve earlier – I hope after Dune he goes back to making some small budget throw backs to his earlier arthouse days. Remember back when Lucas said after Return of the Jedi he was done with super budget blockbusters and wanted to go back to independent films – wouldn’t it have been amazing if he did? Coppola threw in the towel on studio juggernauts and made three super interesting films in the 2000s – small budget oddities that are still 100+ more interesting than all the other Star Wars films and MCU movies. Does anyone really think Nolan’s Tenet is a better movie than Memento? That Jackson’s LOTRs is more interesting than Heavenly Creatures?

    In some ways Cameron went from inventing the super budgeted summer film with The Abyss and T2 and created the stupidly mega enormously GDP budget busting summer movie with Titanic and Avatar.

    Spielberg is the only filmmaker who is still consistenly making big screen, big budget films that are art – intellectually and conceptually daring and thrilling. And even he makes some stinkers (all though they are still interesting intellectually.) But of course if it’s truly art than there is no good or bad, only interesting ideas and thoughts. A film like an MCU movies contains not a single moment of ‘art’ as described intellectually.

    And believe me I make these statements as someone who loves the Hangover movie, totally enjoys Captain America Winter Soldier. But when people say Black Panther deserved a best picture Oscar win, let alone nomination, do they really think it’s better than Roma? As a work of art? And Roma should have one over Green Book. I totally think that John Wick 2 had even better cinematography that Dune 2049 and that it deserved an Oscar nomination and win over it. I love the first 2 ages of Seagal, in fact I might be the only person in Canada who has seen EVERY SINGLE theatrically released Seagal movie, and saw his band play in person.

    No big budget, summer action picture since T2 has even come close to matching it for scope, intensity, story and execution. If you take out all the action scenes and just look at some of the character beats, this film humiliates any character scene in any ‘action’ movie today. And a helluva a lot of serious films as well. And its action filmmaking is still superior. Even Cameron only surpassed it twice – the action in Titanic – and the action shot for The Abyss is even more incredible than that in Titanic – the greatest ever staged – and the character beats in Titanic are not even close. T2 is like The Good The Bad and The Ugly – perfectly cast, shot, edited, scored.

    Even Cameron himself has never came close to matching the overall quality of his screenplays after this – again the action in True Lies and Titanic is fantastic to say the least – but everything else diminished. Quote one single character beat or line of dialogue from Avatar or Titanic – I don’t think so. Aliens has dozens of quotable lines – I’ve seen 75% of the MCU, DC movies -how many quotable lines can you remember? Seriously.

    Go watch Every Frame a Painting on YouTube where he talks about how formulaic the music is in summer blockbusters, especially the MCU, and then remember the opening of the Terminator score, or Aliens.

    You could release T2 today and people would be blown away by it.

    If you’ve read this far, thanks for putting up with me.

    -nuff said.

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