So much can be said about a film as important and ground-breaking as this after 30 years of constant adoration and cultural significance. It’s important to note that out of the 3 available versions of the film, this retrospective focuses on the Extended Special Edition for the full 154 minute experience, hence a far longer narrative structure and extended scenes that are missing from the 137 theatrical version totalling a stacked 17 more minutes.
First up is the perfect casting. Thankfully securing many original faces such as Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor return from the 1984 original which continues the story brilliantly. Young Edward Furlong is the newcomer and does the job of a fiery young John Connor perfectly. Connor is a child. He’s got zest, rebellion and attitude rife for the early 90s generation of teenagers. A child struggling with a broken home at first, but soon developing into a potential mature young man due to his responsibility learnt throughout the film being the leader of the human resistance in the future war. All three form the perfect dysfunctional family, with the father figure in the guise of a wonderfully developed T-800 killing machine brought to life by the inimitable Schwarzenegger. He’s given more room to flesh out his character with both Sarah and John Connor as they try to teach him what it means to be human.
This leaves room for subtle humour injected into their relationships and is nice to see without turning the Terminator into a comedy side-kick as future films decided to do. Schwarzenegger proves once more his role as the Terminator is his defining work thanks to his imposing image and delivery of monotone lines. He showcases his talent for action scenes, building on the underlying nightmarish character from the original.
Robert Patrick stars as the uber-advanced T-1000 liquid-metal shape-shifting Terminator which straight away makes the T-800 seem redundant and clunky. Patrick is the sleek and efficient killer that Schwarzenegger was in the 1984 original, but seemingly more humane and created to blend into the crowd. His presence is fuelled by menace, by a silent determination in which he stalks his prey and cuts down anyone and anything in his way. Patrick embodies the role perfectly just as well as the original Terminator; focused, cold, effective and ruthless. But he moves and acts fluidly so that his model Terminator is comparable to a Porsche, with the T-800 resembling a Panzer tank.
There are thankfully a limited array of characters so we don’t get lost in too much lore and development, and instead have the time to develop those we spend time with. Supporting performances by the wonderful Joe Morton as Miles Dyson, future creator of SkyNet, and the return of Earl Boen as Dr Silberman, bring importance and gravitas to a story in which they all play a vital part.
Director James Cameron is (or was?) one of the most creative and dedicated film-makers out there. He doesn’t churn out movies yearly, but rather he waits until he has the resources to make a film he wants. Like ‘Alien’, ‘The Terminator’ and of course ‘Avatar’, each film uses the technology and cultural importance of the time to make it relevant and current. Every frame of Cameron’s films speaks volumes about the theme and culture itself and what he wants to say about society.
The mise-en-scene and cinematography in this film are some of his best work, and the diegetic sound is perfect. Everything seems to happen naturally, but you know Cameron has crafted everything meticulously to create a vividly entertaining and powerful film. For example, most scenes with the T-1000 are coloured in a crisp blue to signify the robotic, synthetic quality he represents. The memorable score by Brad Fiedel is full of repetitive, machine like riffs that accompany both Terminators on screen to give a nightmarish and artificial presence to their scenes.
Many camera angles focused on the T-800 are at a lower angle to remind us of his giant stature and power in every scene. In fact, it’s heart-breaking to note that the only time we look down on the broken image of the T-800 in a weak state is the final moments before he goes offline, making his sudden turn of power more emotional than any other aspect of the film, and probably the series even now at 30 years old. This is credit to the scene’s production by Cameron and his team, and the acting by Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Furlong.
It’s all these little moments that add to the enjoyment of the film but show how thoughtful Cameron is in directing a film as big as this. From little touches such as the T-1000 growing a third hand to pilot the helicopter whilst using two hands to fire his weapons, and the use of real life twins with camera angles to represent character duality without CGI, these can be seen but never appreciated because they just work and aren’t presented in a grand way. It just happens. It’s natural within the film. You accept it, and never question the reasons why.
A special mention has to be given for the ground-breaking special effects. 30 years later and it’s amazing how well the transition between actor Robert Patrick and his computer generated T-1000 are blended better than most modern films. With the CGI used to enhance and create these futuristic killers rather than build a modern day world around them, there is less than 10 minutes of CGI creation used as it is done sparingly and never abused. Everything else is done for real with model work, miniatures, stunt doubles, actual sets and locations and brilliant make-up and costume.
This is why this science fiction epic always feels and looks real. You hear and feel all the gun shots, the bone crunches, the slicing flesh and clashing of metal.
With wonderfully gentle pacing to provide real fans of the Terminator franchise lots of back-story about the creation of the SkyNet programme that forms the backbone to the whole series, this version takes its time between the stand out action sequences to develop character relationships and the reasons that they have all been brought together. You see more development between the T-800, John and Sarah as the nightmare of 1984 is never forgotten in Sarah’s eyes and her trust issues are still there. Dyson and the development of SkyNet is vitally important to see how a normal man can create something as deadly as the atomic bomb without even knowing it. Questions are asked, thoughts are presented but it all embodies the core story, and it’s never complex, boring or pointless. Every minute is used to build the characters, the world and the story.
For many this sequel is far superior to the original, but in some ways it should never be compared because of how different they are and the tone they are both taking. The continued fight between man and machine has never been more exciting as it has been portrayed here and it’s a real shame all future Terminators decided to recycle most of ‘Terminator 2’ for their own individual stories. It proves how beautifully crafted and unique ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ is to tell a story and entertain audiences using a brilliant cast, steadily paced action sequences and plot development. Nothing is wasted, no sequence is over-long and the camera thankfully lets you see the action on screen without the need for hectic ‘shaky cam’ that reduces it to a blur.
It’s remarkable this was made in 1991 due to how rich, smooth and visually stunning this film is. Most modern films now are proof that blown up budgets, egotistical actors and CGI slop don’t always guarantee a film’s legacy and success compared to one made out of genuine passion and love for the craft and story telling, as this one shows.
The unknown future of the now nearly terminated ‘Terminator’ franchise rolls toward us. We have face it with a sense of hope, because if a director can remind us of the value of real film-making done right… maybe future directors can too.