Terminator 2: Judgment Day

July 3, 1991.  After waiting for almost a decade, the next chapter finally arrived in theatres.
 
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the greatest sequels ever made.  I initially screened it with my mom during an afternoon exhibition in a United Artists multiplex in a mall in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina exactly a week after it opened.  We foolishly didn’t grab a bite to eat for lunch before entering the theatre which was pretty small for such a blockbuster and as a result, we were pretty starved by the time it was all over, just after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  I mistakenly believed that the film would be rated R in my native Canada (no persons admitted under 18), which was why I was so eager to see it during our two-week trip with friends in America.  (It ended up getting an AA rating.  Persons under 14 need to be accompanied by an adult.)
 
Three months later, when my friend, Dave, and his parents came by to visit our house in Hamilton, we decided to see it at the nearby Centre Mall.  I screened it again on videotape in the summer of 1992 and wrote an assessment which differs greatly from the version you’re about to read.  Yes, this is yet another revised review from my unpublished travesty, The Movie Critic: Book One.  Yesterday, I posted a reworked opinion on The Terminator.  That was movie number 24 in the original manuscript.  T2, curiously, was number 11.  Why I screened them out of order remains a mystery.
 
Nevertheless, this movie is so familiar to me I’ve been able to perform much needed surgery on the original draft.  There are so many famous moments that recounting them from memory proved quite easy.
 
One last thing.  I forgot to comment on the music of The Terminator in my earlier review.  It does a good job of establishing mood.  In my original draft, I noted that it was "funky", although, looking back, that wasn’t quite the word I was looking for.  At any event, music plays such a key role in these two movies, most especially T2.  The opening title sequence, in particular, really gets you fired up for the movie.
 
 
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY
Adult Accompaniment
139 minutes, 1991
Starring:
Arnold Schwarzenegger–The Terminator
Linda Hamilton–Sarah Connor
Edward Furlong–John Connor
Joe Morton–Miles Dyson
Robert Patrick–T-1000
Earl Boen–Dr. Silberman
Produced by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron and William Wisher
Music by Brad Fiedel
Directed by James Cameron
 
Every once in a while, Hollywood releases a movie that is best viewed on a big screen.  Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an excellent case in point.
 
The movie opens with the last climactic scene of its predecessor where we are reminded of just how painful it can be to be crushed under a hydraulic press.  As you may recall, a stressed out restaurant waitress named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was shocked to discover that a merciless cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from the year 2029 had returned to her time to eliminate her.  Why?  Because she will be the mother of John Connor, the leader of a human resistance movement at war with other merciless cyborgs in that year far off in the future.
 
Ten years after the events of the first film (1994, to be precise), it is a very different Sarah that we are reacquainted with.  Institutionalized for a decade in a state mental hospital for women, her demeanour and physical appearance have both completely changed.  She’s more muscular, less feminine (her hair is long and stringy, not at all flattering) and there’s no mistaking that look of anger and frustration in her face.  Hamilton does a marvellous job transforming this terrific character into her current incarnation. 
 
Her ten-year-old son, John (Edward Furlong making his feature film debut), is being raised by foster parents.  Along with his buddy, Tim (Danny Cooksey from Different Strokes), they’re young offenders who love to steal money out of ATMs by cracking PIN numbers.  Needless to say, he’s a handful.
 
Meanwhile, we learn something startling about the future.  Sarah informs us through narration that a nuclear holocaust will happen on August 29, 1997.  Three billion people will perish, unless our heroes can somehow prevent it from ever happening.  The man responsible for that terrible tragedy, Miles Dyson (a terrific Joe Morton), has no idea just how pivotal a role he will play in the movie’s exhilarating third act.
 
As with the first movie, two visitors from the year 2029 have travelled back to 1994 for an important mission.  Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a very different Terminator this time around.  Although he remains as lethal a presence as before, he’s been reprogrammed to protect Sarah and John from a much more durable enemy, The T-1000 (the superb Robert Patrick).  This thing has to be seen to be believed.  It’s a shape-shifting, liquid chameleon that can impersonate any human being it wants to.  While in human form, it can run like the wind and also transform its arms into long, jagged knives.  It’s one of the most incredible cinematic villains I’ve ever seen.
 
Inevitably, mother and son are reunited and soon find themselves on the run from the supremely adaptable T-1000.  Without question, the best scenes in this movie are those chase sequences, the backbeat of this franchise.  If you thought Schwarzenegger was relentless in The Terminator, your understanding of that term will completely change while watching Terminator 2. 
 
But at the heart of this story are two key relationships.  The familial bond that John and Sarah share and the most unlikely friendship between a killing machine and a pre-teen pacifist.  As the movie progresses, Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Edward Furlong’s John draw closer together in moments of comic delight and surprising poignancy.  In a nice touch of irony, even though he’s destined to be a military leader as an adult, the younger John Connor doesn’t want his protector to do what he’s programmed to do, namely kill people.  That leads to a brilliant scene late in the picture where The Terminator manages to defuse a tense situation with a large police force without causing a single fatality.
 
Movies like this benefit greatly from being exhibited on a large screen.  Why?  Because it’s a spectacle.  From the phenomenal Academy Award-winning sound, make-up and special effects to the crisp cinematography to Brad Fiedel’s stunning score (which includes a much improved version of the electronic theme from the original), nothing about it is small.  It is that rare sequel that makes its predecessor look pedestrian and amateurish, which is amazing considering how skilled a thriller The Terminator actually is.
 
The movie is loaded with memorable scenes.  The moment Sarah meets the good Terminator and completely freaks out, that sicko mental hospital worker who licks her while she pretends to sleep, Dyson’s moment of heroism, an innocent water pistol fight transcended into a profound comment on human fragility, Sarah’s recurring nightmare about the nuclear holocaust, and all those fabulously exciting action sequences.
 
All of the performances are first rate.  Robert Patrick never steps wrong as the villain.  He’s the embodiment of boundless, single-minded obsession.  Schwarzenegger finds the right comedic and dramatic notes to make his seemingly emotionless cyborg a warm and endearing bodyguard.  Edward Furlong makes a fine debut with a tough character to play.  Despite his numerous flaws, we care about him deeply.  And Linda Hamilton, in easily her gutsiest performance, takes her Sarah Connor to places we never thought possible.  Her work reminds me greatly of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens.  Not only is she a bad ass who has learned through experience how to survive one ordeal after another, she has that maternal instinct which comes in handy in the movie’s heartbreaking final scene.
 
Ultimately, it’s this surprising sense of optimism and hope, this fearless trust of the uncertain, the unknown, the unforeseen that elevates Terminator 2: Judgment Day into a place of excellence you never saw coming.  This was one of the best films of 1991.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 3, 2008
11:35 p.m.
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Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 11:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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