DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY

Saturday 3 November 2007


Terminator II: Judgment Day (1991) dir. James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong


Remember when James Cameron made movies? Yes, there was a time when he was the hottest director out there and every 3 years he’d come out with an extravangza bigger than the one before it. Cameron right now is the middle of a Malick-like hiatus which is about to cross 10 years. “Terminator II” arrived with gargantuan hype in the summer 1991. It’s still a fun adventure, but it was better in 1991, than 2007. The film is buoyed by the action and the cool time-traveling link-ups with “Terminator I”, but weighted down by an earnestness which loses the raw toughness of the first film.

Sarah Conner’s (Linda Hamilton) voiceover again begins this installment. She sets the scene and tells us two Terminators were sent from the future to kill John Conner. Of course, the 1984 version failed and got crushed in the hydraulic press of that metalworks factory. Then we see the appearance of the two Terminators. Cameron’s introduction of them is clever. He intercuts Arnold arriving in town, beating some people up and destroying property like he did in part 1, but we also see another slimmer Terminator (Robert Patrick) doing the same thing. Which one is the bad guy? Because of the hype machine, it was no secret in 1991, but if you watch the film without knowing what to expect you will be surprised how well this first sequence plays out.

Indeed, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the traditional Arnold Terminator is the good guy and Robert Patrick’s ‘mimetic poly-alloy’ T1000 is the baddie. Sarah Conner is the big surprise here though. She has grown from a meek victim in Part I into a super bad-ass Terminator-woman in part II. Over the past 7 years she has become a rebellious activist against computer companies (too bad she didn’t take down Microsoft). Now she’s in a mental hospital with no ability to communicate with her son John (Edward Furlong). After finding John Arnold rescues Sarah, narrowly evading the T-1000 at every turn. The film makes a neat left turn when they decide to go after Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton), the man responsible for the robot takeover in the future. Killing Miles just might save humanity. Meanwhile over the course of the film John and robot Arnold develop a surrogate father-son relationship. And in the end Arnold learns what it means to cry before he bites the dust in a pool of molten metal.

“T2” (pioneering the movie sequel acronym) succeeds in trumping the original in terms of action. The best set pieces include the Terminator vs. Terminator battle in the hallway, which turns into a chase through downtown L.A. and into the sewer system; the hospital chase; and the final helicopter chase down the freeway. My wife who sometimes watches my silly movies on the couch while surfing the net took a peak at the nighttime Cyberdine action scene and asked why the T-1000 drives his motorcycle up the stairs of the building. “Why doesn’t he just walk,” she said. I never even thought twice about this plothole before then. I just said, “so he can jump through the glass and fly into a nearby helicopter.” Jocelyn subsequently went back to her computer.

The second act subplot exploring the nature of “feelings” in humans certainly drags and drags – especially in the DVD “Special Edition”. As a 16 year old watching the film I didn’t care, I was still awed by the landmark special effects. But the attempts at humour and poignant reflection on humanity and existence just muddy-up what should be a tough-as-nails thriller. But with pressure to make it palatable and family-friendly and to increase the scale at all levels we all know this was inevitable. It only strengthens the original film, which is still the better of the two. Enjoy.

PS Remember Vasquez from “Aliens”? – Believe it or not, that’s Janette Goldstein who now plays John’s whitetrash stepmom - Janelle


Anonymous said...

As a 16-yr-old kid watching this movie, I learned to love Guns N Roses 'You Could Be Mine'. So raw, so savage.

Also, I loved Vasquez from Aliens. Remember when they get out of the hibernation sleep? The best lines in the movie:

Bill Paxton: Hey Vasquez, do you ever get mistaken for a man?

Vasquez: No. Do you?

Scott Eggleston said...

I think this film is better than you're giving it credit for, especially when I see you gave the same rating to 'Transformers'. While it's true the Special Edition is more bloated, the theatrical cut is what we should be looking at--a leaner, meaner film. This seems to hold true with all of Cameron's work, as I have yet to see one of his Director's Cuts that is a better movie than the one that came out theatrically (including 'The Abyss').

Anyway, one thing that always sets JCam's films apart from the rest of the big budget action crowd (like standard Michael Bay tripe) is character. The guy always writes strong, fleshed-out, real people that you can relate to. Sarah Connor is one of his best, especially in T2, where she has gone a bit over the edge (it was Linda Hamilton's suggestion to make her kinda crazy), and is much more complex than in the original film.

No less credit should be given to Ms. Hamilton, who gives the performance of her life as the
Savior of Mankind's mother, Sarah. She is excellent, and her portrayal of a woman on the edge eclipses even Arnold's huge screen presence. She is just awesome to watch, and runs through all kinds of emotions during the course of the movie. Not to mention that physique! She was Connor.

While Cameron really knew his action, it was those people he wrote that tied us to the story and made us care. He obviously knew it was this essential element of storytelling that made more of a difference than any amount of eye candy--which he provided as well, of course.

Alan Bacchus said...

Scott. Re-reading my review, you are 100% right. I was too tough on the film. Indeed the characters in the film are above and beyond any other action film series.

Thank you for comment

Scott Eggleston said...

You're very welcome! Thanks for creating such an interesting blog to provoke compelling conversation about one of my favorite topics.

Lee Denzil said...

I LOVE the deleted scene at the Gas Station where Arny gives a big cheese smile.

For those of you who havn't seen it you can this parody trailer based on T2


predator said...

Terminator is my kind of movie. But I liked the most Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.