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A Look Back At 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' In Honor Of Its 30th Anniversary

By Brian Richards | Film | July 3, 2021 |

By Brian Richards | Film | July 3, 2021 |


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When The Terminator first opened in theaters on October 26, 1984, the expectations really weren’t that high in terms of it being any good. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger had his doubts, as he saw this job as nothing more than a crappy B-movie directed and co-written by a young, upstart filmmaker named James Cameron. But as it turned out, the critical and commercial success of The Terminator (particularly on home video, which helped the film’s popularity grow even more) was the first of many occasions in which Hollywood would learn an incredibly valuable lesson: Never underestimate James Cameron.

Soon after its release, Cameron had some ideas for a sequel to The Terminator, but there were two issues preventing it from happening. The first being that computer-generated visual effects were not technologically advanced enough for what he had in mind and could seriously affect the film’s quality. It wasn’t until Cameron wrote and directed The Abyss that he realized that special-effects imagery had become advanced enough so that he could tell the story he wanted. The second issue was that Hemdale Film Corporation, the production company that distributed The Terminator, had half of the rights to the film series and was experiencing financial troubles. When Mario Kassar, producer and founder of Carolco Pictures, made a large bid to purchase the rights from Hemdale, Cameron was able to finally go ahead and make the Terminator sequel he wanted, and both Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, who portrayed Sarah Connor, were willing and able to be a part of it. After months of large-scale planning and organizing to ensure that the six-month-long production would go smoothly and successfully, Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened in theaters on July 3, 1991.

Eleven years after the events of the first film, Skynet, the powerful and malevolent artificial intelligence soon to be responsible for the deaths of three billion people on August 29, 1997, followed by the planet’s takeover by Terminators, decides to make another attempt at wiping John Connor (Edward Furlong) — future leader of the human resistance and Skynet’s greatest enemy — out of existence. After its failure to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she could give birth to John, Skynet sends another Terminator to kill John when he is a defenseless child. The T-1000 (Robert Patrick) is a highly advanced prototype made entirely of liquid metal, which allows it to shape-shift so that it can look and sound like anyone else, as well as flattening its entire physique in order to conceal itself in floors or walls, and turning its body parts into blades and stabbing weapons. Fortunately for John, he has someone to defend him from the T-1000: a T-800 model Terminator who looks and operates exactly like the Terminator from the first film but has now been programmed to protect John and to follow his orders, such as helping John break Sarah out of the maximum-security mental institution where she is being imprisoned before the T-1000 can get to her. Not only must the Terminator, Sarah, and John avoid being found by both the T-1000 and the police, they must also wrestle with the decision of putting an end to Cyberdyne Systems, the technology company responsible for the creation of Skynet, as well as Cyberdyne’s lead scientist and programmer, Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), whose brilliance and research is what makes the future destruction of the human race a reality.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show back in 1991 as part of the promotional tour for Terminator 2: Judgment Day before its theatrical release, he said more than once that Terminator 2 was going to be the biggest movie of the summer, and said it so often that Arsenio had the words appearing on the screen each time in huge red letters. When audiences finally got to see the film for themselves, they soon realized that Arnold was not lying.

Let’s start with the opening chase: John is caught between two Terminators until he realizes which one is there for his protection and which one is there for his elimination. (The film’s marketing campaign took advantage of it at first, leading potential viewers to think that there would be two evil Terminators running amok before it would later reveal that Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was now a good guy.) The three of them pursue each other via dirt bike/Harley-Davidson motorcycle/giant tow truck through a flood control channel. Then comes Sarah’s escape from the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (which includes Sarah getting her revenge on an abusive orderly by beating the ever-loving sh-t out of him). Then, Sarah, John, Miles, and Terminator breaking into Cyberdyne headquarters while having to fend off the L.A.P.D. and their SWAT division, to the final and brutal confrontation between Terminator, Sarah, and John vs. the T-1000 that brings them all to a fully operational steel mill where no one walks away unscathed. Cameron clearly brought the noise and made the most of his $100 million budget (which at the time, was the highest budget for any film) and showed what it would really look like and how much mass destruction would be unleashed with two powerful killing machines and a combat-trained woman relentlessly pursuing and battling one another all over Los Angeles.

Then, there are the visual effects, and how truly amazing they look onscreen. To see what the late and legendary Stan Winston, Dennis Muren, and numerous technicians were able to create and accomplish with the T-1000 (and with every action set piece in the film) is to marvel at their ingenuity, and also know that nothing would ever be the same in genre filmmaking after that. The effects in Terminator 2 were just as much of a giant leap for sci-fi films as the effects in The Terminator, and that film only had a $6.5 million budget to work with.

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As phenomenal as all of this was, none of it would have been as impactful if these action scenes and visual effects were used for a film where the story is lackluster or carries no substance. Fortunately, Cameron and his co-writer, William Wisher, did superb work in how they handled the screenplay and its familiar themes of how technology is only good or evil depending on the people who are using it, and human beings still being worth saving and protecting, even when most of them are absolute bastards.

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It’s not easy being only ten years old and knowing that your adulthood is going to involve leading human beings in a war against powerful machines hell-bent on world domination. It’s even worse when you have no one to rely on because one parent is dead and another is locked away from civilization. Unfortunately for John Connor, he has no choice but to grow up much faster than he’d like. That means going from angry and irresponsible troublemaker to someone using the power and responsibility at his fingertips to show a Terminator why it’s important to protect human life rather than end it, all while reconnecting with his mother and slowly viewing this Terminator as the only worthwhile father figure he’s ever had.

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When we first met Sarah Connor in The Terminator, she was young and carefree, and her biggest concerns were dealing with unruly customers while working as a waitress and finding the right man for double dates with her roommate/best friend and her boyfriend. And when Kyle Reese stepped into her life and turned it completely upside down, she was mostly confused and terrified about this unstoppable force coming after her for reasons she didn’t understand, and understandably not that well-equipped when it came to defending herself in her fight to stay alive.

That Sarah Connor is gone and is nowhere to be found here.

She is now mean, tough, laser-focused on protecting John and teaching him everything he needs to know, and fully capable of f-cking you up if you get in her way (much of that thanks to Linda Hamilton’s training and exercise regimen for Terminator 2 that had many people saying “Holy sh-t!” upon seeing her impressive physique). Sarah has been living with the trauma of her last experience with a Terminator, as well as knowing exactly what will happen to the world if she fails and Skynet succeeds. To say that she is shocked at the thought of fighting alongside a Terminator who looks just like the one who attempted to kill her is a massive understatement. Still, Sarah overcomes it quickly as she discovers that the T-1000 is an even greater threat, and she goes on to show that she is just as capable of unleashing Hell as either one of them.

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As the lead scientist/engineer at Cyberdyne Systems, Miles Dyson wants nothing more than to create and discover more technological advancements that could change both his industry and the world for the better. But it isn’t until Sarah Connor kicks in his door and waves the .44 that Miles realizes, much to his horror and disgust, what will happen to the human race as a result of his work. None of it must be allowed to continue in order to keep Judgment Day from happening, even if it means putting his own life and safety at risk. This isn’t the first time that legendary character actor Joe Morton has played a brilliant scientist who discovers powerful technology of unknown origin that results in the creation of something that is far beyond his imagination, as he would later go on to play Dr. Silas Stone, father to Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

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“I wanted someone who was extremely fast and agile. If the T-800 is a human Panzer tank, then the T-1000 is a Porsche.” This was how Cameron described his design of the T-1000, and how he would look and operate in comparison to the T-800 Terminator played by Schwarzenegger, as well as his decision to cast Robert Patrick in the career-making role of the T-1000. Scary, intense, laconic, and unpredictable when it comes to what he is willing and able to do in order to hunt down and kill John Connor, the T-1000 does exactly what a Terminator is programmed to do. This model has twice the advancements that make it more effective in carrying out its mission. The T-1000 also spends the entire film disguised as an officer of the L.A.P.D. in order to assist with its search, and considering that Terminator 2 opened in theaters almost ten months before the Los Angeles riots tore the city apart after four L.A.P.D. officers were found not guilty of viciously attacking Rodney King, it’s even more disturbing to see a white man (or a near-invulnerable android that looks like a white man) dressed as a law-enforcement officer while inflicting death and destruction on anyone or anything that gets in its way.

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The T-800 Terminator may be an entirely different model compared to the one who tried to kill Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, but he is still as brutally efficient and persistent as ever when attempting to complete his mission by any means necessary. His mission is to protect Sarah and John as opposed to terminating them. Yet John making him promise not to kill anyone doesn’t stop him from making sure that any cops or security guards who attempt to stop him are going to need months if not years of physical therapy as a result. As The Terminator recovers from his injuries at the hands of the T-1000, he explains to Sarah and John that his programming allows him to learn more about humans and their behavior the longer he spends time around them. Which results in John attempting to teach him how to use slang, but also why killing people is wrong and why crying is a part of human behavior. This final lesson isn’t truly understood by The Terminator until he finally destroys the T-1000, and must say goodbye to John and Sarah before destroying itself to prevent its own CPU from being used to create Skynet. And for a machine that was once described by Kyle Reese as feeling no pity or remorse or fear, it’s clear that this decision, however necessary it may be, is one that The Terminator clearly regrets.

The additional cast of Terminator 2: Judgment Day includes Earl Boen reprising his role as the arrogant Dr. Silberman. He is the man overseeing Sarah’s treatment at Pescadero and who refuses to believe her until he actually sees both Terminators in person and realizes that she was right. Danny Cooksey as Tim, John’s best friend who warns him that the T-1000 is looking for him and who has also come a long way since he was kidnapped from the Drummonds on Diff’rent Strokes. Castulo Guerra as Enrique, Sarah’s longtime friend who provides her and Terminator with the arsenal that they use to fight back against the T-1000, and Xander Berkeley and Jenette Goldstein as Todd and Janelle Voight, John’s exasperated foster parents who earn the film its R rating as they show us what kind of damage the T-1000 is able to inflict. (Fun fact: Not only is Jenette known for previously working with Cameron as Vasquez in Aliens, but she is now the proud owner of Jenette Bras, which provides bras and lingerie for well-endowed women and whose motto is “The alphabet starts at D.”)

Michael Biehn also reprises his role as Kyle Reese in a dream that Sarah has while she is still imprisoned and plotting her escape, but that scene was left on the cutting-room floor.

As Schwarzenegger told Arsenio Hall, Terminator 2 was going to the biggest movie of the summer, and it certainly was. Not just in size and scope, but in how it was a massive hit at the worldwide box-office. It would later go on to win numerous awards, including four Oscars (Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects), five Saturn Awards (Best Actress, Best Direction, Best Performance by a Younger Actor, Best Special Effects, Best Science Fiction Film), one Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and the Ray Bradbury Award for Dramatic Screenwriting by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Its visual effects, particularly the “morphing” effect of the T-1000 and its shape-shifting, were parodied and imitated nearly everywhere, including Michael Jackson’s video for “Remember The Time.”

It gave Schwarzenegger another catchphrase that spread across the nation like wildfire.

It featured the song “You Could Be Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, and helped the song become a hit as it reached Gold status.

It also made James Cameron even more of a god to sci-fi fans than he was before while increasing his status in Hollywood and giving him the keys to the kingdom so he could continue making more big-budget spectacles to entertain audiences worldwide. Such as True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis…

Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, and the late, great Bill Paxton…

And the movie that broke box-office records, the movie that people can’t stop sh-tting on by repeatedly saying how utterly forgettable it is, the movie that convinced Hollywood that 3D (and the more expensive ticket prices for seeing movies in 3D) was the future, the movie that still has Cameron hard at work making four more sequels: Avatar, starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, C.C.H. Pounder, and Sigourney Weaver.

There was also some talk that Cameron would be involved in doing the live-action adaptation of Spider-Man after the success of Terminator 2. Unfortunately, those plans fell through. After he became King Of The World thanks to Titanic, Cameron was asked by Premiere magazine if he would still be interested in making a Spider-Man film if the rights issues were ever cleared up. His response:

“Here’s where I am philosophically. I’m 44 years old, I make a movie every two or three years, it should be something that I create. I’ve always done that, with the exception of Aliens. The Terminator was my creation, so were Titanic and The Abyss. With the amount of time and energy that I put into a film, it shouldn’t be somebody else’s superhero. I don’t want to labor in somebody else’s house.”

Of course, Spider-Man went on to be directed by Sam Raimi, and the rest is history. (The very thought of Cameron directing a Spider-Man film for Disney and Marvel Studios, and answering to Kevin Feige in terms of what to do and how to do it, is laughable.)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day also wasn’t the last story to be told in that series and depending on who you ask, there is some debate as to whether these stories are at the same level of quality as the first two Terminator films. There was Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, which had Schwarzenegger returning as the T-800 to battle another Terminator (Kristanna Loken), this time a female one, who is hunting John Connor as an adult, played by Nick Stahl…

Terminator: Salvation, which starred Christian Bale and Sam Worthington…

Not only was this the film that had Bale losing his sh-t and going off on the film’s cinematographer who was walking around on set and ruined a take, but it also gave us the dance remix of Bale losing his sh-t on the cinematographer who was walking around on set and ruined a take…

Terminator: Genisys, starring Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, and Matt Smith…

And Terminator: Dark Fate, which starred Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna. It was considered a much-welcome return to form by some fans, and others hated it while accusing the film of being yet another beloved sci-fi property that went on to become woke and SJW and hating on White people. (Yes, really.)

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was adapted for television instead of film and starred Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, Thomas Dekker as John, Summer Glau as Cameron, the reprogrammed Terminator fighting alongside them, and Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese, brother of Kyle. Despite its short life of only two seasons, it was and still is considered one of the best chapters in the Terminator franchise. And not just because it blessed our lives with Shirley Manson(!) playing a Terminator.

There is still an ongoing debate after all these years as to which of Cameron’s Terminator films is the superior one: The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The latter is seen as bigger and better and more advanced. However, some fans prefer the leaner, meaner, and darker aspects of The Terminator, and think that Terminator 2 did a little too much to seem more mainstream and almost family-friendly. Which is a strange thought for a film that shows several people getting stabbed in the face by the T-1000. But as a follow-up to one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, Terminator 2: Judgment Day remains one of the few sequels that is just as great, if not better, than the original. Whatever happens next with this franchise, whether Arnold Schwarzenegger or James Cameron will have any direct involvement, whether any sequels or spin-offs or television series end up being made and are actually worth watching, we at least know one thing, because Hollywood is Hollywood, and because everything old ends up new again…

The Terminator will be back. And fortunately, he won’t be played by O.J. Simpson.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day is now streaming on Netflix.

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Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.



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