Terminator 2 : Judgement Day. He’s back.

Ever since The Terminator came out in the Summer of 1984, and became a runaway success, audiences were clamoring for a sequel. Schwarzenegger was one of the main instigators in getting the sequel made, but conflicting schedules of both Cameron and Schwarzenegger, and the rights issues the property was tied up into, had prevented it from becoming a reality. Cameron had some ideas for the script that he’d originally thought up for the first movie but; being limited as he was by a constrained budget, and the necessary technology to realize his ideas not being up to snuff at the time, he’d had to put all those ideas on hold, and go with a simpler approach. His idea of a liquid metal Terminator that could pretty much imitate anything it needed to had been in the original draft, and now seven years on, and after having experimented with an early form of CGI for the Pseudopod/shapeshifting alien creature in his previous Sci-fi feature The Abyss (1989), the time was right for Cameron to go back to the drawing board and develop the concept. Getting the necessary financial backing for the movie was key.

Inception

It was actually Schwarzenegger who was the one who got things moving forward in striking a deal with producer Mario Kassar, who was the head of Carolco Studios. Kassar bought the rights from Hemdale; which was the company that held the rights for the first movie, for $ 10 million dollars, along with Gale Anne Hurd, who owned the other half; giving her an Executive Producer credit. Cameron was to go back to directing it, and Schwarzenegger to star in it. On the course of a phone conversation with actress Linda Hamilton, Cameron convinced her to come back after the actress told him that her character would have to have a harder edge to her, on the brink of lunacy after harboring for many years such psychologically damaging knowledge of what was to eventually become of the Human Race. Cameron agreed, as that was an aspect of Sarah’s character that he very much wanted to explore. With that idea in mind, and also the fact that this time, not only one, but two Terminators would travel back in time, and that the target this time wouldn’t be Sarah, but her son, John Connor; Cameron sat down to write the script. For this he recruited his old friend William Wisher; who’d helped him write some dialogue scenes for the first movie, and being familiarized with the source material, was in an ideal position to help him with the script. Between the time Kassar greenlit the picture until release date, Cameron had roughly 12 months to deliver the picture, as the release date had been scheduled for July 3rd 1991. Cameron and Wisher locked themselves up in an office, and for two months worked tirelessly on the script with little sleep in between, as Cameron wanted to deliver the first draft of the script before flying over to the Cannes film Festival with both Arnold and Kassar to announce that the movie was gonna be made. He finished the script with enough time to print out a copy of it and rush to the airport to meet up with Kassar and Arnold, who were already there waiting for him. Arnold read the script on the flight over, while Cameron took the time to catch some sleep, as he hadn’t sleep for two days straight trying to finish the last pages. Upon reading the script, Arnold’s reaction to how his character was going to be portrayed this time around; as a protective figure to John Connor rather than the unstoppable killing machine that he’d been on the first movie, was mixed. He thought that the audience wouldn’t react favourably to this, and that his character would come off as soft and unconvincing, but fortunately Cameron talked him into it, and ensured him that this was the right approach.

Script in hand, the next step was to cast the right people for the remaining parts; the most difficult being the casting of a suitable young actor who could convincingly play the part of John Connor.

Interesting cast choices and laying out the groundwork.

One very important piece of the puzzle was to cast a young actor to play the role of John Connor. For this, casting director Mali Finn went up and down LA looking for someone young with the right doses of street wise toughness and vulnerability. She ended up going to some Youth centers until she finally stumbled upon Edward Furlong. Furlong didn’t have any acting experience, but Finn convinced him to come in and audition for the part regardless. Due to his blatant lack of acting experience, the first two auditions didn’t go so well, but Finn convinced Cameron to stick with him and give him one more chance. With the help of an acting coach and drawing on some personal troubled family history, he was able to elicit a convincing enough performance to net the role. The next step was to cast the actor who would play the part of the other Terminator, the T-1000. Finn came up with a brilliant, but relatively unknown actor to play the part. Robert Patrick followed Finn’s instructions to the letter in trying to convey a powerful sense of threat for the part. His cat-like mannerisms, and the imposing sense of menace he could convey through his eyes, sold him to Cameron as the perfect choice for the role. He also had to be cast months in advance as Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), had to start working very early on, on the groundbreaking Visual Effects necessary to show off his liquid metal shapeshifting abilities. Other important members of the cast were Joe Morton as Miles Dyson, the Cyberdyne computer engineer, who is working on the chip and Endoskeleton arm left from the Terminator on the previous movie, and Earl Boen, who comes back as Dr Silberman, the smarmy psychiatrist who has Sarah retained in a mental hospital.

Given the mammoth proportions of the shoot, and its complexity, and the groundbreaking Visual Effects that would be needed to recreate the T-1000, a fair amount of planning and conceptual design had to be laid out for the cast, crew and Special and Visual Effects artists to get an idea of what was it that Cameron wanted to bring to the screen. Cameron and a team of Conceptual Artists like John Bruno and Steve Burg, got to drawing numerous designs and storyboards that showed in detail what needed to be done for the countless and difficult action set pieces of the movie.

Movie magic

To bring about his vision on such a tight schedule, Cameron had to enlist the help of numerous Effects houses for each one of them to take care of a particular part of the script that necessitated of some visual or special effect. In addition to ILM; which took care of everything concerning the T-1000 liquid metal effects, Stan Winston Studios were also brought in to take care of everything that had to do with the construction of an Arnold-Endoskeleton puppet, life size Endoskeleton puppetry, special makeup for all the different phases that the T-800 went through, and some life size puppets of the T-1000. Fantasy II Special Effects Inc, would take care, as they had done for the first movie, of everything that had to do with miniature work concerning the Future War pre-title sequence and the sequence in which a Liquid Hydrogen tanker capsizes on its side and crashes into the Steel Mill. All of these scenes were shot in a Soundstage and later on used as background plates, back proyected in a Process stage. They also took care of some of the pyrotechnic shots; like the burning playground in the title sequence.

Another important player was 4-Ward Productions, whose main task was taking care of the Nuclear Nightmare sequence; which was achieved with a mixture of miniatures, and moving models that could be blown apart using a series of wires, air cannons and small explosive charges. This shots were edited together with those produced by Stan Winston; who produced a series of life size adult and children casts to be blown apart as part of the playground Nuclear explosion nightmare sequence. The marrying of all the shots produced by these Effects Houses with that of the amazing and often breathtaking stunt work footage produced in location is seamless, like the T-1000 chasing John Connor, who is riding a dirt bike, through the LA flood system canals with a truck, the T-800 bike jump into the canal from a narrowing concrete wall, the truck crashing into a bridge in the middle of the canal and exploding, all the Cyberdyne action set pieces, the final confrontation between the T-800 and the T-1000 in the Steel Mill….

But who really take the cake here are ILM and the amazing work they did recreating the liquid form of the T-1000. To achieve this, they would scan Robert Patrick’s body, both still and in motion, and feed this information to the computer that later, using a 2-D to 3-D conversion software, made a digital replica of Robert Patrick to be used in all the scenes in which the T-1000 morphs into something else. This was groundbreaking CGI work at the time, and would pave the way for what would be achieved years later with films like Jurassic Park and the Star Wars prequels.

Hectic shoot

Pressed for time as he was, the shoot was an arduous and very nerve-wraking affair. Before the actors even started shooting, they all underwent a rigorous training regime. In the case of actors Linda Hamilton and Robert Patrick; they were both trained in the usage of weapons by an Israeli ex-commando by the name of Uzi Gal. Patrick became quite a fast runner; so much so that he even caught Furlong while the actor’s dirt bike was being pulled by an insert car during the first chase sequence. Needless to say; that take couldn’t be used. In location filming was done in and around California, mostly at night, and making sure that a minor like Furlong would get all his scenes shot before midnight. Aside from the use of the LA flood system canal used for the first chase sequence, the crew also made use of a former Mental Institution that had to be abandoned due to the seismic activity in the area. Extensive research was done on the procedures and protocols conducted in real Mental Hospitals, and photographs were taken of a real, functional one to be used as reference for the Art Department crew to dress up the abandoned building accordingly. Some other locations like the gas station garage where the trio of protagonists hide out, were used only as an exterior location; the interior being recreated in a soundstage. Others like the truck stop/gas station or the Dyson’s resident out in Malibu were real locations that were slightly altered or dressed up, to avoid any permanent damage on the properties. The same could not be said of the abandoned office building that doubled up as the Cyberdyne building. The building was an empty husk which the original developers, after suitable monetary arrangement, were only too happy to loan the crew to blow up. Only the lobby of the building was used to recreate the security office and reception area of Cyberdyne. The rest of the interiors were built in a soundstage. A third mock up floor was built on top of the two existing floors and rigged with explosives and gasoline barrels to produce an even more spectacular explosion. For the final showdown, the crew moved to a derelict Steel Mill and dressed it up to make it look like it was a functioning one. All of the elements like vats of molten steel, pour ladles and flying sparks were carefully recreated to give the whole set a lived-in feel. The highway Swat van/semi-truck and helicopter/tanker chase sequence was a logistical nightmare as the Cinematographer Adam Greenberg struggled to get sufficient lights to light up the vast stretch of Highway, where the chase took place. Practically every light that the crew could get their hands on was required. The chase also involved the use of live footage of a real helicopter performing such daring stunts as flying under an overpass at very low altitude, and a mock up of the same helicopter hooked up to a crane and moved by an insert truck from which the scenes would be shot. The final result was a mixture of stunt work, miniature and back projection, all edited in a seamless fashion.

The final touch

The tight schedule forced the editing process to be going on at the same time that the main units were still shooting. ILM were still delivering Visual Effects shots while at the same time, matching footage of those same shots were coming in from the main units. That also meant that Composer Brad Fiedel had to try and work out his music into some of the scenes without having a real sense of how those scenes worked or what they even looked like, as most of the Visual Effects shots weren’t even finished yet. This made for a very haphazard and nerve-wracking picture and sound editing process; not helped by the fact that Edward Furlong’s voice had changed over the course of the shoot and his early scenes had to be looped in in Post-production or pitch-altered to make them have a consistency. The release date was getting closer, but despite some last minute changes; like finding an alternate ending, because the original one hadn’t worked in the preview screenings, and cutting it pretty close to the wire; the final cut was delivered.

Critical and Financial reception

The movie was a massive success. The successful marketing campaign and the trickle of trailers and promotional material that had been strategically released in the months leading up to release date, had got everyone excited. Critics unanimously praised the movie as an intelligent, and very well constructed follow-up to the original and the movie served to cement Cameron’s reputation in the pantheon of greats even further. It was the most expensive movie ever shot at the time of its release, at a little over $100 million, but it was also one of the most successful, making a little over $516 million worldwide, breaking several box office records and making even more money when it came out in Home Video a year later.

Special and Extended Editions

A year after its Home Video release, the movie came out in Laserdisc in both its Theatrical Version and a brand new Special Edition that restored back 15 minutes of unseen footage and a slew of Supplemental features that would turn this lavishly designed boxed set into one of the most sought after Laserdiscs for collectors and fans of the movie alike. Of all the restored footage the most interesting scenes were the one that takes place early on in the Hospital were Sarah is locked up, in which she has a dream in which Kyle Reese appears to her and reminds her of her mission of protecting their son. This scene leads into a precursor of the Nuclear explosion nightmare scene that will be seen in its entirety later on. The other one is a brilliantly executed Special Effects scene, which takes place in the abandoned gas station where the trio takes refuge, in which Sarah and John remove the Terminator’s CPU and reset it to Write Mode. Sarah tries to smash the chip, at which point John has to stop her, explaining to her that they still need the Cyborg to survive. These two scenes are brilliantly executed and acted, and were removed for pacing reasons. The second scene especially, in my opinion, better explains why the Terminator starts to adapt better to human behavior from that point on. As for the rest of the scenes; it’s a case of leave or take. They’re interesting scenes; but not necessary for plot development. The Extended Edition has the exact same scenes included, with the addition of an alternate ending in which Sarah is shown to us as a 60 year old woman who reminisces about what could have been while observing his grown up son playing with her granddaughter in the playground of her dreams. This was the end scene that was removed from the theatrical cut because test audiences didn’t like it. I can understand why. The scene doesn’t ring true, it seems forced, and Hamilton’s awful old age makeup makes it even worse. The movie was remastered in 4K back in 2017, and re-released in Cinemas. It was 3D post-converted, and the results are remarkable for a movie that was never meant to be shown in 3D. There’s not an over-abundance of gimmicky pop out effects, but the 3D depth of the image is substantial, especially in long shots and in scenes like the first chase sequence and the final showdown in the Steel Mill.

Final thoughts

The original T2 add campaigns do justice to the quote; ”He’s back”. And what a way to come back. This movie is a triumph in every sense of the word. It’s exceptionally well scripted, directed, acted, edited and scored. It does the rare trick of surpassing the original in both success and cultural status. Cameron achieves a landmark in filmmaking; succesfully blending old school storytelling with state-of-the-art Special and Visual Effects, using the visual trickery in service of the story, and not the other way around. For him, technology is merely a tool; a means through which to tell a story. The acting is excellent. Cameron can be easily considered the only filmmaker to elicit a truly remarkable performance from Schwarzenegger every time they work together. He did it in the first movie; he does it again now. Hamilton delivers a stunning performance as the hard edged, cold, machine-like warrior, who will do everything in her power to protect her son, and to ensure that the much feared future that she’s envisioned doesn’t come to pass. Robert Patrick really excels as the T-1000; his is a very calculated, measured and powerfully menacing performance. He truly gets under the skin of this character. But the real surprise here is the young Edward Furlong. For such a young and inexperienced actor he delivers the good with just the right amount of cockiness and vulnerability.

Brad Fiedel knocks it out of the Park once again. His soundtrack this time is a perfect blend of heart-pounding rhythms and understated melodies. The perfect acompanying piece to the movie. Not meant to call attention to itself, but to underline the action and the dramatic moments. Of special significance are the T-1000 Theme, the action cues that accompany the first chase sequence in the flood system canal and the raid on Cyberdyne.

Adam Greenberg’s Cinematography is gorgeously natural and warm during the daytime scenes, and cold and bleak during the nighttime scenes with a prevalence of blues and greens.

Production Design by Joseph Nemec III, Art design and Special Effects and Makeup by Stan Winston and his crew are top notch. So is the work of all the above mentioned Effects Houses. Special mention to ILM, though. Their groundbreaking work to bring the T-1000 to the screen is the highlight of the show, and the groundwork onto which so many barriers regarding what could and could not be achieved in Visual effects were torn down.

All in all, a remarkable Sci-fi/action movie that ushered cinema into the digital realm, and closed the chapter in a story that should have never been continued.

Thanks for reading

Published by flickgeeky

Love cinema and everything that has to do with it, from the screenwriting to the filmmaking process, acting, to its final presentation on the big screen and finally, to its home media release

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