Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991

It is rare that a sequel comes along that lives up to the original. Even more rare when the sequel becomes more beloved. That is arguably the case with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is very different film from its predecessor stylistically. While both movies qualify as Sci-Fi, T2 is widely regarded as one of the best action movies ever, while The Terminator is a traditional horror film (similar to the relationship between Aliens and the original Alien). Some may consider the difference so subtle it isn’t worth pointing out, but it’s actually quite substantial. The original relies on an unstoppable villain, just like the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises. A slow, hulking, literal killing machine that comes back no matter how many different ways the hero(s) try to stop it. Until, lo and behold, the heroine bests the bad guy and survives. In this case, using a machine press to pancake the metal endoskeleton of the original T-800.

For T2 Writer/Director James Cameron had to do something different. Aside from a reprogrammed Schwarzenegger-bot as the film’s primary hero, a new more menacing terminator model was introduced and new technology was needed to bring it to life. Back in 1991, CGI wasn’t commonplace. Stunts had to be done by stunt men and women. Makeup effects were applied meticulously and when you wanted a building explode on camera…you had to blow up a building. All of those are on display throughout T2 and there may have been no time in the history of film where practical effects were more well designed and expertly executed. However, T2 is the film most directly responsible for bringing CGI into the mainstream fold. Cameron had experimented with the digital liquid effect with The Abyss in 1989 but the effect didn’t play a large role in that film. It worked well enough though. Terminator 2’s mimetic, poly alloy T-1000 constantly shape shifts on camera, using deception as one of its most valuable assets, able to mimic almost anything or anyone it touched. Rumor has it Cameron wanted to use the liquid metal effect for The Terminator, but the technology just wasn’t up to par in 1984. One look at the action films since ‘91 and it’s easy to see the impact that groundbreaking CGI had on the future of film-making.

The role of the T-1000 went to Robert Patrick, a relative unknown. His cool, calm demeanor combined with quiet intensity and slender build made him the perfect foil. Patrick brought a very cerebral and calculated persona to the sinister machine, a sharp contrast to Arnold’s primitive T-800. Schwarzenegger was a sledgehammer and Patrick was a scalpel. Precise and surgical. That role made him a star and to this day remains an iconic performance. No matter the enhanced CGI or upgraded designs, none of the subsequent terminator films have been able to surpass (or even duplicate) what Patrick brought to the screen. It’s one of the primary reasons the franchise has been on an increasingly steep decline since T2. His performance was simply too strong. He spoiled the audience and set a really high bar that hasn’t been reached since.

Aside from the advances in technological film-making, Judgment Day also brought concerns on organized artificial intelligence to light. The Terminator made it clear that humankind was at war with machines in the future, T2 really explained how that came about. Skynet, A military A.I. became self aware and initiated global nuclear war, wiping out the majority of the human race in the process. The truly great science fiction movies raise questions about the use of science and how it will affect us. Judgment Day refers to the day that our own creation surpassed us and decided we were the ones who were now obsolete. T2 is really a cautionary tale about our inevitable self destruction dressed up with fantastic action and special effects.

Technology is advancing more quickly with each passing year. Robotics are beginning to mimic humans and computers are starting to learn. Google can automatically fill your search query, and your phone can guess what word is coming next. Self driving cars are on the verge of being brought to market and IBM developed a machine, Watson, that was able to compete on Jeopardy! I quite literally just typed “IBM” into the google search bar just to double check something and “IBM Watson” appeared as the recommended search. It may be happening already and we don’t even know it. When the machines do eventually take over James Cameron will be the first one to say, I told ya so!