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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look upon one of the many DVDs I have my collection.  Today, I finished what I started last week by doing the biggest movie of the summer of 1991, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  This entry is dated in my notes at September 23, 2012.

Well, I was having me a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I found myself getting very, very bored. So I decided to finish off the 2-part epic and watch Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Like most folks, this was probably my first exposure to the Terminator franchise. The first film came out when I was 7, and with all the other 1980s icons that came out that year, such as Ghostbusters and Gremlins, Terminator made nary a blip. So, there I was, at a Star Trek convention with my mother (Yes, that's how big of a friendless geek I was in junior high), when they showed this teaser, which I still think is one of the greatest teasers in the history of movie advertising.

Actually, in the special features for the DVD, they actually talk about making that teaser. It was directed by animatronics expert Stan Winston, and in order to make it, he and his crew at Stan Winston Studios found the original animatronic Terminator skeleton, dug it out of storage, and used that.

I never got to see it in the theatres that summer, cuz it was rated R and all that, but I read everything I could on the making of the film. Plus, as we all know, the special effects were groundbreaking. You couldn't turn your head in the summer of 1991 without seeing some kind of reference to morphing and people asking how they did that.

Terminator 2 was one of the first DVDs I bought, because I liked the movie, but mostly because it was one of the most heavily hyped special editions back in Y2K, when DVD was still young and exciting. I might have to take a picture of the DVD box and post it. It's this tin box with a simple "T2" embossed in it. Still looks really elegant on my shelf.

For the first film, I was talking how it had that "low-budget, gritty, made-in-the-1980s" look. If there's one way that T2 differs, it's that it looks polished. Everything in T2 is shiny and new compared to the dark and gritty first one. The first film was made for just $7 million. T2 set a record for most expensive film ever made. Somewhere between $80 and $100 million were the estimates I was reading back in 1991...Wikipedia is telling me that the final budget came in at $94 million. And man, does that money show. T2 just looks so slick compared to the first one.

Even though 7 years passed between when the two films came out, most of the promotional materials and some "blink and you'll miss it" dialogue establishes that it's 10 years after the first film. Sarah Conner has given birth to his son John, and has been filling his head with notions of his destiny as saviour of humanity, and has been dragging him all across central America training him in weapons and combat technique and everything he'll need to wage war when he grows up.

But that all happened before the film. When the film opens, we John living with a foster family, and Sarah is locked up in a mental institution for her constant ravings about a future war against a machine uprising. She's being studied by a psychologist named Dr. Silberman. Dr. Silberman was also in the first film, where he he first studied future soldier Kyle Reese. Upon hearing Kyle's description of the future war, Silberman makes the offhand comment that he could make a career of studying his delusion. And, as they point out in the DVD running commentary, in the second film, we find that Silberman has done just that.

When we first meet Sarah Conner in the film, it's quite the change from the first. No longer the running and screaming virginal heroine, she has spent the last 10 years training and conditioning herself, become every bit the soldier that will be needed when the future war begins. Between Sarah Conner and Thelma and Louise, which also came out in 1991, the big prediction was that tough, female action stars was going to be the big trend in the 1990s, but it turned out not to be.

And then our two Terminators show up: Arnold Schwarznegger as THE Terminator, and Robert Patrick as the new T-1000. Of course, the T-1000 was where this movie got its fame. Revolutionary computer animation to bring James Cameron's vision of a liquid metal robot to life, that can shapeshift and everything. And Robert Patrick does a great job of playing him.

So the Terminator seeks out John Connor and explains the situation. The experimental prototype T-1000 has been sent in time to kill John Connor as a young man, and the Terminator has been re-programed by the human resistance in the future to be John's protector. John won't go into safety without his mother, so first, the Terminator and John go to rescue Sarah, and have a throwdown with the T-1000 at the hospital.

It's funny...in the running commentary, they point out that Cameron did script a final fate for Dr. Silberman, but chose not to film it. After witnessing the two Terminators fight, we would have seen Dr. Silberman being escorted into one of the cells at the mental institution, screaming, "SHE WAS RIGHT! SHE WAS RIGHT! SARAH CONNOR WAS RIGHT!"

The Terminator, John, and Sarah make for Mexico, and along the way, Sarah pumps the Terminator for more information about SkyNet and how the machines rose. The Terminator says that SkyNet was created primarily by the research of one man: Miles Dyson. Leaving John in the safety of the Terminator in Mexico, Sarah returns to LA with one goal in mind: kill Miles Dyson and prevent Skynet from being created. Even though she manages to wound Dyson, she finds herself unable to finish him off, and John and the Terminator show up and help Sarah back to herself.

The Terminator reveals his machine nature, and the Connors explain how Dyson will wind up creating the computer that destroys the world. Horrified at this, Dyson resolves to destroy all his research. Dyson also reveals the source of his research: the debris of the Terminator from the first film, which he has been reverse-engineering. As part of the the destruction of Dyson's research, they'll also have to destroy the remains of the first Terminator. How's that for wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff?

They head off to Cyberdyne Systems to destroy everything, the cops show up to arrest the Terminator for the crimes of the first film, there's massive shootouts and explosions, Dyson dies, they get the debris of the first Terminator, the T-1000 shows up to finish its mission, there's a grand chase to a steel foundry (don't you love it how these climaxes always take place in the one place that can kill the villain?) and we have our final battle.

They finally defeat the T-1000 by shoving it into a vat of molten steel, where it melts. As I told a friend of mine, the end always reminds me of an episode of the classic cartoon The Real Ghostbusters. Do you remember this episode? The Ghostbusters are pursuing this one ghost through a steel mill, when it mysteriously disappears. The Ghostbusters, unable to find the ghost, call it a day and go home. A few days later, the Ghostbusters get reports from all over the city of metal objects coming to life. Egon speculates that the ghost must have somehow dissolved in a vat of molten steel, and now parts of the ghost are trapped in these metal objects. The metal objects are coming to life because the ghost is trying to reform itself. All the metal objects eventually form a giant metal monster. The Ghostbusters lure the monster back to the steel mill, where it falls into a vat of molten steel. The ghost then comes flying out of the vat of molten metal, and the Ghostbusters easily capture him. Yeah...the end of Terminator 2 always reminds me of that episode.

They toss the debris of the first Terminator into the molten steel to destroy it. The Terminator reminds John and Sarah that there's one more Terminator that can be reverse-engineered: himself. So to truly make sure that Skynet will never be, the Terminator decides he must be destroyed. The end!

And as I said before, this is where James Cameron's Terminator films are better than three and four. Rather than just getting caught up in the explosions and the action sequences, they're trying to tackle some actual sci-fi concepts in here, such as altering the timeline and predestination vs. free will. And then the Terminator as a character, who starts spending too much time around humans and begins learning the value of human life. They attempt to tackle some sci-fi issues here, which is what elevates it.

But let's not forget its origins. If The Terminator was painfully close to a slasher film, there's no question that this is an action film through and through.

I feel as though I have to mention which version I watched. There's the original theatrical version, and then in 1992, James Cameron produced a "special edition" for home video and Laserdisc release. Most DVDs and Blu-Rays you'll find have both versions, and you can pick which one you'd like to see. There's also a third version the "extended special edition," which puts, like 2 minutes worth of deleted scenes back in. On my DVD, for this afternoon, I watched the original theatrical version. But I remember, when I first got that DVD, I watched the special edition first, because I'd heard about it, Siskel and Ebert made it their video pick of the week one time, and I'd been dying to see it. The special edition is pretty cool. There's more character development scenes with Dyson, more interaction with John teaching the Terminator about humanity, a great scene where Sarah and John shut down the Terminator so they can do some modifications to its CPU, and my favourites, some great special effects scenes from the final battle, where we see that the T-1000 getting frozen solid and then shattered, coupled with the extreme heat of the steel mill, is causing it to get all glitchy.

But that's Terminator 2. Still regarded as one of the greatest action films ever made, and I'm inclined to agree.

And before I go, let's not forget the song that was on the radio non-stop back in 1991...Guns N' Roses

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