Director James Cameron
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong
In 1991 director James Cameron, on a box office high from Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989), revisited his first success (well, his second, but let’s not mention Piranha 2), Terminator (1984). The sci-fi action film had garnered a cult following, and had success far outstripping it’s meager budget. In part this was due to it providing a platform for Arnold Schwarzenegger to emerge as an action star (capitalising on his success in Conan the Barbarian two years prior). Taking place a decade after the events of the first film, the result was one of the biggest films of it’s year, and is still considered a science fiction classic.
After the failure of the previous mission, the future AI overlord, Skynet, sends another Terminator back in time to target resistance leader John Connor. This time instead of striking at his mother (Linda Hamilton), an advanced prototype liquid metal Terminator (Robert Patrick), is sent to strike at a young John Connor (Edward Furlong). To thwart the T1000’s mission a reprogrammed T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back by the Resistance to act as a guardian to the nascent leader.
One of the best science fiction sequels of all time, and even amongst the best sequels of all time. Unsurprisingly this is a joy to see on the big screen again (yes I’m that old), bringing a wealth of detail that is impossible to notice on smaller screens. Yet Judgement Day is more than just a screen spectacle. It is a film that treats it previous subject matter seriously, and in understanding that, enriches the world that created it. It expands the Terminator mythos, not only in examining the creation of Skynet, but in showing the traumatic aftermath of the events of the first Terminator on the Connors. It’s a trick that every subsequent Terminator sequel (with the possible exception of the short lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) has been unable to successfully achieve.
In many ways this is a perfect storm. The idea of a Terminator sequel had been floating around since the original, but the stars aligned at just the right time here. Cameron was just coming out of critical and box office success with his previous film, The Abyss, where he had utilised emergent computer generated special effects to great value. Schwarzenegger had started to broaden his range into comedy, but was still a huge action star and able to balance his performance on the edge of self parody. Hamilton, well she was undergoing some mental health challenges, but was able to sublimate that into her performance. The result is an iconic film, with a precision built script punctuated by spectacular action scenes.
Part of what made this so great is the way that Cameron harkens back to the original to flip it. You have Sarah Connor hardened by the events of the first film, till she is emotionally shut down and completely mission focused. In her attack on Dyson, she becomes a Terminator herself, trying to end Skynet’s creation. By contrast the T-800 is given the role of a protector, a bonding parental figure for John Connor. We see how our humanity can be sacrificed, in an attempt to do the greater good, but in turn we lose everything worth fighting for. By contrast John is embracing his humanity and compassion, and that’s what helps both get through. All set against the background of one of the biggest knock-down drag out fights to avoid technological obsolescences.
Although the 3D is mostly unnecessary, it is not disruptive either, allowing audiences to enjoy the film. This restoration to 4K allows this film new life, showing it in crisp detail. With a heavy reliance on model work and practical effects (despite the computer effects being the ones that garnered attention at the time), the action sequences have not dated, and still thrill. Having said that Cameron has taken the opportunity to provide a few digital alterations (keeping a truck window in during the bridge jump, keeping Robert Patrick’s scrotum out of his initial introduction – that sort of thing). It is nowhere near as intrusive, as other digital re-masterings (I’m looking at you, George Lucas), and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the film.
Definitely a blast of nostalgia, but one that really does stand the test of time, and well worth seeing on the big screen for one week only starting today, Thursday, August 24.