As The Terminator (1984) became a huge cult success, Arnold Schwarzenegger was making a name for himself in such Hollywood hits as Commando (1985), Predator (1987) and Total Recall (1990). By 1991, technology had caught up to the point that director James Cameron was ready for the long-awaited sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Another long-standing issue concerned certain rights issues that were in dispute with the Hemdale Film Corporation. With some persuasion from Arnold, Carolco Pictures made a bid and acquired the rights, leaving the door wide open for a return to the Terminator universe.
Arnold Schwarzenegger would reprise his role as the T-800 Terminator. Well, a new version of his old character anyway. He would incorporate a lot more humor and would have a greatly enhanced role playing the hero this time, rather than being the villain of the piece. This T-800 is programmed to save the main characters of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John (Edward Furlong, Pet Semetary Two). As it turns out, the apocalyptic future was not averted and a new T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick, The X-Files) has been sent by the machines of 2029 back to 1991 to kill John Connor and weaken the resistance, while the resistance has sent the reprogrammed T-800 to protect him.
A decade has passed and life has not gone well for Sarah and her son. After years on the run, Sarah has become a fighter, skilled and prepared for what awaits her and her son. However, Sarah has been caught for her involvement in the events from the first film. She is considered mentally imbalanced and institutionalized while John has become a rebel, living in foster care and believing his mother is insane. But when the T-1000 arrives to kill John, the T-800 arrives to protect him. John begins to realize his mother was right all along and, after breaking her out of the hospital, the race is on to stop Skynet from becoming reality.
Whereas The Terminator was a gritty, low-budget cult film from the 80s, Terminator 2 is clearly a big-budget summer spectacular. The movie has a very glossy look and polished feel to it when compared directly to its predecessor. However, the high-tech special effects and blockbuster approach work very well as Terminator 2 was an incredibly well-crafted sequel. It incorporated logic into the plot, dealing with how Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) used the damaged CPU and right arm of the original Terminator to reverse engineer what was to become the foundation of Skynet. Essentially, the machines created the future by going back in time, one of those nasty time paradoxes so often overlooked in time travel stories.
Special effects were key to the success of Terminator 2. The T-1000 effects, the liquid alloy characteristics, were created by a combination of the new state-of-the-art CGI and old-school prosthetics from the legendary Stan Winston. The morphing effects are now common and still used in television and movies. The natural progression of Sarah Connor into a fighting and somewhat disturbed badass along with the rebellious son made perfect sense. It was also fun to have Earl Boen back as Sarah’s psychiatrist Dr. Peter Silberman and Michael Biehn in a cameo as Kyle Reese (via a hallucination of Sarah’s), which appears only in the director’s cut.
I was looking for holes in the story or weakness in the special effects upon revisiting Terminator 2. But honestly, the movie holds up incredibly well. While being a perfect continuation of the original, it stands on its own as a fun sci-fi adventure film. It was a huge success in 1991, earning multiple Academy Awards, including Best Special Visual Effects for Stan Winston’s work. It also resulted in an attraction at Universal Studios theme parks. The ride, called T2 3D: Battle Across Time, brought back all of the cast from Terminator 2 combined with actors playing the real-life characters interacting with the audience. There is a fun Cyberdyne promotional film as attendees wait to go into the theater. While Universal Hollywood has since removed the ride, it’s playing strong at Universal Orlando and well worth the time. Sure, it’s a little dated by today’s standards but it’s still a lot of fun and a little nostalgic.
After the huge success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, fans would have to wait another 12 years for the sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Tomorrow, we travel back to 2003 and see if the third film in the series holds up as well as the first two.