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Terminator 2: Judgment Day Review

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by Simon Crust Jun 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    Terminator 2: Judgment Day Review

    Once again I take a look at Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this time in its UK guise, the Steel Box edition and as such I'll reproduce my synopsis and thoughts as per the US release, unsurprisingly nothing has changed in the last week or so.

    It is rare for a sequel to live up to the standard set by the original film. Even rarer for a sequel to better it. Filmic history is littered with the scattered remains of many sequels that have tired and failed. And even more that have tired, failed, but keep going nonetheless. James Cameron, however, is one director with enough vision to take the sequel to a new level. He has directed two of the most successful sequels of all time, and both of which have had subsequent film franchises ruined what he set up. Aliens (1986) turned the gothic horror Alien (1979) into an all out action horror hybrid, where as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the most expensive film ever made at the time, brought a new twist to his own The Terminator (1984). This direction was needed because the original was so complete that a sequel was deemed near impossible; there was only ever one person for the job, the creator of the original, even though he had to wait until technology caught up with his vision. He was able to reunite all the original cast and build on the history already established in a film as complete as the original and one to close the story once and for all. Little did he know huh?

    The plot is very similar to the original film, in that the Future War is still raging and Skynet, the computer that instigated the war, sent back another Terminator machine to kill the leader of the human resistance of the future, John Conner. The first film concerned the model sent to kill Sarah, John's mother, the second a newer prototype model sent to kill John as a child. Both times the resistance were able to send a protector, only this second time it was a Terminator machine and not a human. The film follows the battle between these two unstoppable machines, one assassin and one protector, in their desperate attempt to change future events.

    Cameron made sweeping changes to the perceived nature of his characters for this film; first, and most obvious, is that of Schwarzenegger; no longer is he the assassin but rather the protector with instructions not to kill. This worked very well with his 'new caring image' as he wanted to move away from the violent stereotypical character. In the theatrical version he was a learning computer, in the director's cut he was preset and had to be reprogrammed, this gave the character some development, the more human he becomes the more we care for his fate and the sacrifice he makes at the end is all the more poignant. Sarah too went through a transformation, from scared bunny to hardened soldier with a fierce determination to see her son survive no matter what the cost, even at the expense of her mother-son relationship. In this sense she has become as unstoppable as the very machines she fights against.

    The new model Terminator, the T1000's role was given relative new comer Robert Patrick, who plays a liquid metal machine. Just like the original film this Terminator is given little or no chance to develop his purpose is quite clear. A very different looking man and a very different acting style between these two 'machines' and when they battle together on screen it is some of the most electrifying action. Schwarzenegger with his stiff acting style and Patrick with his more fluid motion both capture the essence of their inner 'machine'.

    For all my raving about these two machines there are facets about both that still irk me ever since my first viewing, even though the Director's cut does answer some issues. I never liked the wry smile by Schwarzenegger when he picks up the gattling gun for the first time; he is a machine purely functional, even though he is a 'learning computer' or 'reprogrammed' as the Director's cut shows, this is still an illogical reaction for a logical machine. But worse than this is the T1000 itself; I've no problem with the 'liquid metal' indeed it is a splendid idea and fits so well as I've already pointed out. What gets to me is how did this metal travel through time when it's already been established only living flesh can go through? Naked liquid metal is still metal right? But enough off my nitpicking.

    Cameron's multi layered script works on several different levels, there is the straight forward action film, there are elements of adolescent angst, fear of the future, fear of change, family ties and more if you are willing to look. He even goes as far as explaining how the war started considering the end of the cold war happened between the release of the two films. There is a pace and construction to the story line that makes a kind of sense, even in the extremes of time travel, with an ending that borders on schmaltz but brings the franchise to a satisfying close. Of course, this being Cameron there was a large part of the film excised for the theatrical run, the same was true for Aliens. The director's cut restores some sixteen minutes of footage, including a dream sequence from Sarah about Kyle, John's father, a malfunctioning T1000 and most significantly the reprogramming of Schwarzenegger's Terminator. This is a large section comprising of a huge set piece, its reinstatement answers a lot of plot holes with regard to the Terminator's later actions, including its decision to self terminate. A final Special Collector's Edition was also released on DVD, it is much the same as the director's cut, but reinstates the two deleted scenes of the T1000's search of John's room at his foster parent's house and an alternative ending. This 'Skynet' edition brings all these three films together on one Blu-ray disc, a significant 'extra' if ever there was one. It should be noted that access to the 'SCE' requires an access code, which is the date of Judgement Day, but remember it's the American date. Personally I'd go with the director's cut every time; it is a far more rounded and complete than the Theatrical cut and contains a far better ending than the Special Collector's Edition.

    As a film, T2 is a thrilling ride, as a sequel it is quite outstanding; by retaining enough essence to be recognisable but changing just about everything taking a completely new direction.

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