#59 & #60 The Terminator & Terminator 2: Judgement Day

(1984/1991, James Cameron)

“Come with me if you want to live”


Now consisting of four movies, a TV series (Sarah Connor Chronicles) and an assortment of spin-off media, the Terminator franchise is one of the most well-known sci-fi action series in existence; however, its quality has widely varied. Terminator Salvation (starring Christian “Batman” Bale) was a little hit and miss, and the less said about Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, the better. But what of the first two?

The Terminator is set in 1984, the year of its release, and features waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) discovering that two women with her name have been murdered by a mystery assailant, and she has every reason to believe she’s next. She eventually runs into a mysterious assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who does indeed try to kill her, but she is saved by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Kyle informs her that both he and Ahnuld are from the future, where a war between man and machine is being endlessly fought. Arnie is a machine known as a Terminator, and he’s been sent back to kill Sarah before she can give birth to her son John, the leader of the human resistance, and Kyle has to protect her.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day has largely the same storyline, only now there are two Terminators – the original model (again played by the Governator) and a new liquid metal prototype, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick and a truckload of CGI), and this time the target is John Connor himself as a child (Edward Furlong). However, SPOILER ALERT the original Terminator this time is taking Kyle’s role as John’s protector. He’s been reprogrammed by John Connor in the future to protect John Connor in the past. Got that? Trust me, it gets a lot more confusing.

The Terminator is a decent movie that’s not without its flaws. It feels very much like a product of the 1980s, with all the big hair and terribly synthesised soundtrack that implies. It’s also a massive slab of cheese, what with its generic action movie clichés and one-liners. It’s incredibly dated, particularly with some of the dodgy stop motion effects towards the end of the movie, which genuinely do look like they were constructed from models rather than looking like they’re part of the actual scene.

But guess what? It’s also incredibly FUN. Arnie is in full-on Ahnuld mode here, even with his minimal lines, and the action sequences make for some truly enjoyable cinema. In addition, the storyline actually holds together well, and while its ending raises some serious chronological issues, it at least sticks to its own internal logic, something that many other big blockbuster action movies fail to do.

It’s not a particularly smart movie, but who cares? It’s impossible to not have a good time watching it unless you’re some kind of humourless cinema snob. And that is all that can really be said about it.

But Judgement Day? Oh boy. Where Terminator went wrong, Judgement Day corrects the mistakes. And where it went right? Everything is amped up to 11.

Those effects that were so problematic in the first movie? Gone, replaced with greatly improved CGI effects, particularly where the T-1000 is concerned. Impressively, they still look good 20 years on, which is practically ancient history where CGI is concerned. Robert Patrick blends seamlessly with his computer-generated counterpart, and consistently feels like it’s genuinely there. There aren’t many early 90s uses of CGI which can say the same thing, so hats off to James Cameron for pulling it off so successfully.

At the same time, just when you thought Arnie couldn’t be any more entertaining, he pulls it off here. By switching from the role of the villain to the hero, he gains a whole ton of entertaining one-liners and significantly more badass moments. His first scene sees him walking into a biker bar, demanding one of them give him his clothes and motorcycle before beating up half the customers then ripping a shotgun straight from the owner’s hands as it’s being pointed at him. The scene clearly shows we’re dealing with a different Terminator here, and Ahnuld never lets up.

However, there are some issues. The T-1000, marketed as the even more dangerous Terminator disappears for much of the middle of the movie, when the Connors and Arnie go to try and shut down the Skynet project, and when he comes back you can almost see James Cameron sitting in his office saying “oh shit, we had that liquid metal guy! Better write him back in.” If he’d remained a persistent threat for the entire movie it would have made things better, but his absence is pronounced.

Similarly, the plot gets even more confusing and tangled here. Everything that happens now is dictated by events in future, although those events are also dictated in the present, to the point where everything just hurts to think about too much. Which is probably why there’s so many shots of Arnie blowing stuff up, just to prevent people thinking too much and causing their brains to malfunction.

Judgement Day is certainly the better movie of the two. It’s certainly one of the best Arnie vehicles in existence, as its mind-bending, time travel plot is a little more intelligent than most of his well-known work, but also because it’s just so good at being an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Stuff blows up, people get shot, and Arnie throws out catchphrases and one-liners from every direction, but it’s all so tightly directed and pieced together that there is never a dull moment. The first movie is fun, but the second movie is a blast from start to finish. It’s a rare example of a sequel being significantly better than its predecessor, and that alone wins it favour with me.

The Terminator movies might not be the smartest movies out there, but they’re entertaining, and that’s what really matters in movies most of the time. Judgement Day is definitely unmissable, but the first movie is required to be up to date with what’s going on, so watch both.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Edward Furlong & Robert Patrick
Terminator written by James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd, Judgement Day written by James Cameron & William Wisher
Produced by Gale Anne Hurd (Terminator) and James Cameron (Judgement Day)
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography by Adam Greenberg
Edited by Mark Goldblatt, Conrad Buff & Richard A. Harris

Favourite Scene (Terminator): The scenes where The Governator repairs himself. A definite success story for the SFX department, unlike…
Scene That Bugged Me (Terminator): That stop motion Terminator skeleton is laughably bad. It looks good when they switch to the animatronic models, but dear god those stop motion effects are just awful.

Favourite Scene (Judgement Day): The aforementioned biker bar scene. It sets the tone for the entire movie, and it’s awesome
Scene That Bugged Me (Judgement Day): The scenes of the future nuclear blast always seemed a little awkward for me. They seem to break the flow of the movie and feel like they’re trying too hard to elicit an emotional response from the audience
Watch them if: You want to live
Avoid them if: Ahnuld’s accent annoys you. In which case, you could probably get away with just watching the first one

Originally posted on Blogspot Friday 17 February 2012

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Posted on April 14, 2012, in 1980s, 1990s, Action, Sci Fi. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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