Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Terminator 2: Judgment Day


Two days into the shoot on Flying Down to Reno the new musical film version of Airport '75 and I am exhausted. The producers are very tight with their money so all of the plane scenes are being shot over three weeks in an old fuselage set up in the back parking lot of the local Chuck E. Cheese . We had a quick read through of the script Monday morning and then we all headed back to the set to start work. I was very upset to find that Margo Channing had also been cast in the part originally played by Myrna Loy. Apparently financing fell through on Toxy Foxy and the production has been delayed, freeing up her schedule for this project. At least she's playing an elderly lush while I am playing Vicki Lester, glamorous musical star and I get two numbers, while she only gets two lines of a verse in an early opening ensemble.

We have lots of big names in the cast including Joey Travolta as the male lead, Don Swayze as the head of the ground crew, and Joe Estevez, Richmond Arquette, Deedee Pfeiffer and Paige Hannah amongst the passengers. We're going to film my big finale tap first so we've been rehearsing most of the last couple of days. My coworkers may be well known dramatic actors but their dance skills need some help. The choreographer and I needed six hours to teach them their simple combinations so they wouldn't fall into each other in the plane aisle as they tap enthusiastically towards the closest emergency exit.

I'm very much going to have to go into machine mode for most of this shoot in order to make sure it all goes well so I decided to watch an indestructible machine film to get me into the proper frame of mind. With that in mind, I popped the new DVD of Terminator 2: Judgment Day into the home theater; then I settled in with my diet ginger ale, my Ben-Gay, my foot massager and the cat to watch James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger blow things up in wide screen and Dolby 5.1 stereo. Norman had a few things to say about shaking walls every time something blew up on screen. I convinced him it was just another little Southern California temblor and he returned to his Nyquil induced stupor.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is James Cameron's follow up to his surprise 1984 hit, The Terminator, a film that catapulted him to the front rank of Hollywood action directors and which firmly cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger's crown as reigning action star. The original film was the story of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a young woman of the San Fernando Valley, who, unbeknownst to her, is destined to be the mother of a future military hero in the upcoming war against the machines. The machines send a ruthless killing robot, the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back through time to eliminate Sarah while her future son sends back a lone human warrior, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect her. An elaborate cat and mouse ensues in which Cameron shows off his virtuoso action style and his ability to create bleak technological worlds on limited budget.

For the sequel, Cameron brought back most of his leading players. It's a dozen years later. Sarah, now mother to John Connor (Edward Furlong), has spent the intervening time turning herself into an Amazon and has ended up in the state mental hospital with her talk of killing machines from the future. John is unhappily ensconced in foster care; (his foster mother, Janelle, is played by the same actress who played the female marine Vasquez in Cameron's Aliens - he likes using the same faces from film to film). Again, the machines send back a super killing machine, only this time its an advanced liquid metal prototype (Robert Patrick) that can mimic anything it touches; its target is the child, John. The future John also sends back one of the older models (Schwarzenegger) reprogrammed to be a benevolent protector in order to keep his young self from harm. It's up to young John and the terminator to bust Sarah out of the mental hospital, evade the chrome baddie, and prevent Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) from inventing the computer chip which will lead to the machine war and nuclear holocaust. (His company is in possession of the CPU of the terminator from the first film and it’s giving him ideas...) This is all accomplished in one stunning action set piece after another.

Several years after its initial release, Cameron went back to the film and added back in scenes, which had been cut from the original theatrical release. This extra added twenty minutes or so of footage makes up the 'Special Edition' cut of the film that is on the new DVD release. The additions are mainly in the second act of the film, after Sarah has been rescued and before the fearsome foursome go off to destroy the work on the revolutionary new chip. There is a long sequence that shows that the Terminator is not capable of learning unless his CPU is changed which requires digging into his head. There are then a number of sequences further developing the relationship between the Terminator and John showing how they learn from each other. There are also additional scenes involving the Dyson family, making Miles more sympathetic. While interesting from an academic point of view, none of these additions really add that much to the film and slow the pace down considerably. There is also an early dream sequence that brings back Michael Biehn, but it was edited out, as it would make no sense unless you had seen the first film.

Action films usually live or die by their action sequences and these are doozies. There are chase scenes, helicopter stunts, explosions, shoot-outs, fights in shopping malls, mental hospitals, and steel mills, broken tanker trucks and a nuclear blast thrown in for good measure. They're well staged, believable, impeccably timed, and are integrated into the plot, not just there for their own sake. The stunt and visual effects departments earned their paychecks for this one. The non-action performances are adequate. Arnold is playing a machine so he's not required to deliver much more than stolid. He has a number of subtle, funny moments that work as they're played absolutely straight. Linda Hamilton beefed up for her role and is every inch the female Rambo. Whether this is a truly believable character transition is best left unexplored. Edward Furlong does a creditable job as the kid, coming off with a hesitant mix of street smarts and vulnerability. Robert Patrick made an inspired T-1000 machine, slight and lithe and all steely menace. It took him years to live it down and be able to move on to other roles.

It's best not to examine the script to closely for logic. The T-1000 is unable to make complicated moving parts, but can effortlessly make clothes with all sorts of buttons and gee-gaws. The T-1000 appears to be all liquid metal with no chips or gears or any such things - so where does its voice come from? How does the same slimy psychiatrist who worked for the police in the first film end up treating Sarah in the mental hospital in the second? And what's he doing there in the middle of the night so he can be conveniently threatened during her escape?

The film is helped along by Brad Fiedel's hypnotic score that uses a lot of metallic and machine sounds along with the music. It sounds great in surround sound and never overpowers the action, unlike some more recent scores (Gladiator comes to mind.)

The new DVD release has the option of watching the film in either the theatrical or the special edition cut. There is also a commentary track, pieced together from multiple interviews that has cast and principal crewmembers discussing all aspects of the film. There are also dozens of mini-featurettes on the special effects and putting together of the film and several longer featurettes on the special effects. The original shooting script and storyboards for selected sequences are also included for comparison to the finished product. There is also a trailer for the T-2 3-D: Battle Across Time amusement park attraction.

Skull crunching. Burning playground. ATM robbery. Child mullet. Gun and roses. Gratuitous chrome mannequins. Poisonous syringe. Gratuitous face lick. Home office shoot out. Exploding office park. I-beam to head.

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