Jul 1 2011 10:26am

Terminator 2 Turns Twenty

Terminator 2 is 20 years oldJuly 3, 1991. The sequel to a successful science fiction/action movie is released. It is yet another movie from writer/director James Cameron, who has been enjoying his success from earlier movies such as Aliens, The Terminator, and The Abyss. As such, there is an amount of hype. People are excited, even me, and I was only eight years old. This movie is one of the great blockbusters of summer. It is slated over Independence Day week, releasing on a Monday of all things. It had an estimated $94,000,000 budget, large even in today’s money, and far more when you look at relative worth, which in comparison would be between $150-$230 million in 2010 dollars. It is a gamble, and it not only paid off, but changed the game for science fiction movies, in some ways wonderfully, but in some ways horribly.

Prior to Terminator 2, CGI and special effects in science fiction movies were occasional little flares, a blow-you-away scene and “big reveal,” such as the living water in The Abyss or the robo-skeleton at the end of The Terminator. Terminator 2 changed that. We have giant feats of CGI in every other scene. Liquid metal turning into all sorts of things, from other people to the floor under your feet. And the biggest thing, the one shocker that still surprises me, is that it looked amazing. It didn’t break my mental frame. It wasn’t an artifact thrown in that distracted from the story. It was just there, a fact of life, and we went on with the show.

This is extremely important, because had Terminator 2 failed to integrate the effects with the story, I have a feeling it would have bombed and pushed back further development in CGI, developments that gave us movies like Lord of the Rings and TV shows like Firefly. To give a comparison of what such a flop would have done, look what kind of delay on completely computer-animated movies happened after Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within bombed. Futher development with life-like computer animation was not really approached again until the Star Wars prequels, to a lesser extent, and Avatar (which I really don’t want to get into in this post) to a greater.

But, there is a dark side to what Terminator 2 did. As with any movie that succeeds, directors, writers, and producers will look at it and try to dissect what made it a blinding success. Once they think they have that answer, they will run with the idea and try to make as many other movies as they can that have that same nutshell answer.

In the case of Terminator 2, it seems like the answer many came away with was that a science fiction movie needs to have excessive computer graphics in as many frames as possible, and it needs to showcase them. This gave us movies like The Golden Compass, where a good story was completely jumbled up as screen time was wasted on the broad and expansive CGI-vista shots. This gave us every SyFy original ever made (okay, I might be exaggerating, there have been good SyFy shows) where the story and script are weak from the get go, so all the show has to rely on are what has now become the cheap patch of CGI.

Even Cameron himself has fallen prey to this glamour with (okay, I will get into it) Avatar. I will give that “Pocahontas and the Space Smurfs” was a beautiful movie to watch. I saw it in 3D, and yes, seeing Pandora like that was immersive. But so were the documentary films I saw at an Omnimax as a kid. A science fiction movie needs more than pretty special effects.

Which will bring me back to Terminator 2, which did have a compelling and well told story, characters you could sympathize with, “What if” questions that engaged the audience—such as could an artificial intelligence have feelings—and a strong and amazing (but not overpowering) garnish of special effects.

I think today’s science fiction movie makers need to realize that there is no “one thing” that makes a movie a success, and take a closer look at films like Terminator 2, and other successful successors to it, and realize that it doesn’t matter how many shape-shifting robots you have, if the story isn’t there, a bad movie isn’t going to shape-shift into a good one. A shame we can’t throw all of them into vats of molten steel, too.

So, this summer, if you haven’t watched Terminator 2 recently, or if you haven’t ever seen it, go and watch it. In fact, even if you have seen it recently, take a moment to appreciate it again. Appreciate the father of today’s computer graphics that still look better than half of its progeny, and enjoy a good story while you’re at it.

Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and secret agent for the rise of Skynet. You can read his now complete serialized novel Revenent, the Tijervyn Chronicles Volume One, or if you think he is really awesome, you can always follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

PK from Singapore
1. PK from Singapore
What I loved about Terminater 2 is that watching it again today still gives me that thrill. The non-stop action with a break in-between (in the desert).

Cameron is really amazing with action thriller. My other favourite with him, besides T1 and Ts, is Aliens 2.
PK from Singapore
2. Kadere
Cameron directed Aliens, not Alien.
Richard Fife
3. R.Fife
@2 Ah, the s-key betrayed me. Fixing. Thanks.
Arthur Harrow
4. Dr_Thanatos
I liked this movie for the humor and inside jokes as well as a buff (although fully clothed at all times) Linda Hamilton. But there's the problem.

Part of the emotional attraction of the original Terminator was young innocent non-ripped Linda having to fight off the big bad gov..uh..Terminator by herself. New Linda, whilst most pleasing to the eye, is less relatable. She's like a female Ahnold. You take one look at her and you can see that she can destroy a terminator. Takes the suspense away.

In addition to sending the message that if a little CGI is good, a lot of CGI is better, this movie also says make your heroes buff and toned. People will watch to oogle them; who cares if it's obvious in scene one that they can kick the bad guy's metallic silver keister all the way back to the future.

Seriously, how many action films since T2 have had the heroic lead look like Peter Parker before the spider bit him?
Melita Kennedy
5. melita
YMMV. I thought it was great how they developed Sarah Connor's character. I don't know. If I was chased by a monster, had my lover and father of my child killed, told the apocalypse was coming, and by the way, the child is a possible savior of the future, I hope I would react similarly.

Okay, maybe not quite so driven as to get thrown in to a criminal mental institution...
PK from Singapore
6. sofrina
i saw it when it opened and i was 18. this movie was so good it made me forget i was at a matinee. i was stunned to see it was the middle of the afternoon when we left.

this one works for so many reasons. the surprises (when it first ran you didn't know the new terminator was a terminator, he was introduced exactly the way kyle reese was), the cinematography (sarah marching off into the mexican sunset? come on), the feisty kids perspective (their was no one like little john connor in the original), the genuine relationship (john and sarah already love eachother, there's no sudden romance-under-duress like with kyle), the empowered female (the bewildered, terrified teenage sarah has been burned away leaving this convicted soldier to deliver john connor to his destiny), the look behind the curtain (we go inside cyberdine! we meet the man who's research creates skynet! we find out how that happened! and...we like dyson, he's a good man!) and finally, we got to take the fight to skynet, destroying its progenitor the way it tried to destroy sarah connor.

oh, and the flawless piece of cold steel that was robert patric. when he chases johnny's scooter on foot, who did not shout at that? my theater was in an uproar. he took the original terminator standard for badass and honed it to a razor's edge.

this movie just operates on a higher level than the original mostly due to the fact that sarah is in the know and has been preparing for this for so fourteen years. when she carves "no fate" in that table, you just believe it...
PK from Singapore
7. JohnnyMac
"Pocahantas and the Space Smurfs"! That made me laugh so loud I startled the cat. If that is your own line, I take my hat off to you. And, if you borrowed it from someone else, I still thank you for the laugh.
Richard Fife
8. R.Fife
@4 For this as a sequel, I agree with @5 and @6. She knows it is coming, she saw what it could do. That she went paramilitary is only logical. But, as for a softer hero in action flicks... hmm... Transformers oddly comes to mind as a bad example, but for a good one: District 9. I was actually very impressed with the protagonist-turned-sorta-hero. He was a goofy office beaurocrat that just got stuck in a bad spot. Very interesting.

@7 That actually is my own. Most of my colleges seem to tend to calling Avatar Dances with Space Smurfs or some varient, invoking Dances with Wolves. This is a very bad comparison, IMO, as it lends a hair of credibility by comparing Avatar to a successful film geared for adult audiences. Pocahantas has basically the same plot in a much sillier way, (including the talking tree!), so it just makes sense to me. Thank you for enjoying, and use at your leisure.
PK from Singapore
9. Pinky
I dunno, man. I always said it looked more like Fern Gully - IN SPACE!!

I have to wonder if adding Robin Williams would have been an improvement or not...

And also sharing the love for the cracked out one-liners that hit my 16 year old self in just the right way.
PK from Singapore
10. AndieN
No surprise for me that Terminator2 is 20 years old--this was the first movie date (and second actual date) that my partner and I went on & we're still together 20 years later so I guess the movie and the years are kinda linked in my mind. And yeah, we both really loved the movie for all the excellent reasons given above--as it turned out, a promising sign for 'da future.'

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