Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Cyborg Watch: Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (1991)

Watched:  03/31/2019
Format:  Alamo Ritz
Viewing:  oh, god... who knows?
Decade:  the 1990's, buddy

I saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day opening weekend in the theater with my girlfriend at the time, who, upon seeing a Terminator endoskeleton crush a human skull turned to me and said "that's a REAL man" (she was kidding), thereby hitting the nail on the head, in her own way, for what this movie was going to be on so many levels.  Despite its fame as a CGI pioneer and predictor of Marvel's weirdly death & bloodless ultraviolence, there's an actual story about mothers and sons and overcoming juvenile distrust of your parents once their flaws are exposed, and how a cyborg learns to laugh and love.  Indeed, the Judgment Day may be the friends we made along the way.

Also, so many gasoline-fueled fires making just huge, puffy blossoms of red and orange with lots of loud ka-booms.

If the 90's were the era of a wide array of thoughtful indie pics breaking big and becoming part of mainstream culture, on the other side we had the weirdly subversive messaging baked into gigantic summer blockbusters featuring muscle men and their artillery.  And in the 90's, you could absolutely count on me to show up for both costume dramas and anything featuring Arnie, who kept making movies that were smarter than they really had any right to be.

SimonUK and I took in this screening at 10:00 Sunday night and found both picture quality and sound were absolutely phenomenal - a pretty far cry from the VHS bleed that made the movie a blue-ish mess with some orange highlights when fire or molten metal showed up.

The film does star Arnie at the height of his powers, coming back to the second or third role that made him (I mean, I'm not going to just ignore Conan), this time as a re-programmed Cyborg sent from the future, here to defend a 10-year-old John Connor.  You can feel Arnie's fingers on the script here and there, the one-liners punched up, sometimes at odds with the action on the screen or making no sense for a robot to state.  But because I have a deep love of Arnie-isms and fully accept that a robot will make wisecracks, I'm fine with it.

There are definitely some things that don't work quite how they wanted.  Edward Furlong is not the world's best kid-actor, and he's hampered by near Bob Haney-esque nonsense kid-dialog.  I remember seeing this one in the theater and even as a teenager thinking "they wrote this kid as kind of a dumb asshole".  But he does have some good scenes when they aren't making him a "cool, edgy kid" and just letting him be a traumatized kid with both Arnie and Linda Hamilton.

Walking out of the movie Sunday night, I said to Simon that I was surprised when this came out - and stick to it now - that this movie didn't propel Linda Hamilton into a lot more stuff.  But Jamie said something that seems right:  there just weren't that many roles for her to take on at that point.  Cameron's devotion to strong female leads (not "Last Girls", but Ripley, Sarah Connor and more) was admirable then and paved the way for Brie Larson to put on the uniform.  Was she to go on and play a housewife on a sitcom?  Were there female-centric lawyer or doctor films in the 90's?  Her IMDB roster of roles is surprisingly sparse for being the star of one of the biggest movies of a decade.  It's times like this that the well-worn suggestion that there aren't many/ any good roles for women seemed/s remarkably true.

I know when I think of this movie, I think primarily of Sarah Connor's storyline and the tone around the character.  While now we get sequels 30 years after the fact, in 1991, seeing a sequel arrive more than three years after the original and set even further along (it must be about 11 years after 1984, so its roughly 1995) seemed unthinkable.  She was a logical and driven extension of who she'd been, but the film took our well-meaning waitress living out her youth in LA and had turned her into a chiseled warrior.  It's a hell of a transformation, driven by the maddening certainty of the Earth's doom and her role in preserving hope via her son, John.

The movie may be a bit on the nose and relies on "tell v show" when it comes to how John lost his mom and his faith in her, but the movie actually really works when the two come back together via the robot who shows up and proves his mom wasn't a psycho after all.  And gives both characters sincere motivations that play well off each other.

And, of course, that bit of narration given to Hamilton as she sees John interacting with a Terminator - about how he would wind up being the only man in his life worth a damn, is... well, it'll give you a moment of pause, fellas.  It sure hit me a lot different at 43 than it did when I was in high school.

We can't ignore Robert Patrick, who probably had as much or more influence on how single-minded villains would be presented in film for the next two decades than anyone else thanks to his role as the T-1000 murder droid.  Silent, near emotionless, constantly moving forward, blind to the wreckage and chaos he's causing - I can point to assassins in everything from Breaking Bad to Marvel movies who are part of the echo he left behind.  Where Arnie was a juggernaut in the first film, Patrick is a shark who can't quit moving.  The CGI is tremendously dated, but still basically works here, the film understanding it's own limitations, and making the most out of *not* always relying on CGI.

And, for a 2.5 hour movie, it sails along.  There's no fat, there's nothing that doesn't push the story forward or increase the tension, right up til the thumbs-up in the steel mill.  I'm very much reminded of why I used to go to the mat defending Cameron as a popular filmmaker who had sorted out his craft better than anyone.  He just needed someone polishing his actual dialog.

I've seen *most* of the sequels, I guess.  I didn't see Terminator Genisys, but I saw 3 (yurgh) and Salvation (blurgh).  Probably because it stays true to the tone of T2, the briefly lived Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show on Fox was the best follow up by a country mile.  But roundly ignored because: network TV + Friday night timeslot = slow death.  And it put Shirley Manson on TV, so that isn't all bad.

And, of course, I have a deep appreciation and admiration for the original film.  But this film landed on the popular culture in a way that's hard to calculate, and at 16 - in a way that's even hard for me to personally calculate (and not just because I was working out Linda Hamilton's deep appeal in the film versus media messages of what was supposed to be attractive, if I'm being candid) - T2 was just one of those movies that I, like a lot of people, took very personally as something to be appreciated for the thought and work that went into it.


For a movie about a robot with a radioactive core keeping him going, it's got a curious amount of heart, and genuinely has some things to say about how we can do better as people.  Not just those building weapons, but those brilliant people in their labs who are so busy seeing if they could, they don't stop to ask if they should.

And, hey, there's an all-new Terminator movie in the works produced by Cameron and starring Hamilton, so, yes, I'll be there.

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