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Film Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
In 1991, James Cameron released the science fiction action film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as a sequel to The Terminator. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton, and Earl Boen, the film grossed $519.8 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Film Editing, it won the awards for Best Make Up, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. It also won the Saturn Awards for Best Actress, Best Direction, Best Performance by a Young Actor, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Special Effects as well as the MTV Movie Awards for Best Breakthrough Performance, Best Female Performance, Best Male Performance, and Best Movie.
Two Terminators arrive in 1995 when John Connor is just 10 years old and living with his foster parents while Sarah is in an asylum after attempting to blow up a computer factory. The robots, a T-1000 and T-800 catch up with John at the same time. Eventually he reunites with his mother and learns that Judgment Day must be averted in order to stop Skynet from becoming a reality.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an example of the kind of film that’s not only better than its predecessor, but a perfectly made film. And it all starts with the two robots as each character’s alignment is practically hidden from the audience until they first meet John, with the only clue that one was sent back to protect him in Sarah’s beginning narration not hinting as to which one it is. And their introductions all the way up to the mall scenes don’t do much either, as T-800 stabbing one of the barflies and it being ambiguous as to whether or not T-1000 killed or subdued the first person he saw, thanks to the way the scene was shot, keeps it pretty ambiguous. It’s not until the fantastic showdown in the mall does the audience find out that T-800 was sent back to protect John. The only problem with all of this is the trailers did a great job of outright stating who was on which side, thus spoiling the entire first quarter of the movie.
T-800 also has very interesting character development that interestingly contrasts his characterization in the previous film. In the first movie, the Terminator starts out looking and sounding surprisingly human, only to reveal his robotic eye, don a pair of sunglasses and start riding a motorcycle in the middle and turn more robotic. In this film, T-800 starts out with sunglasses and a more robotic personality. But during the asylum scene, about halfway through the film, he loses both the sunglasses and the motorcycle. Further, he becomes more human, learning to smile, talk and act the way humans do.
But T-800’s character arc isn’t the only well-done symbolism prevalent in the film that’s juxtaposed with the prior. In the latter, it ends as Sarah drives down a straight road, heading towards an oncoming storm, showing that she knew that the path ahead was dark and full of turmoil. But here, it ends with her narrating as the camera points down at the road it’s traveling on. It demonstrates that the oncoming storm had lifted and the future was now uncertain.
Sara and T-800’s character arcs also have an interesting intersect. Where the robot learns and becomes more human, the human is turning into more of a machine until the last third of the film. T-800’s growing humanity, ending in his self-sacrifice, ends the recurring threat of a doomed world. At the same time, Sarah nearly becomes a human terminator in her quest to destroy the future by killing Dyson. It furthers the earlier line spoken by T-800 that its human nature to destroy each other, demonstrating that humanity is really its own terminator.
The film also has a pretty good contrasting color motif between humanity and machine. Humanity is represented by orange where machines are represented by blue. When the two robots come on the scene, there is a lot of blue hues. But in the film’s progression, orange becomes more and more prevalent, all the way until the finale in the steel mill. The molten steel gives off a strong orange vibe that offsets the cold blue machinery.
That’s nothing to say of the film’s message which brings back the idea from the first film where there’s no fate but what we make for ourselves. As Judgment Day and the inevitable war loom on the horizon, they aren’t set in stone and can be stopped because the future isn’t written yet. Unfortunately the third film had to come in and negate all that by saying Judgment Day was only postponed and fate can’t be fought.
However, what really continues to make this film so great is its seamless blending of practical effects and CGI. A spectacular example is seen of T-1000's shattering from the liquid nitrogen and subsequent regeneration. The mental asylum scenes where it's liquid metal abilities allow it to morph into and rise from the floor along with the phasing through the bars and then realizing it still needs to turn the gun in order to completely pass through are two examples from an entire film where the effects still hold up today.
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