Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Terminator 2: Judgment Day - 1991

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" - 1991
Dir. by James Cameron - 2 hrs. 17 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

First off, the version of "Terminator 2" that I watched was the theatrical version.  When you crack two (or even three, heaven forbid) hours, I generally speaking am not at all interested in whatever deleted scenes are available - you can keep those, and I'm going to keep my fifteen minutes.

So this is the version of "The Terminator" that I was introduced to.  There are some pretty big differences between the first and second film, and I prefer this one to the first one.  But one of the main differences was that star Arnold Schwarzenegger was firmly cemented as a huge, huge deal, the kind of big deal that justified a leap in budget from $6.4 million (per Wikipedia) for the first installment to $94 million for the sequel.  This was an event film, completely inescapable, whatever the opposite of an underdog is.  Another huge difference: CGI.  One of the selling points of T2 was that the villain was made of liquid metal, which was one heck of a big deal.


As with the first installment, two people are sent back in time, butt-ass naked.  One is a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the other is a T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  As we've moved a number of years forward, the spawn of Kyle Reese's unholy demon seed and Sarah Connor's savior ova is now a child of ten or so.  John Connor (Edward Furlong) is a real person, living in a foster home, and is now the target of a Terminator.  But which Terminator?  The T-800 has been sent back in time from John Connor himself to protect his hide from the (liquid metal) T-1000, which confuses the hell out of Sarah (Linda Hamilton) when she is reintroduced to the T-800, inside the mental institution she's been stuck in for a considerable amount of time.  And there are a lot of things that get shot.

It would be hard to argue that James Cameron didn't put his budget to good use.  There are a number of iconic scenes (although the best of which just involves a naked Arnie strolling into a biker bar and treating it like a department store), and many impressive visuals.  The T-1000 really was something new and cool, even if it doesn't come off quite as impressively twenty-some years later.  That's special effects, baby.  The chase involving John on a dirt bike, the T-800 on a Harley, and the T-1000 in a semi through Los Angeles is as good of an idea as it sounds.  And the end battle in a smelting factory is incredible, even if there's no practical reason for them to be there, other than that's where they ended up.

One of the obvious comparisons I had in mind going in was to "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome."  The influx of cashish into a franchise fundamentally changes the film, which is hazardous when you've made your name on a gritty sci-fi film that isn't necessarily going to benefit from being slicker and more explosive.  The first two Mad Max films are incredible, the third one has a children's choir singing in the fucking forest.  The changes that occur between the first two installments here are also not entirely productive.  Yes, the T-800 comes off like a bad-ass (literally exiting the biker bar to George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone"), but they also turn him into a petulant child's play-thing (not to mention creating the dynamic for "The Iron Giant").  And maybe it was on purpose, but this Los Angeles is a very slick, clean world.  It might have been created that way to juxtapose against the horrific future that's coming, but I feel like that might be overextending credit.

The big problems that I had with T2 are ones that don't really matter to the vitality of an action film.  In a big-budget shoot-em-up, what matters first are big action sequences that are impressive and that you'll tell your friends they need to see.  T2 has those in spades.  It had a hot soundtrack (getting a couple of Guns 'n' Roses songs when that was a really big deal, instead of just a dispatch from some band people used to like and who never release anything anymore), catchphrases.  Whether or not it had a hot chick depends on what you thought of Linda Hamilton (and she was absolutely shredded here, so if you're into hardcore gym bodies, two thumbs up), but she had as iconic of a look as Arnold did.

Check out those guns!

The things that bugged me are things that drag T2 down from being an all-time classic to just something I'll watch when I'm bored and want to see things blow up.  Edward Furlong's screechy voice annoyed the hell out of me, as did the story's insistence of having a Terminator try to be non-violent (although Arnold murdered the shit out of some shins and ankles), as did the story's insistence on turning the T-800 from a nearly unstoppable killing machine into John Connor's big metal puppy.  Sarah Connor is wildly inconsistent; it's as if her time in a mental institution turned her into a crazy person (witness the scene where she goes after the inventor of Skynet).  If you like gym-rat chicks who cry all the time, this one's for you.  The dialogue still isn't any better than last time around.

So that evens out to a pretty good action film.  This is the best of the Terminator films I've seen, even if it's not perfect.  I was going to say that it was the last James Cameron film I've seen, but a quick look at his resume says that I definitely saw "True Lies," and that definitely came out after this.  I'm still not a Cameron fan, but I can deal with his work when he's blowing things up.  And he definitely blows things up in T2.

3.5 / 5 - Blu-Ray (Theatrical Version)

The Terminator - 1984

"The Terminator" - 1984
Dir. by James Cameron - 1 hr 47 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Here's the thing I don't understand about "The Terminator."  And yes, it's true that I've never seen the first one until last night.  I've seen a couple of the sequels, but not the original.  What I don't get is that this film is not appreciably better than anything John Carpenter was putting out in the same time period, and yet The Terminator is a big deal, and John Carpenter's stuff (which is arguably deeper, concept-wise) has cult-movie status, at best.  Honestly, if you put "The Terminator" side-by-side with "Escape From New York," I'm probably headed to New York every single time.  That's not to dismiss "The Terminator," but I was fairly underwhelmed, and constantly reminded of Carpenter's work.

So, there's this scrappy young waitress named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who works at a diner in Los Angeles.  And there are these two men whom teleport into 1984 L.A., bare-ass naked.  One is mountain of muscle who shows up at Griffith Observatory, is hassled by some punks, and then steals their clothes.  That's the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a robot killer sent back in time to find and kill Sarah Connor.  He's not very smart, though, and just starts killing everyone in the phone book (Google it) named Sarah Connor, assuming that he'll find the right one eventually.  The second one is also sent back from the future, to defend Sarah Connor.  He's a human soldier, fighting against the robot uprising, named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).  That's about all you need to know.

So if we're going to get into what makes "The Terminator" worthwhile, you have to start with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He owned the 1980s (and a good portion of the '90s), and this movie is a good reason why.  No, he still can barely form sentences, and yes, he's jacked like no other.  But, like with the Conan films, director James Cameron uses that to his advantage.  Guy is intimidating and can't talk?  Make him a killer robot.  Problem solved.  Schwarzenegger has presence for days, and the gradual reveal that he's a cyborg under that flesh is a good one.  Plus, I'm not sure any other actor has had more prosthetic faces made for special effects purposes as Ahnold.

If you think this is bad, wait until "Total Recall."

Beyond that, the special effects are alright (I'm sure for the time they were good, but some of it reminded me of the stop-motion and matte work from the first "Robocop" movie), about on par with what John Carpenter was doing at the time.  There are things you just have to overlook as relics of their time, and roll with them, and there are other things that work fairly well.  But "The Terminator" is definitely a pre-CGI film, and that's something that you have to make peace with fairly quickly.  The other thing that stood out to me was the soundtrack, which seemed very much like the direct predecessor to Daft Punk's score to the recent "Tron" film.  And, considering this was an electronic soundtrack in the '80s, I've got to tip my hat for a job really well done.

Where's my beef, exactly?  "The Terminator" isn't much of a story - it's a decent concept with some fighting and shooting and Arnold being bad-ass, all of which was expanded on greatly in the next couple of sequels.  There's a built-in excuse for the clunkiness of the some of the action; it's explained that the robots aren't very smart, and have had great difficulty building cyborgs that could pass for human, and this Terminator is the first one that comes close.  But that is an admission that some of the material is clunky.  As is the dialogue.  Sometimes, like with Arnold's lines, it totally works (largely because he doesn't say more than three or four words in a row at any given point).  Sometimes, like with the police, the dialogue sounds perfunctory, like there's some vital information that needs to be gotten across in the quickest, least elegant way possible.

And there's the issue that while people remember things like Arnold looking bad-ass in a leather jacket and shades, saying "I'll be back," he spends at least as much time in the film dressed like a hulking dork.  Witness:

Total dorkage

I think that a lot of the fondness for the original Terminator film comes down to selective memory.  There are a few memorable scenes, but it's largely indistinguishable from any other action film from the same era, save for Schwarzenegger's presence.  I might feel that way because I saw T2 first (when I was a kid, and I was blown away by it, naturally), but it could just be that I've watched a few films from this era, and a lot of what's here isn't particularly gritty or interesting, even when it's trying hard to be.  But then again, I'm not really a James Cameron fan, so make of all this what you will.

3 / 5 - Blu-Ray