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EMPIRE ESSAY: Terminator 2: Judgement Day Review

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Nearly 10 years have passed since Sarah Connor was targeted for termination by a cyborg from the future. Now her son, John, the future leader of the resistance, is the target for a newer, more deadly terminator. Once again, the resistance has managed to send a protector back to attempt to save John and his mother Sarah.

★★★★★

He said he'd be back, and true to his word, Arnie did indeed return seven years on from the seminal killer cyborg adventure that proved to be a breakthrough movie for both the actor, and the film's director, James Cameron.

When The Terminator first appeared, making the most of its meagre budget, it managed to reinvigorate the science fiction genre, made an icon out of Hollywood's favourite body builder and secured the career of the director who would one day make the most successful movie of all time in Titanic. For the second outing, both Arnie and Cameron knew that everything had to be bigger. And better. Having recently shown that he knew a thing or two about making sequels that outstrip their classic originals with Aliens, Cameron was more than up for the task of outdoing himself.

At first, though, the premise behind the sequel seemed like a huge mistake. This time out, Arnie's kickass 'borg was to be the good guy. Surely not! Was this some mistake? Or simply the decision of an actor now too big to risk playing a villain, even if it was the very villain that had turned him into one of the biggest stars in Hollywood? Instead of copping out however, Cameron delivered the stunning T-1000, a molten metal killing machine that, in its use of the emergent morphing technology — developed in part for Cameron's previous effort, The Abyss — radically raised the bar in terms of computer generated special effects in movies.

When we left Sarah Connor in 1984, she was a woman reborn, a veritable Madonna, out to protect the Messiah she knew she carried inside. When we join her in T2, she has spent those intervening years haunted by the certain knowledge of mankind's imminent doom, and is now
incarcerated in a mental institution; her ten year-old son John, is in care. The intervening years also appeared to have done a fair amount for Linda Hamilton, whose first shot in the movie is a close up of her seriously pumped biceps. The actress spent several weeks before the movie working out and training in gunplay with a former Israeli commando. It paid off. Sarah Connor was effectively transformed into the perfect warrior queen, moving over the course of the movie from buff women-in-prison sensuality to full out Guns And Ammo chic.

And Hamilton wasn't the only one whose appearance Cameron was intent on making iconic. He takes an almost fetishistic delight in having a newly arrived naked Schwarzenegger walk into a tough biker bar and fight his way into the best leathers and onto the coolest hog in the place. When the Terminator walks in naked the music playing is all Dwight Yoakam hillbilly; when he walks out, all leather, shotgun and shades, it's Born To Be Bad blaring out on the soundtrack. Cameron takes great delight initially in quashing the audience's expectations, not only keeping Schwarzenegger's actions deliberately ambiguous — is he good guy or bad guy? — but taking an early opportunity to allow the relatively diminutive Robert Patrick to trash him in their first fight. (He even manages to slip in a few sly gags — such as the T-1000 eyeing up a silver headed mannequin in a department store window, and John's significant talents with video games presaging his later abilities as leader of the human rebels of the future.)

Metal dominates Cameron's film — from the opening shot of a freeway jam packed with automobiles, to Stan Winston's remarkable prowling Exo-skeletons to the presence of Guns N' Roses on the soundtrack. Indeed, for much of the movie the predominant sound is the screeching of metal on metal as Cameron sets out to redefine that old action movie staple, the car chase. Here articulated lorries take on dirt bikes, helicopters tailgate vans, and everything is explosively levelled by Arnie's increasingly large arsenal.

Twins also unexpectedly feature in T2 — the appearance of Don and Dan Stanton (best known for Good Morning Vietnam) allows the T-1000 to take on the appearance of the hospital guard, while Linda's Hamilton's twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Geanen, does the same for Sarah Connor later (Hamilton actually played the T-1000 version of herself in this shot, while her sister played the real Sarah.)

Originally Cameron ended on a happy note — Sarah 30 years later, sitting in a park much like the one she imagines being blown away at the beginning of the film — watching her grandchild play, her son John now a Senator. Wisely this was dropped in favour of a more ambiguous shot of a dark lonely road heading into a future now unknown.

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A movie that defied expectations, raised the ante for both effects movies and action sequences and gave the world the immortal "Hasta la vista baby."

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