90s Movie Challenge Week 35: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Welcome, 90s loving pals. We told you we’d be back, and we are! This week our good chum Chris Warrington to tell us about the film that pretty much changed how Hollywood made blockbusters. And he won’t even need your boots, your clothes or your motorcycle to do it.

From 1991, it’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day! 

I want to tell you a story. A story about a boy and his dad, watching a boy and his robot substitute dad.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a gateway drug. 

I have three children. The eldest is 11 now. He doesn’t like Marvel films. He thinks a lot of modern films have too much CG. There’s not enough ‘real stuff’. 

How did this happen?

Via the marvel that is Terminator 2.

When he was 10, his siblings were away for the day with mum. I told him we had a treat. At first, he was a bit resistant. Kids like familiar things. “Let’s watch Ghostbusters again,” he asked. 

Nah, it’s time to step things up a notch. We’re going to watch a classic.

There is something about that polished chrome skeleton. It’s a marvel of design from Stan Winston’s studio and James Cameron’s mind.

It sticks in your mind as an idea that is so simple but so wonderfully effective. A nightmare vision of a dangerous future.

We watched the film in three sections over the course of the day. Breaking for cups of tea and conversation. After the first section, he wasn’t sure. It was good, the LA storm drains chase really was great. But could it be that good?

We paused again after Sarah removed the chip from Arnie’s head in one of the greatest pieces of effects trickery to not make it to the theatrical cut of a film. The enthusiasm was more pronounced now: questions about what happened in the first film – how do you kill a Terminator and how different was Sarah in the first film?

Once the assault on the Cyberdyne office takes place, there’s no holding back. It is time to go all the way through. And the boy was wrapt. 

Over the following days and weeks, the images started to turn up. Chrome skulls with gleaming red eyes, drawn with the breathless excitement that a child’s enthusiasm brings. They were on walls and plastering bedroom doors.

Then, the requests started… “Dad, is Predator good?”

“Yes son. Yes it is.”

Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s a gateway drug.

So, there you go. It’s Terminator 2, I’ve got to assume that you’ve seen it. It’s Terminator 2 for God’s sake. But only through the lens of time do we get to actually see it for what it is. It marks the shift to what we think of as the ‘90s action movies and beyond. 

Yes, it still has the muscle man from the ‘80s, and in Arnie, its greatest exponent, but he’s outmatched by someone smaller, more lithe and deadly. In the soaring whine of Axl Rose’s voice in You Could Be Mine it has the last vestiges of ‘80s metal excess. Arnie’s battle-damaged face and arm-skin peel mark some of the pinnacles of practical effects puppetry. Recently Cameron even admitted that a stunt like the helicopter flying through an LA underpass would never get done practically today.

There are numerous reasons to believe that Terminator 2 was it. The film that convinced Hollywood that you could sanitise the violent excesses of the ‘80s action cinema and make a film the whole family could go and see. Marking the rise of the PG-13/12A certificates and their increasingly detailed lists of ‘peril’ that little Jonny and Susan might experience. It’s the film that contains the distilled excellence of ‘80s action cinema and foretells the coming of CG dominated cinema. It made modern cinema and it appears that we’re hooked.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s the gateway drug we all got addicted to.

Come back next time because you’ve got a friend in Lou-Michel Thelier who is going to take us (To infinity and beyond? Ed) back to 1995 (It’ll do, I suppose, Ed) to teach us how to play nice as he looks at Toy Story!

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