“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” established its place 26 years ago among the top feature films ever made. Under the brilliant guidance of director James Cameron, the movie not only set new standards for special effects but flawlessly blended a tale of an apocalyptic event in the near future brought on by robots with a story of a very different family. Granted, the father in the scenario was emotionally cold, didn’t understand love and focused entirely on his job but that’s not too different from many dads in other feature films focused on family.
Cameron’s script allowed plenty of time for both the sci-fi and human elements to be explored, but after only a few moments the action would be ramped up to cinema-changing levels. This was enough to earn the film six Oscar nominations with four wins. That’s one reason the American Film Institute put “Terminator 2; Judgment Day” at No. 8 on its list of all-time great sci-fi films, behind the likes of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope” and “Alien.”
Those crass enough to only think of movies in terms of dollars and cents can look at how the movie earned more than $516 million around the world. There have been five films released in the franchise – including “Terminator: Genisys” in 2015 – and none have earned as much money as “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
And now, that total will go up as a new 3-D version of is being released in select theaters. The film features the best state of the art 3-D because Cameron used the same team that transformed “Titanic” to 3-D, and every frame has been digitally enhanced.
The result is an updated version that already started as a near perfect piece of filmmaking and has been elevated to new heights. Despite having been available on cable, DVD, VHS and in other forms for a quarter century, watching “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” in its new incarnation is like seeing it for the first time.
The film was a follow-up to James Cameron’s “The Terminator,” which he made in 1984 for a mere $6 million dollars, 1/17th the cost of the sequel. The original “Terminator” was a testing ground for Cameron as he established all the basic elements that he would be able to expand on seven years later.
He knew he had an instant film icon with the Terminator as played by actor-of-few-words Arnold Schwarzenegger. From his unrelenting efforts to accomplish his time-jumped mission to establishing the Terminator as a catch-phrase machine (“I’ll be back”), the Terminator was the perfect film villain.
Cameron’s amazing insight into the battle between good and evil took on new depth by taking this perfect killing machine and making him the savior in the sequel.
The only problem with switching the Terminator from good to bad was coming up with an equally powerful foe. That was established through some of the most advanced technology of the time to make the T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) just as relentless and deadly. It’s become a familiar movie trick to show actors morphing because the technology is so advanced now, but Cameron was working with computers that took days instead of minutes to create the liquid-to-solid special effects. The technology was ancient but the image is as purely entertaining and amazing today as it was when it shocked and surprised audiences years ago.
Next among Cameron’s remarkable moves was taking the target of the Terminator’s attacks in Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and transforming her from a scared victim to one of the toughest characters in action film history. Hamilton’s personal transformation makes every fight scene and action sequence she’s in resonate with the kind of brute power that so often was associated with actors like Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris at the time.
That change could have left Cameron without the sympathetic in-point for the audience but the addition of Connor’s young son, John (Edward Furlong), filled that spot. Furlong’s performance continues to come across as a little too manic but not to the point that it distracts from the long list of sterling positive pieces of this film.
All of that is now shown through a print that jumps off the screen. Generally, 3-D comes across as little more than a gimmick to get moviegoers to pay for the new digital projectors in theaters. This 3-D is so deep and rich that there hasn’t been a movie to use 3-D as such a plus since “Avatar” (another Cameron creation).
Even if “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” had only been re-released in theaters to mark the 26th anniversary without any enhancements, the quality of the production would make it still worth the price of admission. There have been plenty of opportunities to see the movie on the small screen but the theater experience reveals all the beautiful details. A big screen is where this movie belongs.
Toss in the crystal clear digital upgrade and the eye-catching 3-D and this re-release is so good don’t be surprised if you hear yourself telling the movie usher “I’ll be back!”
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. Directed by James Cameron.
Rated R for strong action scenes, language, violence. Check listings for theaters. 2 hours, 15 minutes.
Bottom line: The same story, just in spectacular 3D this time
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