Film Notes: TERMINATOR 2

7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023
Humanities Quadrangle, Room L02 (320 York)
Introduction by Theodore Kim
Film Notes by Archer Neilson

Directed by James Cameron (1991), 137 mins
Screenplay by James Cameron and William Wisher
Cinematography by Adam Greenberg
Produced by Tri-Star Pictures
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, Danny Cooksey, Xander Berkeley, and Earl Boen

He told us he’d be back.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as a T-800 Terminator (“Same make, same model, new mission,” says the film’s tagline) in James Cameron’s wildly successful 1991 sci-fi action film TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. This time, however, the killing machine does a lot less killing…except at the box office, where “T2” blew away serious competition to become the highest-grossing film of the year, and, for a time, the third highest-grossing film ever made, behind only STAR WARS and E.T. The classic tale of cyborg vs. shape-shifter set in a Los Angeles blithely unaware of its impending nuclear annihilation has been described as “a tank of a movie, big, powerful, and hard to resist” (Hal Hinson), “brutally beautiful, darkly comic sci-fi” (Joe Brown), “movie-making on a massive scale, packed dense with spectacular touches that are too many to describe” (Mick LaSalle), and “a pop epiphany, marking that commercially creative point where the power of Hollywood meets the purity of myth” (Rick Groen).

T2’s screenplay was penned by William Wisher—who had previously written additional dialogue for THE TERMINATOR (1984)—and James Cameron. Wisher has a cameo as a carjacked cop in the first film, and as a photographer who picked the wrong day to go to the Galleria in T2. The possibility of a TERMINATOR sequel was first championed by that film’s star. "I always felt we should continue the story,” Schwarzenegger claimed. “I told [Cameron] that right after we finished the first film.” Cameron, however, was initially less enthusiastic, in part because of his contentious relationship with that film’s rights holder, and he opted to direct ALIENS and THE ABYSS before returning to the project.

Schwarzenegger received some of the best reviews of his career for T2, with Michael Upchurch stating, “Schwarzenegger is in impeccable deadpan form, milking his tough-guy image for all it's worth and getting laughs out of the Terminator's wooden parroting of slang.” (Upchurch erred in predicting “no problemo” would become the film’s catch phrase, as audiences latched onto “hasta la vista, baby” instead.) A buffer, tougher Linda Hamilton also returned for the sequel, in an evolution of the Sarah Connor character that made her an action hero and a feminist icon. Fun fact: the scenes with two Sarahs were performed by Hamilton and her identical twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Freas. New to the franchise were a 13-year-old Edward Furlong in his film debut and Robert Patrick as the shiny new T-1000. To appear less human, Patrick trained to shoot a gun without blinking and to sprint while breathing only through his nose.

Made “with dark wit and a poet’s eye for mayhem” (Peter Travers), T2 was the most expensive film produced to that point, with a budget approaching $100 million (a mark first reached by Cameron’s TRUE LIES in 1994). Much of the cost was due to Schwarzenegger’s earnings (reported to be $12-15 million), abundant stunt-packed Southern California locations, and game-changing special effects. Janet Maslin remarked that the end result “thoroughly justifies its vast expense and greatly improves upon the first film's potent but rudimentary visual style.” Audiences agreed, and the film earned roughly $520 million.

In addition to comic books, novels, and video games, T2 merch included T2-3D: BATTLE ACROSS TIME—an attraction at Universal Studios in Florida, Hollywood, and Japan in which live performers interacted with a 3D film—and the coveted Bio-Flesh Regenerator playset from Kenner, which let kids build their own T-800s in a messy mold at home (“Add flesh compound!”). T2 is the only film in the six-film TERMINATOR franchise to receive Academy Award nominations. With six nods, it took home the Oscar in four categories: Makeup, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects.

DID YOU KNOW: According to legend, a patron wandered into Sylmar’s Corral Bar during filming, not realizing a fight scene with a nude T-800 was being staged there. When she asked what was going on, Schwarzenegger—clad only in a small pair of purple shorts at the time—quipped, “It’s male stripper night.”

Presented in Treasures from the Yale Film Archive, with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

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Friday, January 26, 2024 - 11:51am