I was 11 years old when my father took me to see James Cameron’s masterpiece Terminator 2: Judgment Day on the big screen over the Fourth of July weekend. This was not just “seeing a movie,” but rather, this particular cinematic experience was a true mind-blower, and over the years, I’ve returned to this seminal piece of filmmaking more times than I can count, as I feel that it delivers the perfect combination of character, plot, emotion, and action. Co-written by Cameron and William Wisher, this film works as well as it does because you care about everyone you need to care about, and because of the way that all members of the cast and crew knew exactly the type of movie that they were making — sci-fi pulp with a big heart and a maximum budget, with as many ideas to match its breathtaking special effects.
As per usual, Cameron reinvented the special effects game with the liquid-metal visual motif and overall state of the art use of CGI which was beautifully fused together with location shooting and plenty of practical effects. These were the days when filmmakers weren’t crafting the entire film on a green-screen stage, and “filling it in later.” There’s a level of visual and narrative artistry on display in T2 that is striking to observe, especially when compared to recent, ultra-synthetic blockbuster laziness which pollutes movie screens on a weekly basis.
I’ve no need to describe the plot or mythology to the Terminator series, and it goes without saying just how extraordinary Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the lead role, how menacing Robert Patrick was as the T-1000, and how gripping Linda Hamilton’s performance comes to be by the conclusion. Edward Furlong was able to project just the right amount of innocence mixed with his inherent edginess as a teen actor, and everyone in the supporting cast did stellar work.
Adam Greenberg’s gleaming widescreen cinematography is a constant treat for the eyes, the dynamic editing by Mark Goldblattt, Conrad Buff, and Richard A. Harris keeps a ruthless pace to the story without ever sacrificing coherence, the epic production design by Joseph C. Nemec is wondrous, and Brad Fidel’s massive musical score must be considered one of the best of all-time. Shot over the course of a 186 day schedule for a reported $102 million (the most expensive movie ever made at the time), T2 would smash the global box-office upon its theatrical release, receive four Oscars and glowing critical notices, and would end up having a staggeringly successful afterlife on home media formats.