By Carter B. Horsley
Special effects have long played
an important role in movies in such films as "Metropolis.,"
and "The Shape of Things to Come" and "Destination
Moon," among many others. For many years, they were painstakingly
accomplished, usually frame by frame. "2001" (see The City Review article), made by Stanley Kubrick in 1968,
probably set the standard for non-computerized special effects.
In subsequent years, "Bladerunner" (see The City Review article), "Raiders of the Lost Arc,"
"Alien" and "The Abyss" would set ever higher
standards, but "Terminator 2" broke new ground that
has yet to be approached.
The special effects involved
morphing "liquid metal" into a machine that bore an
uncanny resemblance to a human being and then permitting that
very realistic robot to regenerate itself when blown apart. The
effect was not only startling but indelible. The android is apparently
invincible and unrelenting and unemotional.
Special effects alone did not
make "Terminator 2" a classic film. Its acting - by
Arnold Schwarzenegger as the "terminator," T-800 Model 101,"
from the future who comes to rescue John Conner from a nastier
"terminator," T-1000 model, played by Robert Patrick,
sent from the future to kill him, Linda Hamilton as John Conner's
mother, Sarah, and Edward Furlong as John Conner as a child -
is of a very high caliber. Furthermore, the plot while incredulous
Schwarzenegger and Hamilton starred in "Terminator,"
which opened in 1984. In that film Schwarzenegger was the villain,
a cyborg sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor, before she
becomes the mother of John Connor who would lead the resistance
to cyborgs in the future. Schwarzenegger's "terminator"
is unsuccessful in the first film, but vows "I'll be back."
In this sequel, Schwarzenegger returns, but
not as the villian. He has been sent back in time to rescue Sarah
Connor and her son, John, from the liquid-metal cyborg, model
T-1000, who is on a mission to kill them. Schwarzenegger has not
been "upgraded" and remains a T-800 model terminator.
Hamilton, who would subsequently marry James
Cameron, the writer, producer and director of "Terminator"
and "Terminator 2,"
who has been institutionalized for her warning
of the nuclear holocaust
The first "Terminator" film was relatively
low-budget, but "Terminator 2" was the most expensive
film ever made at the time. As computer technology advanced, director
Cameron utilized it to create quite beautiful and very impressive
special effects in his film, "The Abyss." In "Terminator
2," he really pushed all the buttons. The accompanying booklet
of the "Ultimate" DVD of "Terminator 2" provides
the following commentary:
"Concurrent with the main shoot, four
major visual effects houses and several smaller ones worked in
conjunction with every department on the production to create
over 300 optical and mechanical effects shots for the film, using
everything from state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery to
the time-proven traditions of minatures, opticals and process
photography. Each effects company brought its own brand of movie
magic to the film: Video Image generated the dozen TermoVision
shots representing Terminator's infrared point of view by scanning
live action footage into a computer, altering the colors and overlaying
flashing graphics, while Pacific Data Images used digital image
processing to paint out support wires, flop text-laden images
and remove negative scratches. Fantasy II Film Effects, under
'Terminator' veteran Gene Warren, again took on the task of realizing
the future war for the opening sequence, embellishing it wiht
bigger, metal-plated minatures and more complex opticals. In addition
to creating optical lighting and lasers for the Terminator arrival
sequence and future war, Fantasy II also created shots for the
tanker truck rollover and crash into the steel mill using a thirteen-foot-long
truck model on a large minature set, with the resulting footage
cut in seamlessly with the full-scale stunts and practical effects.
4-Ward Productions and its two-time Oscar©-winning team of
Robert and Dennis Skotak created a convincing depiction of a nuclear
blast devastating Los Angeles; after studying hours of actual
nuclear test footage, the Skotaks built dozens of large-scale
minature buildings and blew them away using air mortars, and for
a wide-angle shot for the nuclear blast wave rippling across the
city, 4-Ward created a large, layered painting of the city augmented
with a radiating blast dome and distintegrating buildings created
with an Apple Macintosh program called Electric Image. 4-War also
contributed a number of shots showing molten steel spilling out
of a trough onto the floor, and used real mercury directed with
blowdryers to create the eerie shots of the shattered T-1000 pieces
melting into droplets and running back together. But it was Industrial
Light and Magic and Stan Winston Studios that had the greatest
challenge to bring to life the T-1000 through a seamless blend
of Robert Patrick's performance, computer graphics imagery, and
a slew of mechanical prosthetics and articulated puppets....Under
the effects supervision of multiple Oscar©-winner Dennis
Muren, ILM created computer-generated images and utilized digital
image-processing techniques to create the 'morphing' effects of
the T-1000, using the combined talents of dozens of animators,
computer scientists, artists and technicians working for more
than half a year; their tools included over thirty Silicon Graphics
computes using proprietary software developed by ILM for the production,
as well as several Apple Macintosh computers and a Cyberware digitization
system, would could scan the actors' faces with a laster to produce
three-dimensional data so that they could be manipulated in the
computer. Live-action footage was scanned into the computer frame-by-frame
at high-resolution, then augmented with wholly computer-generated
effects....Some shots required hand-painted animation and frame-by-frame
touch-up in the computer....For the T-1000's bullet wounds, Winston's
team created a series of rubber 'shotgun shirts' with spring loaded
mechanisms, concealing pieces of chromed foam rubber that would
snap open instantaneously to create the illusion that a chrome
'hole' had suddently appeared...."
The effects, especially the shotgun wounds
that T-1000 receives, are astonishing.
Many of the effects were first used by director
Cameron in his 1990 film "The Abyss" in which
an undersea mining station discovers a creature made of water
and capable of morphing itself into various shapes.
In his July 3, 1991 review of "Terminator
2: Judgment Day," Roger Ebert observed that "Schwarzenegger's
genius as a movie star is to find roles that build on, rather
than undermine, his physical and vocal characteristics."
"Here," Ebert continued, "he becomes the straight
man in a human drama - and in a human comedy, too, as the kid
tells him to lighten up and stop talking like a computer. After
the kid's mother is freed from the mental home, the threesome
work together to defeat T-1000, while at the same time creating
an unlikely but effective family unit."
"T1000, as played by Patrick,"
Ebert wrote, "is a splendid villain, with compact good lucks
and a bland expression. His most fearsome quality is his implacability;
no matter what you do to him, he doesn't get disturbed and he
doesn't get discouraged. He just pulls himself together and keeps
Ebert liked the film but was quick to point
out two flaws in the plot:
"You'd think those machines of the future
would realize that their mission is futile; that, because Connor
is manifestly the leader of the human resistance, their mission
to kill him obviously must fail. But such paradoxes are ignored
by "Terminator 2," which overlooks an even larger one:
If indeed, in the last scene of the film, the computer chips necessary
to invent Terminators are all destroyed, then there couldn't have
been any Terminators - so how come they exist in the first place?"
In his July 5, 1991 review of the film, Joe
Brown of the Washington Post wrote that "Visceral to the
point of overkill (and beyond), a berserk blizzard of kinetic
images, it doesn't even give you time to be scared." "Even
though 'T2' stars Arnold Schwarzenegger," Mr. Brown continued,
"it's not just another chrome-plated casual carnage flick.
"T2" has a humane message; in fact, it's even Politically
Correct, in a perverse way. Here's a techno-movie that is virulently
anti-technology; that deploys mega-violence to make a statement
about the value of human life; that is macho in the extreme, but
has a female sensibility at heart."
Set in Los Angeles circa 2029, the film notes
that computers started a nuclear war that killed 3 billion people
on August 29, 1997 and there is now resistance, led by John Connor,
by some of the surviving humans to the machines that now run the
world. John's mother, Sarah, decides to change the future by killing
the scientist whose technology is based on a microchip left in
the first "Terminator" visit.
The young John Connor reprograms Schwarzenegger's
"Terminator" not to kill people and also teaches him
a lot of slang.
Brown observes that "Director and co-screenwriter
James Cameron has the framing eye of a great comic-book artist,
and a bracingly sick sense of humor - he wittily borrows from
the surrealistic hallucinations of 'Nightmare on Elm Street,'
the paranoia of 'Silence of the Lambs' - and even indulges in
a clever reversal of the melting Wicked Witch scene from 'The
Wizard of Oz.'"
"Terminator 2" won Academy Awards
for its sound, visual effects, makeup and sound effects editing.
The film uses voice-overs at the beginning
to set the stage and we soon see two Terminators arrive, separately,
naked in 1995. One heads for a saloon and dramatically appropriates
a biker's clothes and patrolcar. The other takes the uniform of
a motorcycle policeman, and his bike, and using the patrolcar's
computer finds the address of John Connor, who is living with
foster parents since his mother was institutionalized because
of her ranting about having killed a robot in a hydraulic press,
and Judgment Day and trying to blow up a computer factory.
The viewers learn, however, that his mother,
Sarah, was probably telling the truth as Miles Dyson, a computer
scientist at Cyberdyne Systems, played by Joe Morton, is soon
shown examining parts of the "demolished" terminator
in a vault at his company's headquarters.
The action picks up quickly with a chase of
John by the Terminators in a flood-control channel, the escape
of Sarah from the institution, her attempt to kill Miles Dyson
before his research leads to the creation of Skynet, the supercomputer
of the future, and the heroic death of Dyson, protected by Schwarzenegger,
in destroying the earlier Terminator's surviving parts.
The climax occurs in a steel foundry where
the two Terminators battle, mightily.
Schwarzenegger, very much discheveled, eventually
throws Patrick into a vat of molten steel and the film ends with
Schwarzenegger deciding to sacrifice himself and not permit any
part of him to survive. He lowers himself into the molten steel
so that his micro-chip cannot be used in the future.
The movie's violence is tempered somewhat with
humor as when the 12-year-old John orders Schwarzenegger to "listen
to the way people talk" and quickly teaches him slang, like
"No problemo" and "Hasta la vista, baby" and
"Terminator 2" is a great thriller
because the villain is apparently indescructible and totally unrelenting,
the ultimate nightmare and while other thrillers leave a lot to
the imagination, this one does not.
In 2003, a sequel to "Terminator 2"
came out: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." The
new film was directed not by Cameron, but Jonathan Mostow and
now the villain is a female terminator, called "T-X"
or Terminatrix, who is played by Kristanna Loken. John Connor
is now played by Nick Stahl and Linda Hamilton is not in the movie.
Judgment Day never not occur and a nuclear holocaust never happened,
but the "machines" have taken over. Schwarzenegger,
however, does return as a good terminator again. John Connor is
now in his 20's and T-X is sent back from the future to kill him.
The film is not up to the standards of "Terminator 2: Judgment
In mid-February, 2004, the "Extreme" Terminator 2 DVD
will be released with new commentary by director James Cameron.
When the "Ultimate" Terminator 2 DVD release came out
in 2000 it set new standards for extra features.