I’d seen The Terminator on video in the Eighties; I don’t remember if I saw it before or after David Denby did a “Best film of each year” piece for Premiere and chose that for 1984. Action, SF, time travel, post-apocalypse-ism, sex, of course I was going to like it; plus it’s James Cameron showing that he’s a natural filmmaker, making this tidy and relentless action story with almost no money or resources. (I really need to see the original again.) I’ve been a lunatic Cameron fan ever since, while fully acknowledging that he’s a lunatic, too. I’m willing for him to be nuts if he keeps doing films that blow my mind. (The Abyss nearly blew my bladder, but that’s another story.)
I was following movie productions (and, to my soon-to-be-shame, watching Entertainment Tonight) when T2 got made. On a really compressed schedule, remember: no first draft of the script until Spring 1990, filming beginning in October 1990, for a $100 million production that had to be released July 3rd, 1991 with special effects that the filmmakers could not be sure would work. That’s nuts. But it worked like gangbusters.
An early “HUH?!” moment in that coverage was a really wrong-headed Cinefantastique article. Actual sub-head: “Just call him ‘Daddy’ in this action sequel that’s aimed squarely at family audiences.” Yes, the writer and the editors were under the impression, without having read the script (just finding out the leaked info that Schwarzenegger would be playing a “good” Terminator), that it was going to be more Kindergarten Cop, more a PG-13 pulled-punches version of a Terminator film. The article even quoted an unnamed industry observer, who also hadn’t read the script, that the film was going to be so huge-scale that the original’s human touch would be lost. “[The ending] is just two robots punching each other. Who cares?”
Well, what actually wound up on screen in summer ’91 delivered like whoa. It’s a $100 million character drama! People actually act! The film’s often funny! It’s not an explosion-per-minute! There’s pacing ’n’ shit. Again, Cameron: natural filmmaker.
I’ve read multiple times the film’s script book: a thick, note-filled tome with all sorts of cut stuff and alternate ideas. Instead of that tiny Mexican compound, in the first draft (which Cameron said “would have cost more than Desert Storm to produce“) Sarah and John and the T-800 go to a secret private military base run by Gant, a “crazy ex-Green Beret” who’s mentioned once in the final film. By the way, the lines about how the T-800 is in fact the perfect father were said in that first draft by Gant, not by Sarah Connor in her voiceover. That’s how I knew the details of the much more involved original opening sequence -- humans in 2029 defeat SkyNet, break into its control complex, send Kyle Reese to the Eighties so he can protect (and, as it turned out, impregnate) Sarah Connor, find that SkyNet had managed to send terminators back (using a time-travel device later used in the film version of Contact), and find the stash of hundreds of T-800s that look exactly like Schwarzenegger, so they send one back to the Nineties -- and I gladly visualized that sequence and thought This is so cool! It’s my kind of tech porn. And it’s a sign of how huge Cameron and his co-writer William Wisher (who’d helped out with some rewrites of the original film, so he was familiar with the Terminator universe) were willing to get in their thinking. AND THEY MOSTLY PULLED IT OFF. I’m sure parts won’t hold up as well as I would’ve liked, and maybe I’ll spot more plot holes and “Huh?” moments this time, but still: I really, really like this film! And it’ll be in glorious 35mm tonight.
Bonus content! Want to hear several cool people talk a lot about Terminator 2? A commentary for the film is available at Cort And Fatboy Dot Com: Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts, Dawn Taylor, Mike Russell, David Walker and the Portland Mercury’s Erik Henriksen watched the flick while drinking bourbon. They don’t get as drunk as the guys on the commentary for Cannibal: The Musical, but we can’t have everything, right? And it’s a good commentary.