Sunday, December 22, 2013

Arnold 24: Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Rolling back into town just in time for my company's national conference and holiday party after my adventures in Middle America, I somehow found time to watch part and or all of 4 Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, Terminator 2, End of Days, Jingle all the Way and The Terminator.  It's like Pringles, once you (pec) pop, you can't stop...or something.

Post conference and pre-party it was time for 1991's Terminator 2:  Judgement Day, James Cameron's record and ground breaking sequel to his 1984 cinema changing tech-noir thriller, The Terminator.  Even though I have two different versions of it on DVD, I skipped the step of popping it in and opted for streaming it on Netflix.  I've long had issues with the quality of Netflix as I find the pixelated images and non-black blacks annoying and would rather watch a disk or even a VHS.  To my surprise, Terminator 2 looks great on Netflix with virtually no image distortion at all for much of what I viewed.  I'm sure I could fix the issues with an upgrade in internet speed and television but that's just wasteful so shut up you tech whore.  Technology represses the inner beast.  Remember that.

A sequel with remake qualities, T2 follows young John Conner (Edward Furlong) as he learns about his future as leader of the human resistance 20 years ahead of time while evading the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick, who has somehow never co-starred opposite Michael Biehn) with the help of a reprogrammed T-800 (Arnie, duh!) and his mother, Sarah (future Cameron ex-wife Linda Hamilton), now life hardened and awaiting the machine brought Armageddon.

T2 is an amped up version of part I with many of the same story beats repeated only replacing human hero and father of the future Kyle Reese (Michael "fucking" Biehn!) with Arnold's nicer, good guy Terminator.  When Ah-nuld helps Sarah escape from a mental facility, he repeats the same line Reese does upon finding her in part I:  "Come with me if you want to live".  With over ten times the budget of Terminator, Judgement Day was an action and special F/X extravaganza combined with great production design, a killer cast, strong characters and a few laughs along the way.

Seeing T2 a couple years ago on the big screen, it's amazing to see how well it still holds up.  The main reason, in my opinion, is that Cameron only used the then ground breaking visual F/X (first developed for his own The Abyss) for the T-1000.  The morphing, puddle melting, knife handed, Silver Surfer walking villain was something audiences had never seen and I'm sure is one of the main reasons for repeat attendance.  Cameron's crew shot everything around the T-1000 practically with physical stunts, make up, sibling twins, miniatures and rear screen projection.  So when the T-1000 walks out of a ball of fire, he's the only visual effect on screen as the exploding truck wreckage is real VS today's CGI on top of CGI = video game cartoon shit.

Judgement Day was a product of now defunct independent mini-studio, Carolco; the 90's powerhouse started by Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna.  Like a classier version of 80's juggernaut Cannon, Carolco was the place for big budget, high concept, movie star powered fodder with worldwide appeal.  The two got started distributing films in the foreign market and soon went into production themselves on 1982's First Blood, which would become Sylvester Stallone's second franchise after Rocky.  An extremely troubled production (Stallone claims to have offered to buy the flick and burn it), the film was retooled several times before hitting screens to modest success while redefining action cinema forever.

That success led to the mega hit sequel, 1985's Rambo: First Blood Part II, the second highest grossing picture of the year.  Kassar and Vajna set out to pool established and rising talent, over paying for the services of James Cameron, Walter Hill, Mickey Rourke, Arnold, Sly, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Paul Verohoven, Michael Douglas, Renny Harlin, Roland Emmerich and Oliver Stone.  But by 1990, Kassar's hot headed attitude pushed calming influence Vajna to depart and start his own company.

When Carolco hit, they did so on a global scale as Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Terminator 2, Cliffhanger and Rambo II collectively brought in over $1.5 billion in theaters alone.  Costly critical hits like The Doors and Chaplin showed they had an eye on expanding the company repertoire while epic flops like Showgirls and Cutthroat Island highlighted Kassar's lack of quality control.  By 1995, the party was over.

While Carolco and Kassar might not be the kings they once were, Terminator 2 remains a jewel in their and cinema's history.  Grossing $500 million worldwide, T2 would be 1991's most successful film by a large margin and become a landmark in movies and technology.  Arnold would parlay the success into having a studio at his control for 1993's Last Action Hero while James Cameron would make history again years later with Titanic.

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