Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Year: 1991

Production: Lightstorm / Carolco / TriStar

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

Screenwriter: James Cameron, William Wisher

135 minutes. Color

A decade after The Terminator (1984), two more Terminators (human-seeming killer robots) have been sent back to present from the human-machine wars of AD2029, one to eliminate John Connor, the future human leader (the initials are shared with Jesus Christ), while he is still a child (well played by Furlong), the other (Schwarzenegger) to protect him. Linda Hamilton again plays Sarah Connor, John's mother, but, where once she was cute, now she is chain-smoking, violent obsessive in a psychiatric ward, body rippling with muscles, awaiting with a frozen snarl the nuclear holocaust - due to arrive in August 1997 - of which she has been forewarned.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is fundamentally an action thriller, choreographed with precision, probably the most expensive film ever made (budget estimated at $95 million), and very exciting indeed. It does, however, project images of pain and impotence in the shadow of a dark future: the imminence and immanence of nuclear disaster (powerfully rendered in a dream sequence), Sarah's wrecked psyche, the irony of a machine becoming a father figure, the boy struggling inarticulately to explain the sanctity of life to a killer robot (even if a "good" one this time). There is a clear awareness in Cameron of the intractability of human anger and violence; it is precisely these qualities, we must suppose, on which the nihilistic machines, our killer children, are modelled. This awareness runs half-hidden beneath the cynicism of the son/daddy mawkishness aimed directly at the older, softer viewer, and the dishonesty of so violent a film hawking a dove message.

As sf the film becomes embedded in its own causal loop, whereby a future technology sent into the past catalyses the creation of the very technology that caused the trouble in the first place. The second Terminator - played by the interestingly cast Patrick, a slightly built actor with a wholly affectless face - has the ability to flow from shape to shape like quicksilver. Though silly, this makes for great special effects. Commercial considerations demand an upbeat ending, which leave us with the unlikelihood of a plot in which the most efficient killing machine ever created is shown as lacking the competence to kill.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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