Film/Classic logo

Terminator 2, Judgment Day

Directed by James Cameron with Arnold Schwarznegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, 139 minutes (director's cut 152 minutes), color, 1991

Cover of DVD

Cover of DVD

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 is great.

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.

Linda Hamilton

Linda Hamilton

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


Robert Patrick

Robert Patrick


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 on coming."

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 "chill-out."

"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 Day."

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.

Click here to order the Blue-ray edition of "Terminator 2" from

This film ranks 38th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

This film ranks 114th in the Top 250 ranking at the International Movie Data Base as of December 30, 2003

See Tim Dirks's lenghty and superb review and synopsis of "Terminator 2" at

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review