T2: The best roller coaster ride of your life
Date: February 16, 2007
By: David Barraclough
Arnold Schwarzenegger may have spoken only 74 words during The Terminator (1984), but three proved particularly ominous: "I'll be back." Seven years later he was back with a vengeance, in "the world's most expensive movie", James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Looking back at the most expensive Hollywood film.
As far as production company Carolco is concerned, it seems to be a slightly unwanted tag and the exact budget remains a mystery, variously reported at between $88 and $115 million. $100 million is probably fairly near the mark. However, given constantly escalating production costs and the resounding success of Terminator 2, it may be a title quickly relinquished.
In comparison, the original Terminator had a slender $6 million budget, was directed by Cameron when his only previous directorial credit was Piranha II: Flying Killers (1981) and was released to lukewarm reviews. Nevertheless, it became one of the decade's major cult movies and earned a healthy profit for Hemdale Films. A sequel seemed assured, but neither Schwarzenegger nor Cameron was keen to work for Hemdale a second time, feeling they would again be hampered by insufficient budget. So in stepped Carolco, which also produced the Schwarzenegger-Verhoeven sci-fi movie Total Recall (1990), with the money to buy out Hemdale Films and Gale Ann Hurd, the original co-producer with Cameron and his ex-wife. Carolco's only condition was that Cameron must meet a 4 July 1991 release date, a mere 18 months away. After completion, Cameron said: "It was not only a logistically difficult picture, a technically difficult picture and a dramatically ambitious picture, it also had to be done on a ridiculously short schedule."
When the script was first shown to art director Joe Nemec his "first response... was exhaustion. There was just so much there; and since Jim is a perfectionist, I knew he would want it all done absolutely first-rate." It's lucky he didn't see an earlier draft which, according to co-writer William Wisher, would have required a $200 million budget. After ditching the idea of Schwarzenegger playing two Terminators, one good and one bad. Cameron and Wisher soon settled on the final story. It needed to take into account Schwarzenegger's new, softer, post-Kindergarten Cop (1990) image, which meant transferring much of the aggression to Linda Hamilton's character. According to Cameron: "Arnold's role globally has changed and he is a great idol to children and people everywhere. I think it's very fortunate for me that the story that I came up with many years ago involved a change of the character of the Terminator to where he is now essentially the hero of the film."
Set 10 years after the original, a more advanced T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick) is sent back from the 21st century to kill John Connor, a young boy (played by newcomer Edward Furlong) destined to become the leader of the human resistance in the future war between man and machines. The adult John Connor, therefore, sends a T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, naturally), seen in the original movie, to protect his childhood self. The T-1000 takes the form of a patrol cop while the T-800 resembles a biker, dressed in black from head to toe. Meanwhile, John's mother, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, also repeating her role from the original movie), is held in a state hospital, considered crazy after her experience with the original Terminator.
The story naturally progresses into a series of superb action set pieces, maintaining a staggering pace throughout its 135-minute running time. For once, the massive budget is strongly in evidence on screen, with some awesome stunts and special effects. Most importantly, Schwarzenegger is believably established as the underdog, no mean achievement, particularly given Patrick's obvious physical inferiority. Cameron aimed to create "something that was more terrifying than the Terminator, and yet didn't look any more overtly inhuman". This was partly done by making the T-1000 a shape-shifter, using similar effects to those found in John Carpenter' The Thing (1982) and Cameron's own The Abyss (1989). The results are stunning.
However, Patrick must also take much of the credit for a good performance, registering strongly with little dialogue, projecting a steel menace with his eyes. "One of the things I did with my eyes was to hold them on the target, never blinking. I would lock onto a target, as if there was a straight line between us, and then my body would just carry me there, smoothly and without effort." He almost steals the film from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The other unknown, child actor Edward Furlong, unfortunately is not a success. He functions as the now obligatory, wisecracking, annoying brat, presumably as an identifiable character for young teenagers. The films also suffers from a certain amount of pretentiousness, Cameron calling it "the first action movie to advocate world peace". It also features some corny statements- "If a machine can learn the value of human life, then may be we can too"-during Sarah Connor's voice-over, and in John Connor features a second JC who will save the world.
At the time of release Schwarzenegger was the most bankable star in America, Germany and Japan, and only marginally behind Mel Gibson in Britain. From the first day, when it grossed $12 million, Terminator 2 was a huge success. Within two days its takings has outstripped that of the original Terminator, the production costs were recovered in 12 days and by the end of its third week Terminator 2 had taken $115 million. The massive investment had obviously paid off, commercially and critically, most critics being happy to echo Cameron's partner Larry Kasanoff's belief that Terminator 2 will give audiences "the best roller-coaster ride of their lives, they'll be thrilled". But for $100 million, they should be.