Before we begin, a little linky-poo: Matt Staggs has an article up over at about why some folks get dragon tattoos. My little demon-dude is up at the end after many interesting responses, so as Dr. Steven Brule would say, go check it out!

You know the drill: Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. After watching and loving The Terminator we decided to give the sequel its due. While I still can’t figure out why the movie was called Judgment Day–didn’t they, you know, stop it from happening?–I’m ready to do some judging of my own, so let’s get to work!

The Film: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? James Cameron—big time. Though he directed and co-wrote, Cameron did receive screenwriting help from his old buddy William Wisher, Jr., who went on to work on Judge Dredd and the Exorcist prequels. Seemingly straight-faced soundtrack by Guns N’ Roses, Dwight Yoakam, and George “Bad to the Bone” Thorogood. Hackting by Arnold, Linda “Chin-up” Hamilton, Edward “Is this Really the Height of My Career?” Furlong, Robert “It Was for Me, Too, Kid, So Suck it Up” Patrick, and Joe “Eureka” Morton.

Quote: If you can’t come up with a quote from this on your own, well, you’re probably better off.

Alternate quote: For reals.

First viewing by Molly: Last week.

First viewing by Jesse: In the theatre—so, nine years old.

Most recent viewing by both: Last week.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: See The Terminator.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Decent. I was thrilled to be allowed to see it in the theatre, which was a first where this sort of thing was concerned, and consequently the last for some time thereafter. I remember thinking Edward Furlong was pretty awesome, and, as with a whole generation of kids who wanted a dirtbike and a pet Terminator, I got my hair cut just like him. The ‘do went well with my brightly colored hammer pants. Ah, 1991.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

For some reason it won’t let me embed these clips, so link!

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was really excited, as I remembered the hype surrounding T2 and thought The Terminator was just marvelous. Little did I know. . . never mind. I’ll say it all later.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: After being wary of re-watching the first Terminator, I was more optimistic about re-watching T2, not having seen it all the way through since I was a kid. Which shows how very, very mixed-up and foolish these columns make me.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Who could’ve guessed that the high jinks and kid-friendly action of T2 would please me less than the dark horror/sci-fi balance struck so wonderfully in The Terminator? Wowza! Shocking revelations aside, I suppose I should be generous enough to mention that I believe, had I viewed these films as a kid, my feelings would be somewhat different, since I can’t believe Young Molly would be the only kid in America to not squee at the notion of a pet Terminator. Anywho, I started getting really philosophical watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and I think I’ll share those musings, as even in the sober light of day, I think my theory about T2 holds up. Here it is: with a few notable exceptions, the problematic differences between The Terminator and T2 mirror the problematic differences between Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. Many of the stinky decisions Richard Fleischer made in order to completely ruin Conan the Destroyer have some bafflingly-accurate counterpart in T2. A short list in the order I thought about them writing this right now (and feel free to add your own):

  • Music: The gravitas of the scores of both Barbarian and Terminator are legendary—though I might personally feel that Poledouris’ epic, weighty score for Conan the Barbarian outstrips the eerie synthesizer in Terminator, both effectively convey the fact that you should be paying attention because what’s going on onscreen fucking matters. Then we have the goofiness of Destroyer and T2. Destroyer, as I believe I noted in our official review, is sucky because it’s just the goddamn soundtrack to Barbarian but sped up and dumbed down. T2, for its part, adds in a bunch of annoying pop standards to try to jolt the audience out of the glassy-eyed state of  “oooooooh shiny!” James Cameron was clearly attempting to invoke, given the script.
  • Presence of Wisecracking Sidekicks: How many wisecracking sidekicks appear to quip their lines adorably in Barbarian or Terminator? Fucking none, save Linda Hamilton’s friend, I guess, but calling her a sidekick would be a stretch. As we all know, Conan’s sidekick Subotai in Barbarian is the fucking jam for many reasons but his lack of wisecracking, “classic lines,” or “signature moves” elevates him exponentially. Then there’s Destroyer and T2. In Destroyer, we get the Most Annoying Sidekick of All Time, who I will not dignify by taking the time to google his name [Jesse says: say what you will, Tracy Walter was pretty ok in Repo Man]. In T2, Stock 90s Troubled Youth John Connor is kinda the main character, but so is the Terminator, so they sorta kinda become each other’s sidekicks and thus must both make wisecracks to fulfill that stereotype and omg I don’t even want to think about this any more AT ALL.
  • Pacing: The presence (or absence) of wisecracking sidekicks is a decent indicator of intended audience with the Conan and Terminator franchises (who wants to hang out with Conan talking shit/have a pet Terminator? Kids, that’s who [Jesse says: that is some ageist bullshit right there, but I’ll let it slide]), but so is pacing. Barbarian/Terminator had a weight to them—careful plotting, attempts and even the occasional success with character development. They both do that thing where there’s rising action, several climaxes that keep getting more climax-y, and falling action. Destroyer/T2 bank on us knowing who these characters are (and caring due to our affection for the first films) and just go buck wild with ‘splosions and shit getting shot and fire and guns. Also they attempt to go for the yuk-yuks, but more on that in the next section.
  • Self-Awareness: You know how Conan punches the camel in Conan the Destroyer for the yuk-yuk factor, because we all remember Conan getting trashed and punching that camel in Barbarian? And you know how they get Conan’s wisecracking sidekick to comment on the action? Yeah. You know how in T2 they repeat all the good lines from Terminator for the yuk-yuk factor and later reboot the Terminator so he can mug and grin for John Connor? Boo.
  • Honorable Mention: Presence of A Really, Really Crazy Lady: I’m pretty much done here but I’d like to mention another odd coincidence/element of both Destroyer/T2 that kinda sucked—both feature a lady character who’s so single-minded that she ends up ruining things, big time. The fact that Queen Whatever from Conan the Destroyer is a villainess and Sarah Connor is just batshit insane from knowing the future and being abused in Stock Post-Cuckoo’s Nest Mental Institution doesn’t really matter very much, because they both are so incapable of just listening to the men in their lives that they totally ruin a bunch of stuff.

I—I just. . . I know everyone loves T2, especially one Raechel Lynn Dumas, and so I feel bad putting it in the same sequel-fail category as Conan the Destroyer. . . but still. Big dumb blockbusters that are awesome (in the “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear” sense of awesomeness) and dark just work better for me than yuk-yuks and craziness. But since as a kid I totally thought Return of the Jedi was waaaaay better than, you know, Empire Strikes Back, I’d like to reiterate that had I seen T2 as a kid I likely would’ve loved it and had some degree of nostalgia/affection to balance out my allergy to George Thorogood and pandering camp.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Cats alive, that movie. First and foremost, it most certainly does not hold up to the first film in terms of aging gracefully/tolerably. It’s a louder, flashier, longer, and far stupider film than The Terminator, and yet is revered as one of the best films of all time by many a poll. Which goes to show that the lowest common denominator is, surprise surprise, pretty goddamn low, and that most people would rather watch a nonsensical mega-budget action movie with good effects to a lean, mean thriller with perhaps more heart than ability. I know, I know, stop the fucking presses.

Mind, as far as campy shoot-em-ups go you’d be hard pressed to find another early 90s cheesefest to rival T2 for technical ability and action set pieces—but then the first movie had both of those, and managed to avoid the ankle-snapping pitfalls that T2 is pocked with. When you’re trying to make a sequel to a movie about time travel you’re already setting out with a strike or two against you, and T2’s solution is to make things even more nonsensically convoluted in the hope that nobody will notice it makes zero sense whatsoever. There’s a reason critics compare the series’ narrative paradoxes to the old Planet of the Apes movies, which is never a good thing. Granted, I haven’t seen the third or fourth movies, or the tv show, which maybe ties it up real good, but I did play the Robocop Vs. Terminator videogame and feel like I can talk about the franchise with some small authority.

That said, re-watching it was a lot of fun, because, well, for all the annoying bits and stupidity it’s a pretty goddamn fun flick if one has the childhood memories I do, or if you’re the type who enjoys non-stop explosions, car chases, and shoot-outs [Molly says: I do, but I’m nothing if not perpetually disappointed by life]. Not the sort of fun movie I’m ever going to re-watch now that I’ve been back to the well, but hey, better than Conan the Destroyer. Maybe.

High Points: The T-1000 effects, which, as far as CGI goes, have aged impressively well. S. Epatha Merkerson showing up and taking her role seriously. The nostalgia factor, that draws one back to a mindset where the acting, plot, and pretty much everything else could be overlooked in light of shit getting shot and blown up with extreme prejudice. Shit getting shot and blowing up with extreme prejudice:


Low Points: Crazy mom being crazy. Any scene where shit is not getting shot and blowing up with extreme prejudice. The kid. The clumsy stabs at acting, which miss all the major organs and leave the audience bleeding out through countless agonizing gashes. The relentlessly annoying pop-soundtrack, most especially the scene where the Terminator goes into that redneck bar to “Bad to the Bone.” The camp, which rather than being so-bad-it’s-good, is often so-bad-it’s-bad.

Final Verdict: Seriously, we just compared this movie to Conan the Destroyer.

Next Week: Probably Alien.