Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Repeat Viewing: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron)

TSPDT placing: #565
Directed by: James Cameron

Watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) for the first time in three years made me remember how amazing movies could be. Director James Cameron had previously achieved unexpected success with The Terminator (1984), a moody and relentlessly bleak tech-noir thriller. The inevitable sequel came armed with a blockbuster budget and state-of-the-arts visual effects, and it is a triumph on every level. The two films are very different, of course – just as Cameron's Aliens (1986) was very different from Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). The first Terminator film was a down-and-dirty dystopian sci-fi, where the modern-day setting is just as drab and ominous as the terrifying future. In Judgement Day, Cameron juggles a tricky juxtaposition of hope and despair. The blindingly-vivid 1990s action sequences feel as though they were captured in the flash of a nuclear explosion, and their dazzling intensity make our glimpse of a bleak, war-ridden future all the more horrific.
Science-fiction has often tackled the notion that Mankind's technology is destined to rebel, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However, unlike most entries to the genre, T2: Judgement Day takes the time to explore the idea. As in Kubrick's film, the fates of humans and machines become inescapably entwined: Man is no longer merely the designer (a la Dr. Frankenstein) who creates an artificial son, but one who must learn from his progeny. Accordingly, John Connor (Edward Furlong) and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) share a father-son relationship that twists back on itself like a Moebius strip, each half teaching the other. In one haunting sequence, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) grimly contemplates the Terminator's unwavering loyalty towards John, and his ironic suitability as a father figure. This grotesque interlacing of familial roles speaks a clear message: if Judgement Day is to be averted, Man and Machine must coexist as equals, though human vanity may never allow it.
Throughout the film, Cameron weaves one astonishing action set-piece after another, utilising a seamless combination CGI and optical trickery. The T-1000 Terminator at first glance seems reasonably innocuous, but Robert Patrick brings something icily sinister to the role, a cold intelligence that isn't strictly mechanical but somehow filled with imagination. An equally fascinating character, I thought, was Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, a complete reversal from the innocent Sarah Connor of the previous film. Now emotionally hardened by the prospect of nuclear holocaust, Sarah sees only ghosts where she once saw people, her apathy stemmed only by her maternal instincts towards John. In a haunting dream sequence, Sarah Connor is powerless to warn a younger version of herself (representative of society at large) of the coming dangers, her screams consumed by a nuclear blast that levels cities and engulfs her in flames. Hamilton's performance is bold and ferocious, perhaps cinema's most intense female action role (not coincidentally, James Cameron also provided us with the runner-up, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens).
10/10

Currently my #2 film of 1991:
1) The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
2) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron)
3) JFK (Oliver Stone)
4) Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola)
5) Barton Fink (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)