Jul 30, 2009


Before he started terminating the California treasury and a whole lot of public funding (and is working on the State of California as a whole now), Arnold Schwarzenegger was programmed to kill John Connor.

He was first sent to the past by Skynet, a computer system that in the future initiated judgment day, essentially killing most of us and leading a takeover by the machines. His mission - to kill John’s mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before he has a chance to be born.

Later he was sent back by John Connor of the future to protect John Connor of the past from another Skynet operative in the form of liquid metal morphing Robert Patrick.
I am of course talking about the James Cameron films, 1984’s TERMINATOR and 1991’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY which were huge successes and have taken a prominent place in pop culture mythology.

Of course both Arnold and TERMINATOR have been in the news this year. Arnold as Governor of California is struggling with a state that is deeply in debt and in financial chaos. This past summer Warner Bros. released McG’s TERMINATOR SALVATION, the fourth film in the franchise, and the first to take place in the future after Judgment day and to not feature Arnold (although he does show up in a digitally inserted manner). Neither Arnold as Governor nor TERMINATOR SALVATION received good reviews (and justifiably so).

There was also the 2003 Jonathan Mostow directed TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES which was average, but truly the strength of this franchise lies solely with TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2 (from this point on referred to as T2).

James Cameron directs Linda Hamilton

James Cameron in the early 1980s was a young filmmaker who up until that point hadn’t done anything beyond working on low budget Roger Corman movies, most notably PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING. Hard to imagine the visionary mind behind such behemoths as TITANIC, ALIENS, TRUE LIES and THE ABYSS coming from such humble beginnings, but he is just one of many that rose from the Corman filmmaking camp to become Hollywood heavyweights.

Working with producing/writing partner (and then wife, since divorced) Gale Anne Hurd, Cameron made TERMINATOR, a hard edged and fairly low budget film (by today’s standards, especially considering where the franchise is at now) that became a monstrous success. Not only did it put his career on the fast track, but also that of producer Gale Anne Hurd and star Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian body-builder who had gained early notoriety thanks to CONAN: THE BARBARIAN.

It is also the movie that introduced Arnold’s signature “I’ll be back” line which he uttered in almost every movie since (and probably a couple of campaign speeches as well).

TERMINATOR is an exciting yet smart action packed movie that although gritty is stylized with characters you can get behind – and that includes Arnold as the unstoppable killing machine. There are times when I have been viewing this movie that I have thought that Arnold’s cyborg is so cool, I wouldn’t mind if he succeeded in killing Sarah Connor. Especially after uttering the aforementioned “I’ll be back” to a police desk clerk, only to crash through the door of the precinct with a car, and then proceed to lay waste to everyone and everything in sight. As a teenager watching this, I thought it was great.

The great irony of TERMINATOR is of course in sending back Arnold to kill Sarah Connor, Skynet makes it possible for John Connor to be born as Michael Biehn’s Reese who travels back to keep Sarah alive (sent by his in the future son John) ends up becoming John’s father. Essentially by trying to stop his future problems, he initiates them in the first place. It is smart twists and paradoxes like this that sets TERMINATOR well above most movies in the action/science fiction genre.

A few years pass and James Cameron directed 2 more great films, ALIENS (1986) and THE ABYSS (1989), and finally decides to revisit the world of the Terminators with T2.

Released in the summer of 1991, it can honestly be said that T2 is a game changer. A slick production that blew most of what had come before it out of the water – in terms of action, character development, photography, production design, action and effects – it was a smart sequel that dared to improve upon the original.

T2 also has the distinction of being one of the first movies to feature elaborate CGI effects, and made full effective use of morphing technology, primarily with Robert Patrick’s killer T-1000 character who took Arnold’s place as the villain (in this one, Arnold came back to protect John Connor). It was thanks to those effects and that character that James Cameron, then the head of Digital Domain, embarked upon the idea of a completely CGI character in a film he had envisioned entitled AVATAR. This started an almost 2 decade quest – with a few other movies in between (including the box office smash and multi-Oscar winning TITANIC) to make the AVATAR film a reality, which remained only in the planning stages thanks to the lack of the proper technology to achieve his desired goal. That film of course is finally in the can and is being released this December from 20th Century Fox, the first footage which was screened at this year’s San Diego Comic-con which I saw, and I detailed in an early blog post.

These 2 Cameron directed TERMINATOR movies while having many similarities do what most movie franchises are unable to do, and that is each stands alone on their own merits. As I mentioned, T2 is glossy and slick where TERMINATOR is gritty and hard edged. Arnold’s Terminator acts like a bull in a china shop whereas Robert Patrick’s T-1000 is even more dangerous given his morphing abilities and is unstoppable in ways that Arnold’s model couldn’t imagine like how you can melt the T-1000 down, but he just puts himself back together again and keeps coming.

Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor character goes through the biggest transformation of any character in the cinema. Starting out in TERMINATOR as a mousy waitress who is a push over that can barely take care of herself, she becomes a bad-ass (and ripped) mercenary who knows how to handle a gun and will stop at nothing to keep her family alive and somehow thwart judgment day in T2 (of note is that she also was once married to Cameron, also divorced).

Linda Hamilton from TERMINATOR and T2

Not only a monster hit at the box office, T2 has been a huge seller on every home video format it has been released on – VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and now Blu-Ray. There are multiple cuts available (5 I believe on the latest Blu-Ray release) all of which are contained in a great box set.
However, as good as TERMINATOR and T2 are to watch at home in High Definition (and that Blu-Ray btw is a MUST buy), there is nothing like seeing them on the big screen ESPECIALLY the extremely stylistic and exciting T2. So how happy was I to see that the American Cinematheque, continuing in the tradition of great programming (and holding over the geek buzz of Comic-con) is screening both movies as a double feature on Friday night (July 31) at 7:30pm.

Again, like the INDIANA JONES trilogy on Saturday, the program is at the Aero in Santa Monica (and not at the Egyptian in Hollywood). There will be a discussion with editor Mark Goldblatt as part of the program.

Get your Cameron fix to tide you over until AVATAR and especially treat yourself if you have never seen these projected or at all. If you have seen them, relive them in all their memorable glory – “Come with me if you want to live”, Cyberdine, Miles Dyson, Edward Furlong, Skynet and of course “HASTA LA VISTA, BABY!”

Trust me…one night of programming at the American Cinematheque will definitely have you saying “I’LL BE BACK!”

The American Cinematheque website can be found HERE.

The official American Cinematheque release follows:

Friday, July 31 – 7:30 PM

Double Feature:

THE TERMINATOR, 1984, MGM Repertory, 108 min. Dir. James Cameron. "I’ll be back," growls metal-machine Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and Cameron’s career kicked into overdrive with this story of a cyborg killer from the future tracking down human prey Linda Hamilton. Shot on a very lean budget of $6.5 million, with excellent F/X by Stan Winston and Fantasy II, THE TERMINATOR is pulp sci-fi at its very best. "I don’t think we were trying to set the world on fire ... I just came up with a way of juxtaposing futuristic elements with a kind of everyday reality." -- Cameron. Trailer

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, 1991, Sony Repertory, 136 min. "A violent movie about world peace" is how James Cameron described this high-octane sequel to the original TERMINATOR. Like his earlier ALIENS, T-2 is less a remake than a re-imagining of the first film -- here, Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger (in a muscular, understated performance) is an obsolete killer, sent back as guardian to Linda Hamilton and teenage son Edward Furlong. The strangely-elegant morphing effects of the T-1000 are dazzling -- but it’s Cameron’s uncanny blend of pop humor and visionary sci-fi that make TERMINATOR 2 the ultimate in Future Shock. Discussion in between films with editor Mark Goldblatt. Trailer