I still remember everything about the first time I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
I was flying coach at about 35,000 feet. The cabin was dark and I had big huge earphones on that didn’t fit. I was grumpy. I was ten.
T2 came out in the summer of 1991. I wanted to blog about it because that’s twenty years ago. TWENTY YEARS!? Are you kidding me? How did I become an adult?
That first time I watched Jim Cameron’s opus I was the same age as Edward Furlong’s John Connor. Watching it now I’m almost the same age as Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. Yikes.
So there I was. Twenty years ago. A ten year old boy in a darkened airplane cabin wearing overlarge earphones. I remember leaning to my left, craning my body a little bit into the isle to better see the closest of the communal screens that hung from the ceiling every ten feet or so down the length of the cabin. Remember that? When the screens used to come down from the ceiling and everyone didn’t get their own? It was back when there were ashtrays everywhere.
To be honest when I started looking back even I didn’t remember watching T2 on those little screens. I was just so into that movie. Even the very first time. I hadn’t seen anything like it. Literally.
Up until T2, I had never seen a “grown-up” movie before. To say it in a cliche way – I’d never seen an “R Rated Movie” before. All the movies I’d watched up until then were Disney cartoons or movies like Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Kids movies.
Thinking back I don’t think I’d ever even seen a movie with guns in it before. I’d never seen a car chase before. I’d never seen an explosion.
For my sheltered little pastor’s kid/missionary kid life – T2 pretty much blew my mind.
I was so scared watching it for the first time. The cinematic archetype of a villain relentlessly and mercilessly stalking his victim was wholly new to me. I was terrified. The conceptualization and state of the art execution of a liquid metal character was completely genius to me. The fact that the movie was a sequel was lost on me – even though the number two was right there in the title. The plot was mesmerizing. The fact that the protagonist was a 10 year old boy, just like me, was astounding. Every single thing about that movie resonated with me.
T2’s technical achievements became, in a way, an omen for my generation – both cinematically and practically we were about to see things we could never imagine. I remember my dad commenting before the movie started that James Cameron’s special effects were supposed to be world class in this movie. And he said something then that he would say many times in my lifetime – that I was seeing things and would see things done in movies that had never been seen before – that I was lucky to be growing up in such a cool time. And it’s true. T2 was one of the first movies to utilize extensive CGI, and one of the first to depend on a character that was, at times, fully CGI. The T-1000 set the bar cinematically – and won at the Oscars – and twenty years later we have Andy Serkis, and Benjamin Button, and Avatar.
T2 is spectacular. I rewatched the film in preparation for this blog and it holds up admirably. The effects still look impressive and the way the film is shot is just beautiful. Robert Patrick remains one of cinema’s greatest villains, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is at his most watchable when he’s playing “The Terminator”. The film has a score that is so classic it can be suggested just by knocking out that iconic rhythm on a table.
But underneath all the explosions and special effects T2 is still just a simple father-son story.
When you first watch the movie – you might think it’s a mother-son story considering John and his mom spend so much of the movie saving each others lives and/or putting each other in danger. But if you look closer you’ll see a movie about a boy who is fatherless. John Connor lays it all out to Arnie at one point in the film when he describes the various boyfriends his mom has had over the years. Some of them taught him stuff, some of them were dicks, but none of them stuck around.
In a very real way the Terminator becomes John’s father by the end. It’s cheesy. But it works in its own way. It’s not a tearjerker or anything – but it’s still a powerful scene at the end when Arnie and John say their final goodbyes. “Don’t GO! I ORDER YOU NOT TO GO!” … “I know now why you cry.”
Self sacrifice. Courage. Love. The idea that as long as you’re doing the right thing it doesn’t matter how many cars you smash or buildings you blow up. These are all very Christian principles (except for that last one maybe) and they had a real impact on my little ten year old brain.
T2 is a Christ-film if there ever was one. Jim Cameronized sure… but a Christ-film nonetheless.
And I think that’s why my parents allowed it that once, way up in the air, back in 1992 – because they knew the message was true and eternal.
Or maybe it was because my mom was asleep and my dad thought we’d get a real kick out of it.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Dir: James Cameron. Released: July 3rd, 1991. TriStar Pictures (remember TriStar??)
“Give me your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.”
“We’re not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean.”
“Your foster parents are dead.”
“August 29th, 1997.”
NOTE: This is the first retrospective in a trilogy of retrospectives. I will be exploring two more “CJ defining” movies from 1991 between now and Christmas. Stay tuned. And if you can guess the two remaining movies you get a prize.