By Tim Pelan
James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is an exploitation movie writ large—not surprising given the director’s roots as a staple of the Roger Corman school of make-‘em-quick-and- cheap shockers. If The Terminator, its seven-year progenitor, was a guerrilla hybrid action/slasher/time-travel thriller, often filmed in the dank night-time alleyways and backlots of L.A. without permits, T2 is also a “perfect infiltration unit,” blowing audiences away with another killer gimmick and polymorphously perverse antagonist: the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). T2’s mix of big spectacle, gritty violence and unusual imagery, with incendiary apocalyptic undertones, horrific still at the tail end of Cold War tension, shook up mainstream action by dancing around what it could get away with in its heightened conflict. The film ushered in a new age of revolutionary freeing effects, both practical and virtual, often created seemingly on a wing and a prayer by Dennis Muren and ILM, practical wizard Stan Winston, and 4Ward Productions. But the heart and soul of T2 was the human element—the “boy and his cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger)” reimagining of Western Shane, with poodle-haired waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) now a fully freak mother, gimlet-eyed and gym-ripped, committed to protecting her pre-teen son John (Edward Furlong), the world’s future savior, but unfortunately also committed to a secure mental hospital for gazing too long into the abyss of her dystopian foreknowledge. The unlikely troika (the nature of Arnie’s return was punctured in the final careless teaser of three with the tagline “He’s back–for good!”) must face off against an antagonist never before realized on screen, and rarely bettered—Patrick’s shape-shifting liquid metal “mimetic polyalloy” upgrade of Arnie’s model. But the previous bad guy was a new model Arnie also, sold to the skeptical star as a good guy to the kid, a badass to anyone trying to get through him.
The route to a sequel was not an easy one. Cameron and his previous producer partner and one-time wife Gale Anne Hurd, who had also worked for Corman (“I thought he was running the model shop,” she recalls—even back then Cameron had a fiery go-getter attitude) scraped together a bunch of backers for The Terminator, including Hemdale Film Corporation. Cameron had always had the idea for a shape-shifting robot in mind, but at the time the effects hadn’t caught up with his imagination. Now divorced from Hurd during the arduous production of The Abyss, Cameron was initially resolved to just write and produce a sequel to The Terminator, as Hurd retained a stake along with Hemdale in sequel rights to their smash hit. Cameron mooted several alternative ideas, but it was going nowhere. “Arnold was always the biggest flag-waver for Terminator 2,” according to Cameron. “And Arnold gets what Arnold wants.” The by now huge star convinced Carolco Pictures chief Mario Kassar, who along with his former partner had elevated the company from a scrappy outsider to the go-to name for action entertainment with the likes of First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Arnold-starring Total Recall, to cut the Gordian knot of contractual obligation. Kassar offered both Hurd and Hemdale $5 million apiece to walk away, and Cameron $6 million to realize his dream. The director now had 20 months until a locked-in release date to come up with an idea, treatment and script (co-written with buddy and collaborator William Wisher, who had a dialogue credit on the first Terminator), that could, off the groundwork of the water creature effect in The Abyss, realize his vision. In his words it would also be “the first action movie advocating world peace.”
The director spoke with Female on the occasion of the 25th anniversary 3D release about the early genesis of his T-1000 idea, and how it would have fit into The Terminator world:
“In my very first incarnation of The Terminator, the first metal endo skeleton guy gets blown up halfway through the story. And then up in the future, they sense that they’ve failed and now they go to the black box at the bottom of their whole place, and they get out the thing that they’re afraid of. They would’ve sent it the first time but even they’re afraid of what it might do. If they send that back to the past and it just starts wrecking things, who knows what happens to the future? So, then they unleash the demon and the demon was the liquid metal guy. He was the really scary guy. The seed of it was already there, I already knew exactly where to go for the sequel. And the idea that John Connor is this important character in the future. And then I thought, okay, let’s just have him be ten years old. What does Jesus think when he’s ten years old and you tell him he’s the son of God. Doesn’t that mess you up? Doesn’t that mess up your mother? That was the thinking there. Once you drop those two elements together, now the last big variable was what do you do with the Terminator? Who is your title character? Was I going to have Arnold play the liquid guy? It did not feel right. What do I need a T-800 for? What do I need Arnold for? Wait a minute! What about if there’s more than one of those things up there in a vault some place, what if they reprogrammed one to be a good guy, a protector? And to me that’s what unlocked the whole story, because then it quickly flowed that he becomes the surrogate father in this crazy, dysfunctional nuclear family. Nuclear in more than one sense of word…”
Cameron enthused to Total Film in the November 2017 issue about how at the time they were on the cusp of a new dawn in effects realization. “We knew at the time that we were on a curve of willing something into existence. I can’t take credit for CG animation—the toolsets were being created by a whole bunch of people all over the place—but like any good surfer who sees the wave coming and knows when it’s time to take the ride, I knew it was time to take the ride. There was the feeling that we could get to something extraordinary within the cycle of a single film production. We did that on The Abyss and then we did it on T2, and then the same people at ILM who were working on T2 went on to do Jurassic Park. It was such a fertile time. Everyone was so excited by it.”
Initially the director had envisioned Arnie playing both “good” and “bad” Terminators, but ultimately considered this to be too goofy and tricky to pull off, distracting even. The key was that the mimetic properties of the T-1000 would belie its denseness. A slimmed-down model (“Nothing special about him,” the script says of his entrance. “Certainly not built like a Terminator.”) could kick the T-800’s ass, hurling him about as well as absorbing and dodging blows like liquid mercury, throwing Arnie out a window in a call-back to the first film’s Tech-Noir confrontation (Wisher cameos here as an agog bystander, snapping the carnage on a camera). Although the teaser gave things away, Arnie’s intro is ambiguous about the potential threat level to the humans both bots are sent to locate. Are they each “bad to the bone”? We are primed to view Arnold as the hulking villain—his assessment of the biker bar and takedown of clientele for boots, clothes and motorcycle harks back to his doppelgangers confrontation with the punks in the first film (although nobody gets their heart ripped out this time—hell, no-one even dies). Like the first film, we get a T-800 machine code POV on several occasions—when he first espies John Connor, the screen reads, “TARGET ACQUIRED.” We get no such aspect or insight into the T-1000’s process. The T-1000, meanwhile, kills a policeman (needs must?) and adopts his uniform and patrol car, all the better to go where he wants and ask questions. The action up to the T-800 and T-1000 eventual conflation over a freaked out John Connor in the back corridor of the Galleria is a big fake-out, with Arnie instead of joining in the kill imperviously sheltering the boy by blocking a barrage of T-1000 bullets with his (I’ll be) back. We only realize the T-1000 isn’t human when Arnie’s shotgun shells leave silvery impact “puddles” that suck back to normal uniformed torso.
Patrick said Cameron envisioned the T-1000 as a cross between David Bowie and James Dean—lithe and cat-like with whip-smart reflexes and a constant, hunting stillness. With his short, slick hair and slightly protruding ears which also seem to twitch as his eyes scan independently of his head movement, Patrick’s predator is constantly alert. His minimal movements in extremis have been referenced many times since, from Simon Pegg’s Officer Angel in Hot Fuzz to Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons. He taught himself to sprint full speed with mouth closed, arms locked liked 90-degree pistons. In one take he caught up with the heroes fleeing car. “In my mind, I kept images of the way an eagle looks, and I kind of gave myself a little head tilt downward, which gave me that forward movement and always made me look like I was moving or in pursuit,” he told The A.V.Club.
Cameron was ahead of the curve in portraying the police as a force disassociated from the general populace, something to be treated with a healthy skepticism. In a weird coincidence, the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers on the night of March 3, 1991 which sparked the infamous uproar and riots, was captured on video by onlooker George Holliday from his balcony, who had a few weeks previously shot location footage of T2 on the same tape, which now preceded the beating.
“That, to me, is the most amazing irony considering that the L.A.P.D. are strongly represented in Terminator 2 as being a dehumanized force,” Cameron told the Los Angeles Times when the movie was released. “What the film is about, on the symbolic level, is the dehumanization we do on a daily basis.” Consider how the police shoot first and ask questions later with Miles Dyson, the black boffin working for Cyberdyne Systems on the salvaged future tech from the first film. He now has had the scales pulled from his eyes and is sickened by the future apocalypse that will result if Skynet becomes sentient from his work. Cameron cast a black actor (Joe Morton) as the most human and relatable of the characters in the film, a family man, brilliant and optimistic. It is a gut punch when first a cold and emotionless Sarah goes off on her own to take him out before he can create the future, before having her own meltdown at realizing what she has become, to then see him mortally wounded by SWAT cops as he works with his erstwhile would-be assassin to prevent Judgment Day. It isn’t clear if Cameron knew exactly what he was portraying was suggesting the average POC experience with police officers in the real world, but it is telling that when Arnie (a white, er, cyborg) strides out to disable the cops outside the building (no killing, he’s been instructed by John), they shout a warning to him first before opening fire.
That dehumanizing aspect applied to Sarah Connor too. When we first meet her she is incredibly lithe and ripped (three months pre-training with Israeli special forces soldier Uzi (9mm?) Gal)), doing pull-ups from her upturned bedframe in the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. She then turns to regard Dr Silberman (Earl Boen, reprising his burned-out shrink role from the first film) peering through the door viewport with a not too friendly Kubrick stare—“How’s the knee?” Everything human has seemingly been stripped away. “I knew instinctively where I wanted to go with this woman,” said Hamilton. “I thought, ‘This woman has been living with the certainty of man’s demise for all these years and she’d have become this wild thing,’ so the warrior and the crazy woman ideas were all me.”
When she sits warily smoking with Silberman and wardens to watch back a previous session on video, where she loses it on camera about Skynet and how everyone is going to need “1 million sunblock” she tries to pretend she’s much better now. It’s a throwback to the scene in the police station in The Terminator, where Silberman and the detectives and a younger, scared Connor watched Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese, her late protector, lose it in frustration at their inability to understand his mission. Standing or perched on a desk, sipping coffee and looking down at Reese on the monitor, it seems they are the rational, controlled ones–he is the trapped loon, the freak show on T.V, emphasized by the skewed angle of the desk and isolation in the frame. But as he struggles to be heard and believed, he yells directly up at the highly placed interrogation room camera, seemingly reaching out to Sarah directly. Silberman and Connor in T2 are sitting, the wardens perched on a desk behind. On the monitor, a crazed, wild-haired Connor stares and yells directly in close-up into the lens, across the table at them, before Silberman freezes the tape. Visitation rights denied.
Connor is cunning though. Faking a freakout, she purloins a paperclip to pick her cell door, a trick Hamilton learned for real. As she takes out a warden with a broken-off broom handle, watch as she is already on the balls of her feet scooping up his truncheon, always moving, alert. She’s become a Terminator herself. When the T-800 and John meet up with her and bust her out, her son (who has been in foster care) is pleased she reaches back in the car to give him a hug. Only she’s not—she’s patting him down to check for bullet holes. John angrily brushes off the T-800’s query of “What’s wrong with your eyes?” Everything she does though is for him.
Furlong was a lucky piece of casting. He brings a raw, bruised energy to the role of a castaway kid with his own troubled background. Casting director Mali Finn discovered him “leaning against a chain-link fence” at the Pasadena Boys Club. Cameron relates: “She went up to him and said, ‘Hey kid, you wanna be in a movie?’ And his response was, ‘Get lost, frog face.’ He was from a broken home, he’d never acted, his diction was terrible, he couldn’t remember the lines, he had no training… but there was something.” Arnold took him under his wing, and their bond translated into an unusual but convincing rapport on screen.
The effects, both practical and computer, were a step up in complexity and ambition from the first film. From Stan Winston School: “The endoskeletons, which had been the big deal on Terminator, were the least of our problems on Terminator 2,” according to 25-year SWS supervisor and co-founder of Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant. “By far, the most challenging things we did for Terminator 2 were these physical effects involving the T-1000 character. We did a lot of in-camera magic tricks for that—splitting open bodies, finger blades, heads blowing open, bullet-hit wounds. Every day, there was something new and challenging to do.” See also VFX Blog’s oral history of the digital effects. Combined, they blew audiences away. Cameron of course was a hard taskmaster. “It’s always very stressful on Jim’s sets because he’s very improvisational,” recalled ILM’s Dennis Muren. Unlike The Abyss, the central conceit of T2 was dependent on both the CG, and the seamless blend of Stan Winston’s puppets. According to Muren, Photoshop saved the day (created by software engineer Thomas Knoll and his brother John, also an ILM-er). “I’m a great believer in the artist being able to solve a problem and I knew that if we could get this data off of our own machines into a Mac and paint out bad frames here and there, then the shots would look good and Jim would buy it. Without that, it would have been a mess.”
Cameron’s favorite shot in the movie was Sarah’s dream of a nuclear explosion, first from her cell as she seems to leave the hospital to stand by a chain-link fence outside a play park with a younger Sarah laughing inside as she minds the kids, then revisited as she falls asleep in the Mexican arms dump, her dreamscape self now clad in combat gear. The mushroom blast and destruction of the city, Sarah’s flesh finally flaying off her bones as she clings to the fence, trying to scream a warning, was an impressive combination of large scale model work, matte painting with inserts, and CG. Cartoon Brew has an exhaustive in-depth look at how this sequence was captured.
The stunts, too, were bigger and more impressive. Flying a helicopter under a bridge, at night? No problemo. Leaping a Harley Davidson off a thin retaining wall edge 40 feet into L.A.’s flood control channel? Eat me. Patrick’s T-1000 (now dressed as a motorcycle cop) crashes through Cyberdyne’s upper story window into a police Bell JetRanger copter, and heads off in pursuit of our nuclear family down the Long Beach Freeway. At one point, the helicopter skims beneath the overpass. Veteran stunt pilot Chuck Tamburro performed the feat, first rolling the copter beneath the bridge to check clearance—a scant five feet above by four feet each side. He flew at 60 knots—any slower and the down flowing air would be more directly underneath the helicopter, perhaps sending it into contact with the concrete. Camera operators refused to shoot the close-ups, so Cameron did it himself from a vehicle. It’s unclear if the driver was at gunpoint.
The motorcycle leap though was more deceptive. And it wasn’t a Harley, it was too heavy and wouldn’t survive the landing. Instead, the stunt crew headed by Gary Davis swung Peter Kent, Arnie’s stunt double riding the look-alike bike, on cables, rather than driving it off suicidally. Davis told Motorcyclist Online:
“Once we were satisfied that we had it working pretty well, that it was safe, we brought Peter Kent in. He was clearly the best-looking double. He had never been a stuntman to speak of—he was a stuntman that day, he was on a stunt contract. But normally his job is to be a stand-in and occasionally a photo double. We put him on the bike rig—he’s an ornament at this time—and we talk him through the whole thing. We’d change what we told him every time to get it to look good. He was learning same as we were, and that’s why we wound up doing it 20 times.”
Kent had a latex mold of Schwarzenegger’s face glued on him every single day, which took hours. He’d actually lied about having stunt experience to get the look-alike gig for Arnie years earlier on The Terminator. For the bike stunt, he recalled to inews, “Jim said ‘right I’m going to sit outside on the porch and I want Peter to get on the bike, drive past the porch and look over at me with the glasses on.’ I was praying that it sucked. I drove by and he gave me the thumbs up and that was it.”
Terminator 2 is, like its progenitor, a chase movie told on the move. Old school pacing with new world flair. Little expository padding, bar Sarah Connor’s occasional narrations, with relationships and character allowed time to breathe in between the action, which is crisply shot and blocked, easy to follow and daring you to see the joins. Its themes resonate in different mimetic forms. Doomsday scenarios are still conceivable, technological advancement is still outstripping human morals and capabilities, and PTSD and our place in the world are evergreen concerns in an escalating Covid-19 pandemic. The authorities prevaricate and throw us conflicting messages. There is still no fate it seems but what we make ourselves.
Screenwriter must-read: James Cameron & William Wisher’s screenplay for Terminator 2: Judgment Day [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
A friendly Arnold is just one of the surprises in Bill Wisher’s script for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Fangoria 104, 1991.
A Kinder, Gentler Cyborg, by Rachel Abramovitz, Premiere, July, 1991.
It was four in the morning, and the woman wanted a drink, which must have been what drew her to the Corral Bar, a Valley hangout. As she wove her way through the many Harleys that crowded the doorway, she didn’t notice the huge tractor-trailers parked nearby or the scurrying young men and women clutching walkie-talkies. Once inside, she surely saw the leather-jacketed tough guys who filled the room, which was lit like a Malibu afternoon.
In her haze, she did not spot the lean, intense man with reddish hair and a trimmed beard who was hunkered down in front of a set of video monitors—not that she would have recognized James Cameron, the screenwriter-director-producer-Supreme Being behind the $88 million filmic extravaganza Terminator 2: Judgment Day. She did not see the weary, ragged crew members—a bit less seedy than the bikers—manning the dollies and the cameras that night. She did not hear Cameron yell “Action!” as she staggered into the frame or the growing cackles of the crew members who finally noticed her.
She stumbled her way to the bar and tried to order a drink; the bartender looked at her blankly. In exasperation, she turned to the guy standing next to her, who was huge, incredibly muscular, and, except for a tiny pair of weight-lifting trunks, totally naked.
“What the hell is going on?” she asked finally.
Arnold Schwarzenegger smiled. “It’s male-stripper night.”
Just another night on the town, Arnold? “I would never even think about that being unusual,” says one of the world’s highest-paid stars. “Especially when you work in Venice, and things like that happen on a daily basis.” The actor is perhaps the only participant in the Terminator 2 enterprise who remains unfazed by the project’s daily tribulations or by the Schwarzenegger-size scope of its script. Coproducer B. J. Rack recalls the day it arrived. “We all looked at it, and we were horrified,” she says. “It was going to be the biggest picture ever made. Every sequence was like the ending of Die Hard.” And they had less than a year to get it done, a little more than half the time a big-budget extravaganza often gets.
“There’s a certain thrill in doing something you know nobody else around has the balls to do,” says Cameron one Friday night in his trailer. Still wearing his parka, the director slouches against the wall and knocks back a beer. He is a fierce, single-minded, slightly unsocialized techno-visionary whose brain cells seem to process data far more swiftly than those of others, including cast, crew, and journalists. While the misery of his past sets—notably The Abyss—has become public record, Cameron seems to relish the sacrifices that he and his colleagues make in pursuit of his thrilling (and extremely violent) creations. At the outset of Terminator 2, “we looked each other in the eye and said, ‘Now we plunge into hell,'” he remembers with a self-mocking grin. “Why do people jump off bridges with bungees? Because they’re nuts!”
The crew of Terminator 2 has not been forced to bungee jump en masse, though they have orchestrated 22-wheel oil-tank-trailers chasing down the Terminal Island Freeway, helicopters ducking under overpasses and through tunnels, motorcycles flying out of exploding office complexes. There were long nights of shooting in a freezing steel mill, from 50-foot-high cat-walks over crucibles of molten steel.
In the futuristic world of Terminator 2, the supercomputers of Skynet still rule the post-apocalyptic world, opposed only by a rabble of resistance fighters who are led by the adult John Connor. In The Terminator, the supercomputers attempted unsuccessfully to kill John’s mother, Sarah (and, ergo, her still-un-conceived son), by using a time machine to send back to the “present” a cyborg killer: a Terminator. In round two, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) has spent the past decade training her son (played by twelve-year-old Edward Furlong) to become the ultimate rebel leader. Yet visions of nuclear destruction haunt her, and she ends up in an insane asylum, with John relegated to foster care. Meanwhile, Skynet strikes again, sending back a more advanced model Terminator, the T1000, to pulverize the son, while the rebels send back a more primitive model Terminator, a T800—a Schwarzenegger model—to protect him.
Now firmly atop the Hollywood ziggurat, Schwarzenegger finds Terminator 2 less than a do-or-die career move. “You know, I rarely ever feel pressure,” he says, relaxing in his trailer. “I hate all this nonsense. It’s not bigger than life. It’s not like the world. I think that with a director like this, I don’t have to go home and say, ‘I better work up this scene for tomorrow,’ because you don’t need to with him. He has worked it already ten times over. It’s not like with some directors where you have to second-guess. You don’t have to do that with him. There is no pressure.”
There is, however, the weight of seven Schwarzeneggers on Cameron’s shoulders. The director has pared his life down to one objective: the completion of the film in time for a July 3 opening. He spent Christmas Eve editing. He bought an RV so he could hold meetings on the way to the set. There is also financial pressure, thanks to a budget that the Hollywood rumor mill has gleefully trumpeted as the highest in Hollywood history. Carolco Pictures has already gone to several European investors to raise more operating capital and needs an early-summer opening to have the best shot at recouping its $88 million investment.
“It’s a lot of dough,” admits Cameron. “Carolco seems to trust me. They want me to make more movies for them, so how upset can they be? Everyone wishes that they spent less money. Let’s face it, they wish you could do this picture for $5 million. They wish you could do it for $10. They wish it were free, but wishing has nothing to do with it. It’s what you can accomplish.”
And Cameron’s aim is no less than “the first action movie advocating world peace.” He could have done a simple recap of Arnold the annihilator, but “is that a good message?” he asks. “Is it something worth dedicating a year of your life and dedicating all this money and time and energy to show Arnold, who’s looked up to by millions of kids, blowing up people with a machine gun? I say no. Many films guide you toward admiration of a violent character, and they can never recover from that on a moral level. This film says, ‘You like that action? You like that violence? This person pays the price.’ They pay the price at an emotional level. Sarah Connor pays the price. It’s the story of her redemption and the Terminator’s redemption.”
And Cameron—the man who is famous for saying, “That’s perfect. Let’s do it again”; whose producer remembers fondly the one occasion he actually complimented her by remarking, “Well, that idea wasn’t so terrible”—is this his redemption? Perhaps, say his coworkers, who note a somewhat kinder, gentler Cameron at work here. “They must be pretty tolerant if they’ve come around for a second time,” jokes Cameron. But it’s still relative.
“He pushes everybody,” says Hamilton, who would jump through a fair number of hoops for a director she admires. “He never puts us into a danger that he wouldn’t go into himself. He’s a great one for saying, ‘Look, it barely burns at all when they shoot me in the back. It barely burns. Do it again, Chuck.’ ” She laughs. “Like I’m supposed to feel good about it because it barely burns. But he wants the shot that he wants, and that’s contagious.”
“Arnold, change your hands,” Cameron is telling his star, who is supposed to sit rigidly, one arm outstretched as he gazes unblinkingly into a mirror inside a garage. However, the five-time Mr. Universe has gone limp, his hand curled downward in an effeminate manner. “Your friends might get the wrong idea.”
“I’m such a stuuud, Jim, I can do whatever I want, and I wouldn’t look gay,” Schwarzenegger responds. “Not like some people in this room.”
“Make it longer,” says Cameron as Schwarzenegger curls his arm flirtatiously. “It’s your career, pal.”
“It’s just one movie for me,” says Schwarzenegger, laughing.
The Terminator, by contrast, was hardly just one movie for Schwarzenegger—it was the little no-sleeper that catapulted him beyond the Viking pigtails and into super- stardom. Shot on a shoestring budget of $6.4 million (“Now a down payment on Arnold’s salary,” grunts Cameron), The Terminator was built by the combination of Schwarzenegger’s will and Cameron’s sweat. “Arnold was the one true believer,” says Cameron. “He was the only one who really thought it was going to be a hit.” Cameron did everything else: co-wrote the script, sketched storyboards, designed machines, drew blueprints of the endoskeleton and the miniatures. Schwarzenegger recalls Cameron asking him one night to meet on a street corner (where the crew did not have permits), so that the killer cyborg could smash in a few cars while Cameron filmed surreptitiously.
Audiences took note of the film’s dark humor and identified less with Hamilton’s putative heroine than with Schwarzenegger’s deadpan, death-dealing quipster. “Every time I went out there—in the police station, they were screaming and cheering because I mowed down the whole police station and blew up everyone,” remembers Schwarzenegger. “Everything I did, they just screamed and loved it, you know, like I was the hero.” The Terminator went on to become a surprise hit, grossing $35 million, landing on many critics’ top-ten lists, and blazing the trail for the weapon-rich sci-fi movies of the ’80s, many of which featured Schwarzenegger, along with his trademark quip, “I’ll be back.”
Cameron’s star was also ascending, and he went on to film the smash hit Aliens and co-write the Sylvester Stallone megahit Rambo. Next, in The Abyss, he demonstrated both his brilliance at placing human-size emotions onto vast, supernatural canvases and the pitfalls of a sometimes overweening ambition. The Abyss went on to make back its not-inconsiderable budget but hardly nailed down the blockbuster status needed to quiet the complainers.
Discussions about a Terminator sequel began almost immediately after the release of the first but were put on hold for more than five years because of the creators’ antagonism toward Hemdale Film, which owned the rights. “We wanted to stay away from them as far as we could,” remembers Schwarzenegger, and the star and the director vowed that neither would do a sequel without the other. When Hemdale had financial difficulties, Schwarzenegger urged Carolco head Mario Kassar to make a bid for the project. “I reminded Mario that this is something that we’ve been looking for four years, and that it should be him that should go all-out, no matter what it takes to make this deal.”
Carolco paid at least $5 million to Hemdale, and it also paid Gale Anne Hurd, a producer on both the Terminators and Cameron’s ex-wife. By May 1990, the paperwork had been done, and Cameron was netting more than $5 million. Carolco decided to aim for a July 3, 1991, release.
Cameron and his childhood friend and writing partner, William Wisher, banged out the script in six weeks. Since then, it has been shrouded in secrecy—even the crew must sign nondisclosure oaths to get it. (One of the producers gave Cameron a paper shredder for Christmas.) According to Schwarzenegger, the technically detailed script reflects Cameron’s ambition. “Tankers don’t just travel. They ‘pierce the wind.’ Who writes like that?” he says. In addition to toning down some of the scenes, the production team threw out several budget-busting sequences.
Unlike some directors who rely on special-effects houses and stunt coordinators, Cameron and several associates spent a week locked up in a conference room playing with toy cars and trucks to choreograph the stunts. “We’d sit there for literally twelve hours,” recalls coproducer Rack, “with grown men holding trucks going, ‘Wheee, and then he jumps off the truck and goes bang, bang, bang, bang.'” Cameron would film the proceedings with a tiny snorkel camera that spit the images onto a computer screen and then printed them out for several storyboard artists in the next room.
Cameron began a massive casting search to find an appropriate adolescent to play John Connor, who appears in almost every scene of the movie. “What was Julius Caesar like when he was thirteen?” asks the director, defining the scope of the task. “Did he know then that he was going to be emperor of Rome? And imagine if such an important leader was from the Valley.” After interviewing hundreds of candidates, casting director Mali Finn discovered Eddie Furlong playing baseball at a Boys Club in Pasadena.
From the beginning, there has been a struggle to keep Terminator 2‘s cost—and the rumors about the cost—under control. Carolco, which doesn’t want to unnerve possible Wall Street investors, has instructed production members not to discuss the budget. “B. J. Rack had a good idea for dealing with this,” says Cameron. “When someone asks how big the budget is, we’ll turn and say, ‘What position do you like making love in?'” He laughs. “It’s none of their business!”
“I’d love to tell people that it cost $900 million, so they’d think they were really going to see something great!” remarks Larry Casanoff, head of Cameron’s production company.
As the production wanders into the final stages of principal photography, it is at least two weeks behind schedule. All involved admit that it’s costing more than they thought—but, they insist, nowhere near the reported $100 million mark.
With its own cash-flow problems, Carolco has apparently allowed Cameron considerable creative freedom. “They hire people they trust, and they let them lead,” says Cameron. “The movie studios always have opinions. They sit in plush offices, and they talk about ideas and character arcs and third acts. It just drives me crazy. They don’t have a clue how movies are made.” There is also no one to slap the filmmakers’ hands as costs rise, since all the producers answer to Cameron. “You’re basically allowed to give yourself enough rope so you can hang yourself,” he says. “I give myself enough leash, and I run until I choke.” Cameron theoretically answers only to Kassar, who makes sporadic visits to the set.
“Mario comes for the support and to the dailies and to check out where the numbers are and where are we,” says Schwarzenegger. “But they are not hanging out on the set, by any means.” On Carolco’s Total Recall, Schwarzenegger stepped in to mediate growing hostilities between the studio and director Paul Verhoeven, yet he says “that very rarely has happened in the situation here, because there were only a few instances in which Jim felt because of him they went a day over in work.
“The main concern we had on this film is the July 3rd date,” he adds. “It was not that Jim stopped shooting ten days late of what was originally scheduled, it was that the ten days cut into when we release. So I kept always reminding Jim about the July 3rd release date.”
As apparently did the studio. Quips Rack, who is the company’s point person on the film, “Carolco thinks it takes nine men to get a woman pregnant, and she has the baby in a month.”
“I don’t know why Cameron has to do this scene so many fucking times!” groans Schwarzenegger uncharacteristically. It is 11 P.M. on the 101st day. The mood on the set is tense as the sounds of thunder and rain echo through the locale—a stark, white postmodern mansion nestled on a bluff over the Pacific. Stalking around the hallway in his leather biker garb, the usually cheerful Schwarzenegger passes the time playing a vicious game of slap-hands with Peter Kent, his equally enormous double.
Twenty feet away, Hamilton is shooting one of her character’s pivotal moments. From a soft young waitress, Sarah Connor has evolved into a tiny, superfit guerrilla warrior: now she is holding a pistol to the head of a scientist who will someday create the technology behind the evil supercomputers. She must decide whether to kill him or not. Hamilton has been doing this scene for five days and is finally getting to do her close-up. Incredibly enough, all the other actors—the scientist and his kids—have been dismissed long ago; she must play the scene entirely alone. The makeup man pumps glycerine tears into her eyes. Cameron yells “Action,” and screaming with fear and rage, Hamilton aims her gun at a mark on the floor, climaxing her torrential speech with a shriek of “You motherfucker!” before she crumples into an exhausted heap. And then she has to do it again. And again. And again.
Through it all, Cameron offers no discernible encouragement or advice. The director is suffering from a headache and is annoyed that the storm is ruining his sound. “I don’t have time to show you the videotape,” he barks at Hamilton when she asks for a playback, so she gets an assistant director to cue it up for her. Smoking a cigarette intently, she watches her breakdown, muttering under her breath about something that “sucks.”
“I felt alone by the end of the night,” she remarks several weeks later. “Yet that’s the nature of the moment, too. All of a sudden, I just got really angry about the way that it had been shot. You need all your actors there—by the time we got to my part, I had to look into the lens to do the moment, with no children, no Joe Morton [the scientist], no nothing. I hated it. I hated the night’s work. I’m not sure the work was good,” she reflects, adding, “but I think a lot of that is kind of the character seeping through a bit. He’s a tough man on people. Just really tough on people. He sees things that others will never see. He’s gifted and hard to please.”
She is not alone in her assessment. On Terminator 2, the crew T-shirts read I’M NOT OPINIONATED, I’M JUST ALWAYS RIGHT. (One crew wag remarks that they should have read IF I WANTED YOUR OPINlON, I WOULD HAVE GIVEN IT TO YOU.) The crew keeps a giant plastic dog bone to throw at the latest person who screws up big-time. “He has still the two personalities when he shoots,” says Schwarzenegger of Cameron. “When he shoots, he doesn’t care for anything. It’s not that he’s mean-spirited; he just likes to have everyone at that point of being scared. So he will scream and go crazy, and then, as soon as the shot is over, he will be casual with everyone and very sweet and nice. There are two sides of him, and you better know it, so you don’t always get hurty feelings about every incident.”
Schwarzenegger gives an example of Cameron’s sense of humor. “Like one day, Linda goes to him, and she says, ‘Listen, in this scene, I switched this thing around a little bit.’ Before she ever could even finish, he was screaming at her: ‘What the fuck are you talking about? I’m the writer, I wrote it specifically a certain way, and don’t change anything at the last minute. I wrote the scene, you do it. Okay?’ And she was just looking like this-” Schwarzenegger looks aghast.
“And then he looked at her, and he says, ‘Ha! Almost got you.’ He loves it.”
Cameron is also an incurable do-it-yourself filmmaker. “Every detail he wants to be a part of,” explains Rack. “On the set, if somebody’s painting something, he wants the paint can and the paint if it’s not just the way he likes it. He designs every vehicle, every prop. The cameras, the stock, the lighting, the gel, the number on the gel… It’s very, very demanding, and that makes him, to some people, difficult. But he’s not unreasonable. He actually understands things he can control, which is why he is more demanding.”
Cameron says that his body-on involvement is the only way he can truly enjoy the process. “Filmmaking’s a tactile experience. I have to get in there. I help break the wall. I put on the blood. I find myself doing that more and more as time goes on because I’m just trying to hold on to that feeling of the early days, when you did everything yourself because there was no one else.”
In Aliens, Cameron demonstrated the power of a child to “rehumanize” an adult who’d lost her capacity for compassion. That theme resurfaces in Terminator 2, as John Connor reawakens his mother’s emotional core. Several members of the production believe that Cameron’s relationship with Furlong has softened the director’s sometimes maniacal zeal. “He focuses his attention better,” says Hamilton. “You can’t be angry and demanding with someone who knows you like Eddie. It’s good to realize that you can’t scare a performance out of people. And he’s learning that you have to give people room.”
As always, the guy who commands the most room is Schwarzenegger, who is sitting in his trailer, which is three times the size of anybody else’s, surrounded by pictures of his darlings. On one wall hang pictures of his baby daughter and his wife, Maria Shriver. On the coffee table lie snapshots of his beloved “Humvee” an all-terrain vehicle used by the Army in Kuwait that has been at the top of Schwarzenegger’s must-have list ever since he spotted a convoy of them while shooting Kindergarten Cop in Oregon. Schwarzenegger is undoubtedly one of the few private citizens in the world trying to borrow one—without a gun turret—from the Army. “I can’t wait to drive up to premieres in it,” he says with a hearty laugh. “Everyone will stare, and I’ll hand the keys to the valet, and he won’t know how to drive it!”
Despite his extra room, Schwarzenegger has also been affected by the production’s time restraints, though in less mundane ways. Asked at the last minute by Cameron to be available on December 22 so the production could remain closer to schedule, Schwarzenegger at first refused but then reconsidered carefully and agreed. He began to cancel his plans. He reportedly asked a staffer to see if Bruce Willis could reschedule the use of his plane. He canceled his appearance at his office Christmas party, to which he had invited many friends and business acquaintances. He called the Shrivers to say he couldn’t make their Christmas party. Finally, Rack says, he called the White House to tell President Bush he wouldn’t be able to go visit the troops in Saudi Arabia with him.
Since the first Terminator, Schwarzenegger’s role has grown, on and off the set. In the first film, he spoke only six lines or so; now he delivers entire paragraphs. He is also a phenomenal marketing cyborg. “My job, unlike other actors, is not finished with the day that will be the last day of shooting,” he explains. “My job continues with meetings here every week—two, three times—about marketing and merchandising. Should there be a doll, or should there not be a doll? Should there be a video game or not? I’m going all the way through with the project, including the marketing and the publicity campaign. So it’s, like, literally a year-round job. I feel that if they trust me and if they pay that amount of money, I will make sure that the money comes back. In this industry, they know me well enough [to know] that I will take care of them.”
Of course, the selling of the movie is intimately linked to the selling of Schwarzenegger. “Because you’re going around and doing this [President’s Council on Physical] Fitness thing and all that stuff,” he says, “you want to make sure that no one misunderstands and says, ‘Well, I don’t want my kid to idolize someone that goes around and kills.'”
For his efforts, Schwarzenegger will take home a compensation package of $11 million to $15 million up front (largely in the form of a Gulfstream G-III jet), with gross profit participation that is sure to push that figure much higher. With Hollywood’s cost cutting, some have started to question whether Schwarzenegger has priced himself out of the market. No way, he says: “I have right now standing offers from four major studios for any money that I want.”
Schwarzenegger offers a privileged viewpoint of Hollywood’s Byzantine accounting practices. “In this town, they always like to talk about it. ‘We pay the actors too much money. We are going to stop now. Our studio policy is this.’ Studio policy? It’s all nonsense. What they do is to say to you, ‘Studio policy is to pay to you so-and-so many millions of dollars, and then you have a side agreement that we put in a safe.’ So then they go out, and they make all this noise: ‘We never pay anyone more than this, and we will pay Schwarzenegger only this,’ and it’s true, officially. But then there’s 40 other side agreements, and when they kick in the plane, and where they kick in another million—but it doesn’t matter to me, if they want to keep their record clean that way. Everyone knows in this town that I ask for my share. But how I get that share, it makes no difference to me.”
During a break, Schwarzenegger leaves his trailer and ambles over to a crew member who spends a considerable amount of time keeping the actor happy. “Open your mouth!” he shouts, and begins tossing almonds. Eager to please, the crew member jumps around like a dog trying to nab biscuits.
The next day, he meets Schwarzenegger again. “That was incredibly humiliating,” he complains. “I couldn’t believe that.”
The world’s biggest box office draw laughs. “That’s what separates leaders from followers.”
Phillip Norwood’s impressive list of film and television credits include: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Terminator: Judgement Day, Cocoon, Howard the Duck, Heavy Metal, The Abyss, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Batman: The Animated Series, True Lies, The Chronicles of Riddick and of Alien vs. Predator. Most recently he has worked on James Cameron’s Avatar and Tron: Legacy.
“It contained some of the earliest photoreal computer graphics seen on film and laid the foundations for a visual effects industry for many years to come. But it was also a classic example of mixing practical, miniature, optical, and digital effects for the greatest possible impact. That approach can be seen in Sarah Connor’s nuclear nightmare scene (watch below), where she imagines a blast consuming Los Angeles and her past and present selves.” —Making A Nuclear Apocalypse: How The Iconic Sequence In ‘Terminator 2’ Was Created
“When director James Cameron was concocting 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he knew that he needed its villain to evolve beyond Terminator’s formidable T-800, played—in both the original and the sequel—by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Enter the crew at George Lucas’s visual-effects studio Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), who were ready to deploy sophisticated computer-generated imagery and create the ‘liquid-metal’ assassin T-1000.” —How James Cameron and His Team Made Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s Liquid-Metal Effect
“For this special retro oral history—first published on vfxblog—we go back in time with more than a dozen ILMers (their original screen credits appear in parentheses) to discuss the development of key CGI tools and techniques for the VFX Oscar winning Terminator 2, how they worked with early animation packages like Alias, and how a selection of the most memorable shots in the film – forever etched into the history of visual effects—came to be.” —The tech of ‘Terminator 2’—an oral history
In a recent interview regarding ILM’s extraordinary work on Terminator 2, Dennis Muren, ASC takes a knowledgable look into the future of motion-picture visual effects. —For FX, The Future Is Now
In this behind-the-scenes look at the making of T2, SWS team member Andy Schoneberg recounts the night that Cameron bashed “Arnold’s” head in, got the shot, and how the SWS robot builders scrambled to put him back together again in time for the next day’s filming.
The Terminator (1984), an imaginative man vs. machine mini-epic, started out as a low budget phenomenon. On a $6.5 million budget, it managed to make an international star of Arnold Schwarzenegger, catapulted James Cameron to the top ranks of directors and made its producers happy and rich. It also had a nice trickle-down effect on Polish-born cinematographer Adam Greenberg, ASC who went on to shoot so many American films he has since become a United States citizen. Many people believe The Terminator was Greenberg’s first film; in actuality, he had shot nearly 90 features all over the world before he met Cameron and helped create the film that made Arnold a household name synonymous with fast paced, spectacular action. —Terminator 2: Judgment Day—He Said He Would Be Back
Rare making of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Photographed by Zade Rosenthal & Merie Weismiller Wallace © Carolco Pictures, Pacific Western, Lightstorm Entertainment, TriStar Pictures. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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