Monday Movie Retrospective

July 3, 2017


Twelve years from now. Twenty years ago. These time references refer to the years 2029 and 1997. Very important years in a Science Fiction franchise. Of course, I’m referring to the Terminator franchise in general, and 1991’s “Terminator 2” in particular.

Teased by this interestingly mechanical and potentially menacing trailer, everyone was looking forward to a genuinely good science fiction movie.

At 93% fresh, “Terminator 2” was one of the better movies, combining action, good characters, detailed story, great bad guy, and special effects in a terrific combination.

I could go on and on about the director, James Cameron, the action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the powerful and beautiful mother, Linda Hamilton, the newcomer, Edward Furlong, and the fearsome nemesis, Robert Patrick. Instead, I’d rather write about some of the details that are not as thoroughly discussed. There isn’t enough discussion about the brave, intelligent, but naive computer engineer, played by Joe Morton. There definitely is not enough said about the long-suffering criminal psychologist and clinical psychologist, played by Earl Boen.

The movie was so good that it silenced potential critics who would have pointed out the numerous nagging details that sometimes are loudly criticized in other movies. For example, even if the movie did take place in the “future year” 1995, the boy John Connor is still too young to be played by his actor. Would we have been better-served by a younger actor? Probably not. Those younger actor performances are typically painful to watch, and would have made this movie significantly worse. Nevertheless, John Connor would have been only about 6 years old in 1991, and only about 10 in 1995. Still a long way from the 14-year-old boy presented in the movie.

It might have been more interesting to see the story placed into 1997, days and moments before the mythical “Judgement Day” of Nuclear War that the hidden antagonist, Skynet, unleashes on the world. At least then, the actor playing John Connor would have been closer to John Connor’s correct age. That theme, of John Connor at the time of Skynet’s “Judgement Day”, would be later explored another decade later in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines“.

This movie, Terminator 2, includes a very satisfying flash-forward to the machine war, in which we see Terminator endoskeletons without skin marching across a battlefield of skulls, firing on scurrying human beings with laser rifles. This was the true nightmarish vision of the Terminator, and left me wanting more. I wanted to see more about how the future machine war saw Skynet’s wholesale slaughter of human beings, the plucky human rebellion led by John Connor, and finally, a triumphant victory that smashed Skynet’s defense network. Thrilling concepts that have been explored in a few video games, but haven’t really been shown in any detail in the movies.

I found myself wishing there was more gore and horror in this movie. The Terminator concept is a nightmare, born of a fever dream that James Cameron had when sick in Europe when working on a previous movie. Metal skeleton. Red, glowing eyes. Unfeeling machines hunting living beings into oblivion, to ensure the survival and, indeed, dominance of the computer entity known as Skynet. The Terminator deserves a good, proper horror movie more like the first Terminator film.

The first Terminator movie created a nice, cyclical time path that allowed events to proceed as they will have always proceeded. The second movie briefly acknowledges this temporal logic, but then bends it into an alternate timeline in which the original efforts to develop Skynet were disrupted, and the heroes rode off into the sunset at the end, not sure if the dreaded Judgement Day would ever come at all. Of course, we know it will come after all. Otherwise, the whole Terminator franchise is meaningless and toothless.

Worst of all, it would have never existed. And that just won’t do, for such a great franchise, and a warning about such a thing actually happening.