Just the other day, as it seemingly happens every month since the debut of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002 and especially after The Avengers in 2012, a Hollywood legend took aim at superhero movies. This time it was the great Jodie Foster comparing superhero movies to fracking. In the past, it’s been Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ridley Scott, and countless others. This trend has existed well before classic comic characters made their way onto the silver screen. The decrying of commercial cinema and spectacles has existed just about as long as the movies, and there are still those who point to films like Jaws and Star Wars as this breaking point – I guess excessive musicals like Doctor Doolittle or thrilling disasters like The Towering Inferno didn’t exist before George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. As hard as detractors attempt to place any perceived decline within the art of filmmaking on the shoulders of the blockbuster spectacles, classics endure because they are great and not because they represent some insidious cultural rot that has lingered and fostered further decay. Successful movies reshape the business end and spur a number of copycats. Great movies are often imitated and rarely replicated. It’s a continuing cycle that will outlive the superhero craze that we find ourselves in now.
I only bring this up because recently I watched for the second time in a calendar year, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, James Cameron’s 1991 sequel thanks to a wonderful new 4K restoration on Blu-ray with an array of special features. I was left to wonder how Cameron’s sequel evaded the classification that has dogged the blockbuster masterworks of Spielberg and Lucas. T2 was an early adopter of computer effects and serves as the kind of cinematic spectacle that has become routine in multiplexes across the globe. Of course, everyone started to play catch up after T2 took over the movie world. And yet nobody points to T2 as the cause of every moment of dreadful CGI to ever mar the screen. At the time, Cameron’s movie was the most expensive movie ever made (a record he has since broken more than once), and yet he eludes all blame for the all or nothing compulsive gambler mentality that dominates Hollywood.
One reason, I suspect, that Cameron has eluded the criticisms that have befallen his peers in Spielberg and Lucas for their influence over the blockbuster landscape is the fact that Spielberg and Lucas, while innovators with amazing track records, each has had their own moments of hubris, flops driven by their desires to push the boundaries of cinema. Cameron, on the other hand, has that same drive but it has never resulted in the director falling flat on his face – in other words, while The Abyss wasn’t a smash, it wasn’t a debacle like 1941, Howard the Duck, or Willow (which is not a commentary on the quality of those movies, just that they were not critical or commercial hits in their day). A rarity indeed, as Cameron’s ambition and budgets ballooned, so did the profits to come from his movies as well as the Oscar wins and nominations.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day remains the perfect template for a blockbuster. It features eye-popping spectacle with effects that nobody had seen before. The film establishes its characters and expertly sets the stage for a stunning showdown, with Cameron playing some coy misdirection in the film’s opening half hour. More importantly, it’s a contained story. It was a sequel that existed only because Cameron and co-writer William Wisher had an idea. Being intimately invested in the events of the original Terminator aren’t required to enjoy T2. As hard as producers and studios have tried to continue the story of Terminator 2, all have failed to live up to this sequel because it does feature an ending that is entirely resolute. Nobody has been able to crack the code of how to make another effective Terminator film, and though they will try and try time and time again, I suspect that we’ll never see another Terminator film that enchanted audiences like T2.
Since it left theaters, Terminator 2 has been a staple on home video. First it was a best-selling VHS and LaserDisc, then one of the first DVDs, and it’s maintained a steady presence on streaming platforms and Blu-rays as viewing habits continually evolve. This latest 4K edition of Terminator 2 should be the final word until the next groundbreaking home video format is unveiled. The effects of the film are still stunning and the 4K transfer retains some of the filmic aspects of the original 35mm print without any degradation of the image. There are also ample special features, including a lengthy documentary on the making of and legacy of T2 featuring interviews with James Cameron and most of the cast (notably absent is Linda Hamilton, Sarah Connor and Cameron’s ex-wife). This edition of T2 features various cuts of the film, including an extended edition featuring deleted scenes reinserted. However, I cannot recommend the extended version of Cameron’s blockbuster masterpiece as the scenes that were deleted were deleted with good cause. (I know it’s not the popular opinion, but I feel the same exact way about his extended cut of Aliens.)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the movie that propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger from an action star to the biggest movie star in the world, providing with a star status and catchphrases he would use in his political career. The film also provided James Cameron with carte blanche to make whatever he wanted, and he took full advantage with the massive scope of Titanic and Avatar. More than 25 years later, T2 is that white whale that studios and filmmakers are chasing – a character driven spectacle that fires on all cylinders, especially at the box office. Finally, there is that definitive version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day for home use that reminds us of all the thrills that captivated us and why it remains a classic that defies genre.