Sunday, 23 June 2013

Terminator 2: Judgement Day, dir. James Cameron, wr. James Cameron, William Wisher, Jr., st. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong

For a director that is said to sideline his actors in favour of the technical aesthetic, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and indeed his Alien sequel five years earlier, remain two of the most 'human' sci-fi actioners I've ever seen. Just as someone like Spielberg is often frightened of pushing a more adult agenda and in turn often overspoons the syrup, Cameron, certainly in these two films mentioned, seems to have got the delicate and refined mixture down pat. In the case of the hugely successful sequel to his own 1984 film about the relentless killer cyborg sent back in time to kill the mother of mankind's future saviour before she gives birth to him, Terminator 2 stands as a more enjoyable, less gushy ET; it's a boy and his hyperalloy combat chassis. For what really sets this film apart, and what sells the franchise's enduring mythic architecture is how the end of humankind as we know it is distilled to the plight of a mother and her child (Aliens features a similar setup), and more specifically, the child and his surrogate father. In Hamilton's desperate and driven Sarah and Furlong's moody miscreant John, we have characters that seamlessly run the entire gamut of emotions over 120 minutes. Just look at the psychological journey Sarah makes. From inmate teetering on the brink of insanity, to reluctant and dispassionate mother, to merciless killing machine, and finally to ultimate family protector and provider. But it's Furlong that gives flesh to T2's endoskeleton. At first, the T101 is all about furthering his own misadventures ("Cool! My own Terminator!), but this quickly gives way to a deeper bond. Who hasn't wished that their Fathers were completely focussed on them and their interests without a job, friends - or dare I say it, a wife - to distract them. As Sarah notes, this machine "would never leave him... It would always be there and it would never hurt him, never shout at him or get drunk and hit him, or say it couldn't spend time with him because it was too busy. And it would die to protect him." By the time we hear John's tearful "I order you not to go" speech at the film's end, like his mother Sarah, he too has crossed a threshold. That there is time to pause and feel this, amidst all the noise, is truly impressive filmmaking. And what noise. And what relentless pacing too - especially in the film's final act - itself a three-part orgy of sound and fury that goes from the Cyberdyne building shootout, to an infernal steelworks (via a breatless SWAT-van/helicopter freeway pursuit), and the emotional payoff of the Connors' earlier re-setting of the Terminator's CPU that gives him the ability to learn from his surroundings. Schwarzenegger, for his part, has never done so much by doing so little, and his "I know now why you cry" speech at the film's end gets me every time. Then there's Brad Fiedel's clanking industrial synth score - cold and machine-like when it needs to be, then at times, warm (though still artificial) and mournful. It's his career-defining score. Above all, Terminator 2 teaches us that there is a fruitful relationship to be had between R-rated action and a narrative with heart, and that Box Office success isn't always to be found by trading one off against the other. It also reminds us to treat science-fiction as, at its core, a human drama - despite what convention may lean on you to do otherwise. As a story that explores and dissects the very fabric of humanity in all its splendour and frailty, when all the while incased in a glossy midnight-blue-drenched veneer, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the ultimate infiltrator.