"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" established its place 26 years ago among the top feature films ever made. Under the brilliant guidance of director James Cameron, the movie set new standards for special effects with action ramped up to cinema-changing levels. That’s one reason the American Film Institute put it at No. 8 on its list of all-time great sci-fi films.
And now it’s even better. It’s being rereleased in 3-D, with every frame digitally enhanced. Despite having been available on cable, DVD, VHS and in other forms for a quarter century, watching “T2” in its new incarnation is like seeing it for the first time.
The film was a follow-up to Cameron’s “The Terminator,” which he made in 1984. He knew he had an instant film icon with the Terminator as played by actor-of-few-words Arnold Schwarzenegger. From his unrelenting efforts to accomplish his time-jumped mission to establishing the Terminator as a catchphrase machine (“I’ll be back”), he was the perfect film villain.
Cameron’s insight into the battle between good and evil took on new depth by taking this perfect killing machine and making him the savior in the sequel. The only problem with switching the Terminator from good to bad was coming up with an equally powerful foe. That was established through some of the most advanced technology of the time to make the T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) just as relentless and deadly.
It’s become a familiar movie trick to show actors morphing because the technology is so advanced now, but Cameron was working with computers that took days to create the liquid-to-solid special effects. The technology might be considered ancient now, but the image is as purely entertaining and amazing today as it was when it shocked and surprised audiences years ago.
Next among Cameron’s remarkable moves was taking the target of the Terminator’s attacks in Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and transforming her from a scared victim to one of the toughest characters in action film history. That change could have left Cameron without the sympathetic in-point for the audience, but the addition of Connor’s young son, John (Edward Furlong), filled that spot. Furlong’s performance continues to come across as a little too manic but not to the point that it distracts from the long list of sterling positive pieces of this film.
All of that is now shown through a print that jumps off the screen. Too often 3-D comes across as little more than a gimmick to get moviegoers to pay for the new digital projectors in theaters. This 3-D is so deep and rich that there hasn’t been a movie to use the technology as such a plus since “Avatar” (another Cameron creation).
This rerelease is so good don’t be surprised if you hear yourself announcing, “I’ll be back!”