For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.
Watched: 21 November 2019
Format: A DVD copy I’ve owned for many, many years.
Seen before? Yes, many times. This film was released when I was 12 years old – I sneaked into a cinema to see it.
Note: I’ve already reviewed this film, and you can read my thoughts here. So instead of going over old ground, this redux review will instead look at how wonder-director James Cameron actually damaged the film by giving us too much of a good thing… Spoilers ahead…
Review: When released in the UK in August 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was so impressively sharp and focused that few viewers would have taken out a single frame. But what about adding some? Well, that’s what its writer/director, James Cameron, did when the movie was issued on VHS and LaserDisc in 1993. He used the opportunity to add back some footage he’d been persuaded to leave out of the theatrical release. For better or worse, this longer cut – known as the Special Edition – is now the default version of the film, being shown on television and released on home video as if the 1991 cut had never existed.
Cameron has form for this kind of thing. He likewise re-edited 1986’s Aliens and 1989’s The Abyss, releasing longer versions a few years after their cinema runs. In the cases of those sci-fi greats, the longer cuts were even better than what had come before. Both now had deeper, more resonant subplots that shed intriguing light on the main stories, as well as some fun extra details. Crucially, the pacing of neither film was damaged. Both still played extremely well.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about Terminator 2. An extra 16 minutes were added in 1993, coincidentally the same minute-count that Cameron had added to Aliens: Special Edition. However, a lot of the additions come during the middle phase of the story, meaning a tight, tense chase plot now feels a bit flabby. The result is *far* from awful. It’s still a wonderful movie, whichever version you watch. But by expanding Terminator 2, Cameron slackened the tightness and few of the extra moments justify their inclusion.
Early in the film, for example, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is locked up in a psychiatric hospital. The heroine of 1984’s The Terminator has gone off-the-rails since her encounter with a time-travelling killer android, but we viewers know that her ‘paranoid’ ravings about the imminent end of the world are spot on. If being incarcerated wasn’t bad enough, the Special Edition has some bonus footage of the institution’s sadistic porters abusing her. The original cut had trimmed this plot point back to a perverted moment where one of them licks her face, but now they beat her with nightsticks. All this emphasises her awful existence some more, but the original cut played fine without it.
Also in these sequences, Sarah now has a lengthy dream in which her lost love, Kyle Reese, appears to her and tells her to stay strong for their 10-year-old son, John (Edward Furlong). The scene was Michael Biehn’s only contribution to the film, so he ended up being cut out entirely in 1991. It’s a decent character moment, for sure, but the movie didn’t suffer from its loss. We understand Sarah’s motivation perfectly well without it. More interesting is how the scene develops: after Kyle’s pep-talk, Sarah’s dream takes a very dark turn. In a brilliantly surreal moment, she runs (in nightmarish slo-mo) out of the hospital and straight into an idyllic park, where children are gleefully playing on slides and roundabouts. Sarah, of course, knows that the world is heading for an apocalypse – and her unconscious now conjures one up: a massive fireball that graphically rips across the whole area, blowing buildings down and immolating everyone in sight. Trapped behind a wire fence, Sarah screams until she too burns – and then she wakes up in the hospital. In the 1991 version of the film, she only describes this nightmare. Seeing it, rather than talking about it, has several advantages. It ramps up Sarah’s already intense fear; it’s a very visually striking sequence; and by using children it ties thematically to Sarah’s desperate need to protect her son.
Later, after John breaks Sarah free from the hospital, with help from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘good’ Terminator – the movie heads into its middle phase. The ‘bad’ Terminator, a T-1000 played by Robert Patrick, is chasing the others across country – and he’s intent on killing John, who is destined to grow up to be the leader of the human resistance in a war against sentient machines. James Cameron was a marvel at these kind of stories, building and maintaining suspense and mixing it with muscular action and character insights. In the theatrical release print, the balance was perfection. But in the longer cut, we now get quite a few extra dialogue exchanges between Sarah, John and Arnie’s T-800. Each moment is fine in and of itself: well written, well played, enjoyable. (Mostly: a quick scene of John trying to teach the T-800 how to smile is far too goofy.) But they all whiff of ‘deleted scene’ material. They underline or spell out subtexts that already exist in the 1991 version, and – more importantly – let too much air into the taut chase plot. The film is better without them, for the most part.
The one addition with the biggest claim on being an improvement is when John and Sarah operate on the T-800, who has revealed that he has a chip in his processor that prevents him from learning. It idea to deactivate it expands the nice character thread about John’s relationship with the T-800. While his mother considers Arnie to be purely a machine, John – who has already grown to trust the T-800 – knows he can crack the programming if they switch off the chip, and this will allow their ally to be his own person. It also shows us John’s burgeoning leadership skills, as he pushes through the plan and even confronts his mother when she attempts to destroy the chip. Moreover, the operation is dramatised via a sensationally complicated shot in which we see the side of the T-800’s head opened up, revealing the mechanical innards, while at the same time we can clearly see it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger sat in the chair.
How was it done? The shot is a mirror trick: near the camera is a prop head but we read it as Schwarzenegger facing a mirror. In fact, the mirror is an open break in the wall, through which is the real Arnie. Linda Hamilton is on one side of the divide, with her *twin sister* doubling her in the ‘reflection’. Terminator 2 has always been justly praised for its revolutionary CGI, but old-school gags like this make a film buff swoon.
Elsewhere, there are changes centred on the character of Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), the scientific engineer whose work will one day trigger the apocalypse. We now see more footage of him working at home, and his two young children playing in the house. There are also extra shots of Sarah outside the house as she gets ready to assassinate him. Again, it simply expands ideas and plot points that are already there in the 1991 cut, which sold the notion of Miles as a decent family man well enough.
That sums up the 1993 re-edit. It takes a spectacular action movie – one of the finest ever – and makes it longer. It adds, it expands, it over-explains. And in doing so, it reduces the effect and the power. Less is more.
Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Seven years had passed since The Terminator lifted both our careers, and Jim Cameron and I had always felt committed to a sequel. He’d directed a couple of huge pictures since then – Aliens and The Abyss – and, finally, in 1990 he got the rights and preliminary financing in place for Terminator 2. Still, I was a little thrown when Jim sat me down at a restaurant and told me his concept for my character in the film. “How can the Terminator not kill anyone?” I asked.’
Nine dipshits out of 10
Next: Pumping Iron
Acknowledgements: To make sure I wasn’t missing any extra footage, I checked my notes against these excellent posts that also look at the Special Edition’s changes: