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This movie won Oscars for Best Makeup; Visual Effects Editing; Sound; and Sound Effects Editing.

‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 03, 1991

James Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is a lustrous machine, all gleaming steel and burnished gunmetal, with state-of-the-art nuts and bolts. You relate to it the way you might relate to any overpowering machine, a little dispassionately but with a respect bordering on awe.

It's a tank of a movie, big, powerful and hard to resist. But it's a tank with lightning treads and jaguar agility. The stunning special effects show something that's rare these days -- technical stunts that evoke a true sense of wonder; it's real jaw-to-the-floor stuff.

As a sequel, "Terminator 2" is more imposing than its predecessor, and it lacks the B-movie modesty of the original. The original "Terminator" was science fiction with an element of shaggy poetry; this "Terminator" strives more for the mythic. It's heroic pulp.

The circumstances of the two are similar. Once again, two warriors have been beamed from the future back to our time, and once again, one warrior must protect the subject that the other was sent to destroy. In this case, the Terminator's mission is to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong), the young son of Sarah (Linda Hamilton), so that he cannot grow up to become the great leader of the resistance that he would after the world has been blown to bits in a nuclear conflagration. The boy's protector in this second film is another T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), like the cyborg that combined machine and living tissue that was sent to kill his mother 10 years ago.

The T-800's adversary this time out is a more sophisticated version of himself, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), which is made from a kind of liquid metal -- a "mimetic polyalloy," it's called -- that allows it to change shape at will and renders it virtually indestructible. The T-1000 is a sleeker, faster version of the earlier Terminator -- it plays cat to Schwarzenegger's raging bull -- but it has its predecessor's single-mindedness. The movie exists on a very basic level; it's one long chase in which the new Terminator tries to get the boy away from the older one.

The film sets up a monumental battle of the Titans, and it doesn't disappoint. The confrontations between these two unstoppable forces are thrilling death bouts between equally matched gladiators. As they hammer each other, the outcome of the fight seems genuinely uncertain.

But the film's real virtues emerge in its quieter moments when the characters are given a chance to interact. The subtext here is much richer than in the first; it's a movie about family and finding a father. When the Terminator is on the run with Sarah and John, he becomes the strong patriarchal figure at the center of their makeshift nuclear family. The roles in this family-during-wartime, though, are hilariously reversed. It's the kid who teaches the father how to cope in the world, how to use slang like "chill" and "no problemo," how to "give five" and, more important, how to feel.

John also teaches his surrogate dad a grudging respect for human life, which further contributes to the film's new age spirit. It's this element that is most unique and most satisfying -- that and the richness Schwarzenegger brings to his character. It's comical, perhaps, but Schwarzenegger expresses more of his own humanity when playing a machine than he does when playing real people. He's a hopelessly wooden actor, but that artificiality and his "Fun With Phonics" style of delivery is perfect for his character here, and perfect for the film's deadpan sense of humor. For once, he's ideally cast, and he brings the kind of delicacy of feeling that Boris Karloff showed as the Frankenstein monster. As a machine, he has soul.

Unfortunately, the other Terminator doesn't, and that's one of this movie's biggest problems. Unlike in the first film, there's no one to identify with on the other side. The effects for this character, however, are smashing too.

Cameron manages to create a neat balance between the technical and the human here; so much so that this surfaces as one of the movie's themes. Most of the actors make strong statements, including Hamilton, who's Nautilused herself into the form of a modern-day Diana, and Furlong, who gives one of the loosest performances for a child actor ever filmed. As the brain behind SkyNet, the computer that goes out of control and causes the nuclear nightmare, Joe Morton also makes the most of a few minutes on screen.

No one in the movies today can match Cameron's talent for this kind of hyperbolic, big-screen action. Cameron, who directed the first "Terminator" and "Aliens," doesn't just slam us over the head with the action. In staging the movie's gigantic set pieces, he has an eye for both grandeur and beauty; he possesses that rare director's gift for transforming the objects he shoots so that we see, for example, the lyrical muscularity of an 18-wheel truck. Because of Cameron, the movie is the opposite of its Terminator character; it's a machine with a human heart.

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