RogerBW's Blog

Terminator 2: Judgment Day 20 March 2022

1991 science fiction, dir. James Cameron, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger: IMDb / allmovie. Two more soldiers from the future, and a different target to kill or protect.

(A field of skulls is evidently a Clear terrain hex for giant tracked war machines, though I suspect it would count as Rough for wheeled vehicles and infantry.)

I wonder what it would have been like to see this film without the advance publicity that made it clear that this time Arnie was the hero? Last time he, as the villain, arrived first; this time he arrives first. Unless you're paying close attention, he doesn't seem much less violent than the other guy. Ideally we should still be as much in the dark as John by the time we get to the corridor scene. But I suspect that very few people have ever gone into the film cold.

The liquid-metal Terminator was something Cameron had wanted to put in the original film, though effects technology wasn't up to making it look plausible in 1984; that and an argument over the rights kept this from being made for a while. (It seems hugely more advanced in-universe than the actuators-and-wires of the original, but never mind.) Indeed, while the computer graphics are impressive for the day, it's very clear to a modern viewer where the short-cuts are being taken: this shape pours through the elevator roof or into the helicopter, while that slightly separate shape turns into Robert Patrick. The chequered floor rising up into a guard is great, but we still pick an actor with a twin brother to do the face-to-face scene. (Hamilton's twin sister also makes a few appearances.)

Schwarzenegger still has the physicality, of course, but this time he's called on to act more conventionally: Cameron's harping on Parenthood! that we saw in Aliens is even more manifest here as Sarah contemplates the Terminator as the only possible substitute father for John. Linda Hamilton of course is great, the fanatic with a genuine cause who's had to be her own moral reference for so long she finds it hard to accept that other people can also be part of the fight. Edward Furlong… is OK; a lot of child actors are worse. (And his inevitable drug problems only started when his career began to fade, unlike many child actors for whom the drugs are why their careers drop off.) Robert Patrick isn't stretched hard, but rises to the challenge. And Joe Morton does a fine job with a simplistic part: his job is in effect to be a young Hitler, the guy who will do the terrible thing if we don't kill him now, but to load a finger on the scales he's a good guy who won't even be doing it consciously. (He has a wonderful face, too; I wonder why he hasn't been in anything else that was good.)

Of course I do wonder why this hugely profitable research project has no off-site backups.

But the action still works, still feeds back and forth with the plot. And every time I see the first phase of the final chase overtaking the tanker, that same tanker that later will come up on the wreck to let the second phase happen, I feel a small spark of joy: they didn't need to do that, it only matters on a repeat viewing and only if you're paying attention, but in that rare situation it makes the whole thing seem better.

(Nitrogen is a great asphyxiant, though: you really don't want to stand near a load of it that's boiling off.)

There are problems: the Brad Fiedel score, apart from the theme, seems facile, too much cued to what's happening on screen. The whole thing lasts perhaps a bit too long. But my overall impression is still very much a positive one, and I hope that's not just the nostalgia (or my own profit, admittedly at some removes, by being able to write RPG material for a GURPS setting inspired by this among a lot of other material).

If you want more of my witterings, you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.


  1. Posted by Chris at 11:38am on 20 March 2022

    "I suspect that very few people have ever gone into the film cold."

    You're living with one. I saw the Terminator films out of order and (not being particularly interested in films) knew the square root of frod all about them; someone insisted that I had to watch Terminator 2 because it was so good, and I did, politely, while thinking that yes it was ok but there were these Holes in the plot and anyway time travel had been pretty thoroughly covered by Heinlein et al back in the fifties.

    I'm afraid though that I simply assumed that Arnie was a Hero, because by the time I saw it he generally was. It wasn't obvious how he was going to be, but it was Arnie, so that rather settled it.

  2. Posted by Gus at 12:51pm on 20 March 2022

    Yabbut, that wasn't 'cold' in the sense of 'having seen the first film but none of the advance publicity for the second' and is therefore no use for research purposes.

  3. Posted by Chris at 02:32pm on 20 March 2022

    So you can only go into something cold if you already know what it's about? Strange definition, but ok.

  4. Posted by dp at 02:12am on 23 March 2022

    Around 1992 I'd recently seen Terminator 2, which I enjoyed a lot, and decided to try a future war campaign, at least in part because I had a copy of the Terminator soundtrack and thought it would make atmospheric background music.

    Oddly enough, I used the FASA Mecha Warrior rpg, largely because it had some decent rules for humans on foot with shoulder-fired missile launchers or technical-type vehicles vs. big robot-ish things, and also was a pretty grim game with lots of material covering battlefield injuries and survival. The game was atmospheric but I ended up figuring GURPS would work better. As luck would have it, I was working on proper rules for GURPS robots at the time.

    My GURPS Robots first draft proposal was an odd duck. In those days SJ Games encouraged long proposals with sample chapters, and GURPS Robots proposal kind of exceeded that, and was 40,000 words long including playable robot design mechanics and an early version of Reign of Steel. SJ Games were perhaps intimidated by the length so the book was only accepted after a group of GURPS playtesters in Detroit-Ann Arbor, led by Tim Caroll and Lee Graham, who had seen the early draft, decided to use desktop publishing software to lay out the complete 40K book as a spiral-bound book in GURPS format (sidebars and all) with cardstock cover, and pass a copy to SJ Games editors at GenCon...

    They liked what they saw but decided to split it into two books, Robots (done first) and then Reign and Steel. Steve edited the later book and encouraged me to make the setting more original, with the key idea being multiple zoneminds. (The idea of rival AI factions later appear in the Terminator franchise as well, in the interesting Sarah Connor Chornicles...)

    Incidentally, if you haven't seen it, I also encourage taking a look at the anime Rhea Gall Force, which is another interesting spin on the general concept.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 09:02am on 23 March 2022

    I enjoyed Sarah Connor Chronicles a great deal, in patches; in particular I liked the way that it got away from "the enemy is a big scary robot" to the more interesting "the enemy is an infomorph which happens to be in a robot body but isn't only that". It did get a bit sprawling and unfocussed, though.

    What Reign of Steel does very effectively for me is work as a sourcebook for various sorts of war-against-the-robots campaigns: here we have the civilisation with a paranoid robot overlord, there we have the scattered bands of human nomads staying clear of robot zones, and so on. The campaigns I've run have been largely in Zones London and Washington, but having the others there for excursions, and making it clear that the rules are different here, was always helpful.

    I'm also rather fond of the way these quite specialised robots are now being repurposed and can be remarkably inefficient: a Juggernaut can kill anything it can see up to low orbit with a single particle-beam shot, but there's only the one of it when you could have used the same resources to build many, many swarms of scouts… Big fan of the Vulture and Tarantula models, though.

    (I'd still like to write the Zone London Sourcebook but I don't think the market is there.)

  6. Posted by dp at 07:23am on 24 March 2022

    I agree with you regarding Sarah Connor Chronicles strengths and weaknesses. The TV strike that cut off one season probably hurt it, though it may have also helped them focus a bit more.

    I suppose in some ways RoS follows a similar template to the near-contemporary Rifts or TORG, both of which also provided radically different environs to transition between within an apocalyptic setting, albeit with a bit more focus.

    Well, if you ever do manage to do London in more detail, I'd like to see it!

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