A look back on the various movies that recall why I like movies any. This week, it’s one of the most important films from my childhood, and easily Cameron’s best directorial outing…

The Dreckulative One Year Anniversary has come and gone, and it has left me thinking about why I had started the site, and why I continue to post on it. The mission statement is at the bottom of the page here, and says something to the effects of: I want to legitimize the genre of science-fiction in film for the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Alright that’s fair – sci-fi gets a bad rap, and maybe undeservedly – but why? Why do I want to do something like that when I could just as easily – or perhaps, as some might say, easierly – not do it?

Because science-fiction is something that is significant to me, and I could never, ever say that to anybody except for you and through this medium of text. Out loud, that might sound strange. On paper, or screen in this case, it could almost be misinterpreted as mild. As a kid, I grew up watching what I consider to be the classics of sci-fi cinema, and this is the reason why I envision my idealized personal film (if ever I was to make them) as a science-fiction one, and why seven or so of my top ten are science-fiction. The other angles of the speculative fiction triangle, fantasy and horror, never appealed to me. Fantasy always struck me as uninteresting, and when Harry Potter came out and I distilled an entire genre down to wizards and trolls, that went doubly so. Fantasy to me was something for kids only. Of course, I never once thought that science-fiction might be too.

And horror never interested me because simply put – I was a pussy. I was afraid of many things that happened in movies: aliens (which is odd*), ghosts (because if they’re real, then that’s the worst thing ever), demons, and dying. I guess the last one is kind of understandable.

So fantasy was for children. Science-fiction on the other hand, was my bread and butter when I was a young youth, and even now as a youth. Movies like Robocop, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and the two Terminator movies convinced me that robots and science were cool and meant violence, which I also liked a lot. It wasn’t until I saw Ghost in the Shell (1995) in mid-high school that I understood the literary potential the genre had on the screen, but you’ll have to wait until the Ghost in the Shell Franchise: An Appreciation post for that story.

Even to this day, probably my favorite moments in movies are the future war sequences in the first two Terminator movies – seeing the field of skulls driven over by giant tank robots, all the pink lasers going back and forth with extremely unthreatening sound effects, the grittiness and the darkness, the overall spectacle – it’s a blast of nostalgia every time I even think of them. These were the moments that crystallized my early love for the genre, and captured my imagination unlike any other movie would until Ghost in the Shell 2.

Indeed the first two Terminator movies effected that adoration of science-fiction, and it didn’t hurt that they were such good films, it even got across to an idiot kid they were good. I remember not liking 2001, Blade Runner, Princess Mononoke, even the original Ghost in the Shell, because I was either too young or too stupid. No joke.

The Terminator is an incredible film, a perfectly paced chase movie with great imagery (the middle future flashback with the Terminator infiltrator shooting the mini-gun and all you see is his silhouette and two red eyes is pretty cool) and a memorable ending sequence assisted by robotic stop-motion. Michael Biehn, like Sam Neil, was to me the essential film hero, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was and always will be my favorite star. He’s got it all – the presence, the one-liners, the ability to dual wield a machine-gun and a shotgun – and the supporting cast was also good, especially Lance Henrikson, a fan favorite for his role as Bishop in Cameron’s next movie.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day¬†was all this and more. It was a relentless machine-gun hail of set pieces that seemed to be in some fierce competition with each other to be the absolute best. A mindless action movie can be a great movie if the action is good enough. Think Punisher War Zone. An action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think Die Hard, a thoughtful action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think First Blood. A sci-fi action movie that’s mindless can also be great – Doomsday – now let’s take the best of these categories: Terminator 2 is a thoughtful sci-fi action movie with action that is good enough, making it a triply great movie.

Dr. Silberman makes a reappearance as the snarky psychologist or whatever he is, and he’s the first antagonist Sarah Connor must deal with. Ultimately he is overshadowed by the T-1000, one of the coolest special effects and villains to hit the big screen. How could the outdated T-850 from the original film overcome this new threat? Well, plot armor… But also, with the help of both Sarah Connor and young John Connor, a character who’s never been as good as he was in the original T2. The grand sense of adventure in this movie moves the plot along with ease as these characters meet up and conflict, and we learn that the T-1000 isn’t just dangerous because he can be the floor – or you – but because he kills everybody he meets, and the Arnold Terminator is more human than meets the eye. Maybe not more human than human, but he’s only learning. He was designed to kill, and he’s just been told not to. Intriguing…

Maybe not high science-fiction, but it doesn’t need to be. It still makes for one hell of a movie. And the T-1000 is one hell of a villain. Not my favorite, though I do like Robert Patrick. I would throw the T-1000 in direct comparison to another robot villain I’ve been thinking about for awhile now after having seen Star Wars Episode III again recently, and reminding myself just how much I actually liked it – General Grievous. Visually, Grievous is one of the coolest designs for a character ever. But he was written as a coward, and that disappointed me heavily. He was not a threat, he was not imposing – when Obi Wan was going for the showdown halfway through the film, the outcome was a given fact, and there was no dramatic weight behind the spectacle of the fight. T-1000 on the other hand is somebody who you almost don’t want the characters to have to deal with, because you know that he’s capable of so much.

And he does do a lot to poor old Arnold, who loses a limb in his wordless fight with the other robot. They’re programmed against each other, and like computers, they don’t exchange pithy dialogue or play pranks like in T3. The duel at the end of the movie is also superior to the one that ends T3 – the effects are better, the choreography is better – and the environment it takes place in offers a very atmospheric and explosive setting for these two to duke it out in.

This was back when James Cameron was making movies to make good movies. With the release of Avatar, he seems to be making movies to make good money-making movies. Avatar wins the popular vote on financial terms, but it’s as smart as something that is not smart. Terminator 2 is smart, not necessarily intelligent, and succeeds – and exceeds – at everything it attempts. This is truly science-fiction filmmaking at its best.

*For a long time I was terribly frightened of aliens, and especially the aliens from the Alien franchise. I thought that if those things were real, then we were really fucked, and I had never ever seen a single alien movie. I’m sure that would’ve done me in – seeing what these aliens actually did to people. I just didn’t like how they looked, they were freaky. Then one day a switch flipped and I thought these things were so aesthetically pleasing perhaps they were worth a second look. To this day I’ve always considered the Alien franchise the best science-fiction has ever produced.

As though the genre produces movies

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