Any time a classic film from days of yore is rereleased in theaters after being infused with contemporary visual effects, especially when that film hails from a franchise with as fanatical a fan base as “The Terminator,” moviegoers typically share the same sentiment: “They’d better not mess this up!”
Thankfully, the 3-D makeover for the recent rerelease of the 1991 megahit sci-fi action sequel “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was supervised by acclaimed filmmaker James Cameron, who approached the film’s touch-up with the same restrained, confident discretion with which he wrote and directed it more than two decades ago. And Cameron’s labor results in an exhilarating and welcome enhancement to the original that will delight both “Terminator” diehards and newcomers alike.
In case you are a newcomer, or just need a refresher course after all of these years, “Terminator 2” centers around a young boy named John Connor (Edward Furlong) living in Los Angeles in 1995 with foster parents after his birth mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, in what remains one of the great all-time turns as an empowered heroine) is arrested and imprisoned at a maximum security mental hospital. Throughout John’s childhood, Sarah prepared him for his destined role as the leader of the human resistance against Skynet, an artificial intelligence lab that Sarah believes will initiate a nuclear holocaust called Judgment Day on August 29, 1997.
Because she has been locked away in a mental institution, John believes his mother’s warnings regarding Judgment Day to be crazy talk. It turns out, however, that Sarah is right, and that in the future Skynet has sent an advanced Terminator called T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a shape-shifting synthetic android composed of liquid metal, to the year 1995 to kill young John Connor. Fortunately, in the year 2029, an adult John Connor also took precautionary action by sending an original Terminator model T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the role he was born to play, not to mention one of the few roles he can play convincingly) to the year 1995 to protect him.
Perhaps the remarkable aspect of watching “Terminator 2” on the big screen 26 years after its original debut is how incredibly well it has aged. Witnessing the proceedings is like watching a time capsule in motion. In the midst of the film’s barrage of action sequences, car chases and explosions, all movie tropes that are more conducive to CGI technology available today, the only attribute of “Terminator 2” that feels dated in any way is, appropriately, it’s 1990s-era Los Angeles setting. The fact that an entire two-plus hours worth of action that was filmed in the ’90s can still make your heart pulsate is a testament to both Cameron’s vision at the time and his precision in executing it.
And whereas modern day 3-D touch-ups to older films can oftentimes illuminate the lack of resources available at the time the film was produced, the 3-D here, in my opinion, has an exclusively positive impact on the film. In the same manner that the action sequences in the 1991 original never felt bloated or gratuitous, the 3-D effects somehow remain inconspicuous, never hogging the limelight, but rather facilitating what’s happening on screen to ensure that Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and company remain the stars of the film.
As you’d expect, the 3-D effects enhance the film’s several iconic montages, such as the aqueducts chase, Sarah’s escape from the mental institution and, of course, the final cat-and-mouse showdown between Schwarzenegger and Patrick’s respective Terminators. But the 3-D also elevates some of the film’s minor details in ways audiences might not expect. The truck tire rolling down the street caught on fire, the milk carton getting stabbed by T-1000’s blade, the profuse drops of sweat inundating Miles Dyson’s (Joe Morton) brow as he holds a detonator: all of these small yet crucial moments pop on screen like they never could in the ’90s.
Today, it’s difficult enough to entice people to pay 20 bucks to go to the movie theater and pop on 3-D glasses for a new release, let alone for a movie that came out so long ago. But this one is truly worth it. Whether you’ve seen “Terminator 2” (rated R) a thousand times or none, seeing it once in 3-D on the big screen will make for a delightful evening at the cinema.