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Friday, 8 March 2013

Re-discovering Terminator 2

There are films you watch when you are far too young to ever appreciate how good they are. Terminator 2 is such a film.

The Terminator films seem to have ubiquitous in my life. The very first time I watched the first film, I was at my uncle’s house with my dad - a man that never really cared about me watching films that were far too violent for my young eyes (god rest his soul). The scene where the T800 (Arnie) is repairing himself in the motel was so gory that I had nightmares for months. Shit, I remember for a good number of years fearing that a Terminator might be after me. In retrospect, I was a strange little boy.

I watched T2 for the first time shortly after the first film and remember being just as scared of Patrick’s T1000. This thing could mimic your mother and you wouldn’t even know about it until she stabbed you.

It was through these pre-teen, fear laden experiences that I started my relationship with the Terminator films. As I re-watched the films and slowly came out from behind the sofa pillows, I realised that: a) they were not nearly as scary as I thought they were; and b) They are special special films.
Terminator 2 was made in 1991. I’m not writing that to be informative, I just think that is an incredible bit of information which illustrates how ahead of its time the film was.

I recently re-watched T2 and realised that it’s much simpler stating what's wrong with the film because there’s not much.

A small part of the CGI in this film looks horribly aged, but that’s to be expected.

The opening sequence where the miniaturisation is obvious is a prime example of this. The terminator machines, planes hovering around and lazer warfare taking place during the opening looks pretty embarrassing through the eyes of a 2013 film watcher. There is also a dream sequence half way through the film where Sarah Conner sees Los Angeles get nuked and, once again, it is obvious that miniature models were used and it looks pretty bad. But you forgive these little quibbles simply because the rest of the film is extraordinary.

Terminator 2 is the best action film I have ever seen. And remember, it was made in 1991. Despite CGI technology and film techniques improving measurably over the past 20 years, there hasn’t been a film that Ihave seen in that time that tops the action sequences in this film. Not one.

T2 is essentially a chase film and the chase sequences are relentless. It is this relentlessness that makes you buy into this world. You know that Arnie and his crew are going to survive, but in the middle of their numerous dash for survival against the T1000, you just don't know if they will. This is the case regardless of how many times you've seen the film.

You don’tappreciate how dangerous Robert Patrick’s T1000 is at the beginning of this film until you see the very first motorbike/truck chase scene. Seeing the T1000 chase John Conner on foot while John is on his motorbike is scary enough, but watching it drive a truck over a bridge to carry on its pursuit drives the point home that this thing is a machine.

And although I had a go at the films CGI, it’s not all bad. In fact, most of it works well and this is probably because it’s used sparingly. Watching Robert Patrick shape shift still gives you the desired chill and doesn’t take you out of the world of the film.

What’s probably most impressive about Terminator 2 is the fact that its themes have become more relevant as time goes on.

I recently watched a documentary about Google and its Book Search project, called "Google and the world brain". A couple of years ago, Google approached some of the world’s most prestigious libraries and offered to scan their books for them. Most libraries agreed because scanning books is usually an expensive endeavour and Google were offering to do it for free. Authors got up-in-arms because it turned out that Google were scanning copyrighted books and there was this big legal battle.

According to the documentary, Google said they pursued their Book Search project to make books, especially out of print books which are harder to find, available to whoever wanted them. They wanted to make knowledge accessible to everyone, regardless of whom or where they were.

What got to me was the reverse argument; Google’s detractors argued that their Book Search project was the monopolisation of knowledge. In fact, the documentary hints at the fact that Google's aim is to use this knowledge to better their search algorithm and essentially build an A.I.

First thing that came to my mind was Skynet. And then I watched this little video.

We are living in a world where large organisations horde our personal information and we let them have it. I’m pretty sure that in 1991 the very thought of artificial intelligence was fantastical, but in 2013, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see it happening. And you know what, that scares the shit out of me.

(The irony isn’t lost on me that I am publishing this blogon a Google owned site)

It has been a long time since I’ve re-watched a film which has floored me as much as Terminator 2. There should have been no surprises, especially over a film I've seen so many times. But there I was, jaw on the floor when the T-1000 rode his bike out of a building window and jumped on topof a helicopter.

My only regret is never seeing this film on the big screen because Terminator 2 is what cinema is all about.