Judgement Day

The World Was Supposed To End 25 Years Ago

I love movies. I used to manage movie stores. Stores, not rental shops. In the era of Netflix and RedBox, I still sold people on buying handfuls of movies. Frequently, they came back and bought bigger handfuls, and I turned several unproductive stores into profit making locations, through some hard work, long hours and determination. Mostly, through my love of movies. 

I have already written about my love of Star Wars. I have remarked, on several occasions, about my unnatural obsession with the Alien Franchise. But I also love many other franchises like Jurassic Park, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and the entirety of the MCU. I cannot even fathom the number of movies I have seen more than 20 times, but films such as Seven, Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Die Hard, Independence Day, Stargate, Matrix and probably a couple dozen more have done wonders to enrich my life. When asked what movie I have watched  the most, there would be no hesitation in the answer:

Admit it, you hear Bad to the Bone in your head right now

Obviously I had seen many movies beforehand, but the film that transformed a pastime into an obsession was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. No longer were movies a thing I turned on while I built elaborate Lego contraptions or filled my sketchbook with graphite and pen imagery. From that point on, movies were things to be witnessed and consumed. 

Terminator would have long lasting ramifications in my life, goals, hobbies and pave the way for my obsessive nature to flourish well before I was to understand that part of me. The film also had a lasting effect on cinema and pop culture.

I think I need a stronger Sunscreen

A Chance Encounter With A Terminator 

While visiting my cousins in early 1992, my aunt suggested we watch a movie that she had rented for her kids. Against my mother’s protests, we sat down and watched the highest grossing film of 1991. It’s funny, we don’t usually recognize the events that will change our lives until a significant time later. 

But let’s start this tale off correctly: I was scared shitless by the judgment day scenes. And I Loved it. I was a smart enough kid, if not a little naive, and at the right age where I understood enough to be frightened about imminent nuclear holocaust without enough understanding that although it was possible it wasn’t likely. 

If you haven’t seen the movie (what the actual fuck?), on August 20th, 1997, the machines of war controlled by the Skynet Defense System launched an attack on mankind. It only took nano-seconds for the burgeoning computer intelligence to decide that people were the problem. 

Honestly, I understand. You would too if you were in sales management… I digress…

Oh, look, that’s today’s date, only, two-and-a-half decades later. We will get back to that.

When I Grow Up…

The first thing that struck me about Terminator 2 was the truly stunning visuals. To this day 30 years later it still looks better than some modern movies and TV shows, not just the computer generated imagery but also the practical effects and location shots. The world of the movie was so believable. 

The basics of movie making are all spot-on;  locations in which the story unfolds are very well done, and I’m not even including making LA look like a cesspool. Places like the Pescadero and Cyberdyne are rendered in believable ways to allow the action to unfold as needed. The location that comes to mind as the best may seem weird at first, but the Mojave Desert scenes are spectacular. 

Thrilling action builds throughout the movie and right when it’s needed, the pace slows. We get to see the characters explored in a non-standard way for an action movie with a sun-bleached backdrop of wrecked and wasted combat vehicles. It’s important for the movie, and it emphasizes the family aspect of the film. Yeah, it’s a fucked up boy-meets-robot dad story, with the protective mom learning to trust the object of her fear, but, it’s a story of the family we choose. 

Speaking of characters, we have so many fantastic actors here in parts small and large that I don’t have time to go into it. I don’t think anyone needs me to talk of Schwarzenegger‘s biggest role, so I just won’t. But between Edward Furlong in his first role and Linda Hamilton nailing the tough but vulnerable woman ready to go to war to keep her son safe, the lead parts are executed flawlessly. And let us not forget Robert Patrick playing the part of a single-minded predatory machine, who’s acting brought a bit of believability to the role of a bucket of intelligent liquid metal given human form. These actors bring the skill and weight to the performance that allows the effects, both practical and computer generated to work; without them, it would just be a bunch of explosions and car chases that add up to nothing worthwhile.

“Get out of the car! Right Now!”

Another aspect of physical effects in the movie were the props. I don’t mean the weapons like the lever action shotgun, 40mm break action grenade launcher or the impossible minigun popularized in another Arnold movie a few years earlier. Those props are great and evocative for sure. But, I am talking about the work done by Stan Winston and his crew; the cyborg arms, both the remnant from the first terminator or the one that Arnold shows off to the class. Then there is the evolving battle damage across his supposedly metallic face and body, all of which looks great and is essential to supporting the suspension of disbelief necessary to forget that it is all a made up story and get involved. 

But the thing about this movie that made it look amazing was the CGI work involved. The computer work that was pioneered by Industrial Light and Magic in the Abyss for James Cameron a few years earlier really came into its own in Terminator 2. WIthout the ripples of water moving across the face that materializes at the end of the water tentacle in the Abyss, we would not have had an advanced liquid metal adversary for the bodyguard Terminator to struggle to deal with. One person changes into another, knives and stabbing weapons do the things they are made for and then revert to a limb, and we even see Robert Patrick walk through a barred security gate. None of this would have been possible even a year or two earlier. Honestly, the computer generated imagery in Judgment Day still more or less holds up to this day. 

The world that was formed in my mind while watching this movie, and others that pioneered the use of computer images in films that came out over the next few years led me to be interested in going into the movies. Not too long after T2 came about, Jurassic Park blew my mind and I decided that I was going to go to college to do CGI for films and use my art tendencies to create worlds. My expectations of my own future got a little more realistic in High School and after spending half of my day in the vocation center in the Graphic Communications class, I went to college for Graphic Design instead. Without Terminator 2, I would probably have still been drawing but I doubt I would have ended up with a Bachelors in Fine Arts.

Future Of The Past’s Future

One of those things that we cannot escape is the forward motion of time. I’ll spare you the philosophical conversation here; let’s just speak about how the future will momentarily become the present and then inevitably become the past. There isn’t shit we can do about it. While we can expect to have many opportunities to look forward to future events and then the pleasure of recalling them afterwards, hopefully fondly. 

Movies have a problem with time. Specifically science fiction movies. Sure, movies can be set easily in the present or the past, but they will be set in a precise time. The 1800’s will always be the 1800’s, and aside from shoddy writing or research, the events have already happened; facts are supposed to be irrefutable, and I don’t have the time for that discussion here. 

A common aspect to all Science Fiction stories, not just movies, is attempting to determine how things will be in the future. Predicting the future is, well, impossible. Not even the most prolific science fiction writers predicted that wireless communication would be so easy by the 90s and the collected knowledge of the world would be accessible from a small lump of plastic and silicon everyone carries in their pocket. Seriously, how many 80s movies would last 10 minutes if they had cell phones. A call along the lines of “Oh, hello, there are terrorists in the Nakatomi building. Send help” and the kids from Breakfast Club would have just been playing on their phones instead of talking to each other in detention. Come on Tyson, you’re rambling. What the fuck does this have to do with anything?

I think someone is following us

Geez, sorry, here we are: According to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the world was going to more or less end on August 29th in the year 1997. Oh yeah, I seem to remember that. Wait, no, sorry, that was just High School. Lucky for us, this is also a movie about time travel. And not only is it about time travel, but changing the past, cause, you know, any given time travel story handles the actions while in the past differently. According to James Cameron’s version of time travel, you can simply send someone back to change how shit happens in the future, thereby no longer needing to have sent someone back in the past to begin with. 

So, the big bad computer sends another bad guy into the past, due to the fact that it still knows that John Connor exists. He exists, and the computer knows it so the computer’s first terminator failed. Then they send another terminator back, this time going after an adolescent, and the computer hopes it will be easier to kill the young teenage version of the jerk that is leading the resistance that is fighting them in their own future. Then, the good guys in the future reprogram the bad guy from the first film, or at least a model off the same assembly line and send him back as shit escalates, and the good bad guy barely defeats the bad bad guy and wha-la: the future is changed. Confused yet? 

The message is powerful, you’re in charge of Fate, not the other way around; it’s a very positive, get-off-your-ass-and-do it kind of story. It is a top-tier narrative for what initially appears to be a summer popcorn action flick. The back and forth aspect of the story, the present chase and the future war, and how they influence each other captured my young creative mind. I went looking for more stories, but at that time I was unwilling to subject myself to novels; I wanted to consume more stories faster and at that time I just read too slow. I went forth and acquired comic books and graphic novels, attempted to catch every episode of multi-season television shows like Highlander and X-files. 

My obsessive nature turned this interest in plots and long-form stories into an all-consuming need to absorb stories and create my own. 

All that, and the earliest story I can recall capturing my imagination like the jaws of a bear trap was Terminator 2. When I watched movies after that, things that I had grown up with but hadn’t fully appreciated, I was able to see them differently. Star Wars was a story about hope and family. Short Circuit is about growing up. The Neverending Story was actually about the cycle of Life and Death. Die Hard was about not taking advice from random assholes on planes: keep  your damn shoes on. 

I feel like it is universally accepted that Terminator 2 is amazing, and since you have read this far I am sure you can tell I feel the same, but this is only because every individual aspect of it works so well in conjunction with the others.. The action is spectacular, with impressive set piece conflicts contrasting with intimate close-quarters fights. The Writing is top-notch which allows for the actors to do their thing and the director to achieve his vision. The story rocks back and forth between super-personal and small scale to full-scale global demise level. The drama and emotion is real, and so is the family that forms, and then gets ripped apart.

Obsessive Much? Yes, Please

There is a rather decent chance that if you have read any of my previous articles, you will have a general idea of just how obsessive I am. There is a staggering degree of obsessiveness occupying my brain-pan. Looking back, I always had those tendencies; From G.I.Joe to Ninja Turtles, from Transformers to Star Wars, I tended to latch onto things rather extensively. 

It would be some time before I began to understand that aspect of myself and many years before I would be able to control it and direct that compulsive mindset in ways that could be useful. 

As you can imagine, I bring this up because Terminator 2: Judgment Day was an early obsession of mine. At that point of course it was limited to two films and a few comic books from Dark Horse. What came after though was plentiful and exciting as far as my mental need for more was concerned. Aliens, Predator, both flavors of “Star” based franchises and Babylon 5 were the primary target of my need for more. I read books and comics that expanded the franchises, collected figures and created my own art to get more of the things I loved. I settled for short-lived series like Earth 2 and Seaquest and shit like that to fill the whole when I couldn’t get enough of the primary targets for my obsessiveness. Galavanting through Sci-fi conventions with my mother in grade school and Junior High exposed me to other people like myself. I was too young and socially awkward to actually commune with the other convention-goers, but the experiences went a long way in showing me that it was acceptable to become the human that I was angling to become. 

Tsk, Tsk, If you had just died in the first film I wouldn’t have to come back to the VHS era to chase you

It’s a strange thing looking into my past, digging through my mind and soul. My near-fanatical nature and my undirected creativity led to playing and then running roleplaying games for my friends. I eventually found my way into enjoying fantasy on top of the Science Fiction I had always loved. When I connected with that wonderful person that would eventually be my wife, I found my way to books finally and have enjoyed reading ever since. I have tried my hand at creating my own games and even tried to write a novel. Through the long and winding journey I am lucky to have ended up with enough emotional intelligence to see that all these things that I have enjoyed over the years, in the end, really started after Terminator 2 taught me that there were wonderful worlds to be obsessed with. 

Let’s Talk About The Special Edition

I am trying to be brief here, as any one of these sections could be a whole article or series on their own. Before I go, though,I need to get something off my chest. The Special Edition of the movie, with some of the scenes returned to their proper place in the film, is to me, the definitive version of the film. It should be yours, too. Again, I don’t have the time or space to write this whole thing here, as these few short paragraphs could be a whole article all on its own. Instead, I will touch on just a couple potent scenes. 

First off, Kyle ReeSe appears to Sarah while she is locked up. This scene is essential to understanding why Sarah Connor, having been locked up for a while, finally decides it’s finally time to blow the proverbial popsicle stand. In her vision, Reese comes to her and informs her that their son John (let us not forget that Reese was sent back in the first movie to do the nasty in the past-y, after saving Sarah of course) is in danger again. Is this a vision, a nightmare or a little bit of crazy leaking in at the edges having been surrounded by nutcases for too long? Who knows. But, it certainly grounds the movie a little more. Without this scene, Sarah randomly decides it’s time to leave and seems more a reaction to her treatment.  

“Time to go”

Part way through the movie, while Sarah Connor and the guardian terminator are doing first aid on each other they learn that the Cyberdyne killing machine has a capacity to learn. The extended version changes the scene by informing John that when the computer system sends them out to, well, terminate shit, they set the neural network to read only. Sorry, no learning on your own. The guardian instructs John and Sarah on how to reset the chip in his head. What follows is a bit of practical movie magic where they cut Arnold’s head open, yanks the chip and resets it. The key moment comes when Sarah grabs a hammer and moves to destroy the chip, thereby ridding them of a potential future issue with the terminator she distrusts, in spite of the fact that it helped save her. Flexing a little of his burgeoning leadership skills, John is able to dissuade his mother, against her better judgment, from destroying the chip. This is where we see the squeaky-voiced adolescent John start to become the person that he is meant to be in the future, leading men to battle, and saving the human race from extinction.

And then there was the end, well, the other end where the world didn’t end. In the theatrical release we see a road, lit by headlights. The world keeps on going, but we know not where. Did it work? Did we save everything? We will have to wait and see, because the future, in the end, just really isn’t set. While I immediately appreciated the other two scenes, this one I didn’t: the Special Edition ends with Sarah Connor sitting in a park in the future, a safe time that she herself had a hand in making. I thought this was sterile and boring, and worst of all left no room for a sequel. What can I say? I was young and incapable of realizing that we had already reached the apex with this franchise. Whether it was a decision by the studio or the director to leave it a little more open, I think that it was the correct choice at the time. In hindsight, I would much rather the series had ended there on a high note. While I certainly enjoyed all the other Terminator films, as I am genetically predisposed to enjoy them, it is easy to recognize that all the films that came after in the franchise pale in comparison. 

Terminator 2: Judgment day changed movies for the best, altered my life in subtle but important ways and found itself an unlikely but ultimately long running part of pop culture. Who hasn’t said “I’ll be back” in a mockery of Schwarzenegger’s voice. Countless forms of media have spoofed parts of the movie, with shows like Family Guy, Futurama and Rick & Morty making frequent use. The impact of the film will continue for years to come. Regardless of all the sequels and redoes (luckily there have been no prequels were a terminator tries to kill Sarah’s great-grandfather during the first World War,… actually, I might enjoy that) Terminator 2 will be my definitive Terminator movie. But, you know, the future’s not set, so there is always hope.

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


Obsessive and neurotic collector of little plastic men, novels about the same little plastic men and paints to make the little plastic men pretty. Married to Kera, who puts up with him and pretends that she doesn’t hear him speaking to the little plastic men in between making pew pew noises in the hobby room. Requires adult supervision. A menace to himself but rarely to others. More beard than man

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