Thursday, May 31, 2007

Movie Club: Terminator 2

Conversation welcome in the comments. (I know there's at least one other participant: my comments will be coming tomorrow night, probably).

Note: The idea behind "Movie Club" is that we watch a movie and then talk about it. If you haven't seen the movie in a while, feel free to join the discussion, but let us know how long it's been since you've seen it.


Jon Hastings said...

So - first: for some reason, I remembered T2 as the harbinger of the Michael Bay-style, over-done, fx-laden, summer blockbusters, but, watching it again, it really isn't. Not that there aren't a lot of big stunt and fx-driven set-pieces, but James Cameron builds them much more conventionally and much more carefully than Michael Bay ever did. The pacing of the individual action sequences seems a bit "old-fashioned", too: they don't just jump from high point-to-high point, with each moment trying to outdo the last one.

Another difference from how I remember it: the stunt work here (mostly involving vehicles and chases) is much more central than the fx or the (primitive but effective) cgi.

All this adds up to: T2 feels more like the culmination of the action movies of the 1980s than the predecessor of the Bay/Emmerich/Scott spectacles.

Anonymous said...

Ah. I was waiting for your initial comment, as I didn't want to jump in all, "So... Eddie Furlong's dirt bike. Pretty rad."

I miss this style of action sequence pacing so much. If these movies were done in our music video style editing, post Private Ryan rumble-cam style you'd need about four times the choreography to fill the same amount of minutes. Cameron really opens them up and lets them breathe, as well as caring about clear lines of sight and scene continuity. I think my favorite example of the differences in action scenes designed for showing you what's happening versus action scenes that are trying to make you feel you're part of what's happening can be found in Bourne Identity vs Bourne Supremacy. My interpretation that modern action sequences are attempting to place you the viewer in a more participatory perspective is, of course, only my opinion, but I'm a bit of a grumpy old man in this regard. I sit there saying, "What's going on? Who just got hit? Where the hell are we?" And suddenly it's over. I'd get almost the same impression if the screen went black and I was presented with only the soundtrack. The actors spend months learning these incredibly intricate sequences that no one gets to appreciate. (I guess I blame this more on the editing than the shaky camera. For all my bitching I really didn't have much trouble following Saving Private Ryan when I saw it in theaters, and actually rather enjoyed what at the time seemed like pretty innovative war cinematography.)

I think T2 may be one of the last movies to utilize CG in a way that didn't infuriate me. I think it's tied to the fact that they made no attempt to use it to either skip the process of finding or building sets, or to attempt to render the actual protagonists, forcing me to watch something slightly nicer looking than a video game cut-scene. In 20 years Spiderman 2 is going to be embarrassing.

I found it funny that when trying to think of any other female characters as undeniably tough as Sarah Connor, the only two I came up with were Ripley and Vasquez, both from Aliens (the actress that originally played Vasquez was John Connor's foster mother in T2, and Cameron's Ripley was a completely different style than Ridley Scott's). There must be someone other than Cameron that recognizes that making intimidating physical female characters involves ignoring things like eye-shadow and pretty hair, but nothing's coming to mind.

Oh, and also, if it weren't for Cameron I wouldn't have this weird thing for Lance Henrikson.

Are we doing The Abyss next?

Braccia said...

Hi guys.

Several things struck me about T2 upon re-viewing.

1) The use of close-ups and sound design/editing in robot vs. human and human vs. human fighting really stressed that violence has consequences. One of the big problems with Bay's approach to action movie making is that, when the entire enterprise is conducted on a cartoon scale, it's difficult for the viewer to feel any sense of tension or dread with respect to character fate. But here, Cameron even uses quick throwaway cuts to establish the scale and stakes. For example,Robert Patrick pushing a guy into a wall is accompanied by a pretty fierce "thud". The violence isn't over-the-top unpleasant, but it does set the stakes.

2) To Ryan's point, the CG in this movie is compelling and seamlessly integrated with non-CGI work in integral scenes. We see early on how the T-1000 operates (liquid metal, blah blah) via extensive CG work, but those CG powers are converted into real world knives in the elevator sequence...that shit is intense. It's a perfect combo - utilizing the technology to set the stakes for more intimate (and more dread-inducing) scenes.

3)When You're Talking Setting, Little Things Make a Difference.

Attention to suburban living detail - at John's foster parent's house, the Cyberdyne developer's house and the mall, in particular - help create the setting. Too often, these days,
all of the action movie sets feel like studio set pieces, not living, breathing environments. The most impactful monster/sci-fi/action/horror movies
are effective because of the attention paid to developing the environment. Think of Amity Island in JAWS, and, though it's used equally as parody, Kingston Falls in GREMLINS. I'm sure there are lots of other examples I'm leaving out...

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't recommend the Ultimate Edition on DVD, though. It includes 30-40 minutes of additional footage, mostly exposition that the movie doesn't need.

Braccia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Braccia said...

On Sarah Connor...

She's especially interesting because she's not only tough, but she's legitimately bonkers and dangerous. She nearly kills an innocent family man in front of his 7 year old son.
You don't see that kind of stuff in summer action fare in 2007.

To Ryan's bad ass chicks in flicks point...
I am interested to see how Zemeckis, Avary and Gaiman treat Angelina Jolie/Grendel's Mother in Beowulf later this year, since both Sarah Conner and Cameron's Ripley are, essentially, pissed off moms.

Jon Hastings said...

Oooh, lots of good stuff here... I'll try to post some responses tonight.

Anonymous said...

Nick, you're absolutely right about Sarah Connor being basically a maniac. It was amazing to me in my recent viewing how much of a raw deal Dyson gets in this film. He's terrorized, shot, terrorized some more, convinced to destroy what was his life's pursuit, shot a whole shitload of times, and then blown up (although I suppose you could argue he was already dead by this point). We never get a satisfying pay-off for his suffering like we do with Sarah's breathless escape from her institution. I would have liked a bit more resentment, suspicion, and resistance from Dyson (aside from the fact that even in the extended version his wife doesn't even have a scene for trying to convince him to, perhaps, not go blow up his office with these heavily armed black-clad robots).

Can I just say that watching Sarah bust out of the mental hospital is by far my favorite part of this film. It's built up so perfectly. The casting is flawless, with her nebbish psychiatrist and that strange chubby guard with the big glasses. I mean, instinctively you know that all the suffering and abuse they (somewhat justifiably) inflict on her is going to get paid back because this is a fairly dark Hollywood action movie. We need that payback to feel that section of the film is resolved. Still, watching her break knees with that nightstick or hold someone hostage with a syringe full of drain cleaner always reminds me that I'm watching Terminator 2.

Braccia said...

The psych facility sequence is fabulous. Mostly, because it represents everything that worked so well in the first film - the public's disbelief in her situation, her growing frustration...and it has an extra layer of malice, since the human race she's trying to save is, in turn, patronizing, drugging or sexually abusing her.

My favorite part is the T-800's entrance, though...just as she's about to break away, she comes face-to-face with Arnold. In a nanosecond her fearlessness and reckless abandon fail her -- she's absolutely terrified. She may have been doing all those chin-ups, but when she looking at a Terminator again, she's smacked back to reality. And, probably, would have done anything to be back in that cell.

Jon Hastings said...

Ryan - Sarah's escape is my favorite part of the film, too, and it's also the part that I've remembered most clearly over the years.


Linda Hamilton.

Nick, I kind of flinched when you brought up Angelina Jolie. (I mean, it looks like she'll be all Gollum'd up in Beowulf, anyway, but...) The things that really impress me about Linda Hamilton in T2 and Sigourney Weaver (and Jenette Goldstein) in Aliens are the specifics of the physicality of their performance. Ugh - that's kind of an ugly, academic-y way of saying: look at their bodies and how they move!

So, this might sound like more cinema studies bullshit, but physicality and movement and bodies-in-motion really are central to action movies, right from the beginning. Check out Douglas Fairbanks: he defines his characters by the way they move (acrobatically & with gusto).

Hamilton really looks like a normal woman who decided she needed to get buff.

Now, why do I even bother to bring this up? Well, because look at how most other action movies have chosen to depict "butt kicking babes": usually, they're these graceful, acrobatic, fashion model ninja ballerinas of mayhem - like Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, or Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger. The other popular choice is just to kind wink at the whole idea that physicality is at all relevant: this is what Joss Whedon does with Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy and Summer Glau in Serenity: there's supposed to big this big disconnect between what they look like (girlie-girl, tiny hippie chick) and the amount of violence they can do.

I admit: I like all these movies/shows. But, ugh, I also think that there's at least a little bit of underhandedness here. The creators of these characters probably see them as "strong women", but they're all kind of fantasy women and it is a very male/geek fantasy: Uma Thurman is not only HOT but she's into swords and kung-fu instead of "girl stuff" and likes to solve problems by killing them instead of talking them through! (Buffy is a bit different: she's into the "girl stuff", but that's always under threat and eventually she has to give most of it up to become a better warrior!)

Now, Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver don't strike me as being fantasy figures, at all. Not that they aren't sexy or whatever or that it's impossible to imagine getting turned on by them - far from it - but it's just that their physicality, their "action hero"-ness seems more, um, authentic (?). Does that make any sense?

Subject for more discussion:

-Physicality in T2 in general: look how the movie contrasts beefcake Arnie with Robert Patrick.

Anyway - more later...

Braccia said...


I understand your flinch and your point totally makes sense. But the reason I brought it up had more to do with the notion of a revenge seeking matron (Grendel's Mom) than the casting. I guess that relationship will likely be more akin to the one between Jason and Mrs. Vorhees, though, which the great Dane poem probably inspired in the first place...

But, you have to admit, Tarantino sort of goes against his KILL BILL Uma/fetish instinct in DEATH PROOF where Zoe Bell, Uma's KILL BILL stunt double, gets to give one of the most bad ass physical action performances ever given by a woman.
While Tarantino's camera definetly fetishizes the other women in the first half of the movie, the second group of girls are the only kind capable of SPOILER...

...handling Stuntman Mike. They're 100% uber-physical daredevils. Even Rosario Dawson, who is sort of just along for the ride, is an interesting choice because she has such exuberant physicality in all her performances. It's a funny joke that these action women leave their friend, a teen actress (hilariously dressed in an insta-fetish cheerleader outfit -- Buffy was a cheerleader before she got the call)alone while they cruise for thrills...

In DEATH PROOF, he's celebrating (hell, maybe even fetishizing) a totally different kind of woman...and she has more in common with Ripley and Sarah Connor than The Bride.

Jon Hastings said...

Nick -

The difference between Zoe Bell in Death Proof and Sarah Connor & Ripley in T2 & Aliens is that Zoe & her pals are still getting "tennage kicks". They get in over their head and are able to handle the situation, but that's completely different from Sarah & Ripley who know what kind of danger they are facing & are making decisions as adults & (as you pointed out) as mothers.

Lee said...

I thought this might interest you guys.

It is a parody trailer based on T2