Two robotic beings from the future travel back in time to battle over a child who could potentially save mankind.
Riding a masterful hot streak, director James Cameron was able to find exuberant financial backing to make a sequel to an independent sci-fi film. That original film was The Terminator and it made a star out of its antagonist, Arnold Schwarzenegger. So finding a way to continue the series was going to take a serious effort. The term "greatest of all-time" is thrown around liberally these days. When it comes to movies, there is one that everyone knows owns the title, but few are boastful enough to declare. This is that film.
The very presentation of the introductory segment is as epic as any post 2001: A Space Odyssey. In it, we see the low point of man and the usurpation at the effort of the machines, summarized with a flash and a skull being grounded under the metal podiatric of a skeletal robot. Exposition is laid out through narration while the remaining humans battle robots over a dilapidated Los Angeles. Before long a grandiose title sequence kicks in amid flames within a playground. If only every movie could start this way.
There are many clever allegories to be found in this action/sci-fi film. The relationship between the boy and his Terminator shows a father/son bond. The interesting thing is that the boy is often times the father. He tells the Terminator how to behave insisting that he not kill anyone. Another allegory is much briefer and showcases what makes John the future leader of mankind. The point I'm alluding toward occurs in the last act of the film. John is joined by Miles Dyson in the Cyberdyne laboratory and they are attempting to free some key items from a security container. Instead of doing as Miles suggests and opening the tubes gently, John hurls them against the floor. The subtext of the scene shows John's approach to problem solving, which mirrors that of Alexander the Great.
With the ballooning cost of a production, the title of the most expensive film ever made is revolving. In 1991, everyone knew it was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was the first film to cross the $100 million USD mark and one of the last where every penny can be appreciated in the finished product. Aside from the price for one star, Terminator 2 featured cutting edge computer effects and epic practical effects. The explosions are real, and the sets are real. The miniature work in the opening five minutes is often times written off as life size. It is a film with a vast scope and plentiful highlights which makes it difficult to summarize. Relating to the craft of film production, it simply has everything. There is an excellent score. The sounds effects are jarring. The cinematography, particularly during the night sequences, trumps that of today's digitally mauled candidates.
If there is a note which stands out, it is that this movie ushered in an area in which CGI became a bankable spectacle. Is that a good thing? With few exceptions, the effects heavy films following T2 have been low on substance. In the push to believe that bigger is better, one of the surprising elements of Terminator 2 is to find that practical effects and stunts garner much of the hoopla. It was through careful planning that the integration of the CGI added to the film through its minimal usage allotting for precision. Had it been a rush job, audiences would have written off every occurrence and the willful suspension of disbelief would have been compromised. Beyond rushing, today's films are guilty of saturating the screen with CGI. For example, a helicopter actually flies under a highway overpass in Terminator 2. Today, that would have been done with computers, and the audience would have no trouble spotting it. This is because today's movies are now elements of a program. We see the impostor helicopter chase the fake van against the false sky and in our jaded eyes the excitement is lost. To this extent I blame the filmmakers of today for exploiting the potential of computers, which was only presented as an accessory in this film.
For the readers at home, here's a suggestion. Think of your favorite film. Now give a number to each possible attribute as a way of ranking all qualities that film possesses. For example you could say, and this is just in your opinion of course, the acting in Citizen Kane receives a 10 (10 being the highest). After you have done this, trying doing the same for Terminator 2 that is if you haven't already. Cover every field; editing, cinematography, art direction, etc. I believe you'll find that when adding up all the numbers, no other film offers excellence spanning the spectrum as convincingly.