Works of Art endure for a reason. Even when aspects of them become out outdated, (say as in the case of the Iliad, composition-in-performance goes out of fashion) the power of the story shines through. That's a rare thing for a genre that is as dependent on up-to-date technology as a Science Fiction Film. The story, the message, has to be uniquely powerful to endure once the future becomes the present or special effects take another leap forward. I spent some time this week on a sci-fi film that has endured, even though 1997 has come and gone: Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
My reasons for picking T2 were three-fold: 1. I hadn't seen it in over ten years, 2. It's a James Cameron film that fits in with my Save the Cat homework, 3. the film had a powerful impact on me when I was a teenager and I wanted to see how it held up. The edition of the film I viewed was the extended cut. While I get the impression that Cameron prefers the theatrical version for aesthetic reasons, I wanted to get as full an idea of the story as possible. Having watched the special features, I understand why Cameron chose to cut the film down for theater audiences, but I prefer the greater depth of the extended cut. Those things said, let's move on to six things I think make T2 a winner:
1. A score that sounds like the coming of Armageddon.
2. A 90s era sense, born out of the fall of Communism, that the future is not inevitably bad and that human choices can still have meaning in a technological age because technology is morally neutral -we may have the bomb, but having it does not mean we have to use it.
3. Linda Hamilton is allowed to be strong, ugly, and unhinged -and she sells it. This gives the movie a sense of seriousness that it desperately needs to keep from derailing into absurdity.
4. Arnold sell the machine-as-a-machine while making us care about him. He helps us believe that the human ability to learn can counterbalance our will-to-death.
5. The movie is filled with powerful images: The Bomb hitting L.A., Jon teaching the Terminator to give a high-5, Sarah carving "no-fate" into the table, Sarah's near murder of Dyson, Dyson's heroic death, and Jon and Sarah's dream-like first meetings with the T-800.
6. Like Aliens, T2 is about creating a family in the wake of loss. Boomers get to identify with Sarah Conner trying to put her life back together while Millennials are Jon Conner living in an uncertain world with overbearing parents who are terrified that they will fail if mommy isn't there.