When “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” finally wrapped in late March--after nearly six months of filming--director James Cameron saw the stretch of time before its July 3 release as something out of Dante’s “Inferno.”
Referring to the frantic weeks of post-production including the application of never-before-seen special effects and “a million nit-picky things,” he said, “I think of it as the next phase of hell . . . you know, Dante’s vision of concentric circles, where you have to go all the way down through all the tiers until you can exit out the bottom.”
All this after “Terminator 2’s” shooting itself, which, in addition to being grueling, was so epic in duration that the cast and crew joked about the watershed events--inside Hollywood and out--that occurred during filming. There was war and peace. Drought and rain. Management changes and financial woes at several major studios.
And there were headlines in the industry trade papers about the movie--and its skyrocketing costs.
The producers vehemently deny published reports that the budget for their film--starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an unstoppable cyborg--will explode to $88 million.
But on one thing there is no disagreement: “Terminator 2"--which will be distributed by Tri-Star Pictures--was an arduous shoot, dominated by Cameron’s well-known penchant for perfection. A filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants, the tall, bearded Cameron is in perpetual motion on the set.
“The secret is, Jim Cameron is actually a cyborg,” Larry Kasanoff, who heads Cameron’s independent production company, said during one late night’s shooting in Malibu.
On the film’s last night of filming--on a set near Valencia strewn with crashed, battered and burned helicopters, cars and trucks--Cameron was reminded of another trait when the cast and crew briefly interrupted shooting to don specially made T-shirts emblazoned with remarks they had been subjected to during production. A bemused Cameron read aloud some of the “Cameronisms,” which included: “What would it cost to get your full attention?” “Bad acting! Call the acting police!” “If the gun doesn’t fire, you’re a dead man” and “Dammit, that’s exactly what I don’t want!”
“Terminator 2" is, of course, the sequel to the 1984 film in which Schwarzenegger--cast against type--was a relentless killer cyborg.
But this time, there are twists on the original plot.
For the sequel, Schwarzenegger’s cyborg becomes somewhat “humanized.” In a twist from the original, this time he’s programmed to be a good Terminator who has to stop a bad Terminator. In another reversal, the woman he stalked in the original film (Linda Hamilton) has become cold and robot-like and near-crazy with the knowledge that Doomsday is approaching.
Between takes in Malibu, Cameron mused: “I guess there’s some kind of message here about the use of technology--that it’s neither good nor bad, it’s only as its applied.
“In a sense, ‘Terminator 2' is also “about people who have become robots . . . like the doctor who is detached from his patients, or the policeman who is detached from his emotions.”
Cameron also calls “Terminator 2" “the world’s most violent anti-war movie.”
The original “Terminator” begins in the post-holocaust world of Los Angeles, circa 2029--a time in which machines are largely in control. It then flashes back to the past--to modern-day Los Angeles, where Schwarzenegger’s cyborg has been sent, through time travel, to “terminate” a young woman (Hamilton) expected to one day bear a son who will save mankind.
The bewildered heroine winds up getting help from a human “freedom fighter” from the future, played by Michael Biehn. After he is killed protecting her, she emerges as the film’s unlikely heroic figure in a riveting fight to the finish with the unremitting Schwarzenegger.
The film ends with Hamilton driving off into the desert with the knowledge that the End is near. She is also pregnant with Biehn’s child.
As the dreaded Terminator is described in the film: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop--ever--until you are dead.”
Audiences loved the character.
Filmed for $6.5 million over 10 weeks, “The Terminator” opened in the autumn of 1984 to startling ticket sales. With domestic receipts of more than $38 million, it was one of the year’s surprise hits.
In fact, “The Terminator” was that rare genre entry that pleased both action fans and critics. Time magazine put it on its “10 best” list. Daily Variety called it “a blazing, cinematic comic book full of virtuoso filmmaking.” To the Village Voice’s David Edelstein, it was “a sci-fi paean to motherhood.”
As the Terminator, Schwarzenegger cut such an imposing figure that, until the bloody climax, audiences cheered him on. Wearing a leather jacket, spiky hair cut, sunglasses and all those muscles, he was a cyber-punk outlaw of the coolest kind. Perhaps his most memorable scene came when he searched for Hamilton at a police precinct. Told that she was being interrogated, he intoned, “I’ll be back,” and returned seconds later, ramming his car through the entrance and calmly walking from room to room, emotionlessly blowing away every police officer in the precinct.
In the years since, the line “I’ll be back” has become a kind of in-joke for Schwarzenegger and his fans. He works it into just about every film he does.
Through the years, Cameron and the rest of the “Terminator” principals have often been asked about the possibility of a sequel. Never mind that Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was ultimately reduced to a steel skeleton and crushed to about the size of a tin can. In sequel-mad Hollywood, all obstacles of plot can be overcome.
Schwarzenegger said: “We’ve tried for so long to make this movie. I’m talking about from the time that we finished shooting the first one. Jim and I always felt that this was a good story that could lend itself to a sequel.
“But one has to be very careful with sequels. As you know, some people do them just because there’s a potential moneymaker there. But that shouldn’t be your only motivation. The main motivation should be, is it really a story that could have ongoing chapters that people will be interested in?”
“Terminator 2,” he believes, takes its characters into other directions. “I think it will add a whole new dimension,” Schwarzenegger said. “But don’t think my character is a baby-sitter. I am as hard and as rough as I was in the first movie.”
Indeed, Schwarzenegger’s character will prove so hard and rough that he will continue on his quest, despite gradually losing parts of his body to assorted mayhem.
“A part of my face gets blown away. My arm goes, and my knee gets blown away--so that you can see the flesh and the twisted machinery,” Schwarzenegger said. He smiled, adding, “I’m a real mess.”
The story line of the sequel wasn’t the only challenge; the cost was far more imposing.
Schwarzenegger’s salary is now in the stratosphere, following a spate of successful action titles (including “Commando” and “Predator”), a winning turn at comedy (“Twins”) and last summer’s popular “Total Recall.” And Cameron, who has since directed the monster hit “Aliens” and the ambitious “The Abyss,” doesn’t come cheap.
Schwarzenegger reportedly received a $14-million Gulfstream jet for “Terminator 2"; Cameron reportedly commanded $6 million.
There was also the complicated issue of rights. “Terminator” was produced by Hemdale Film Corp. and released by Orion Pictures. Cameron’s former wife, Gale Anne Hurd, was the film’s producer. (She also co-wrote the script with Cameron.)
When a “Terminator 2" sequel was announced by Carolco Pictures in February, 1990, it was reported that more than $10 million was paid to Hemdale and Hurd for the rights.
Which means that when Cameras finally rolled on “Terminator 2" last October, the above-the-line costs--pre-filming--exceeded $30 million.
So what will ultimately be “Terminator 2" 's price tag?
Both Cameron and Schwarzenegger insist the figure is in the realm of $70 million. (That doesn’t include the cost of marketing, which is likely to add $20 million-plus to the tab.)
“Yes, it is costly. But that’s what it took to shoot the script the way it was written,” said Schwarzenegger, who cautioned, “Forget about all those numbers you are hearing about. There is nothing that this town likes more than to hear that this movie, or that movie, is over-schedule or over-budget.”
“There’s been so much wild talk, I may have to publish the actual budget breakdown,” Cameron grumbled.
At one point, there was talk about having Schwarzenegger play “twin” Terminators--one good, the other bad. “We played around with that idea a bit,” Schwarzenegger said, “but the more we talked about it, the more, I think, Jim felt there should be a new Terminator with a streamlined look.” And he admitted, “It would have been rather overindulgent on my part to play two roles.”
Thus, the decision to have two different Terminators, with different missions.
Both Schwarzenegger and Cameron insist that the decision to have Schwarzenegger play the good Terminator wasn’t due to the superstar’s super-heroic image.
“Anyway,” Cameron stressed, “in a sense, neither Terminator is good or bad. They each have their missions. . . . The Terminators exist outside of any moral framework--they’re machines. It’s like saying one gun is good and the other gun is bad.
“Arnold’s character is direct and brutal and logical. At the same time he’s trying to do an enormous good.”
But Sarah Connor, Hamilton’s character, and her son don’t initially know that. It’s only as the story progresses that they learn there’s a Terminator programmed to help them and one who’s out to do them in.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s character has trained herself to be a skilled soldier--and a survivor. But along the way, she’s forgotten how to be a person and a mother. Her son--the world’s would-be savior--is a budding juvenile delinquent.
“She’s a sad character--a tragic character. She’s reached a mental place where she is devoid of emotional response--for very good reason,” Cameron said. “I mean, she believes that everyone she meets, talks to or interacts with will be dead very soon.”
Added Cameron: “In a sense, this is a redemption story for both Linda’s character and the Terminator.”
But before her redemption, Hamilton’s character is put through the wringer in what she calls “the end-all and be-all of action adventure.”
The actress was barefoot and wearing a slip for scenes filmed at an abandoned hospital in Lakeview Terrace. She had a faraway look in her eye as she headed for shafts of light . . . and the dreamlike apparition of her former lover (Biehn returns in the role, a cameo in the sequel).
In other scenes that day, Hamilton kicked and screamed as hospital attendants tried to restrain her and she attempted to escape from a mental ward.
“We’re taking her as far as we could go, to really express the torment of someone who lives with the specter of nuclear war. That,” she added, “would make anybody crazy.”
According to Hamilton, her character is so detached and cool that, unlike the first film, there will be few scenes in which she’s likable. “I’ve told my agent I want to do a comedy next. When you think about it, a lot of my work has been about loss.” (In the CBS television series “Beauty and the Beast,” Hamilton anguished about unrequited love as the lovely Catherine, opposite Ron Perlman’s Beast.)
But she couldn’t pass up the chance for an encore performance as Sarah Connor. “To revisit a character is a wonderful opportunity. All of us, I think, would like to revisit times past--to redo and rework things.”
Hamilton trained for three months in weaponry and judo to play the new, hardened Sarah. She also worked more closely with Cameron.
“I guess you could say that this time we bonded,” she smiled. “On the first film, we weren’t as much in sync. I think I even yelled back at him a couple of times. But this time, I went with him more. I’ve come to appreciate him as a far-reaching director. I like people who ask a lot of you.” She smiled again, adding, “Well, Jim doesn’t exactly ask .”
“Terminator 2" also promises to be a special-effects fest, featuring what Cameron calls “cutting-edge stuff.” George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic is among the five companies providing the effects--which cost twice as much as the first film.
Stan Winston, who supervised the Terminator effects in the first film, has had a veritable “army of Arnolds” built for the film’s assorted stunts and effects, including a full-figure mechanical model of Schwarzenegger, a model of him from the waist up and an operational Terminator head.
And there will be special computer effects, which, Cameron revealed, will allow the bad Terminator to “turn into other things,” including inanimate objects such as tile on the floor.
“Ideally, the special effects will be so incredible that people will want to go back,” said Cameron, explaining that some of metamorphoses have moments at which the bad Terminator will look similar to the creature that briefly appeared briefly in his underwater opus “The Abyss.”
Cameron’s “The Abyss” wound up missing its initial release date during the summer of 1989 because of its complicated production and post-production and was pushed back to the tail end of summer.
The film went on to earn $55 million in domestic ticket sales. Because of its $50 million-plus budget--a huge jump over Cameron’s previous entry, the $17.5-million “Aliens” (1986)--it also earned Cameron a reputation as a big spender.
Ironically, Cameron got his start with Roger Corman’s hard-knocks, low-budget school of filmmaking, supervising art direction and production design at the Corman factory before making his directorial debut with “Piranha II.”
“We shouldn’t collectively take the attitude that nobody should ever make an expensive movie. Every film can’t be ‘Home Alone.’ If that had been the case, we’d never have had films like ‘Dr. Zhivago’ or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and all the other films that accomplished things that haven’t been done before.
“The ‘Terminator 2' budget is right in line with what it should be, for state-of-the-art special effects,” he said.
“But it doesn’t really matter what I say. The budget issue has got to resolve itself on the basis that people go to the film and like what they see.”