This Week in 1991: 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' Morphs Into a Hit
Fortunately for us all, James Cameron was wrong.
If the dire predictions in 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (released 20 years ago this week, on July 3, 1991) had come true, we'd all be dead or enslaved by robots by now.
Still, there's no denying Cameron has been a visionary, and he proved it with this sci-fi sequel, which has been one of the most influential movies of the last 20 years. As moviegoers line up this weekend for another movie about a lad who challenges a seemingly invincible, shapeshifting robot, it's worth looking back and appreciating the massive impact of 'T2.'
As with 'Aliens,' Cameron created what many fans thought was a superior sequel to an already classic sci-fi filim (in this case, Cameron's own 1984 'The Terminator') by greatly expanding the mythology and raising the dramatic stakes. The masterstroke was reprogramming Arnold Schwarzenegger's villainous Terminator as a hero while making him obsolete, then pitting him against the more advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick).
The film's greatest impact was in the realm of visual effects. The T-1000 was the first main character of a film who was largely computer-generated, a three-dimensional simulation of human form and movement born in a PC. The robot's ability to turn into liquid metal and then mimic the form of nearly any object or person it touched was one of the film's greatest attractions as well as an eerily beautiful visual that still looks striking and seamless to this day. "Morphing" an object or person from one form into another via computer-generated imagery didn't start with 'T2' (it was first used three years earlier in the fantasy film 'Willow,' and Cameron himself had done a brief morphing sequence in 1989's 'The Abyss,' whose watery pseudopod seemed a dress rehearsal for the T-1000), but 'T2' showed mastery of the technique that stunned and delighted moviegoers like nothing they'd seen before. For their breakthrough work on 'T2,' Stan Winston and his Industrial Light and Magic team won an Oscar, one of four technical Academy Awards the film would receive.
"Morphing" soon showed up everywhere, first in John Landis' video for Michael Jackson's "Black and White" later in 1991 (at the time, it seemed an unexpected commentary on Jackson's own ever-changing facial features), then in seemingly every sci-fi and action movie. Computer-generated characters mixing with live-action people soon became commonplace.
The movie cost a reported $102 million, making it the most expensive movie ever made up to that time (hardly the last time Cameron would break that record). It opened with $54 million, behind only 1989's 'Batman' ($57 million) for best five-day holiday weekend opening. It became the top-grossing movie of 1991, with $205 million, and made instant stars out of Patrick and Edward Furlong, as the young future savior John Connor. It also made "Hasta la vista, baby," into a national catchphrase. Two big-screen sequels (so far) and a TV series followed.
And of course, it cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger's status as the most popular action star in the universe. He became so popular, in fact, that there was talk he'd go into politics, maybe as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Around the time of 'T2's release, I got to interview Schwarzenegger, and I asked him if the rumors were true that he planned to run for office. "Oh, I don't even know who I would talk to about doing that," he said disingenuously, perhaps forgetting for a moment that he was married to a Kennedy and was close friends with then-President George H.W. Bush. Still, it took another 12 years, and another 'Terminator' sequel, before Arnold, armed with his robot character's catchphrases, ran for office and became California's Governator. And another eight years before his paternity scandal broke and prompted endless rounds of "Sperminator" jokes. It's hard to remember now that there was a time when he was best known simply for playing a boy's benevolent (robot) foster dad.
1939 (June 27): Filming ends on 'Gone With the Wind' with the shooting of the famous finale, including Clark Gable's immortal line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." After a bitter battle with the censors ends with the approval of that final four-letter word (and a fine of $5,000 to the producers), 'GWTW' goes on to become one of the biggest hit movies of all time.
2003 (June 29): Katharine Hepburn dies at 96. Widely regarded as the greatest actress in film history, her career lasted more than six decades and earned her four acting Oscars (still a record).
1989 (June 30): Spike Lee's landmark drama 'Do the Right Thing' is released, amid fears that its portrayal of racial tensions erupting into violence will spark riots in theaters. Instead, the film puts Lee on the A-list, makes a star of Rosie Perez, and turns Public Enemy's song 'Fight the Power' into a hit.
1984 (July 1): Criticism of the too-violent-for-small-children sequences in Steven Spielberg's 1984 early-summer hits 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' and 'Gremlins' prompt the director's call for a rating between PG and R. The resulting PG-13 rating is announced on July 1 and introduced the following month with the release of 'Red Dawn.' Within 20 years, PG-13 will become not a caution to parents but a marketing tool (suggesting to kids under 17 that the movie pushes the envelope as far as it can without offering content that parents won't let them see) and the most desirable rating in Hollywood.
1971 (July 2): Gordon Parks' detective drama 'Shaft' is released, becoming a big hit, turning Richard Roundtree into a star, spawning three sequels and a TV series, launching the blaxploitation era, and earning and Oscar and a Grammy for Isaac Hayes' percolating theme song..
The perpetually boyish Chris O'Donnell turned 41 on June 26, followed by fellow boy-men Tobey Maguire (36 on June 27) and John Cusack (45 on June 28).
Famously quirky folks celebrating this week include Gary Busey (67 on June 29), producer Robert Evans (81, also on the 29th), Dan Aykroyd (59, on July 1) and Karen Black (69, the same day).
Famous beauties with birthdays include Lindsay Lohan (25 on July 2), elf princess Liv Tyler (34 on July 1) and Pamela Anderson (44, the same day). 'High School Musical' teen queen Ashley Tisdale is actually a year older than Lohan, turning 26 on July 2.
Oscar-winner Kathy Bates turned 63 on June 28. 'Ferris Bueller' teen Alan Ruck is 55 (!) as of July 1. Curmudgeon Larry David is 64 on July 2.
Among legends, Mel Brooks turned 85 on June 28. And Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of 'Gone With the Wind,' turns 95 on July 1..
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' - Trailer No. 4
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' (PG-13)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong
Directed By: Michael Bay
What's It About? In this threequel, a coverup stemming from an alien crash on the moon (an alternate history inexplicably endorsed by Buzz Aldrin, playing himself in this movie) unravels decades later, sparking new earth-shattering conflict between Autobots and Decepticons. Once again, it's up to LaBeouf to help the good robots save the world. Malkovich and McDormand come along to lend this enterprise some class; 'Hangover' franchise vet Jeong is here for comic relief.
Why Should You See It? Think of this as Bay's apology for 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,' which even he admits sucked. He promises this one will have a better story and better characterizations, as well as better spectacle. A reluctant convert to 3D, Bay claims this threequel will at least offer state of the art 3D effects. And if that's not enough to draw the fanboy eye, there's a new love interest (hello, Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely; adieu, Megan Fox). Also, Bay and LaBeouf both say this is their last go-round, so this installment is probably the end of the franchise as we know it. Reviews so far suggest that the movie is a relentless, over-the-top sensory assault - that is, just what you demand from a Bay movie.
You Might Like It If You Like: The first 'Transformers,' 'Independence Day,' 'Capricorn One'
Shia LaBeouf's Bombshell 'Details' Interview
'Larry Crowne' (PG-13)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson
Directed By: Tom Hanks
What's It About? Having lost his job because of his lack of higher education, middle-aged Larry (Hanks) enrolls in college, where he develops a crush on disillusioned teacher Mercedes (Roberts).
Why Should You See It? It's two Hollywood royals on one screen. It's the first movie Hanks has directed in 15 years (since 'That Thing You Do'). It won't deafen you with any cars or trucks that turn into giant robots; here, there's just a moped.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'Charlie Wilson's War' (the last Hanks-Roberts pairing), 'Sleepless in Seattle,' 'Mona Lisa Smile'
Their Roles, From Best to Worst: Tom Hanks | Julia Roberts
Interview with Hanks and Roberts (VIDEO)
'Monte Carlo' (PG)
Starring: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Cory Monteith, Andie MacDowell
Directed By: Thomas Bezucha
What's It About? Gomez (accompanied by galpals Meester and Cassidy) visits Paris, where she's mistaken for aristocracy and whisked off to Monaco
Why Should You See It? You want to spend your escapist dollar watching scenes of travel in exotic locales, but not involving special forces units fighting giant robots. You want romance, but not among people old enough to be your parents.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'The Prince and Me,' 'The Lizzie Maguire Movie,' 'Ramona and Beezus'
'The Perfect Host' is a psychological thriller starring David Hyde Pierce as a man about to throw a dinner party when his home is infiltrated by a fugitive bank robber. (Sounds like a 'Frasier' episode gone horribly wrong.)
Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Reviews
•'Cars 2' - In case the cars-turned-Autobots in 'Transformers' aren't cartoonish enough for you. Showtimes & Tickets: 2D | 3D | IMAX 3D | Trailers & Clips | Reviews |Family Film Guide
•'Bad Teacher' - Cameron Diaz's black comedy is one of the few movies in multiplexes that's aimed at grown-ups, especially those with less than fond memories of junior high. Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Reviews
•'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop' - For those of us who didn't get to see Coco's live tour last summer, this concert chronicle will have to do. Showtimes & Tickets | Trailer | Reviews: Moviefone | Cinematical
New on DVD: An Oscar underdog last winter, 'Barney's Version' is a comic tale of a man and his many marriages; the unlikely babe magnet is Paul Giamatti. The story is by comic novelist Mordecai Richler (perhaps channeling a little Philip Roth). Dustin Hoffman is along for the ride as Barney's father and partner in mischief. The movie was nominated for Best Makeup, of all things, for expertly aging Giamatti over four decades. An overlooked gem in theaters, you can catch it now on disc, along with some bonus featurettes and interviews. Buy or rent the DVD | More new DVD releases
On Our Netflix Queue: Celebrate the Fourth of July with a movie that tells you how the holiday began: the musical '1776.' We're guessing the Founding Fathers didn't sing and dance as they drafted the Declaration of Independence, but watching them warble makes the history lesson a lot more fun. Think of it as a really long episode of 'Schoolhouse Rock.' Buy or rent the DVD
On TV: 'Transformers' isn't the only film this weekend whose plot centers on a nefarious scheme involving the moon. 'Despicable Me' is an animated spoof about a supervillain named Gru (Steve Carell) whose plot to steal the moon runs into complications in the form of three adorable, fatherless little girls. It's fun for all ages; while the wee ones are admiring Gru's horde of minions (who look like Twinkies with eyes), grown-ups can enjoy plenty of jokes aimed squarely over the heads of their children. It debuts on HBO on Saturday at 8PM. Check your local listings
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.