"Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

A slate of exhausting extras takes us back to the time James Cameron was an action director extraordinaire -- and not the irritating owner of a best picture Oscar.

Published October 11, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Eddie Furlong
Artisan; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Making-of featurettes, commentary by cast and crew, trailers, shooting script, complete storyboards, too much more

James Cameron is one of America's most irritating filmmakers: Not for his ideas -- he doesn't have any -- nor for any stylistic outrages. The annoying part comes in the way he manages to combine a command of the action genre arguably unparalleled by his American colleagues with an equally unparalleled lunkheadedness, shown off most blatantly in failures like "True Lies" and "Titanic." The new DVD for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," also known as "T2," lets us go back to a happier time, when Cameron was just trying to make edible action movies and was not, irritatingly, simultaneously the creator of the highest-grossing movie of all time and possessor of a best picture Oscar.

His first feature film, "The Terminator," was a lethal classic, slicingly themed and economically filmed. With great advances in computer graphic imagery in the subsequent seven years, Cameron, for the sequel, managed to conjure up another iconic action/sci-fi classic, lacking the first one's stripped-down brutality but trumping it roundly nonetheless with tour de force after tour de force of action imagination. Indelible images abound, many of them involving the underrated Robert Patrick (Scully's new partner on "The X-Files") morphing out of fire, floors and steel into this or that human or weapon, but the film's highlights also include two more traditional but persuasively thought-out chase scenes, one on the Long Beach Freeway by night and another involving a motorcycle and a semi in a dry Los Angeles flood-canal bed.

With the DVD you get almost too many extras. One of these is an astonishing thing called "The Supplement," which, besides tens of thousands of words about the creation of the movie from start to finish, includes the complete screenplay, additional interviews and hundreds of storyboards. The logistics of going through it, however, are irritatingly unwieldy; there seems to be no way to fast-forward through what appear to be thousands of screens of information. Hit the wrong button and you're taken back to the introduction to start over. I doubt anyone but the most diehard Cameron wannabes are going to bother going through it.

The interesting extras are a version of the film with half a dozen major scenes cut for the film's original release, a pair of making-of featurettes and, best of all, a classy and well-edited commentary, which features more than two dozen of the cast and crew, from Cameron and Schwarzenegger on down, chiming in to detail how this or that scene was made. It gives you an appreciation for the headache-inducing logistics of getting the shots that make the film's action sequences proceed so authoritatively.

Once or twice you get a sense of Cameron's infamous personality. He goes on and on about how he wouldn't include scenes with the 12-year-old hero, played by Eddie Furlong, shooting a gun. Cameron practically breaks his arm patting himself on the back for this, which I guess by Hollywood standards is quite an ethical position. At another point a designer notes that Cameron had chosen a particular interior for a scene, only to later have the whole thing torn down and rebuilt differently. At yet another, a sound man says Cameron, dissatisfied with a strangled scream on the soundtrack, ended up personally providing a presumably more suitable one. It's all told with a sort of forced joviality; but you don't have to listen too closely to get the sense the guy wouldn't have minded inducing the scream from Cameron himself.

By Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon and National Public Radio.

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