'Terminator 2' is still a blast, even in 3D

James Cameron's update of his sci-fi action classic is a great night at the movies. Just don't expect it to change your mind about 3D.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read
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Let's get one thing clear from the start: "Terminator 2" is the best film ever made.

OK, maybe not the best film ever made, but it is a basically flawless fusion of unstoppable killer robots, groundbreaking Oscar-winning visual effects, gob-smacking action spectacle and Arnie at the apotheosis of Arnie-ness. It is absolutely, totally great.

So when "T2" writer and director James Cameron pours a huge amount of time, effort and money into converting his 1991 classic into 3D, I can tell you, hand on heart, that it is still a great 2D movie.

3D hasn't captured the imagination of viewers, to say the least. People laying down wedges of cash for a pin-sharp 4K flat screen don't care that it also offers 3D. And Imax theatres recently started to give up on 3D flicks, looking instead to double down on exhibiting TV shows, films shot with Imax cameras and virtual reality.

But Cameron still believes. Having reinvented modern 3D with "Avatar", he plans to release a whole slew of "Avatar" sequels. We have "T2 3D" in the meantime. And I have no idea why.

It's only in theatres for one night -- 25 August in the US and 29 August in the UK. So it's clearly not meant to be a money spinner. Sure, it'll make some money when released on all-singing, all-dancing 3D Blu-ray shortly, but many of the people buying that platter will be more interested in the 4K restoration than the extra dimension.

So then you might think it's intended to showcase how exciting three dimensions can be, with Cameron setting out to prove we're all totally wrong about 3D by taking his pop sci-fi masterpiece and making it even better-er?

Because if that's the plan, then hasta la vista, 3D. 

"T2 3D" starts strongly. The 3D makes the skull-crunching Terminator armies pop off the screen and gives a genuine sense of scale to the terrifying Hunter-Killer tanks looming over the battlefield. Human soldiers scurry round at the bottom of the screen in silhouette. It feels like they're in the theatre with you or you're on the battlefield with them as the Terminators tower over you. And then an implacable metal Terminator skull bears remorselessly down on you from a wall of roiling flames, and that looks brilliant.


Hasta la vista, baby: Arnie at his best in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day". 

Richard Trenholm/CNET

I was hoping that 3D would make the film's iconic moments leap off the screen: the enormous truck exploding through a fence and crashing into the flood-control channel, the liquid metal goopily pouring out of the screen, the T-1000's arms pumping as it sprints straight at us. But to be honest, you could almost forget 3D's there after the opening scenes. The action sequences remain a masterclass in eye-popping, adrenaline-pumping thrills and the liquid metal T-1000 effects still look ace, but few of the scenes leap from the screen.

For example, I was really looking forward to the moment when Arnie points his shotgun straight at the screen after the truck chase, and it does indeed look fantastic, a shot absolutely made to be showcased in 3D -- for about a second. As iconic as it is, that shot is really, really short. If you were shooting those moments in 3D, you'd hold on that shot long enough for viewers to process how awesome it looks.   

My main source of enjoyment from the 3D conversion wasn't boggling at the immersive experience, but watching with a nerdy analytical eye and getting caught up in noticing the technicalities: framing, shot length, mise en scène, all that cinephile gold.

So there you go. Come for the Arnie action. Leave with a lesson in film editing.

There's a rule in reviewing. You review the thing you got, not the thing you wanted. So even if the 3D is underwhelming, "Terminator 2" is a great night at the movies, in any dimension. As Arnie might put it, come with me if you want to have a blast. 

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is in theatres in the US on 25 August and UK cinemas on 29 August.

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