The Issue With These New Changes
Before going into ethics, let’s get that extra dimension out of the way. This doesn’t count as a change to the movie per se as it’s essentially a new media addition. Also, it’s utterly worthless. Yes, the 3D is as good as you’d expect from Cameron – even when it’s post-conversion he predicates the best – but, bar the future-set opening and Sarah Connor’s nuclear vision, it’s barely noticeable and thus wholly ineffective. The problem is that as the film is so dominated by backlit sets and shot with tight focus, the added depth of field that makes the rare good 3D movie pop just can’t be achieved. Terminator 2 is a movie made for 2D and thus winds up being one of the most pointless 3D movies out there.
And, so, onto the base film that will likely get its own 4K home video release. As we’ve seen, there are at least three active changes and another in part the product of the remastering. Now, compared to the like of the Star Wars special editions, in which pretty much every frame had some “enhancement” (much to the general ire of fans), that’s not too big a deal. But they are changes all the same and raise the question of what movie you’re actually watching: it’s Terminator 2 (2017), which is almost Terminator 2 (1991) but not quite.
Of course, the 2017 version is a quantifiable improvement. Sure, for some the stunt driver was a fun thing to spot and so its correction removes a bit of cheese, although given that’s ironic enjoyment it’s hardly an argument. But that’s not even the debate; if 2017 supersedes 1991, which was at the time the most expensive film ever made and netted over $500 million at the worldwide box office ($900 million in today’s money), then we’re essentially getting rid of a piece of film history and moving into George Lucas territory.
The George Lucas Problem
The debate comes down to a question of whether the original is available. This is why Star Wars has become the negative poster child for updates – from 1997 to 2011, George Lucas not only repeatedly tinkered with the original trilogy, he also ensured that any previous iterations were made unavailable (with only a cheap, 4:3 cropped version as a glorified bonus feature to placate fans in 2006). Even now, there is no (legal) way to watch the theatrical version of Episodes IV-VI (the former without that numbering). On a side note, the same is true of many other movies – The Matrix (which had the computer world hued green on home video to line up with the sequels) and The Lion King (which had some animation in song sequences changed) chief among them – but people are generally more accepting there.
In this arena, all of Cameron’s previous director’s cuts are accepted curios because they never got rid of the original. Indeed, most extended versions come bundled with the theatrical cut, which is typically viewed as the “definitive” take. However, this new version of Terminator 2 (and Titanic‘s star map) are different; they’re now the prime versions of the film and essentially overwrite the movies you’ve been watching over-and-over for decades. You’re not going to get the non-CGI Arnie in future releases. It’s a real shame by itself that becomes something a bit more complicated when you consider that Cameron lied about the extent of the tampering.
It’s understandable to a degree. When going back to an old movie there’s always going to be some wear from the simple ravages of time a director will balk at. Indeed, if you watch the unaltered version of Star Wars, you’ll be greeted not only with Han shooting first and no CGI Jabba, but also a bunch of wonky compositing effects, blue screen bleed over, mirrored shots, uneven matte paintings and more. They’re minor in the grand scheme of things and for 1977 were downright revolutionary, but creak when viewed by modern eyes. And so using tech not available at the time to correct similar elements of T2 seems like a rational solution.
He lied presumably to avoid highlighting how much was actually altered, hoping that the CGI was subtle enough to go unnoticed. However, it has been noticed and, while welcome, it’s a very small step from little touch-ups correcting flubs to scene reinsertion and complete tonal shifts. At the end of the day, these Terminator 2 CGI moments are sensible, minor alterations, but as we saw with Lucas it’s a slippery slope until you’re presenting a different film and suppressing what people originally loved.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day 3D is in cinemas from August 25th.
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