Terminator 2: Judgement Day is back in cinemas this month for a James Cameron-approved 3D re-release. Although if you're hoping to see the action classic exactly as it was in 1991 (just with some ineffective stereoscopy) you're not going to quite get what you're expecting; the director's made a couple of alterations using the latest in computer graphics.
This isn't the first time Cameron's gone back and tinkered with his films. He's a big proponent of adding in previously cut scenes for Director's Cuts, giving the treatment to Aliens, The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar (twice in that case) and, yes, Judgement Day. It's hard to say any massively improve the base film - they're more fan-pleasing moments for those wanting a different sort of rewatch - but all are worth checking out.
However, the changes we're talking about with T2 3D are less expanding or altering the story and more "fixing" what's already in the frame. He's actually done something similar before with Titanic, albeit incredibly subtle; for the 3D release and associated Blu-Ray to mark the centenary of the real ship's sinking in 2012, he corrected the night sky so the stars were accurate to the morning of April 15, 1912.
Of course, Judgement Day is still as great as it's always been - a juggernaut blend of emotive sci-fi storytelling and intense action whose effects haven't worn in the proceeding 26 years - and it would take an incredible amount of tinkering to hurt even 1/215th of the film's brilliance (yes, that is a reference). What we're talking are cosmetic changes and essentially redactions of some of Terminator 2's IMDb goofs listings, rather than anything seismic. But they are unannounced alterations all the same, worthy of discussion in and of themselves, but also in reference to the idea of changing art and film in particular.
We've reached out to the distributors to inquire about any other changes made to the film and will update this article accordingly.
The Truck Glass
Cameron's made two prominent CGI changes that ostensibly fix mistakes that will have become glaring to the many who have made rewatching the film a habit. Both of these come in the truck chase immediately after the T-1000 has made its first attempt to kill future revolutionary leader John Connor, pursuing the mini-bike-riding ten-year-old into a storm drain in a truck while the T-800 provides support on a Harley.
The first is addressing a continuity problem. In previous versions of the sequence, when Robert Patrick drove the truck off a bridge and into the drain the windshields smashed out on impact; as you'd expect, sure, but the film later makes a point of the glass still being in the frames, with the liquid-metal machine nonchalantly knocking it off later in the chase.
This apparently always irked Cameron so he's adjusted it so they remain in, removing the flying windshields. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, he discussed and justified the decision (this will be very important later):
"George Lucas I think he constantly had new ideas and wanted to punch up those films [Star Wars]. I felt I've changed as an artist, why would I want to second guess myself and what I was thinking back then in '91. I actually think the movie stands. I didn't feel a compelling need to change anything editing-wise, other than to just get it to the highest possible standard of color and picture and everything else. We didn’t change it, except for one thing."
He later claims the removal doesn't count as it isn't an editing change and that he would have done it himself in 1991 had the technology been available. Although why that statement is important isn't just the justification, but that the director implies it's the only change he made: it isn't.
The Stunt Double
As awesome as the truck chase is on a visceral level (it's pretty much perfect), one consistent technical criticism of it has been the painfully obvious stunt doubles; it's very clearly a fully-grown man riding the scooter instead of Edward Furlong, while the slow-motion spectacle shots of the T-800 flying into the drain and later escaping the exploding truck were so obviously not Schwarzenegger. This was always present in the film, but as picture quality of releases increased it became painfully obvious.
Yet in the 4K version, it's all good - Arnie looks like Arnie. And that's because it's been updated: as you can clearly see in the image above, we have a CGI mask to cover the stunt double's face. It certainly happens in the two most obvious cases mentioned (and from watching the film we think a couple of other times) and is effective insofar as it's basically unnoticeable. Also on this point, the wires on the Harley as it flies into the drain have been removed.
Robert Patrick's Balls Are Covered
Another gaffe that became increasingly obvious the more you rewatched Judgement Day is Robert Patrick's balls - when the T-1000 is cocking the dead cop's gun in its arrival scene, you can rather plainly see the actor's scrotum between his legs (not included in the image above out of decency). In the 3D version, this split-second glimpse is covered by a bit of computer-added concrete over the offending area.
It's another little in-camera mistake being adjusted and technically removes a slight moment of male nudity (so, despite being inoffensive, has some reason for being covered), but is still a case of Cameron hiding a change.
The Lighter Image and Altered Coloring
This one isn't as big as the CGI changes but is still worthy of discussion. Terminator 2 has always had a very distinct blue/orange coloring to highlight the coldness of the world and the heat of the robot-destroying fire, and while the 3D version doesn't get rid of that, it tones it down and introduces a crisper coloring.
Part of this is that the image has been made bright to account for the substantial light-loss caused by darkened 3D glasses, and further it would always occur when you're restoring a nearly three-decade old film (as Cameron said in the above interview). However, as you can see in all the images, it has a marked impact, suggesting a drive to add a bit more polish and modernity overall. And with that in mind, it's time to address whether these changes are any good.