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James Cameron Exclusive Interview
YOU MENTIONED TURNING YOUR ATTENTION TO TERMINATOR 2 AROUND THE TIME OF TITANIC’S 3D
RE-RELEASE. WAS THAT SOMETHING YOU WERE ALREADY THINKING ABOUT?
It was an idea. Artistically, I had already thought that it should be the next one. Because I think it’s a film that people remember, it’s very iconic even though it was a quarter of a century ago, but also stylistically, the way the camera moves, the way the shots are composed and so on, I felt that it would convert very well. Some films don’t. My style tends to be shorter lenses anyway; some people use more 3-400mm lenses and that never looks as good on a 3D conversion. But the Terminator 2 style, I felt would work well. And I thought it would be fun to see it and fun to get it back into cinemas
25 years later, because you’ve got a whole audience that only knows the film from video, Blu-ray and DVD, and I thought, ‘why not have the whole experience?’ As a filmmaker, there’s nothing better than to get it on to the big screen.
WAS IT IN ANY WAY INFLUENCED BY THE FACT THAT WE HAD THE T2 3-D UNIVERSAL ATTRACTION, THAT YOU’VE SHOWN YOU CAN HAVE THE T-1000 COMING OUT OF THE SCREEN?
No, although interestingly enough, it was probably a subconscious association, because that was my first experience working with 3D, and it was in a Terminator setting. I already knew Arnold looks good as the character! So, maybe it was partly that, I realised that style of cinematography would translate very well. Of course, that was done native, and this is conversion. But still, conversion is only as good as the suitability of the original photography .
THERE WAS A PERIOD WHEN 3D CONVERSION WAS FROWNED UPON BECAUSE THEY HADN’T CRACKED THE TECHNOLOGY YET...
It wasn’t mature and even though the tools were there, the aesthetic eye of the supervisors working with the individual artists at the conversion place, they weren’t trained. So, I think because we worked with the same conversion house on T2 that we did on Titanic, they made us better in terms of dealing with that, and we made them better, because I was really, really demanding on Titanic . I said, “this is going to be flawless... Brace yourselves!” But also, because I had shot so much 3D. I’d been shooting it since back in the nineties with T2 3-D and then my documentaries and Avatar, ran a 3D camera company and designed 3D camera equipment. So not only me, but the guys working in-house with me like Geoff Burdick and some of our other technical guys, they really knew stereo space. They knew it could. We were a big influence on Stereo D, the conversion house, we made them better. Now, that worked to our benefit when we came back on T2, because it wasn’t such a steep learning curve and the stuff that they served up to us first time already looked good. Whereas before, it was beaten out with a hammer! And by the time it got to me, I made a few little tweaks and changes, mostly just aesthetic choices, such as where to push depth, where not to, and so on, but there wasn’t that much work to be done at that point, for me. I’m not saying it wasn’t a lot of work for them! And I know the head of Stereo D quite well, his father was a very good friend of mine, Tom Sherak at Fox, so William Sherak runs the company now, and I called him up and said, “look, obviously, we’re not able to spend the same amount per minute that we did on Titanic, but just make sure it’s good, make sure you put your good people on it.” And he gave me his personal assurance on it. Because the other thing is, these people are really fans of this movie. A lot of the computer guys that work at these places, they grew up watching this stuff and so I think the end result is pretty damn good. And I’m also excited to see it go through the digital intermediate process from a 4K scan of the original negative... It’s going to be gorgeous, it’s going to be better than anything we’ve seen before. It’ll be better than what you saw in the movie theatre back in 1991 by far, because not just the 3D, but better colour space. With 4K you can get everything out of that negative that you couldn’t have gotten on to a release print in those days. So, this’ll be it. If you’re a fan of this movie, you must go and see it.
WHAT FOR YOU WAS THE BIG DIFFERENCE FROM MAKING THE FIRST ONE, TO MAKING THE SECOND ONE? DID YOU HAVE MORE RESPECT?
Yeah, I was four films in at that point and I’d already done Aliens and The Abyss and both were well received in terms of the physical cinema of it – The Abyss didn’t make as much money, obviously – but it was definitely a different experience as opposed to an unknown director working on a little, low budget, guerilla-style film. This was the big train set. This was lighting up miles of freeway, flying helicopters, big cranes, all the cool toys. But for me, it still always boils down to that little nucleus of people running around the camera. Doesn’t matter how many people are in the backfield – to me, it’s still the actors, the DP, and the operators. And a funny thing is, it did not really feel any different than any of the other stuff I’d been doing, just bigger and scarier because the budget was bigger, so the pressure was on, But I knew we had a good script, a great cast, from the moment Linda showed up looking ripped and just intense. Eddie was a big wild card, because the whole thing could’ve crashed and burned on him, but he did a fantastic job for us. Because he had not done anything before. He had zero acting experience. And Robert was fantastic from the first day we put him on film. So, there was a sense early on that we were making something special.
GOING BACK AND LOOKING AT IT, WAS THIS THE FIRST TIME IN A WHILE THAT YOU’D SAT DOWN AND WATCHED THE MOVIE AND THOUGHT ABOUT IT?
Probably in about four or five years, I would say. And I’ve been periodically surprised by this movie in how well it holds up. I look at the first Terminator and it feels very threadbare to me because it was done on a low budget and the high-speed negative wasn’t as good, it was grainy in those days. The movie’s still good, I’m proud of it, but it’s not like it holds up, as though it could’ve been made last year. Terminator 2 could’ve been made last year, if you set aside the fact that Arnold looks different now, Linda looks different now, and look at it as a movie, as a piece of cinema, it could’ve been made now. Would we do things a little bit better in the steel mill at the end with the flowing steel and stuff with CG? Yeah, we’ve got a lot of tools now we didn’t have back then. But there’s only so many ways you can crash a tow truck into a canal! You basically crash a tow truck into a canal! We could’ve run a CG helicopter underneath the freeway overpass, but it was so much more fun to do it with the real thing...
WOULD YOU CHANGE ANY OF THE EFFECTS WORK?
I think it all looks pretty good. Would it be better today? Yes, it would be a little bit better, but it wouldn’t be so much better that it would be noticeable to anybody but other effects people, I would think. And it was in that transitional space between full rubber prosthetic make-up and full CG, because we are much closer to full CG today, but we were in that period where we were still mixing and matching. So, Stan (Winston) did a lot of the gags and wounds opening on the body. Today we’d do all that CG, but then it was actual, practical effects, like the head splitting open, things like that. There are only 42 CG shots in the whole film. It’s nothing! On Avatar, there were probably 2800.
YOU’VE SAID IN THE PAST THAT SOME OF THE STORY OF T2 GREW OUT OF THE FIRST FILM…
In my very first incarnation of The Terminator, the first metal endoskeleton guy gets blown up halfway through the story. And then up in the future, they sense a temporal ripple that they’ve failed and now they go to the black box at the bottom of their whole place, and they get out the thing that they’re afraid of. They would’ve sent it the first time but even they’re afraid of what it might do. If they send that back to the past and it just starts wrecking things, who knows what happens to the future? So, then they unleash the demon and the demon was the liquid metal guy. He was the really scary guy. The seed of it was already there, I already knew exactly where to go for the sequel. And the idea that John Connor is this important character in the future. And then I thought, ‘okay, let’s just have him be 10 years old.’ What does Jesus think when he’s 10 years old and you tell him he’s the son of God. Doesn’t that mess you up? Doesn’t that mess up your mother? That was the thinking there. Once you drop those two elements together, now the last big variable was what do you do with the Terminator? Who is your title character? Was I going to have Arnold play the liquid guy? It did not feel right. What do I need a T-800 for? What do I need Arnold for? Wait a minute! What about if there’s more than one of those things up there in a vault someplace, what if they reprogrammed one to be a good guy, a protector? And to me that’s what unlocked the whole story, because then it quickly flowed that he becomes the surrogate father in this crazy, dysfunctional nuclear family. Nuclear in more than one sense of word...
WHEN YOU WERE STILL WORKING ON THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT WITH BILL WISHER, DID YOU SOLICIT ADVICE OR INPUT FROM ANYONE ELSE?
There was this little sort of trio from my college days – Bill and a mutual friend of ours, Randy Frakes, who was also a screenwriter who has written lots of screenplays. And Bill was an established writer when I went to do T2, he was not when I did The Terminator though he contributed a little dialogue, and if you look closely at the end credits, he’s got an additional dialogue credit for that film. Bill was a natural person to go to and be involved . So, he and I sat and broke the story together, I think it took us about a month, both sitting in a room and writing separately and firing stuff to each other and then him riffing off notes that I had made me, and me from his.
Many Thanks to the team at Studio Canal for making this material available.