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Film

James Cameron recalls the stuntman who flew beneath a freeway overpass in 'Terminator 2'

Terminator 2 is impressive on a variety of different levels: It’s a bold, lavish sequel, bolstered by a collection of committed performances and jagged stunt pieces that mix computer-generated effects, and live-action setpieces. It remains, by some measure, the most impressive film in The Terminator franchise, partially because of the performances, but it’s also expertly directed, creating a tense, taut thriller that is heavy on heart, and punchy on action. And no matter how much love and care he’s put into the Avatar films, it’s unlikely that he will top Terminator 2, which was a triumph in almost every sense of the word.

Terminator 2 came seven years after the original was released, and the story presented a more rounded version of the universe Cameron foretold in the 1980s. “When I first conceived the story idea, it was in two parts,” he recalled. “In the first part, Skynet sent a cyborg with a metal endoskeleton and the good guys sent the protector. The protector crushes him under a truck or throws him through some big gear structure or machine. And then, up in the future, they realize the ripples of time are progressing toward them. They still haven’t won the battle.”

The film presents two battles, one on the land, and the other in the soul. From the pulsating opening shots, to the strangely emotional closing clip of a robot plunging himself into a fiery abyss, the film plunges along with the backbeat of a drum, racing with urgency than underscores the urbane, intelligent nature of the script in question. And in an effort to capture the primal urges of the script, the choreography punches along, hitting each and every beat.

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“[Skynet would] think long and hard about pulling the trigger on sending the experimental,” Cameron recalled, “One-off super weapon that they’ve created, that even they’re terrified to use. I didn’t call it the T-1000—it was just a liquid metal robot. And so now the thing that’s coming at you is much, much scarier than that other metal endoskeleton guy with his skin hanging off. I took that guy out of the story, but then I thought, ‘Let’s bring that guy back. Let’s make him the adversary.’ I merged the two ideas. Instead of Arnold versus Arnold, it was Arnold versus the scary liquid metal weapon.”

The film’s high points are the stunts, which look dangerous, precisely because they are. At one point, Cameron was forced to shoot a daunting set-piece himself, because his crew patently refused to do so, but he did so, buoyed by the bravery of a helicopter pilot. Together, the two of them flew under carriageways, and in the pursuit of vehicles, carefully hopping over every environment when it suited the scene to do so. But there’s no denying the fact that the scene was incredibly dangerous to shoot, and the interviewer – hearing Cameron’s tale for the first time – can barely conceal his shock when the director tells him how difficult it was to shoot this particular set piece.

Cameron credited Chuck Tamburro as the pilot in question, who pivoted precariously over bridges and under passageways to create something that is genuinely riveting to watch on the big screen. Tamburro did the job when Cameron casually asked him to do the stunt for real. It sounds Partridgesque, but it actually happened.

The closest thing audiences had come to something so riveting was during the aeroplane fight during The Living Daylights, but nobody believed for a second that Timothy Dalton actually strapped himself to a net that attached itself to the back of an aeroplane. Instead, the aeroplane soars into the sky, leading to a shot of Dalton being shot next to a rear projector.

Terminator 2 is a very different beast: Although it boasts a selection of impressive CG effects, it’s the practical effects that hold up best, not least the helicopter chase, which is riveting to watch. Best of all, the film features a punishing central performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shows that the man really can act when he’s given the right material. Luckily he’s also good at selling silence, which is fitting because he is silent for the majority of the feature.