by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, March 14, 2014


In which we take a look at the movies of yesteryear and bring some of their more subtle, less- noticeable idiosyncrasies to the fore. Do some of your favorite films exist in the memory purely as entertainment and nothing more? Well, look again...

A blockbuster to end all blockbusters, James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened in the summer of 1991 and blew away all its competition, earning $519.8 million worldwide (or roughly $888 million when adjusted for inflation). Cameron and his cinematographer, Adam Greenberg, though, had more up their sleeve than state-of-the-art special effects or rock-'em-sock-'em heavy metal action; they infused the movie with a slick, subtle color scheme that mimics the emotions of the characters.

While the daytime scenes seem naturalistic and bright, T2's nighttime sequences (and most interiors) are shot in a cold, steel-blue palette:

This blue tint is metaphorically fitting, since every character has been emotionally stunted in some way. Both the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his liquid metal counterpart, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), for example, are single-minded in purpose and thought, as cold and emotionless as they come. 10-year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong) already feels the crushing responsibility of what he is to become, and lashes out at authority figures (foster parents, ATM machines) because of it. His mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), has become as callous and uncaring as any killing machine, her body and spirit hardened over time (in essence, she's become a Terminator herself). And Dr. Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton) has turned a blind eye to the repercussions of his research. The crux of the movie then, will be watching these five disparate creatures come to grips with their own humanity.

Midway through the movie, Sarah, John and the T-800 escape to the U.S./Mexican desert, to regroup and "get in touch with their feelings." But the shots here are stark and over-saturated, as if the characters are trying to overcompensate:

Then, for the assault on Dyson's house and their resulting trip to Cyberdyne, the blue tinting returns. This represents the characters at their coldest and most deliberate, as they go about their business of preventing Judgment Day from ever happening.

At the climax, the characters converge at an abandoned steel mill. Here the color palette changes drastically, from steel blue to hot molten orange - the "human" sides of the characters finally starting to show through. (For the T-1000, the coloring is ironic, since he clearly possesses no softer side.) Often, though, the blue will intrude on any given shot, the flesh and the mechanical battling each other for supremacy:

Finally, after the T-1000 is vanquished and the future is saved (SPOILER!), our heroes stand together, unified. The T-800 has become more human, like a father to John. Sarah has overcome her prejudices and accepted the T-800 as an equal and a friend. And mother and son have bonded emotionally, years of neglect and resentment now a thing of the past. The blue has receded and the red-orange hue takes over. The characters are practically bathing in it:

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