Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day were released 30 and 25 years ago, respecively. Both are directed and co-written by James Cameron, who’s directed more financially successful blockbusters, but these two movies have more lasting appeal. I was too young to see them in theaters, but I did watch them, or parts of them, as a kid. I watched them again earlier this year to honor their respective anniversaries.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
I saw Terminator 2 some time after it was released on home video. I watched a bootlegged VHS tape at a friend’s house. I can recall two scenes that aren’t in the version that I’ve rented earlier this year. One scene is the T-1000 killing John’s dog and learning that its name is really Max; the other scene is the alternate ending in which an elderly Sarah watches an adult John play with his young daughter in an altered world that has not been devastated by Skynet.
The sequences that I remember the most are the endoskeleton crushing the human skull, the T-1000 stabbing John’s foster father, and the orderly licking Sarah. I was terrified by the futuristic battle and the nuclear holocaust. I hated going face-to-face with the endoskeletons when I played the arcade game, too. The scenes are relatively tame and the game is outdated now, but I remember my dread.
The scene that stands out now is the call in the phone booth. It showcases the T-800’s abilities, but I would’ve had John, not the T-800, fool the T-1000. Kids being unusually intelligent is clichéd, but the premise of the movie is that John becomes humanity’s undisputed leader. I also remember the T-1000’s pistol inexplicably sounding like it has a suppressor during the mall shootout and Sarah suddenly grabbing the T-800’s pistol during the elevator escape.
I saw Aliens on TV one Saturday afternoon when I was close to Newt’s age. I only watched the third act, so I didn’t know the nuances of the plot. I distinctly remember being terrified for Newt when she gets separated from Ripley and Hicks. I recognized Paul Reiser from his sitcom, Mad About You, though at the time I didn’t know the name of either. His character’s comeuppance is another event that I could remember decades later.
The standout image from my first viewing is Vasquez and the lieutenant holding the live grenade in the air ducts. I mistakenly thought that they were lovers because I missed seeing the tension between the lieutenant and the squad. Had I seen the entire broadcast, I would’ve enjoyed seeing Sigourney Weaver walking around in her underwear, but I probably would’ve missed the scenes that were cut for the theatrical release.
The version that I’ve rented has these scenes. The most notable one is Ripley learning that her 10-year-old daughter has grown old and died while Ripley has been in cryosleep for 57 years. The scene is poignant and gives a better understanding of Ripley’s dedication to Newt later in the movie. Ripley gearing up as she rides the elevator and then leaving chemical lights to mark her escape are now my favorite moments.
Both movies are mainstays in popular culture. They feature tough heroines, imaginative technology, and quotable lines. They also deal with the double-edged sword that is humanity’s desire to expand physical and intellectual frontiers. They’ve led to sequels, spinoffs, action figures, video games, and novels as well as countless homages in other works of fiction. The recent Alien: Isolation and Terminator Genisys owe their existence to these two classics.
The essence of Aliens and Terminator 2 are the relative uniqueness and overwhelming deadliness of their monsters. The Aliens are feral and mysterious, whereas the Terminators are robotic and man-made; they’re like modern re-imaginings of werewolves and Frankenstein, respectively. The excitement and fear come from the unlikelihood of survival against one of these superior creatures, even if a capable android is on your side.
I haven’t seen any of the sequels—or even their acclaimed predecessors—but Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day definitely belong in the collection, if not in the mind, of anybody who likes action movies, science-fiction movies, or good movies in general. The kid in me views them more as horror movies, and I don’t even like horror movies.