Skip to content

David Foster Wallace Terminator 2 Essay

 

Cameron's two great action heroines

6

in Sarah Connor, aswhom the limpid-eyed and lethal-lipped Linda Hamiltonalso turns in the only great performance of her career. Thereis the dense, greasy, marvelously machinelike look of "TheTerminator"'s mechanized F/X

7

; there are the noirish light-ing and Dexedrine pace that compensate ingeniously for thelow budget and manage to establish a mood that is both ex-hilarating and claustrophobic

8

. Plus "T1"'s story had at itscenter a marvelous "Appointment-in-Samarra"-like irony of fate: we discover in the course of the film that Kyle Reese isactually John Connor's father,

9

and thus that if Skynet hadn'tbuilt its nebulous time machine and sent back the Terminat-or, Reese wouldn't have been back here in '84, either, to im-pregnate Sarah C. This also entails that meanwhile, up inA.D. 2027, John Connor has had to send the man he knowsis his father on a mission that J.C. knows will result in boththat man's death and his (i.e. J.C.'s) own birth. The wholeironic mess is simultaneously Freudian and Testamental andis just extraordinarily cool for a low-budget action movie.Its big-budget sequel adds only one ironic paradox to"The Terminator"'s mix: in "T2," we learn that the "radicallyadvanced chip"

10

on which Skynet's CPU is (will be) basedactually came (comes) from the denuded and hydraulicallypressed skull of "T1"'s defunct Terminator...meaning thatSkynet's attempts to alter the flow of history bring about notonly John Connor's birth but Skynet's own, as well. All"T2"'s other important ironies and paradoxes, however, areunfortunately unintentional and generic and kind of sad.Note, for example, the fact that "Terminator 2: JudgmentDay," a movie about the disastrous consequences of humansrelying too heavily on computer technology, was itself unpre-cedently computer-dependent. George Lucas' IndustrialLight and Magic, subcontracted by Cameron to do "T2"'sspecial effects, had to quadruple the size of its computergraphics department for the T-1000 sequences, sequenceswhich also required digital-imaging specialists from aroundthe world, thirty-six state-of-the-art Silicon Graphics com-puters, and terabytes of specially invented software programsfor seamless morphing, realistic motion, digital "bodysocks," background-plate compatibility, congruence of light-ing and grain, etc. And there is no question that all the labwork paid off: in 1991, "Terminator 2"'s special effects werethe most spectacular and real-looking anybody had everseen. They were also the most expensive."T2" is thus also the first and best instance of a paradoxic-al law that appears to hold true for the entire F/X Porn genre.It is called the Inverse Cost and Quality Law, and it statesvery simply that the larger a movie's budget is, the shittierthat movie is going to be. The case of "T2" shows that muchof the ICQL's force derives from simple financial logic. Afilm that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to makeis going to get financial backing if and only if its investorscan be maximally --

maximally

-- sure that at the very leastthey will get their hundreds of millions of dollars back 

11

--i.e. a megabudget movie must not fail (and "failure" heremeans anything less than a runaway box-office hit) and mustthus adhere to certain reliable formulae that have beenshown by precedent to maximally ensure a runaway hit. Oneof the most reliable of these formulae involves casting a su-perstar who is "bankable" (i.e. whose recent track record of films shows a high ROI). The studio backing for "T2'''swildly sophisticated and digital F/X therefore depends onMr. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreeing to reprise his Terminat-or role. Now the ironies start to stack, though, because itturns out that Schwarzenegger -- or perhaps more accurately"Schwarzenegger, Inc.," or "Ahnodyne" -- has decided thatplaying any more malevolent cyborgs would compromise theLeading Man image his elite and bankable record of ROI en-tails. He will do the film only if "T2"'s script is somehow en-gineered to make the Terminator the Good Guy. Not only isthis vain and stupid and shockingly ungrateful,

12

it is alsocommon popular knowledge, duly reported in both the trade

6

It is a complete mystery why feminist film scholars haven't paid moreattention to Cameron and his early collaborator Gale Ann Hurd. "TheTerminator" and "Aliens" were both violent action films with tough,competent female protagonists (incredibly rare) whose toughness andcompetence in no way diminish their "femininity" (even more rare,unheard of), a femininity that is rooted (along with both films' thematics)in notions of maternity rather than just sexuality. For example, compareCameron's Ellen Ripley with the panty-and-tank-top Ripley of Scott's"Alien." In fact it was flat-out criminal that Sigourney Weaver didn't winthe '86 Oscar for her lead in Cameron's "Aliens." Marlee Matlin indeed.No male lead in the history of U.S. action films even approaches Weaver'ssecond Ripley for emotional depth and sheer balls -- she makes Stallone,Willis, et. al. look muddled and ill.

7

(There is a ponderous, marvelous built-looking quality (complete withferrous clanks and/or pneumatic hisses) that -- oddly enough -- at roughlythe same time also distinguishes the special effects of Gilliam's "Brazil"and Paul Verhoeven's "Robocop." This was not cool only because theeffects were themselves cool, but also because here were three talentedyoung tech-minded directors who rejected the airy, hygenic look of Spielberg's and Lucas's F/X. The grimy density and preponderance of metal in Cameron's effects suggested that he was looking all the way back to Méliès and Lang for visual inspiration.)

8

(Cameron would raise the use of light and pace to near-perfection in"Aliens," where just six alien-suited stuntmen and ingenious quick-cutediting resulted in some of the most terrifying Teeming Rapacious Hordescenes of all time. (By the way, sorry to be going on and on about "Aliens"and "The Terminator." It's just that they're great, great, commercial cinema,and nobody talks about them enough, and they're a big reason why "T2"was such a tragic and insidious development not only for 90s films but forJames Cameron, whose first two films had genius in them.))

9

(So actually I guess it would be more like "Luke Skywalker'sAppointment in Samarra" -- nobody said this was Art-Cinema or anything.)

10

(Viz. a "neutral net processor" based on an "uncooled superconductor,"which I grieve to report is a conceit ripped off from Douglas Trumbull's1983 "Brainstorm.")

11

The industry term for getting your money back plus that little bit of extra that makes investing in a movie a decent investment is ROI, which isshort for Return on Investment.

12

Because Schwarzenegger -- compared to whom Chuck Norris is Olivier --is not an actor or even a performer. He is a body, a form -- the closest thingto an actual machine in the history of the S.A.G. Ahnode's elite bankablestatus in 1991 was due entirely to the fact that James Cameron had had thegenius to understand Schwarzenegger's essential bionism and to cast himin "T1."

We started the week expecting to publish one David Foster Wallace post. Then, because of the 50th birthday celebration, it turned into two. And now three. We spent some time tracking down free DFW stories and essays available on the web, and they're all now listed in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices. But we didn't want them to escape your attention. So here they are -- 23 pieces published by David Foster Wallace between 1989 and 2011, mostly in major U.S. publications like The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review. Enjoy, and don't miss our other collections of free writings by Philip K. Dick and Neil Gaiman.

  • "9/11: The View From the Midwest" (Rolling Stone, October 25, 2001)
  • "All That" (New Yorker, December 14, 2009)
  • "An Interval" (New Yorker, January 30, 1995)
  • "Asset" (New Yorker, January 30, 1995)
  • "Backbone" An Excerpt from The Pale King (New Yorker, March 7, 2011)
  • "Big Red Son" from Consider the Lobster & Other Essays
  • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" (The Paris Review, Fall 1997)
  • "Consider the Lobster" (Gourmet, August 2004)
  • "David Lynch Keeps His Head" (Premiere, 1996)
  • "Everything is Green" (Harpers, September 1989)
  • "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, June 22, 1993)
  • "Federer as Religious Experience" (New York Times, August 20, 2006)
  • "Good People" (New Yorker, February 5, 2007)
  • "Host" (The Atlantic, April 2005)
  • "Incarnations of Burned Children" (Esquire, April 21, 2009)
  • "Laughing with Kafka" (Harper's, January 1998)
  • "Little Expressionless Animals" (The Paris Review, Spring 1988)
  • "On Life and Work" (Kenyon College Commencement address, 2005)
  • "Order and Flux in Northampton" Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV(Conjunctions, 1991)
  • "Rabbit Resurrected" (Harper's, August 1992)
  • "Several Birds" (New Yorker, June 17, 1994)
  • "Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise" (Harper's, January 1996)
  • "Tennis, trigonometry, tornadoes A Midwestern boyhood"  (Harper's, December 1991)
  • "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the wars over usage" (Harper's, April 2001)
  • "The Awakening of My Interest in Annular Systems" (Harper's, September 1993)
  • "The Compliance Branch" (Harper's, February 2008)
  • "The Depressed Person" (Harper's, January 1998)
  • "The String Theory" (Esquire, July 1996)
  • "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub" (Rolling Stone, April 2000)
  • "Ticket to the Fair" (Harper's, July 1994)
  • "Wiggle Room" (New Yorker, March 9, 2009)

Related Content:

Free Philip K. Dick: Download 13 Great Science Fiction Stories

Neil Gaiman’s Free Short Stories

Read 17 Short Stories From Nobel Prize-Winning Writer Alice Munro Free Online

10 Free Stories by George Saunders, Author of Tenth of December, “The Best Book You’ll Read This Year”