T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996)
(Premiere Date: Fall 1996 [Universal Studios Orlando, Florida]]) 9/1/96
(Release Date: May 06, 1999 [Universal Studios Hollywood, California])
(Release Date: March 31, 2001 [Universal Studios Osaka, Japan])

Fight the Future at UNIVERSAL!Fight the Future at UNIVERSAL!Fight the Future at UNIVERSAL!Fight the Future at UNIVERSAL!

Imagine a World... Where Skynet Reigns Supreme!

J.C. Mašek III... He won't time travel UNLESS he's Naked!!!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

I was visiting Universal Studios Hollywood when an announcement called my attention to a special demonstration to be held at the Miles Bennett Dyson Memorial Auditorium, right there in the park. It turns out that this was a Technology Pavilion of sorts sponsored by Cyberdyne Systems. I figured this made sense, seeing as how AT&T sponsored that Spaceship Earth globe and that Innoventions place has all kinds of partnerships, so why not Cyberdyne at Universal, right? It's no Tomorrowland, but it's a start. Needless to say, Cyberdyne product placement was all over the queue to get in. Yeah, there was music and, luckily, some misting fans, but there was quite a line, so I guess they figured, hell, captive audience, am I right? They had everything from robotics to communication to defense products to... well, all three in one... I'll get to that later. One thing that gave me a bit of pause was that they had us all pick up "safety visors" before we walked in. Maybe this was going to be some kind of science experiment or something, like at the MidAmerican Museum? Cool!

When we made it into this dark waiting room we had these two big jumbotrons waiting for us with that familiar Cyberdyne logo spinning around in CGI. There were also some scrolling marquees giving us countdowns and keeping us apprised of Cyberdyne's latest. Yeah, more advertising. I half expected the Energizer Bunny to come by. But whomever it was behind that marquee clearly had a sense of humor, because he put some funny one liners up there. It was about then that this cute, but officious, chick named Kimberly Duncan greeted us from a platform well above our heads, right between the big screens. I couldn't see up her skirt. I tried. She was one of those phony, overly cheerful, bubbly chicks that you just know is fake as a plastic model kit. You know, the kind that thinks everything is "SUPER!"? Believe it or not, the scrolling marquee guy actually typed (about Kimberly) "she gives me the creeps!" and had some creative suggestions for how we might "Weird her out!"

Anyway, she introduces this video of all the great things Cyberdyne is working on, which was kind of cool, really. Well, a lot of it was. The video must have been shot a while back because, for example, Shaq O'Neal was in it, demonstrating this new prosthetic eye piece that improves accuracy... and the man had hair! I'm not sure the fact that he made a basket with it is such a huge selling point, though... doesn't he do that all the time? Other stuff was interesting, like this little old lady has a flat screen TV that doesn't just take up her whole wall, but actually IS her whole wall. When she turns it off, it displays an image of her wallpaper! And you had stuff like a brain surgeon working remotely from a VR-enabled laptop (robotic hands were in the surgery room), kids attending a virtual classroom, a commuting mom tucking her kid in from far away (with the same robotic hands) and stuff like that. Well produced, yes, but I have to admit, I found a good bit of it to be a little creepy.

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ALAS POOR YORICK... He was my College Roommate!

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Especially when they started talking up their new central computer system dubbed "Skynet". Cool name, yeah, but they're talking about controlling all our cell phone calls, internet and even US Defense Systems through this one supercomputer. Yeah, it's probably a pipe dream, but I leaned over to my family and said "Paging Mr. Orwell, Paging Mr. Orwell!"

Trust me, it was much funnier in person. It's all about timing.

Speaking of timing, right about the time that Skynet was starting to look scary, some other feed took over the screens and Kimberly started freaking out (I guess she didn't think that was quite so "su-per!"). I'm not sure if this was part of Cyberdyne's gimmick or what, but it didn't really sound like it was because these two people (supposedly a kid and his mom) were talking about how Skynet would lead to the destruction of mankind. Right, talk about your conspiracy theories! But one of the people they showed looked a lot like the Governor of California, and I'm thinking he wouldn't have participated in that unless it was sort of pro-advertising. He is a Republican, after all. Apparently Kimberly got the right feed back on, unless, like I said, this was a Gimmick, because that same announcer guy was still going on about how great Skynet and Cyberdyne at large both were. Yeah, still creepy. So finally Kimberly sends us into the main auditorium (and she apologizes for the "terrorists" who took over the signal) and advised us to put on our safety visors. At the time I wasn't sure why, because all I saw was that same Cyberdyne logo on the wall in the theatre. But there was more, my friends.

Now, I probably shouldn't be saying this on the website, because that Kimberly chick wouldn't even let us use cameras inside, claiming it was classified. Right, because inviting people from a theme park to witness your amazing inventions isn't a security risk. Here's the deal, once we sat down and the demonstration started, she brings out these big... and I'm not joking here... Robots... with a gun for an arm on one side and glowing red eyes. Some targets came down from the ceilings and these four robots (she called them "Terminators") just tore them up with their bullets. My daughter ducked her head she was so freaked out. Their targeting was incredible, too.

If you think that was awesome, hang on... that's when everything went to hell!

True story... well, at least, that's the premise of the Universal Studios attraction known as T2 3-D: Battle Across Time. Yes, it's a Theme Park Attraction... and it's one of the best, most well planned and most well-directed theme park attractions one could hope for. After the cool and convincing (if somewhat dated and tongue-in-cheek) video introduction, Kimberly Duncan (played by a live actress) brings the crowd into the main auditorium (named for T2's character "Miles Dyson"). She then introduces us to the soldier of the future, a primitive form of Terminator labeled the T-70. These are practical effects, mind you, not something on a screen. They pop up (heralded by dry-ice clouds) from platforms on either side of the theatre. They have glowing eyes, move around and "fire" their rifles. It's quite a sight to see.

Soon, the ceiling opens up and the auditorium is stormed by John Connor and Sarah Connor (played by reasonably similar-looking actors) with guns a-blazin'. No sooner do they try to interrupt the proceedings than that Cyberdyne logo melts into a silvery liquid and the chromium head of the T-1000 thrusts its way out at the audience (in glorious 3D). As the T-1000 reforms into the Cop version of the character, the screen opens up and another similar actor takes his place. And almost immediately after that the screen opens up again (prompted by one of those electrical time-travelling spheres) and a motorcycle comes through with a reasonable facsimile of the T-800 riding in to battle the T-1000 and protect John and Sarah.

All the while, security camera-footage can be seen on virtual TVs on the screens of the real Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Patrick, Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong saying the lines as they participate in the action, helping to further the illusion that this is really happening. Using the screen again the motorcycle nearly seamlessly rolls through the screen and is replaced by the real Schwarzenegger and Furlong on the motorcycle (as Sarah distracts the T-1000).

It's at this point that the Twelve-Minute film proper begins. And it's a doozy! The whole shebang is in well done 3D with more than a smattering of CGI popping right out at you. The story (which was actually written by James Cameron, Gary Goddard and Adam J. Bezark) follows John and the resurrected T-800 as they approach and invade Skynet with the intention of blowing it up forever.

It's not going to be easy, of course. Along the way the pair has to face off with your standard T-800 endoskeleton (again without skin), the big-ass hunter-killer flying machines and a new menace, called "mini hunters". These, primarily CGI, robots are small, but well armed chopper-like aggressors that utilize the 3D capabilities to the fullest. They seem to actually fly out over the audience to look for John and the Terminator. Much like the live actors and props mesh well with the on-screen action, the CGI mini-hunters give way to the practical effects almost seamlessly. When Arnold grabs one and uses it as a weapon, it works.

With effects considerations like these (not to mention Arnold's trademark battle injuries) they'd have to have someone at the helm with a bit of a background in such things. Luckily they did. In fact, they had three of them. T2: 3-D was directed again by James Cameron, who was joined not only by John Bruno but the great, great Stan Winston (WorldsGreatestCritic.com's 2008 Dead Man of the Year)!

This short film is very well directed and spectacular to look at. If the build-up doesn't get you, the final sequences that feature the biggest villain ever seen in the Terminator Mythos most assuredly will. We're talking about the T-1000000 (AKA: T-Meg or T-One-Million), a monstrous, all-CGI "Security System" that consists of the same liquid metal the T-1000 used so menacingly. Instead of resembling a gigantic Robert Patrick, however, this chrome beast is spider-like and strikes with enormous, sharp tendrils. All the while we see the on-stage actors perfectly doubling the on-screen characters we're so familiar with.

The 3D is enhanced by vibrating seats (don't get too excited, it's usually subtle) and even some sparse water effects to enhance the concept that we're really there. The beauty of this is that there is no actual "Fourth Wall" in this show, right up until the very end when Linda Hamilton's voiceover accompanies an image of the T-800 on what was supposed to be a blank wall. That's a great finale.

It's quite striking that the cast of and a good bit of the creative team behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day returned for what is, essentially, an amusement park ride. At the time, T2 was among the most expensive AND most financially successful films of all time. Amazingly, this more than lives up to its potential and delivers a great time at the park. It's more than just a short movie, it's quite an experience.

As a movie, however, it's not without its flaws. To be fair, this was intended to be an attraction, not an actual sequel, so the level to which it was intended to be canonical is debatable. After all, did Winston, Cameron, Bruno, Bezark and Goddard really intend for this expensive effort to be scrutinized and dissected by fan boy geeks and the internet critics who cater to them? I'm laying the big "N-O" on that one. Regardless, from a canonicity standpoint, there were questions in 1996 and there are more questions after the series has continued with more films and a television spinoff.

Though the fact that Skynet is still around even after the events of T2 is explained by John and Sarah during the pre-show, the Gregory Benford Moments begin right around the time the T-1000 shows up. Is this a new T-1000 or the one who was smelted in the previous movie? He's dressed just like Captain Smelty, that's for sure. Arnold's Terminator is even harder to question, seeing as how he specifically kicks things off with the line "I told you I'D BE BACK!" He even has the same memories as the character from T2.

Further, the time travel rules, established in the previous films and beyond, don't seem to be followed here. Terminator lore indicates that one must travel through naked as only organic material can time travel... a fact that is MORE than appreciated when female Terminators and other time travelers appear in T3 and The Sarah Connor Chronicles! Yum.

However, in this film, the Terminator travels back in time with his bike, gun and leather on and brings John back... TO THE FUTURE... fully geared up. Naturally, I'm not complaining... how practical would it be for them to just strip down right there and still keep the film going? Now if the actress doubling Linda Hamilton would have dropped trou, then that would be a film of a different kind... but I digress. My point is, it's great, but it's not exactly canonical.

One of the interesting things about the Terminator franchise in general is that the timeline is constantly changing and therefore the future is altered time after time. This is why there could be a T2 after the success at the end of The Terminator and how there could be a T3 after the finality of (both) T2(s). Some of these can't be explained away with that logic, but they can be answered with the fact that this is a ride, set in a fictional universe. Stop nitpicking and just enjoy it.

There are a few moments of simple silliness in the film, not to mention the pre-show, that indicate the creators' intent that this be FUN, much more than serious. The characters make a few wise-cracks and tongue-in-cheek freak outs that keep the audience laughing. Sometimes, however, these get to be a little bit TOO silly. Arnold's Terminator (who had just learned to be somewhat "human" in the previous entry) makes the most of these cracks. He says things like "Let's bust a move!" when he springs into action and "He was my College Roommate!" to describe a newly-destroyed T-800 skull that he gazes upon with an almost Hamlet-to-Yorick intensity. However, these are just a few more reasons to sit back and have fun with the whole experience!

T2: 3-D is a full experience and whether it fits or not with the overall (constantly changing) story, it's a hell of a great ride and well worth seeing. The special effects alone make the trip worthwhile and Stan Winston again has earned his status as a legend in the realm of visual effects and practical props. His work as well as the entire concept of this multimedia show help T2 3-D: Battle Across Time earn a full Four Stars out of Five! All things must come to an end, sadly. The Terminator franchise is now in other hands, for better AND for worse and the great Stan Winston passed away in 2008 before the next entry into the series (2009's Terminator Salvation) was released into theatres. There are plenty of moments that come off as dated here after this many years of operation, but if you can catch it, I highly recommend it. T2 3-D: Battle Across Time will be closing its doors at Universal Studios Hollywood later in 2009 after one decade of showings. Barring naked time travel, this might be your last chance to check it out. See you in the next reel... what ever you're wearing.

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T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996) Reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
Who is solely responsible for the content of WorldsGreatestCritic.com
And reached "Critical Mass" long, long before Skynet made it popular!
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