When writer-director James Cameron makes an action/science-fiction/thriller -- like, say, "The Terminator" or "Aliens" or "The Abyss" -- he's not content to play safely within the conventions of the genre.
Each time out, Cameron twists, stretches and punches through the boundaries of the form.
"I think it's essential," Cameron said. "Why would people go and pay to see something they've already seen? A film should transport you in some way."
In "The Terminator," Cameron transported audiences to 2029, where a deadly cyborg is sent back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the as-yet-unborn rebel leader, John Connor.
In "Aliens," he outdid the original by showing us not just one of the lethal, insect-like creatures, but a planetary infestation of the vermin. And in "The Abyss," he took us on a voyage to the bottom of the sea that was so breathtakingly authentic and suspenseful it had viewers gasping for air.
Now, in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (opening tomorrow nationally), Cameron's new model outperforms his 1984 original.
In the sequel, two Terminators are sent back in time to find the now-10-year-old John Connor: a T-800 model (Arnold Schwarzenegger), this time programmed to protect the boy; and an advanced "mimetic polyalloy" (liquid metal) T-1000 model (Robert Patrick), programmed to kill him.
Cameron says he's given up the idea of trying to keep secret the news that Schwarzenegger, who played the villain in "The Terminator," is the good guy in the sequel.
Schwarzenegger's T-800 is equipped with a learning chip that enables him to adapt better to human behavior.
"It's a curious thing. Something that occurred to me, watching the film, is that Arnold becomes more human as he is becoming more of a machine," Cameron said.
"At the beginning he looks 100 percent human and acts 100 percent like a machine. At the end he looks like a machine -- half his face is gone, his arm is ripped off, there's mechanics hanging out -- but he is more human. He's more human in his delivery and you believe him as a person, not just as a machine. I'd like to hope you do, anyway. It's a little 'Wizard of Oz,' you know? The Tin Man gets his heart."