There have been a bunch of super iconic truck scenes in cinema’s history. But few have ever come close to reaching the legendary status of the ones put together in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Let’s break things down to find out just what made these set pieces so special and so memorable!
Along with being subversive, suspenseful, heart warming, and heart breaking, T2 had bigger stakes and bigger scenes compared to its predecessor while telling a more human story than the first. What was a scary, buff machine dude, is now a father and older brother figure that we as the audience can imprint our therapeutic needs onto. By having the story be about an old tanky terminator facing up against Robert Patrick’s seemingly unstoppable spooky marathon runner police man while their missions converge onto the fate of a kid with a broken home is a main reason why the movie works so well and is also one of the main reasons why these chase scenes are so effective. If the story doesn’t Drive the chase – [small chuckle] pun intended- then the chase is just not that interesting. Characters come first and the movie sets up all you need to know about Sarah Conner, John Conner, the T-800, and the T-1000. Also, to disturb the hornet’s nest even more, the future of all human civilization is at stake too.
Anyway, their worlds begin to collide in this first chase scene that was shot at the drainage canal of Bull Creek at Hayvenhurst Avenue in Los Angeles where, by the way, the crew had to physically change the course of a river in order to do the chase [shots of John on bike splashing the water in the sun and shots of truck hitting debris], it features a few modified Freightliner FLA 8664 tow trucks with varying states of destruction where our bad guy is. Rest in peace, trucker friend! You precious poor soul. [shots of the trucker that’s thrown out of the truck by the T-1000]. Check out these amazing moments with stunt performer Larry Linkogle doubling as John Conner on the 1990 Honda XR100R with mostly Cameron shooting handheld on a motorcycle driven by stunt driver Cotton Mather. The scene also features a few 990 Harley Davidson “Fat Boys” that were tailored for different types of shots that were required for the scene. Check out these shots of the actors where the background was a practical rear projection, an old school technique that’s used later on in the movie. How about this one shot of Arnold’s stunt double Peter Kent with prosthetics performing this amazing stunt where the T-800 with his Harley is launched from the top of this culvert 12 miles away from Sun Valley California to the ground, which was aided by a cable rig to counterbalance a lightweight version of the motorcycle to assist with landing and resets. The cables were digitally removed and it was one of the first time wires had been digitally removed in a film. Amazingly ambitious stunts that result in shots like these [shots of epic explosions and a truck getting absolutely shredded] is what makes this movie reverberate so loudly to our present and future. Sarah Conner is cool and isn’t insane. This is. And This, is the definition of movie magic.
Finally, we have the showdown and chase scene on the Long Beach Freeway that ends up at what was formerly called the Kaiser Steel Plant, which had been abandoned, and then reconstructed and lit with special effects during the time of filming. The chase scene serves as an exciting interstitial moment between the chaos that ensued at Cyberdyne labs. You know, just already one of the most impressive set pieces ever, and the “hasta la vista, baby” moment that we all know and love. They pulled zero punches to hit the ground running. We follow our heroes, at last finally including the spectacular Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner in what appears to be a modified Chevrolet P-30 Step Van, with the T-1000 closing in on them piloting a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. Most of the power cords in Hollywood were rented out and used to light 5 miles of the freeway, which took 2 weeks to pre-rig and 3 weeks of night shoots to complete, so that director James Cameron, cinematographer Adam Greenberg, and their team could get long continuous shots of action with minimal cuts. Originally, the team was thinking of using miniatures in a tunnel but Cameron being Cameron, decided to do it all for real at full scale. With the skills of veteran military stunt pilot and actor Charles Tamburro, whom you can see here along with his stunt double Dick Ziker performing this jump [shot of T-1000 killing and morphing into the pilot], the helicopter flew at roughly 70 miles per hour with the clearance of 5 feet above and below and 4 feet to each side. If he had flown any slower, things could’ve gotten very dicey. Tamburro, himself said: “If I made a mistake, I would be killed.” Another intense moment is right here where his brother Michael Tamburro pulls up and barely has the skids miss the overpass. This sequence was so dangerous in fact that the camera crew refused to take part in the filming of it so it was ultimately up to Cameron, the Tamburro brothers, and a very courageous insert car driver to make these shots happen.
A nail biting pursuit ensues with some excellent vehicular mayhem featuring driver Jeff Dashnaw behind the wheel of the 1984 Freightliner FLC 120 tanker truck. Following this is this moment here when our bulky hero moves from a 1982 Chevrolet S-10 onto the semi and unloads his automatic rifle directly through the windshield right where the T-1000 is sitting. Cameron mentioned that this was the most dangerous stunt he’s ever been involved with. Our beloved stuntman, Peter Kent performed this death-defying stunt in the only way possible. No wires or rigs. This allowed him to bail if anything bad were to happen. Kent did it perfectly with no room for mistakes. Also check out this mind blowing moment of him flipping the semi and riding it like a surfboard as they were being pulled along by other vehicles while sparks were being shot out of it. The first time this moment was shot, 2 drivers inside almost got crushed due to the truck rolling completely upside down, which crushed the cab. We’re grateful that they had installed a roll cage to protect them. This moment was further enhanced with the help of an 18 feet long quarter scale miniature that was built to get the shot to look just right. Also, that’s Real liquid nitrogen over there, and this famous moment was achieved with premade fragments of a fiberglass body and a detonating primer cord brought to us by special effects wizard extraordinaire Stan Winston. If that’s not cool to you, I don’t know what is! The sequence finally concludes with one of the most tense of all showdowns and one of the most emotionally devastating and perfect endings to one of cinema’s most iconic characters and one of the greatest films ever made. Hasta la vista, big robo-bro. You did good! In short, all of these stunts were done practically FOR REAL. Nothing less than AWESOME. About one million dollars of the budget went to the stunt team, which was the biggest stunt budget at the time. They deserved every cent and then some for their jaw dropping work on this action masterpiece.