Terminator 2: Judgment Day shot its way into theatres in July of 1991 and cinema was never the same. The James Cameron film certainly had plenty to garner its R-rating but one scene in particular certainly drove home the, well, point.
I don’t know about you but along with the usual summer thoughts of the beach, BBQs, and fireworks comes Terminator 2. To celebrate its (oh god) 30th anniversary, an oral history of the film was just published by the Ringer — minus one Linda Hamilton, sadly — that recounts the experience of Cameron and co. making the sci-fi blockbuster. I’m a pretty big T2 fan (I have a “No Fate” tattoo) so I had heard a bunch of the stories before, but one that stood out to me had to do with the practical and special effects utilised in one of the more horrifying visuals in the movie. The scene involved Xander Berkeley and Jenette Goldstein — who played John Connor’s (Edward Furlong) foster parents in the film — and included sword-swallowing and a whole lot of patience.
Goldstein: I read the script and it’s like, “Your arm turns into a sword …”
Berkeley: I had to practice sword swallowing for two weeks before we shot it. With a dulled aluminium blade. They did a casting of my head so that they could put a retractable blade coming out the back that flashed sideways. But the blade has to be far enough down my mouth that it could sell the gag as if it was coming through the back of my head.
Goldstein: They made a model of my arm and they painted the flesh with little freckles up to the sword and then they had to place it inside Xander’s mouth.
Schwarzenegger: Stan Winston was a genius.
Berkeley: There were three different blades that went down my throat at any point. There’s one that’s straight that had a handle on the far end so that the puppeteers could hold it out of frame and they’d just pan the length of the blade to me pinned. And then when they unpinned me and I fall to the ground, I had to remain in that position for four or five hours until four o’clock in the morning without moving. My body is on the ground and there’s a pool of milk and a pool of blood, which Jim personally swirled each time. He impressed upon me very clearly that if I moved a hair in any of the following sequences, that it would fuck up the shot. I don’t think I could walk for several days after that, but he sent me a nice bottle of Cristal for my efforts.
The scene is only about two and a half minutes long but it certainly left an impression on a young Jill. Shockingly, this seems to be one of the few times Berkeley mentioned the sword-swallowing act; the only one I could find was an interview with Sci-Fi-Online from 2002. “That effect was done laboriously and painstakingly with a cast of the back of my head and a blade that comes out,” he recalled. “To get this right I had to practice sword swallowing for two weeks.” The actor also said they added the tubes of milk and “blood” at the very last minute which made things even more difficult. “I gagged and the whole experience just about freaked me out. And we had to keep redoing the scene because they couldn’t get the calculations right and I was leaned back against this cabinet, which was not comfortable. So, the whole thing was a nightmare until about five in the morning.” In case you want to reminiscence…
Compared to Cameron’s more recent fare, Terminator 2 was extremely light on VFX — even if it was a landmark for the era and still holds up today. He told the Ringer, “We used the CG very sparingly. We had 14 CG shots in The Abyss and we had only 42 two years later in T2. There were probably another 50 or 60 shots that were practical prosthetic effects done by Stan Winston Studio, which today would have been done as CG.” Oh, you sweet summer child.
Make sure you check out the full oral history at the Ringer. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is currently streaming on Netflix and available to purchase basically everywhere.