This original work is James Cameron’s best work since “Terminator 2”. Too bad it took three years to come to California. Originally opened in 1996 at Universal Studio’s Florida, this attraction was delayed a year reportedly because Universal didn’t want to promote it opposite Disneyland’s rehab of Tomorrowland last May (that spectacle included mostly a new coat of paint and the awful “Rocket Rods”). While the selling point is an original 12 minute film co-written and co-directed by Cameron and starring the entire original cast, it’s more than just a movie.
The experience really begins when you enter the main building, a research and presentation center for the Cyberdyne Corporation. As the crowd gathers in a waiting room, an overly perky P.R. wench (kind of like a stewardess on crack) greets you from her perch above the doors and preps the crowd with a short film that extols the virtues of the company’s robotic technology. One particularly creepy segment features a little blonde girl tucked in by giant Terminator arms that come out from behind her bed.
Suddenly, some one breaks into the transmission. Sarah (Linda Hamilton) and John Connor (Edward Furlong) warn you to leave the building as they’ve broken in to destroy something called “Skynet”. While your genial host screams at security over the phone, the film returns and you are ushered into the auditorium for the presentation, donning a pair of polarized 3D goggles.
As a live presentation of a new technology called the T-“80” begins, the Connors rappel from the ceiling to soon be met by the T-1000 (Robert Patrick in the film) with the original Terminator (Arnold Scwarzenegger in the film) in close pursuit. At this point, the presentation cuts between live actors and the 3D film that covers three screens as John Connor and the Terminator escape to the war-torn future to face something much worse than anything you’ve seen before. My first reaction? I wanted to go through it again. With 3D films, the depth effects work best from the back of the theatre, where I was sitting. However, to see the live actors and get the full effect of sitting between the two side screens, it would be best to sit in the front. The exchange between film and live actors is surprisingly seamless.
The one reservation I have, is that the whole shebang doesn’t work as a simulated experience. When the two actors merge into the screen and launch into the future, the audience loses the first-person perspective until Connor and friend arrive at their final destination.
Still, it’s quite a trip and better late than never. It’s a rare “E-ticket” addition to Universal Studios Hollywood, which had become the lesser of the Universal parks due to space problems and noise complaints. For those with me in the minority who believe Cameron completely lost it with “True Lies” and that boat movie, we now have a little proof to the contrary.