Hasta la Vista Terminator 2: 3D at Universal Parks

The Theme Park Attraction Was Eye-Popping

T2-3D ride Universal

Universal Studios 

The Terminator 3D attractions are closed at both Universal Studios Hollywood (where it was replaced by Despicable Me Minion Mayhem in 2013) and Universal Studios Florida, which gave Arnie and the gang the boot in 2017 for a ride to be revealed later. The following review is written in the present tense as if Terminator 2: 3D is still open, but the only place you could catch the sci-fi thriller is at Universal Studios Japan. Since it first debuted in 1996 (in Orlando), it's likely that the aging show won't be around much longer in Japan either.

Terminator (or “T2” for short) was a landmark attraction. When it debuted, neighborhood cineplexes were not routinely showing 3D films, and it was much more of a novelty. A few theme parks did have 3D presentations, but T2 was arguably the biggest and best representation of the genre.

Reprising his role as a time-traveling, good-guy cyborg from the Terminator film series, Arnold Schwarzenegger's larger-than-life persona grows to even bigger proportions in the unique theme park experience. Combining a well-known storyline, eye-popping 3-D film footage, in-theater 4-D effects, and live performers who interact with the action on the screen, T2 is an all-out assault on the senses.

Hasta la Vista-Vision

Besides Schwarzenegger, the attraction boasts original Terminator co-stars Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Edward Furlong as her son, John. Robert Patrick, whose gooey metal body is able to assume any shape, is also back as the "T-1000" robot. (Hey, didn't Arnold pulverize him in the second movie?) This time his arms morph into some mighty impressive 3-D veg-o-matic-like blades. The audience ducks for cover when it's slice-and-dice time.

James Cameron, the Terminators' original auteur, is back in the director's chair. And Stan Winston, the special effects maven behind the Aliens creatures and the Jurassic Park dinosaurs as well as the Terminator robots, brings his impressive skills to the Universal attraction. It's credentials like these that helped push the 12-minute film's budget into the stratosphere (reportedly $60 million). With wild, non-stop action, digital computer innovations, pyrotechnics, and special camera rigs thrown into the mix, this was the most expensive live action movie, per minute of film, ever produced when it debuted in 1996.

So what does all the money, technology and star-power deliver? T2 is a compelling, edge-of-your-seat, giddy experience. It is so engaging, audiences regularly rise and cheer Arnold and the gang with a standing ovation at the film's conclusion.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

3-D film technology has come a long way since the campy novelty movies of a few decades ago. Filmgoers still look like hopeless geeks when they don the goofy glasses, but the 3-D effect is stunning. As in most 3-D presentations, the urge to touch what you swear is directly in front of you is nearly overwhelming. T2 ups the ante by presenting the enhanced action in a large 65mm format on three wraparound 50-foot screens.

The screens envelop the audience and draw them into the good vs. evil plot. The stakes are pretty high as the monosyllabic Terminator and John Connor travel from the present day to Los Angeles in 2029 where they try to save the world from the evil Skynet. They encounter some pesky "mini-Hunter-Killers," sort of hubcaps with an attitude, that seem to dart in and out of the screen and threaten to give everyone in the audience a buzz cut. The big showdown, however, is between Arnold and a behemoth robot/supercomputer dubbed, "T-1 Million." (Spoiler alert: In the end, of course, the good guys prevail.)

With enough theatrical fog to disorient an old sea captain, a booming soundtrack, moving seats, vibrating floors, lasers and other effects, T2 grabs hold of you and doesn't let go. Even though it's a theatrical presentation, it's so immersive, guests often refer to it as a “ride.”

The most disorienting and unique feature, however, are the live actors. In one scene, the Terminator comes hurtling toward the screen on his motorcycle—keep in mind that this is in 3-D—and a real motorcycle with an Arnold look-alike pops out and onto the stage. Theme parks often try to blur the line between fiction and reality, but T2 takes the game to a new level.

Robots Suited to a "T"

Also supporting the action on the screen are "live" robots that line the sides of the theater. According to Bob Crean, vice president of Advanced Animations, the Vermont company that designed the robots, the "cinebotic" figures evolved as the project progressed. "Originally, we were going to create shiny 'T-800' robots from the Terminator films. But James Cameron objected since those models are from the future and wouldn't fit into our 1990's storyline."

Crean and his team, therefore, designed the dressed-down present-day "T-70" robots. Using a sophisticated hydraulic system, the eight-foot cyborg soldiers rise out of the ground and join in a shooting spree. The show's computer controls the robots, along with everything else in the production.

It's an In-Your-Face World, After All

T2 is housed inside an unassuming "Cyberdyne Systems" headquarters location. The low-key, sterile facade belies the mayhem that awaits inside. The story is set up with a pre-show video hosted by a smarmy Cyberdyne rep. The tongue-in-cheek presentation shows the company's attempt to dominate the present-day globe by controlling all technology. (Bill Gates, are you listening?)

With its slick, yet slightly askew, images of Stepford-like families basking in the depraved glow of Cyberdyne's rampant technology, the video looks as if it might have been created for an attraction at an evil-twin version of Epcot. It's almost anti-Epcot.

In fact, a stylistic distinction can be made between the two popular, competing theme park companies. If Disney is all about wishing upon a star, Universal wishes you, "Hasta la vista, baby." With its raucous, in-your-face, shoot-em-up attractions, Universal Studios is kind of like the swaggering Rolling Stones compared to the "All You Need is Love" Beatles-like Disney. The Beatles had "Let it Be;" the Stones countered with "Let it Bleed." Disney has "It's a Small World;" Universal has "Men in Black Alien Attack." Both companies score big hits with their parks, but they take different approaches.

And T2 is (or was in Florida and Hollywood) the epitome of in-your-face Universal action.