James Cameron wrote the 1991 film, which returns to theaters in 3D Friday, with longtime friend William Wisher, who recalls sitting in a room with a single computer, pounding out a treatment: “We had a lot of time to talk about what ifs.”
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the most revered sci-fi films of the past 30 years, and if you ask one of the people most responsible for it, it sounds like it all was almost easy.
Screenwriter William Wisher worked on 1984’s The Terminator, receiving an additional dialogue credit (but not a screenwriting credit). When it came time for the sequel, he and writer-director James Cameron sat in a room at Cameron’s home with a single computer, taking turns typing as they pounded out a treatment that came in at about 40-50 pages.
Next, they each took half the script and went off to work alone.
“We fleshed it out, then we traded halves and went over the other one and then we put it all together,” Wisher tells Heat Vision.
The pair did another session together that lasted a day or two, going over the movie top to bottom. And then, it was done.
“Jim hit print and printed the script, threw it in a briefcase, and said, ‘OK, car is coming for me in an hour. I got to get to Cannes.’ He was going to hand it to Arnold,” says Wisher.
It was an unusually streamlined process by blockbuster standards, which today under go rewrite after rewrite, many of which pass from writer to writer over a period of years. But Wisher, who became friends with Cameron in his late teens, says that friendship helped the process along following their work on the first Terminator.
“In the intervening seven years, we had a lot of time to talk about what ifs, you know? Maybe that helped us get the bad ideas out of the way early. We had a very common film language, he and I,” says Wisher.
The film was a summer phenomenon in 1991, fueled by fanatical word of mouth that saw it actually do more business in its second week than its first, a rare feat. It grossed $519 million worldwide, with chance for more as it is returning to theaters Friday for a special 3D 4K re-release.
Over the years, other editions have made their way to fans, including a director’s cut that includes a series of deleted scenes, including one Wisher does
“The only thing I missed was the scene where they turned Arnold’s chip from read to write so he begins to learn,” says Wisher of the scene.
“I really liked that scene and I missed it in the original. However, it exists now. You can watch what would have ostensibly been a director’s cut with all of stuff restored,” he says. “And so I’m happy that it all exists and you can see it if you want.”
Terminator 2 is the undisputed high point of the Terminator franchise, which Wisher and Cameron exited after the film. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator: Genisys (2015) all followed, none quite recapturing the magic.
“Our initial desire was to close it with the sequel, but I think we knew that no matter how you much try to close something out, there is always a way to reopen it,” he says. “You can never really finish something out if there are people who have the rights and want to make more.”
After the misfire that was Genisys, Terminator may be getting new life, with involvement from Cameron himself, as he is getting the rights back to the property in 2019. Wisher says that he would be open to returning as well.
“If he wants to be involved and would like me to be involved and we talk and there’s an exciting thing to do, then yeah. But I honestly have not spoken to him yet, I think the cart is still a little bit in front of the horse, as far as that is concerned at the moment,” says Wisher.
The 3D restoration of Terminator 2: Judgment Day is in theaters now and will be available on home entertainment Oct. 3.