Cover Story

He's Big, He's Back, and He's Really a Qretty Nice Guy, Once You Get to Know Him

On the set of ''Terminator 2'' -- Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are back and reinventing science fiction for the '90s

The veins in Linda Hamilton's well-muscled forearms are bulging as she wraps explosive cord around a yellow drum marked ''FLAMMABLE — Polydichloric Euthimol.'' Decked out in a utilitarian, all-black paramilitary ensemble and sporting a new steely physique, Hamilton seems almost nothing like the pleasingly rounded madonna of 1984's The Terminator. In its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Hamilton's Sarah Connor character has become the compleat urban guerrilla — tougher, stronger, and infinitely more intense than before. Surrounded by an enormous array of computer hardware she's intent on blowing to bits, she doesn't even look up as she barks, ''Go ahead — I'll finish here.''

Her three male cohorts file obediently toward the exit. One is a scientist (Equal Justice's Joe Morton), who's nursing a bullet wound to his left shoulder. One's the son with whom Connor was left pregnant at the end of the first film, now a punky, precocious boy of 10 (Edward Furlong). And most surprising — since Hamilton spent most of the original fleeing in terror from an android assassin from the future played by Arnold Schwarzenegger — there' s a new version of the Terminator himself, now dressed in biker leather and toting a gym bag that only partially conceals a seven-chamber grenade launcher. The boy pauses and cautions Schwarzenegger: ''Remember, you promised you wouldn't kill anybody.'' The machine with the human exterior stops, angles his head, and spits out what is sure to become one of Terminator 2's signature lines: ''Trust me.''

''Good, good,'' director James Cameron enthuses over this rehearsal. ''Only we need to time it more precisely so that the camera can see everybody's face at the pause.'' Lanky, blond, and bearded, Cameron steps forward to demonstrate what he wants. ''Got that? Good,'' he says. ''So: more rehearsage, then lunchage, then shootage.'' The attempt at humor provokes scattered laughs from the strung out crew.

After 103 days of shootage, they're at the stage where they'd laugh at anything. This March day on the movie's Valencia, Calif., set was supposed to mark the end of filming, but with Terminator 2 almost three weeks behind schedule and well on its way to becoming one of the most expensive movies ever made, Cameron wants to encourage levity. He joined in the laughter when crew members circulated a memo asking everyone to show up for this day's work in their pajamas — a gag meant to suggest that, had the movie finished on schedule, they'd all be heading for a long rest by now. Cameron's customary jeans, work shirt, and work boots contrast with the flannel nightshirts and sheer baby dolls that attire much of his crew.

''I always felt we should continue the story of The Terminator,'' Schwarzenegger says. ''I told Jim that right after we finished the first film.'' Shot in 48 days on a stripped-down, $6.4 million budget, the sleeper Cameron calls ''a lean street thriller'' went on to earn a healthy $100 million in worldwide ticket sales and attract an enormous audience on video. To a post- apocalyptic theme The Terminator added the expected genre mayhem plus unexpected dollops of emotion (between Hamilton and Michael Biehn, who played the father of her child) and loopy, sociopathic humor (from Schwarzenegger). It's now seen as a sci-fi classic, but at the time it was simply the product of a team of creative people who had nothing to lose.

Seven years later, the people who brought that film to life have much more at stake. The Terminator helped make Schwarzenegger the most popular movie star in the world-and every misstep leads down. If Terminator 2 is anything less than a global blockbuster, his image of box office invincibility will be dented. Hamilton, though now a TV star thanks to Beauty and the Beast, has yet to prove her big-screen versatility; by returning to her old role, she risks being trapped by it. Cameron has the most at stake. Though he is respected in Hollywood as a gifted, original filmmaker (Terminator led to the 1986 blockbuster Aliens), his reputation for dependability suffered when he delivered his 1989 summer epic, The Abyss, a month late to mixed reviews and disappointing box office.

Terminator 2 has presented the director with an even more daunting challenge. With Schwarzenegger busy on Kindergarten Cop, shooting couldn't begin until October 8, leaving only three months for postproduction to complete the complex special effects and meet the release date of July 3, the very latest distributor Tri-Star could open the movie and still tap into the peak summer moviegoing months. Cameron doesn't need to be reminded that each extra day consumed by shooting means one less day for postproduction and that if he misses this deadline, T2, as everyone on the project calls it, could be the last big-budget movie he ever directs.

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