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When Terminator 2: 3-D (or T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, as it was originally billed) debuted in 1996, no one had ever before seen such a seamless blending of stereoscopic film, stunt actors, and special effects – and almost 20 years later, no one has done better. Oscar-winners James Cameron and Stan Winston collaborated with designer Gary Goddard to create a multi-dimensional stage sequel to their blockbuster film that continues to draw audience applause, even though the franchise (most recently represented by 2015's Terminator Genisys) has long since left this show's storyline behind.
In case you missed the original Terminator flicks, here’s a refresher: At some point in the not-too-distant future, the military builds Skynet, an artificial intelligence computer system so smart that it quickly figures out that the biggest threat to world peace is humans themselves. Skynet embarks on a decades-long war against mankind, eradicating most of it. The humans left, led by John Connor, fight back and are about to win when Skynet plays the ace up its sleeve: robots are sent back in time to kill Connor's mother (played by Linda Hamilton) before he was born, and later Connor himself as a tween (Edward Furlong), which would alter history and assure Skynet's victory.
In Universal's theme park adaptation, guests are getting a guided tour of Cyberdyne Systems, the cheerfully evil inventors of Skynet, when your perky host's amusingly dated “Imagine the future” propaganda video is interrupted by John and Sarah Connor, who hack into the feed and warn civilians to evacuate before they blow up the building. Once seated in in the 700-seat main auditorium, the Connors make a dramatic entrance, closely followed by the liquid-metal T-1000, sent from the future to kill them and meanace the audience. Then a pre-gubernatorial Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing another homicidal robot assassin who has been helpfully reprogrammed to be good, pops up to save the boy. The bad robot chases the boy and the good robot through a time portal into the future, sucking guests along with them for the ride.
The attraction, like the films, is all exceptional special effects and non-stop action, so you really don’t need to understand much. What’s interesting is that it uses 3-D film and a theater full of sophisticated technology to integrate the real with the imaginary. The action unfolds on three walls, and images seem to move in and out of the film, not only in the manner of traditional 3-D, but also in reality: Remove your 3-D glasses a moment, and you’ll see that the guy on the motorcycle is actually onstage. Some of the special effects and computer-generated animation are outdated (though the preshow video did receive a much-needed digital remastering), and the 3-D projectors could stand a Spider-Man-style 4K upgrade. But overall the show works because of the fast pace, the sheer size of the presentation, and timeless appeal of shiny robots. Even shiny robots of death.
The 700-seat theater changes audiences about every 20 to 30 minutes, or may operate on a posted schedule during slower times. Terminator 2: 3-D has been eclipsed somewhat by newer attractions like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, The Simpsons Ride, and Despicable Me. We suggest that you save Terminator and other theater presentations until you've experienced all the rides. Expect to wait less than 30 minutes.
Families with young children should know that the violence characteristic of the Terminator movies is present during the stage show, with plenty of shooting and explosion, but relatively little blood and guts. Ask for stationary seating if you want to avoid a short but surprising seat drop during the finale.
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