Mario Kassar, legendary Hollywood film producer, is very proud of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In a career decades long, it’s one of his favourite films.
“It’s very close to my heart because even if you see it today, even without the 3D, even the way it used to be, it still works now how it used to 25 years ago. It’s such an amazing movie. So well done. So well written so well directed … the most amazing organic effects to it. Not overdone. None of those flying laser beams or flying ships and this and that. Lately that’s all they’ve done, is overdo everything … it’s one of my favourite movies actually.”
Kassar has first come to hear of James Cameron through his friend David Giler, producer on another of Hollywood’s greatest science-fiction franchises, had sent him the script for the first Terminator.
“A friend of mine David Giler, he said ‘You need to read this.’ And he introduced me to James Cameron – it was his first real movie, he was going to do it with Orion, the company behind it was Hanway – [Cameron] was kind of unhappy with the situation and I said, ‘How can I do it?’ He said he was stuck with them.”
Kassar told Cameron if anything went south with Orion and Hanway, he would do it himself.
“Obviously it didn’t and he did it for them. But we stayed friends and later on you know I went on doing my stuff, and I get a call from the agents and everybody saying ‘T2’, everybody’s trying – The problem was that when James was doing Terminator he was married to Gale Ann Hurd the producer. Then they divorced and he gave her half the rights for a dollar.
Kassar had worked out deals with Schwarzenegger and Cameron. He and had to do likewise with Hurd and with a deal eventually reached, Cameron started work on delivering the effects shots.
“When he told me what he wanted to do … I agreed and gave the okay, he went and shot and created those effects in the movie before it was done.”
The fragmented shooting schedule was due in no small part to the unprecedented amount of time the CG effects would need to render. Upon seeing some of these groundbreaking shots, Kassar had no choice but to make the film.
“When I saw the cop coming out of the floor, or the finger, the guy in chrome, I was like ‘My god, this is so amazing!’. I had never seen anything like this, I could never imagine something like this in such a great story. Everything just made so much sense to me.
“I gave him the green light and he went and did it, and, you know, yes it was expensive and it went a little bit over. Which is normal now with James and actually with a lot of directors to be fair. I don’t know many directors that come in exactly on budget.”
Kassar’s sometimes risky, big budget choices have attracted him a lot of attention over the years. Critics and business sections have been quick to pile on the pressure. T2 was no different.
“You didn’t know it before when I was doing it – you destroyed me – THEN you knew it.”
“They’re all on my head – But you know there was this conflict in my brain because half was … trying to finish and make sure that Terminator 2 turns out to be be what it’s supposed to be – and it did – and part of it was receiving all those fucking arrows from the media and Variety and the business section and everybody saying ‘What a disaster!’ – they’re reviewing the budget, not the movie, but before they’ve even seen a frame. So I just had to cope with it and cope with it and when the movie opened they all kind of retired and hid behind their papers.”
Kassar’s risk was vindicated and Terminator 2 becomes a modern masterpiece.
“Exactly! Exactly and of course they all say ‘We knew it, we knew it…’, of course you knew it. You didn’t know it before when I was doing it – you destroyed me – THEN you knew it.”
It isn’t just large budgets that attract negative attention to Mario Kassar. In his decades long career he’s made the movies he wanted to make and he answered to no one.
“I was the target of everybody, because I always worked outside the box. I’m not a studio, I make decisions on my own. I don’t have to have board meeting and run numbers the way they do or find excuses – all they care about at the studios is how to keep their job. I don’t have a job to keep. I have a job, i can fire myself or hire myself. If I did it I did it because i believed in it. I knew what the risk was, I had a deal with TriStar so … my risk was minimal.
I believed in what I did. When I read a good screenplay and I had the right people … I would greenlight it. You know … they knew they were going to see a good movie because none of my movies are bad… Even Cutthroat Island – they keep hounding me with it. It did not lose money, it’s all nonsense .. but this is what is in the boilerplate, every time [they] talk about Carolco and Mario and this and that, they talk about you and Cutthroat Island and neh neh neh … they go on and on. It’s in the boilerplate, they have nothing else to say.
Well listen – they’re called critics to find a problem, no? They don’t find anything, they can’t criticise. There’s nothing to criticise.”
‘Terminator 2’ certainly silenced critics. The spectacular effects and Cameron’s vision had tapped into the public psyche in such a profound way that it still resonates today.
“Its such a unique kind of movie in a way… The fact you had Arnold in it, the fact that you had the vision of James, the fact you had that great storytelling – and it’s very hard to do such storytelling… so much ahead of it’s time. Those kinds of special effects, not the thing you see now, where every costume is weirder than the last, every aircraft or every spacecraft is different – I’m not talking about Star Wars, I love Star Wars – I’m talking about the other stuff they’ve been doing for 20 years.”
Dennis Muren, the CG visionary behind the groundbreaking special effects has also mentioned the difficulty in bringing fresh new ideas to the screen and how scale has become everything in recent years.
“It’s too much, it’s like so boring now. It just people related to Terminator. He was part of them, they can relate to a robot, they related to the movie. You can relate to a guy who comes from mars. It’s a story that just hit the nerve. Just the right time, the right place, the right ingredients I guess. It worked! The stars aligned exactly on time at the right place at the right time.”
Kassar is positive about the future of the franchise back in the hands of Cameron.
“I’m convinced he’s going to do what I was trying to do before I sold it, he’s gonna reboot it and put it back on track like the way it should have always been after 2 & 3 – he’s going to do an amazing job. He’s such a good storyteller. He doesn’t even need to direct it all he has to do is make sure he’s there and everything will work fine. The guy is such a perfectionist and such a vision so, knowing that he’s there doing it I can guarantee you its going to be amazing. And it deserves to be.”