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Terminator 2 and Running Machines
February 7, 2014 11:33 AM   Subscribe

In Terminator 2, there is a scene where the T1000, running in human form, cannot keep up with the car fleeing from it. It struck me at the time (and still bugs me 20 years later, hence this question) that surely "tall biped" could not possibly have been the "top speed" form to take. What would be the ultimate pursuing creature have looked like?

(I know this is bean-plating, but it was such an obvious thing it pulled me out of the story at the time. Here we are, 20 years later...)

Ignoring how the liquid metal terminators "can't become elaborate mechanisms" (which is silly, what are creatures but incredibly elaborate machines?) and how they need to "touch something to be able to mimic it" (yet the T1000 arrives with a huge store of knowledge--language(s), deep understanding of human psychology and the ability to operate machinery, to name a few aspects--but not basic information about efficient shapes?) as necessities for the storyline (and effects budget), this still struck me as an odd overwight.

I mean, obviously, a cheetah is faster than a human. Would a giant spider-like creature been faster? Would four legs be optimal? Six? 100? A snake-like creature? A bird? The scene shows the running T1000 able to extend arms into hooks and sink them into the car--which begs the question why would it not be able to simply "flow" itself to the hook locations--would that be possible, given what we know of the "physics" of the silly thing?

I'd really love to hear from people with biological or other expert knowledge what the fastest creature, given a human-sized blob of miracle material to work with, might look like.
posted by maxwelton to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, personally I think a triskelion would have been the fastest
posted by rebent at 11:45 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


It may just be (and this is how I'd explain it) that the viscosity of the base metal of the T1000 is unable to change form (ie form the running legs) quickly enough to propel itself any faster so it just resorted to human shape. So if you can only run as fast as a human because you can't bend your legs faster than that anyway, why be a slow cheetah?
posted by Brockles at 11:46 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Well, movie dialog aside, (in my mind) the T1000 is not magic, it's just a big blob of millions of tiny machines clinging together. It can take the outward shape of a cheetah but it's not forming cheetah muscles and tendons. It's just tiny machines exerting up to their maximum force they're able to safely exert upon one another to generate locomotion.

So the fastest form a T1000 could take on would probably be a amorphously spherical blob that would flatten out into more of an upright disc shape as it gained speed in one direction. As it cornered it would become more blob-like and lean into curves. That would give all the tiny little machine hands or whatever the most leverage over its own inertia to add to the horsepower.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 11:47 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


I'm willing to bet, that depending on how fast the T1000 can accelerate its changing mass, that the fastest configuration would be something like a land-squid, or self-shooting bullet, combined with a wheel shape. I'm assuming it's some kind of nanogoo or something.

I.e - the Creature locomotes by pushing off from the ground, as fast as possible, at the desired launch velocity, reforming into an aerodynamically optimal shape and flying in a parabola. When it started to descend it would re-form into a sphere, and roll along the ground briefly to maintain some momentum before pushing off.

On preview - the continuously rolling ball makes sense too, if it can't push hard enough to go faster in aerodynamic flight than by continuously exerting force from its surface.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:51 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


The film's exposition indicates that there were limits to the complexity of the shapes it could take. When the T1000 took on the shape of Robert Patrick, it didn't form tendons and ligaments and muscles. It just molded itself into a human shape.

The running speed of the T1000 would therefore be limited to the speed with which it could move its various pseudopods (which is, effectively, what the "limbs" are). During the hand-to-hand combat scenes between the T101 and the T1000, it's clear that the T-1000 is stronger, but not necessarily faster. Odds are that the mechanical limbs of the T101 would provide a higher running speed than anything the T1000 could muster.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:51 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Suppose the T1000 were to become some kind of a butterfly-lookin' unit so that it could fly to a thousand feet (or however high) and then attain real speed on a dive? Could it just be reluctant to put so much commitment into a single move?
posted by mr. digits at 11:53 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I don't think the T1000 can fly. Maybe it could form itself into a shape aerodynamic enough to glide, but in general its mass is coherent - it never forms a sustainable hollow tube, so I don't think it could ever generate a shape capable of generating enough lift.
posted by muddgirl at 11:59 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Also, according to the Terminator wiki the T-1001 model in the Sarah Connor Chronicles demonstrates the "high speed slug" idea.
posted by muddgirl at 12:06 PM on February 7


During the hand-to-hand combat scenes between the T101 and the T1000, it's clear that the T-1000 is stronger, but not necessarily faster. Odds are that the mechanical limbs of the T101 would provide a higher running speed than anything the T1000 could muster.

if it's stronger, then all it has to do is make its legs longer, thus making use of greater leverage to cross larger distances at the same speed.
posted by rebent at 12:13 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


It certainly could have ran much faster than it did. The T1000 is both fantastically strong and durable. Simply reforming to a human size creature with hip joints at the shoulders its great strength would have allowed it to cycle its legs at the same speed but with a greater stride length.
posted by Mitheral at 12:14 PM on February 7


Flight is probably out of the question. The T1000 is clearly pretty dense. In addition to being described as predominantly metallic, it sinks when it falls into the molten metal in the foundry. A human-sized chunk of even a light metal such as aluminum would weigh ~180kg.* Even if it could flap its wings hard enough the wings would have to be enormous to generate sufficient lift.

For comparison, Quetzalcoatlus probably had a similar mass (~200-250kg) but had a wingspan of 10-11m. Indoor flight would be impossible.

Also, becoming a bird the size of a Cessna 172 is a great way to attract attention from the authorities, which the T1000 did not want to do.
posted by jedicus at 12:18 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


I feel like the folks who are arguing for the "human with longer legs" idea are probably on the right track, if we want to stick to the "rules" for the T1000. (Which I do, because the "rules" are part of what makes it such a cool villain in the first place; it would be a lot less interesting without a couple of arbitrary restrictions!) Quadrupeds are in general faster than bipeds, all else being equal, and while something like a cheetah would probably be faster than a human even without the muscular differences (a fair amount of research has been done to show how the cheetah's body plan is optimized for speed – the field in general is called biokinesthetics or morphokinesthetics) I think it's reasonable to suppose that the T1000 lacked a model for a quadrupedal form, and that its limited improvisational abilities weren't up to the task of inventing one from whole cloth. After all, we never see it take such a complex form elsewhere in the movie unless it's mimicking something that it's touched.

However, it seems reasonable that it could've stretched out its legs (and maybe its arms too, for balancing purposes) and increased its stride considerably. Longer legs and longer strides are what allow people from certain African ethnicities to dominate running sports, and there's no reason that wouldn't work for the T1000. If we want an explanation for why it didn't do that that doesn't involve the obvious "because then the story would've been different", we might suppose that it just didn't think of it at the time (nothing it does seems to indicate that it's more intelligent than the average human being) and/or that it didn't want to draw undue attention to itself. Still though, elongating its body would probably have given it a much faster turn of speed and allowed it to catch up to the car.
posted by Scientist at 1:02 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Why We Run makes an argument that bipedal running is optimal. Apparently cockroaches go bipedal when they get up to full speed. Quadrupedal running (goes the argument) is not really quadrupedal -- at full speed there's at most one foot at a time in contact with the ground, as with bipeds.

I think it's reasonable to suppose that the T1000 lacked a model for a quadrupedal form

"Hey Janelle, what's wrong with Wolfie?"

what are creatures but incredibly elaborate machines?

I never got the sense that the T1000 was simulating internal organs.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:10 PM on February 7


My understanding: the T1000 can switch between the solid and liquid phases of matter. When it changes shape, it's water; the metal has to flow to form the new shape. When it solidifies, it's ice; look how brittle the hook that Arnie severed with a shotgun blast was. For all the gunshots it takes to the torso, it simply allows the area around the bullet to liquify in order to absorb the kinetic energy, creating the "wounds" that we see when it battles Sarah Connor and Co. It could have liquified the hook in the same way -- but it didn't, because then it would have lost its grip. Its liquid form has very little tensile strength! That's why it can't just flow up into the car; it needs to support its own weight.

In the same way, the T1000 can't run on liquid legs; it would fall apart. It has to solidify first. So I think that morphing into a quadruped or the creature that Mitheral describes would require a temporary reduction in speed, which might have prevented the T1000 from ever getting close enough to latch on to the trunk of the car at all.

Perhaps if it had more time to react, it could have chosen a more efficient running shape. However, I'm skeptical that it could ever become a giant spider, or a humanoid with stilt-like legs, or anything of that nature. Never in the movie (that I recall) does it become anything that has less or more volume than Robert Patrick's policeman. Even when it's a puddle on the floor in the psych ward, it's a BIG puddle. So I doubt that the T1000 can actually change its volume. It could become a giant spider with extremely THIN legs, perhaps, but there could be limitations there too; for example, maybe the thinner its substance is stretched, the less strong and durable it becomes.
posted by Androgenes at 1:28 PM on February 7


(Thanks for all the interesting answers so far. Just to be clear, when I said creatures are machines, I was thinking about it strictly from a locomotion viewpoint. A human is much more complex mechanically than any bipedal robot we've yet created.)

I hadn't thought about the brittle/liquid part. That, however, seems to imply that moving at all involves a very complex juggling act of "liquifying" some subset of the goo/nanobots and solidifying others, across a very large number of nanobots. It might, in fact, be most efficient to have a solid core in the limbs and then have groups of nanobots loosening/tightening their "grips" on their neighbors, anchoring to the brittle but strong core, to affect motion. A "skeleton" and "muscles". Interesting idea. And keeping more than one optimized "blueprint" for such a creature becomes a big data challenge, too, limiting forms.

I hadn't even thought much about what the T1000 actual was made of (being a classic macguffin, anyway) or the "real-world" mechanics of it. If it is a big ole clump of nanobots, you can even suggest it possesses a "hive" intelligence, which would perhaps posit a minimum number of bots needed for sentience, and that's why the broken off "hooks" on the car didn't just turn into little stabby creatures, but became inert.

I don't know this needs to be "plausible" in my brain, but this idea makes it so. I suppose I'll have to get back to work. Drat.
posted by maxwelton at 3:02 PM on February 7


The Sarah Connor Chronicles had the liquid-silver terminator that was Shirley Manson turn into a sort of manta-ray type creature at one point and a long thin snake like creature another time. Flight would be possible as a glider-type creature. Also, she had a chunk of her kept separate as an eel in a tank in her office, a sort of back up piece linked to her. She was able to transform parts into blades for killing very quickly, but they were in a 'raw' state, silvery. To transform into an actual person seemed to take much more time, and it wasn't skin-deep because of her full range of motion and movement was much more coherent, compared to the older Terminators (John Henry and Cameron) who had to assemble a skin-layer over their structure. So my guess is that the nano-bots are able to change gross shape quickly, but fine detail with varying density and appearance takes more time. Chasing a car, he would have had to grow silver blades to run or turn into a big silver wheel or something which he might have been programmed against.

I uh may have spent a lot of time thinking about the terminators and physical limitations as well. I would happily murder Game of Thrones for one more season of Sarah Connor Chronicles.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:17 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I'd imagined that he was made of something that worked out to the consistency of toffee or tar pitch, able to hold a sharp or firm shape for only a limited amount of time. Lengthening his legs to run faster would make them weaker/bendier after a few strides.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:07 PM on February 7


The Sarah Connor Chronicles had the liquid-silver terminator that was Shirley Manson turn into a sort of manta-ray type creature at one point and a long thin snake like creature another time. Flight would be possible as a glider-type creature. Also, she had a chunk of her kept separate as an eel in a tank in her office, a sort of back up piece linked to her. She was able to transform parts into blades for killing very quickly, but they were in a 'raw' state, silvery. To transform into an actual person seemed to take much more time, and it wasn't skin-deep because of her full range of motion and movement was much more coherent, compared to the older Terminators (John Henry and Cameron) who had to assemble a skin-layer over their structure. So my guess is that the nano-bots are able to change gross shape quickly, but fine detail with varying density and appearance takes more time. Chasing a car, he would have had to grow silver blades to run or turn into a big silver wheel or something which he might have been programmed against.

The T1000, however, was a prototype, launched in the desperate conditions of wartime. Shirley Manson's model could have been a more advanced version, developed later.

I uh may have spent a lot of time thinking about the terminators and physical limitations as well. I would happily murder Game of Thrones for one more season of Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Right? Just when it started to rise above all the Terminator-of-the-Week filler episodes. Third season plot: Skynet, whose defeat in the future was due to the awareness raised by the show, sends a Terminator back in time to cancel it. The resistance is able to send a Terminator of their own, with orders to renew it.

The result will restore your faith in robots.
posted by Androgenes at 3:27 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


In the world of T1 and T2, to some extent, there's the image of Skynet as not all that creative. With the decades we've had to sit back and think about inconsistencies, we tend to find fault with it compared to some of the more thought out versions we might have now. The terminator bots in the water in the last movie are an example, I think, of how our ideas of the ideal terminator bots have changed. Cameron's vision of the future showed us giant lazer tanks, later versions have entire purpose built machines designed to do as much damage as possible with the form they were built into.

In other words, Skynet as created in T1/T2 just wasn't that creative. It figured out that disguising its robot minions as humanoid made them more effective, so it set about creating further iterations go that one idea, rather than continue to explore alternative forms. It would be easy now, for us, to just toss out all kinds of ideas (terminator dogs? No need for weapons, no need to worry about blending in with society, and pretty much already engineered for stealthy hunting and violence).

When the third movie came out, there was discussion of how things had changed in society, and how our fears had evolved, and the movies reflected that. Computers in the early eighties were slow and gigantic, then in the early nineties, advances in computers and software evolved the terminator and the idea of the terminator's programming came to the front. The third film focused on the internet, our dependency on it, and our worries about viruses and control. The ending, with the bunker full of old, useless giant computers could even be kind of a slap at the first film, with it's outdated version of the future. After all, in the third film, we see the hunter killers, but they are a fraction of the size of the first films.

Anyway, back to your question, the terminator was designed to blend in and hunt in and among humans. That shape was pretty much programmed into it, and in that worldview, that idea of Skynet, the terminator would just run really fast.

If, say, we got a kind of blending of the t1000 with, say the body horror of things like the ice cream demon in legion, or other types of elongation or shape changing, man, that would be an amazing movie.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:28 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Whoa what? Shirley Manson was in T:SCC?!?!

Now I have to go watch that thing.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:12 AM on February 28


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