The TerminatorThe Terminator on Blu-ray

He's Back!

James Cameron's first claim to fame, and the film that really put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map, "The Terminator" was a low budget surprise hit when it came out in 1984. Combining great action and nifty science fiction concepts, it told the tale of a cyborg from the future (Schwarzenegger) sent back to kill - before he's born - the man who leads the future resistance movement.

If you've seen T2, you've seen T1, except that the sequel painted with a broader and more expensive brush. But everything that audiences loved about T2, the intelligent action, the effects, the script, Arnold, Linda, James - it's all on display in the first movie.

The action really starts with the two warriors from the future entering 1984 Los Angeles. This time Arnold's the bad guy, though, and the savior is a soldier named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a freedom fighter for humanity who gave up his present to visit his past and try to save his future.

The race is to find Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who at this point in her life is a happy-go-lucky young woman whose life has yet to really find any real meaning.

Arnold and Reese give her that, in spades…

The Terminator, a super sophisticated and ultra strong killing machine, will stop at nothing to kill Sarah because one day she's going to give birth to John Connor, the leader of the resistance movement in the future.

Cameron, who co-wrote the script with Gale Anne Hurd, knows his genre. The action is relentless (even the expository stuff that explains to the audience what's going on unfolds at breakneck speed), the science fiction is flawless (including time travel paradoxes), and the movie making is first rate, even though T1 was made on a shoestring budget.

Arnold, who wasn't the first choice to play the Terminator, was an inspired choice and he's perfect in the role. This was what made his career as an action star (not an action hero, obviously, because in this flick he definitely is not the hero), unlike the Conan movies that were designed to make him an action star.

His trademarked "I'll be back," originated here as well, though in a completely different context from when he used it in the sequel.

Biehn and Hamilton are also terrific in their roles. Biehn makes you believe the outrageous story, while Hamilton starts off as basically a bimbo and spends the rest of the movie growing into the beginnings of her fierce character from the sequel.

Also along for the ride are Lance Henrickson and Paul Winfield as a couple of Los Angeles cops who run afould of the Terminator.

The Blu-ray disc release offers a much cleaner picture than the DVD - and the DVD was pretty good, all things considered. Detail and image depth are very good, though of course it isn't perfect. We noticed occasional wavering in the blacks, for example. But overall we're very pleased.

Then there's the audio. We ran the remastered DVD alongside the Blu-ray and A/B'd them back and forth and it was easy to tell that the Blu-ray disc was better. It's presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround, and it really comes alive. The midrange of the sound is spacious, and there's no shrillness from the tweeters. Those with a subwoofer will appreciate the deep bass, and all home theater nuts will appreciate how well placed the sounds are in the mix.

Of course you get some extras, though it isn't the complete package the remastered DVD offered. Here, you get seven deleted scenes, a feature on the music and visual effects, and "Terminator: A Retrospective." Better than nothing, but we'd have liked to see more. Guess we'll have to wait for the inevitable special edition....

If you're a sci fi fan, an action movie fan, an Arnold or Linda fan, a Cameron fan, or just a fan of good, well made, entertaining movies, this one belongs in your collection.

The Terminator, from MGM Home Video
107 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Uncompressed PCM 5.1
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn and Paul Winfield
Produced by Gale Anne Hurd
Written by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd, Directed by James Cameron

Terminator 3

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines on Blu-ray

He said he’d be back, and he wasn’t kidding around.

Too bad it's with a flawed Blu-ray that doesn't take advantage of the format's full potential.

Not many people could have guessed that the old cyborg would wait 12 years and alienate nearly everyone involved in the original two movies. In fact, the only two names that still show up from T1 and T2 are Arnold Schwarzenegger (who we can’t blame for not turning down $30 million) and Gale Anne Hurd, who shows up last on the Executive Producer list.

Set ten years after the events in Terminator 2, yet another killing machine has been sent back through time to execute John Connor. Once again, the Terminator is more advanced than the last, and much harder to kill. Thankfully, they’ve also sent back the primitive, seemingly useless T-800 model to protect him again. Hey, it worked the last time. But how come the human resistance of the future can't steal an upgraded Terminator?

What follows is a series of action set pieces that seem there only to use up the remainder of the $180 million budget. We don’t even find out what the point of the movie is until over an hour in. And even then, it seems there only to satisfy our increasingly curious and impatient minds.

It’s hard not to bash T3 because it can’t possibly live up to the legacy James Cameron created (especially without Cameron being involved in any way). But in its defense, it features some great action sequences and all the necessary elements for an enjoyable mindless action movie. It’s basically just like the first two Terminators but without the story and the intelligence. (Editor's note: and that leaves what incentive to watch this rather than re-watch the first two?)

This third installment is clearly nothing more than an attempt at grasping a few more dollars from our pockets, which becomes even more obvious when the ending leaves it so blatantly open for another sequel. It’s not even a happy ending, either; it’s depressing and leaves you unfulfilled.

Speaking of endings, T3’s ending suffers the same fate as Jurassic Park 3. It seems like the writers ran out of time and had to throw something together at the last minute. Everything wraps up way too quickly and unbelievably, and then the credits roll and we’re left thinking: “that’s it?”

Another thing lost from the previous installments is the characters. We still have John Connor (with Nick Stahl filling in for the absent Edward Furlong), but we don’t really care about him. He’s a troubled little ass who seems to only care about stopping Judgement Day because it’s in the script. In fact, the only character we do care about is the T-800, and only because we learned to love him so much the last time around.

But, like we said, even with all its problems, T3 manages to be entertaining. If you haven’t seen the first two in a really long time and don’t remember them, it’s best to watch T3 now so you’re not as disappointed later. Otherwise, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The Blu-ray disc says it's 1080p, but when we stuck it into our PS3 it the opening logos (including the vile anti-piracy warning that's Hollywood's way of thanking you for your business) were in 1080p. But when the movie started it reverted down to 480p, much to our chagrin. We reconfigured our PS3 to allow resolutions between 480p and 1080p and Voila! We got 1080i.

What gives?

We've read elsewhere that Warners is aware of the problem and plans to re-release the movie in 1080p. So perhaps you should wait to buy that one if you just have to have Terminator 3 in your library. On the other hand, you could use this one to demonstrate the difference between 1080i and 1080p to your peers, once the correct version is available. We're sure Warners wouldn't object to your owning two versions....

Anyway, other than the presence of interlacing's shortcomings, the picture quality is very good. Colors are rich, particularly the Terminatrix’s dark red "Mord Sith" outfit, and blacks show great detail.

Alas, once again Warners has shorted the audience with its audio choices. We get Dolby Digital 5.1, and it's fine as far as it goes, but no choice for the new high resolution audio formats that are even better.

You do get lots of bonus stuff, though, including an "In Movie Experience" that features director Jonathan Mostow (and producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna) and a bunch of making-of footage that appears in a floating window on the screen . It's kind of cool, though it gets in the way of the movie at times.

You also get an introduction by the star Governator himself, and three audio commentaries, one with director Jonathan Mostow, one featuring Mostow, Schwarzenegger, Danes, Stahl and Loken, and a third with Mostow and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, director of photography Don Burgess, and production designer Jeff Mann.

There's also a short "HBO First Look" that's basically a long commercial. "Dressed to Kill" is a look at how to dress a Terminator for best effect, and what the fashionable quarry should wear. "Toys in Action" visits Canadian artist Todd McFarlane and looks at his Terminator-inspired toys.

If that isn't enough, there are storyboards, a deleted scene that the movie doesn't miss (Sgt. Candy) and the trailer.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
109 minutes, 1080i (2.40:1), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken
Produced by Mario F. Kassar, Andrew G. Vajina, Joel B. Michaels
Screenplay by John Brancato & Michael Ferris, Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation on Blu-ray

Not a bad sequel as long as you don't think about it too much. After all, if humanity consists of ragtag bands of wandering and hiding groups, who's around to receive the oil brought in from the middle east, who's around to refine it, to deliver it. Who's doing the farming? You know, logical things like that.

So don't think about such things - though if you're like us you might find it hard not to. We haven't seen plot holes as large as this since just about any Star Trek outing, and we love them, too.

Not that we loved Terminator Salvation, but it's worth seeing, and its video and audio presentation on the Director's Cut Blu-ray are spectacular indeed.

The movie is set in the future world we've only glimpsed briefly in the other Terminator movies, after Skynet has unleashed its nuclear "Judgement Day" on humanity and is hunting down the remnants of the human race via various interesting looking bits of hardware.

John Connor, the son of the first two movies' Sarah Connor, who she has raised to be the leader of the rebellion against the machines, is now a leading figure of the underground - though not the head honcho we've been led to believe he will become. As we see him at the movie's opening, he's leading troops, but there's a larger organization above him and they're suspicious of Connor because of his reputation as a kind of Messiah.

Maybe they remember how well the last supposed Messiah - some guy elected in the U.S. in Novemeber, 2008 - worked out...

But we digress.

The hook this time around is that Connor (Christian Bale) must find Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man who became his father in the first Terminator movie, and send him back to the past to ensure the timeline doesn't get screwed up and ruin Connor's existence, let alone his future. Reese is, at this current "present" in the war, a teenager full of piss and vinegar and has no idea that he'll not only go back and to the past and father the uprising, but that someone in his family will invent the Peanut Butter Cup. Okay, we made that last part up.

Then along comes Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), described by Warner Brothers as "a mysterious loner from the past who challenges Connor with an impossible choice that will determine the future of the human race – leading them both on a brutal journey into the very heart of the enemy." This is a particularly diabolical plot twist, if not extremely derivative, and we won't spoil it for you. But it not only throws a potential monkeywrench into Connor's efforts, it offers opportunities for retribution and more than a little humanity.

The movie's pretty cool, though most of the nifty mind games of previous Terminator movies are gone in favor of action and mayhem - but it's pretty cool action and mayhem, very well done and with delicious special effects. And watch for a surprise blast from the Terminator past as the movie unfolds.

The Blu-ray is spectacular, though very loud. Presented in 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), the video quality is the stuff of home theater delight. There's excellent depth, great resolution and color, and the overall picture is very rich and enjoyable. Ditto for the sound, which Warners has chosen to release in dts HD. It's very LOUD - we had to turn our 500 watt per channel home theater system down a couple of notches from our normal ear bleeding level - but it's also very good. Dialogue is always clear and clean, and the mayhem around the actors fills the room with magnificence - using all the speakers, including (or perhaps especially) the subwoofer very well. This is reference stuff.

The package includes both the theatrical and director's cut, which are within three minutes' length of each other, as well as a digital copy of the movie. on a third disc.

Extras include "Maximum Movie Mode", in which director McG takes you through a journey into the world of Terminator Salvation via picture in picture mode, storyboard comparisons, etc. There's also the overrated BD-Live feature that lets you download stuff - and you also get some pretty interesting featurettes on the creation of the various special effects scenes and the like. It's pretty neat, but nothing you haven't seen before on similar Blu-ray releases.

There are also a couple of really annoying Blu-ray and Digital Copy promos at the beginning of the theatrical cut version, which is pretty dumb considering that anyone who sees it (other than if it's run in a store or something) already has Blu-ray, making it a waste of time. It's also sad to note that its presence means Warner Brothers has now followed most of the industry into the abyss (no Cameron joke intended) of inflicting promos on the audience before viewers can get to the real meat. Warners was always great before, in that you'd put in the disc and it would head straight to the movie, on most of their releases (including the Director's Cut of this package), but they seem to be abandoning that tack and it's a shame.

Terminator Salvation, from Warner Home Entertainment
114/117 min. 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), dts HD Master Audio
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter
Produced by Moritz Borman, Jeffrey Silver, Victor Kubicek, Derek Anderson
Written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Directed by Mcg

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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