Terminator: Dark Fate

New Terminator more remake than reboot and not the best 4K disc

By Jim Bray
January 30, 2020

Paramount's reboot of James Cameron's Terminator franchise is a wasted opportunity to breathe new life into a classic sci-fi concept that should have been left terminated.

That means it joins such movies as Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a reasonable tale that could have been a contender, but instead is basically just a rehash. The producers of both TFA and DF probably thought they were treading new ground, since true creativity seems in short order in today's Hollywood, but instead of taking risks and making a real continuation of the original story (or, even better, a brand new story, as in the first of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies), they've merely rehashed the original Terminator and its first sequel, both of which are far better movies than this attempt to resuscitate a moribund franchise.

That said, there's plenty of nifty stuff here, and at the beginning there's also the best example I've seen to date of special effects being used to recreate younger versions of the now-older main characters. But  other than that, instead of going somewhere new, they've just made the movie bigger, the special effects more outrageous (and, sometimes, more obvious) and relegated the male characters to the background.

Well, one male character still has a major part and a strong influence, but Arnold Schwarzenegger's "original" Terminator here has become that stereotypical sensitive new age guy one might expect from today's Hollowwood, but which is pretty unbelievable in a cybernetic being whose only reason for being is to kill.

To be fair, they explain Arnold's "evolution" fairly reasonably; but it's just plain silly nonetheless and basically emasculates the only major "good guy" character in the film.

Not that Terminator: Dark Fate is the feminist circle jerk I'd heard it was from other reviewers when it hit theatres however so briefly last November (it appears to have made a profit worldwide, but pretty well tanked in the U.S.). But it is a wasted opportunity.

The movie is kind of a sequel, or at least a continuation, of the first two Terminator films (the only ones that are really worth seeing – and they're really worth seeing). Except that Dark Fate shows that the first two movies were actually pointless. Sure, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, back here to kick some more robotic butt) and her son, John, destroyed Skynet and staved off Judgement Day, but a new cyber-threat called Legion comes along anyway and does exactly the same kind of stuff Skynet did, which means that future humanity is huddled underground fighting off horrible war machines, the only difference being that the technology is now more advanced (because there's tech available now that wasn't even imagined back when Cameron was making the first two Terminators, and that's their hook for this new movie).

And that makes this movie pointless, too, because we now know that even if they do manage to pull the plug on Legion, some other cyber villain will come along the next time the studios or producers need a quick infusion of cash. Not that I'm cynical, mind you.

So, here, we get a new protector zipping back to the story's present, to protect the future leader of the human resistance. Except this time, instead of it being a male soldier (T1, in which he actually fathers the future leader of the human resistance) or a specially reprogrammed Terminator (T2) it's an enhanced human – a woman, of course (and to be fair, Mackenzie Davis is good as Grace, though the screenwriters gave her a far fouler mouth than necessary). The bad guy (REV-9, played by Gabriel Luna) is a shape shifting Terminator like in T2, except that now he can also split himself into two parts, making him doubly deadly. Maybe they should have brought back the Doublemint Twins.

The woman being protected by Grace is Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who is currently a "nobody" in the tradition of Sarah Connor at the beginning of the first Terminator. Naturally, she wants nothing to do with it, but gets drawn into the story by the fact that if she doesn't get drawn into it, she's dead in a few seconds and the movie will only run about 10 minutes.

Once the action starts it's nearly non-stop and some of the action scenes are very good – though not really anything that we haven't seen before (just bigger and with more CG). So, where in T2 we had Robert Patrick's bad Terminator chasing Arnold and John Connor in a big tow truck, now we have the protagonists being chased by the bad Terminator in a different big truck.

There is a cool 747 crash in a "flashforward" scene but it's over in a couple of seconds. And I did laugh a couple of times, laughing with the screenplay and not at it (then I went back to laughing at it).

What a shame that this movie turned out to be what I had hoped dearly it wouldn't be. Instead of a fresh look at the concept, it's a stale update that adds nothing of substance to the series. In my never humble opinion, if you want to see this movie, watch the first two Terminator films and ignore the rest – including this one.

I was even disappointed in the 4K presentation. Paramount has done the right things by releasing it in 4K with HDR (there's a second Blu-ray disc, which also contains the extras, in the box as well as a code for a digital download).

The image is definitely an upgrade from the 1080p BD disc, and you can see it in fine detail such as Grace's enhanced skin, Linda Hamilton's wrinkles and razor sharpness with the costumes, sets, etc. And the opening sequence with the de-aging looks great.

Working against the picture quality is the fact that some of the CG effects, especially humans doing outrageous stunt stuff, is really obvious. And a lot of the movie takes place at night or otherwise in the dark, and I had trouble making out much of anything in some of the scenes (so they might as well have been VHS quality, though I may get struck by lightning for saying that!).

To be fair, this was the first 4K disc I watched after reviewing Gemini Man and its 60 frames per second presentation – a presentation that knocked my socks off – so perhaps there was a bit of an Ang Lee hangover there. But not much, I think. Compare this presentation with other 24 frame per second ones like, say, Dunkirk, and you may see what I mean.

The audio is terrific, though a tad bassy. But the Dolby Atmos presentation (which is backward compatible for normal humans) is very rich, and of course is full of explosions, ordnance being expended, vehicles roaring, etc. All of your home theatre's channels will get a nice workout here, yet the dialogue is still clean and clear.

There's a reasonable but not too extensive set of extras on the Blu-ray, including some deleted and/or extended scenes.

A Legend Reforged looks at the timeline of the series, James Cameron's involvement, the process of rehashing – er, writing – the film, the return of Schwarzenegger and Hamilton and the new kids in town.

World Builders is about a half hour ling and looks at the production itself, including the CG effects, locations in Spain and elsewhere, sets, the scenes set in the future war, some of the stunts and action pieces, etc. Dam Busters: The Final Showdown pokes its nose into the action-packed finale, while VFX Breakdown: The Dragonfly is a look at how they did the future troop carrier that looked almost like it was ripped right out of "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones".

I wanted to like Terminator: Dark Fate, and it certainly isn't a complete piece of garbage. But what a waste of potential – and in the end it's pointless. In fact, since in Dark Fate they only manage to kill the new Terminator without stopping the rise of Legion (like the did to Skynet in T2: Judgement Day – though not in T1), the concept can be revived for a new entry at any time.

And once they do kill off Legion in some future film, what's to prevent yet another cyber-villain from cropping up down the road, whenever it's convenient or potentially profitable? Nothing!

How convenient.

Copyright 2020 Jim Bray

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

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