Produced for a mere $6 million, modest even by 1984 standards, the first Terminator movie was a surprise success that launched director James Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger onto the Hollywood A-list. After respective careers each boasting bigger and bigger hits, the two finally reunited in 1991 for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Greenlit by the now-defunct Carolco studio with an astounding budget in the vicinity of $100 million, not only was it the most expensive movie ever made at that point, the sequel's budget was somewhere more than three times larger than the entire domestic box office gross of the first film. It was a huge risk from a studio that eventually drove itself into bankruptcy making similar gambles (the company's finances were such a mess that even producing blockbuster hits lost them money). Of course, T2 as the ad campaign coined it, was a monstrous hit that dominated that year's box office and has gone on to successful longevity as a popular home video staple. The film gave audiences exactly what they wanted, and being a pretty damn entertaining movie and one of the few sequels every bit as good as its predecessor certainly didn't hurt.
To be honest, I find it rather amusing that there are still fans who argue the merits of the first Terminator against its sequel, as if they don't complement each other perfectly. Both movies are exceptionally entertaining works of science fiction with smart scripts and strong direction. While the first Terminator is a leaner, more urgent film with tighter plotting, the mega-budget Terminator 2 excels in bringing the story to a larger canvas while maintaining some rich character development and thematic resonance. It makes a strong case for the "bigger is better" mentality that has sunk many other Hollywood extravaganzas thrown together by less talented filmmakers.
Sure, the movie has some plot holes that contradict the rules previously established (How did the liquid-metal T1000 get through the time portal without a covering of living flesh? For that matter, why didn't the machines from the future just send the new robot assassin back to 1983 to whack Sarah Connor when she wouldn't be expecting it?). But those are hardly worth quibbling about. The fact is, no other filmmaker delivers more bang-for-the-buck than James Cameron. When he spends a lot of money to make a movie, it all shows up on screen. His action scenes not only continue to top one another in scope and ambition, but are executed with precision and elegance unmatched by his contemporaries. The action progresses naturally from the story in T2, and is more than just empty spectacle. That's one of the reasons the movie holds up so well despite advances in special effects technology. The CGI "morphing" process that was so revolutionary at the time looks a little crude by current standards, but is integral to the movie's story, not just an effect for effect's sake. Cameron's skill at blending many different types of visual effect (CGI, miniatures, rear projection) is also unparalleled. The director is notorious in the industry for being a control freak who micromanages every aspect of his movies' production, and that may indeed not make for a pleasant working environment, but there's no denying that he knows exactly what he wants and will go to any length to get it right. The success or failure of a James Cameron movie rests entirely on James Cameron's shoulders.
Make no mistake, Terminator 2 was and still is an enormous success, both financially and artistically. Smart, thrilling, and action-packed, it's endlessly repeatable entertainment. That's probably why it's been released and re-released so often on every video format since its debut.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Terminator 2 debuts on the Blu-ray format as one of the premiere launch titles from Lionsgate Entertainment. The disc contains only the film's 137-minute theatrical cut, not the 154-minute Special Edition version that has been released innumerable times on the VHS, laserdisc, and DVD formats since 1993. Undoubtedly this is due to space constraints with the current state of the Blu-ray format. Once those issues are worked out, I'm sure we can look forward to a long string of re-releases with various different versions of the movie, bonus features, and audio-video transfers.
[Note: In May of 2007, Studio Canal released both versions of Terminator 2 on HD DVD in France.]
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Terminator 2 Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
This is the best-looking of the Blu-ray launch titles I've watched so far, which means that it looks like an average HD broadcast over cable or a middle-of-the-road HD DVD. Still, that's better than what Sony's been offering up to this point, so I'll give it a thumbs up. The picture is not exceptionally sharp (the opening credits don't look anywhere near as crisp as a typical HD DVD), but it is reasonably so and has a fair representation of fine object detail. During his introductory scene, I was pleasantly surprised that I could make out the hairs on Arnold's chest. That level of detail is noticeably better resolved than the comparable Extreme Edition DVD (both discs come from the same "Extreme" master). Detail is also so good that the stunt double during the famous motorcycle jump off the overpass is plainly obvious. Colors may not run terribly deep, but they appear accurate to the movie's intended style. Some scenes look better than others, but unlike Sony's launch titles the disc does look like High Definition throughout. In its best scenes, such as the desert camp where the heroes pick up supplies and weapons, the HD picture is quite impressive.
The disc has been THX-certified, the first Blu-ray to make that claim. Anyone who's been following high-end home theater knows what that THX seal of approval really means: edge enhancement. Sure enough, the image has unwanted edge halos in a number of places. Look for it around the "Protect and Serve" lettering on the door of the police car that the T1000 drives to meet John's foster parents, for example. The problem is generally not intrusive, and is much less frequent than the Extreme Edition DVD fortunately (and way less than the older Ultimate Edition DVD), but is a nuisance and a disappointment.
Part of the reason the Lionsgate titles tend to look better than Sony's is that the studio hasn't wasted disc space with PCM audio. That leaves more bits available for the video quality. Even so, the use of MPEG2 on a single-layer disc for a 137-minute movie has its disadvantages. The compression of film grain tends to be noisy, sometimes very distractingly so. The motorcycle jump mentioned above is a prime example that looks worse for noise on the Blu-ray than the DVD, and even the best scenes (like the aforementioned desert camp) will have random shots that look noisy as hell. The vibrant oranges during the fiery opening credits sequence and the molten-steel climax also look a little oversaturated and smeary, as if they've been heavily filtered to reduce compression artifacts.
One other significant problem has plagued all of the early Lionsgate Blu-ray titles. If you choose the DTS audio option, the picture becomes jerky during lateral movements or fast action. I noticed this right away during the tracking shots across the war-torn future landscape. If you switch to Dolby Digital, the problem goes away. At this time, it's not clear whether this is a fault of the disc mastering or of the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player (the only model available currently).
The Terminator 2 Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The photo images used in this article were taken from the DVD edition for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to demonstrate Blu-ray picture quality.
The movie's soundtrack is encoded in your choice of Dolby Digital-EX 5.1 or DTS-ES Matrix formats. Though they don't have the potential sonic benefits of uncompressed PCM, in my opinion Lionsgate has made the right choice to preserve disc space by sticking with standard Dolby and DTS. In its current incarnation, the hobbled Blu-ray format just cannot justify the compromises that come with space-hogging PCM audio. Of the options available to them, Lionsgate made the smartest compromise.
T2 has an excellent 5.1 action movie mix with crisply-recorded sound effects, lots of explosions and rumbly bass, and plenty of directional surround activity. On the Dolby track, fidelity of the musical score is a little underwhelming, almost as if dynamic range compression had been applied only to that portion of the mix but not the loud sound effects. The DTS track fares better in this regard and is more pleasing overall, but unfortunately isn't a viable option due to the problem with jerky picture playback noted above. As such, it's basically Dolby or nothing. The DD 5.1 track is a satisfactory option, if not quite reference quality.
[Update: Samsung eventually issued a firmware upgrade that corrected the jerky video problem. As a result, I've bumped the audio rating of this disc up a notch to reflect the improvements offered by its now-usable DTS track.]
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - None.
T2 has seen numerous releases on the DVD format, including an Ultimate Edition with loads of bonus features and (because that wasn't quite "ultimate" enough) an Extreme Edition with an all-new and different selection of supplements. The Blu-ray grabs the commentaries off each but unfortunately nothing else.
Both commentaries were originally recorded for the longer Special Edition cut of the film and have been edited on this disc to fit the shorter theatrical cut.
- 1993 Audio Commentary - Originally prepared for the deluxe Special Edition laserdisc box set and later recycled for the Ultimate Edition DVD, this track compiles audio interviews from the director, cast, and literally dozens of other members of the production. Although not precisely screen-specific, the commentary contains a lot of valuable information.
- 2003 Audio Commentary - Recorded for the Extreme Edition DVD, James Cameron finally delivers a feature-length screen-specific commentary filled with much worthwhile insight. He's joined by screenwriter William Wisher.
That's it for content related to the film, though we do get a lengthy HD preview for unrelated Lionsgate movies. Missing from the DVD editions are too many bonus features to list; not to worry, I'm sure we'll start seeing them on future Blu-rays.
Since this is a THX-certified disc, a set of THX Optimizer test patterns has been provided. However, please note that due to an error in the Sony encoder used to author the disc, blacker-than-black and whiter-than-white portions of the video signal have been clipped, essentially rendering the Brightness and Contrast calibration patterns useless. Also available either before the feature or accessed on its own is a THX trailer (the liquid metal version specifically created for the T2 Ultimate Edition DVD).
No interactive features have been included, but it's worth noting that the Java-based disc menus (Lionsgate calls them "Metamenus") can be accessed while the movie is still playing, much like the HDi menus on HD DVD discs. Lionsgate provides a tutorial on the disc for how to use them, as if they were so complicated that you couldn't figure it out on your own.
A perpetually re-released title on every video format to date, it's a good thing that Terminator 2 is such an enjoyable movie that we might actually want to keep buying newer and better copies of it. The first Blu-ray has pretty good HD picture and decent sound, making it an easier recommendation than many of the other Blu-ray titles released thus far. Sadly, it's just the theatrical cut of the movie with very little in the way of bonus features. I have little doubt we'll be getting more on the inevitable Super Special Ultimate Extreme Extended Edition Blu-ray to come.
The Terminator (Blu-ray)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (HD DVD)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (HD DVD)
HD Review Index
Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Player