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 HD DVD:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day has been released on the HD DVD format by Studio Canal in France as a 2-disc edition. Despite the erroneous 131-minute length cited on the packaging, Disc 1 contains the movie's original 137-minute theatrical cut and Disc 2 contains the 153-minute Special Edition extended cut (here labeled as the "Director's Cut"). At the present time, European HD DVDs are not region-coded and will function in an American HD DVD player. In North America, this title is distributed by Lionsgate, who previously released the theatrical cut on Blu-ray.
Disc 1 offers only French language menus, and should you choose to listen to the original English soundtrack the movie will be accompanied by forced, non-removable French subtitles. Disc 2, on the other hand, allows a choice of French, English, or Dutch menus, and all subtitle selections are optional. Both discs automatically open with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance.
Later this year, Momentum Pictures in the UK will release the Special Edition extended cut disc on its own with different packaging.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray 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 HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. 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.
For this review, I've focused primarily on the extended cut of the movie on Disc 2 and spent time comparing it to the American Blu-ray edition. Both discs appear to stem from the same original video transfer, which was first minted for the Extreme Edition DVD remaster back in 2003. However, in direct comparison the HD DVD is decidedly sharper and has better saturated colors. Whether that's related to the difference in compression codec (the Blu-ray was MPEG2) or just all-around better disc authoring, the end result is more pleasing on the HD DVD.
That isn't to say that it's a perfect transfer. The HD DVD still suffers some problems found on the Blu-ray, including a small amount of edge ringing (notice the halos around the "Protect and Serve" lettering on the door of the police car that the T1000 drives to meet John's foster parents) and some white crush that clips details in bright parts of the frame. Regardless of the difference in compression codec, I see some very similar blocky noise artifacts in certain scenes on both discs. Also, at times colors on the HD DVD look a bit oversaturated and pasty, even though on the whole they are more pleasing than the Blu-ray. None of these issues are significantly distracting, but they are worth noting.
Spot-checking Disc 1, the theatrical cut looks very similar if not identical in quality to the extended cut on Disc 2.
The Terminator 2 HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD 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 HD DVD picture quality.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 format. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing no HD DVD hardware is capable of properly decoding the full Master Audio lossless codec. Instead, players extract the lossy DTS core, which is equivalent to DVD quality. It still sounds good, but may offer further improvements when advanced hardware is released in the future.
Early Studio Canal HD DVD titles suffered from an increase in audio pitch comparable to the effects of PAL speedup. I consider myself sensitive to this problem and noticed it right away on their release of The Elephant Man. I was expecting the worst here as well, but was pleasantly surprised to find the audio playing at the proper original pitch. I spent time comparing selected dialogue and musical selections from the HD DVD to the American DVD and Blu-ray releases and could find no appreciable difference in pitch. The HD DVD's DTS-HD track (or at least its DTS core) sounds virtually identical to the DTS track on the Blu-ray.
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. Its audio razzle dazzle has been bettered over the years by bigger and more elaborate productions, but the movie's sound design holds up very well and is sure to please.
Subs & Dubs:
Disc 1 - French (forced if English audio is chosen).
Disc 2 - English, French, or Dutch (all optional).
Alternate language tracks
Disc 1 - French DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0.
Disc 2 - French DTS-HD MA 5.1 or Dutch DTS-HD MA 5.1.
Your choice of main menu language will limit the audio and subtitle options you can select.
The inability to remove French subtitles on the theatrical cut is a genuine nuisance, however by using the C and D buttons on your HD DVD player remote you may reduce the size of the subtitles and shift their position entirely into the lower letterbox bar, out of the movie image. It's a small concession. Thankfully, all subtitles on the extended cut are defeatable.
The disc contains no bonus features relating to the movie. The only supplements are a section of video and audio test patterns and a brief video tutorial for the subtitle positioning features.
I found the Brightness level suggested by the test patterns to be much higher than that on the Digital Video Essentials HD DVD, resulting in a movie image severely washed out, so I returned my display to its normal calibrated settings and must assume that the patterns on the disc are inaccurate.
While the American Blu-ray edition of Terminator 2 has reasonably decent picture and sound, the French HD DVD betters it by improving on the video transfer and providing the extended cut of the movie, its first appearance in High Definition. The forced subtitle problem on the theatrical cut is an annoyance that luckily does not plague the extended cut. Some buyers may want to wait for the separate release of the longer version of the movie in the UK later this year. In either case, the European T2 HD DVD is highly recommended.
The Terminator (Blu-ray)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Blu-ray)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (HD DVD)
End of Days (HD DVD) - Arnold Schwarzenegger
HD Review Index
High-Def Revolution - DVDTalk's HD Column
Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player