I think I just need to come to the conclusion that making pre-assumptions about anything Terminator is going to be fruitless. When Terminator 3 was crashing onto the big screen with a new director, I was as skeptical as anyone. True, it wasn't comparable to the likes of Terminator 2, but it exceeded my personal expectations. I then heard a television series was making its way to FOX following the Connor's some time after the events of the second film. I don't think I ever considered any television show in history to be as unnecessary as one that was based on the Terminator universe. Surprisingly, Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles, has shut my mouth once again.
Sarah (300's Lena Headey) and John Connor (Thomas Dekker) have been trying to live a normal life in an isolated location for two years since their encounter with the T-1000. Since that encounter, John hasn't been able to live any sort of life at all. He understands better than ever, there's no escaping his destiny - he must lead the human resistance against the machines.
After having bad dreams about another terminator coming to kill them, Sarah decides they've gotten too comfortable where they are, and it's time to relocate.
John starts at a new school, just trying to blend in as a normal guy amongst a sea of faces. He just wants to lead as normal a life as possible. If he's going to have to devote his future to trying to save all of mankind, he deserves to at least try and make some friends now, right? In practically no time at all, he meets Cameron Phillips (Summer Glau). She seems to display a great interest in John, and she comes on a little strong. He overlooks it, because it's a glimpse at what he's always wanted - a life where he can socialize, instead of disappearing into the shadows.
It's a fresh start at a new life, but reality snaps back into focus when John is attacked by a terminator similar to that of the T-800 model. John has been caged by his mother so well, he hasn't yet had the opportunity to try and think outside of the box himself. Without his mother to protect him, the terminator closes in on John quick. Seconds before his demise, Cameron unexpectedly saves John, and reveals to him that she's a terminator who has come from the future to protect him.
The Connor's are in more trouble than they've ever been in before. They were tracked to their new location in less than forty-eight hours, so it was clear that running was useless. Cameron is prepared with an answer, and arranges time travel to the year 2007. The machines would anticipate their targets to acquire a new location, not a new when.
It doesn't sound incredibly complex but surprisingly, the writing progresses the first season very intelligently. It all sounds like a reincarnation of the same story we've seen before, but there are a lot of things in the first season that keep the momentum going.
The most noticeable change this time around, is Cameron. She's a manufactured machine, yet she can quickly adapt to use human traits and ultimately fit in better with the human race. She can even emote to a certain degree, something the old T-800 models couldn't do. For John and Sarah, the line between soul and machine are blurred.
One scene I can recall in particular was when Sarah made some comment about Cameron being cold like the Tin Man. Although the cyborg can't emote as well as we do, it was able to hold its own and let Sarah know that it wasn't oblivious to what Sarah was trying to say.
In a clever move I didn't see coming, the story brings Brian Austin Green into the fold as a resistance fighter from the future. He's the younger brother of Kyle Reese, John Connor's father.
The clever writing brings such mini-revelations, presents questions about the morality of taking a young life despite knowing what that person may cause, and hits hard with a lot of action. The acting is done very well by everyone, even the supporting cast. The first couple of episodes are a little slow, but the combination between the story and acting pegs Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as a surprise hit. The only thing I can complain about, is the writer's strike having only allowed nine episodes for this season.
The nine episodes are presented in an aspect ratio of 16:9. For a show that was aired in high definition, I think the transfer could have been just a little better.
There was some minor edge enhancement (mostly noticable through the first episode), and the sharpness produced very insignificantly sized jaggies once in a while. The picture never stumbled into 'bad' looking territory by any means, it looks very good. I tend to be extremely picky, and other than the Pilot episode, it looks great. I did notice that there was a touch of grain in the back of some scenes. Judging by how nice the presentation is overall, I'm inclined to think it's the way the picture was meant to be seen.
Black levels are excellent for providing nice contrast. The color palette pops when it's supposed to, while keeping a very natural and balanced look the rest of the time.
This transfer doesn't compete with 'Lost' or 'Heroes', and although it's very good overall, it could have been just a tad better.
Just like the video, the audio is pretty good but not great. The episodes are all given a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, which provides some great effects with your rear channels. There were times I was able to hear things with my 5.1 setup directly behind me, which says a lot for a television show. However, there were many times that I would expect my rear channels to sound off and I just didn't get the effect as much as the action dictated I should have.
The dynamic range at times can swell to great levels, and at other times it seems to sort of level itself off instead. The action could get loud, but it wasn't very often it would ever shake my apartment up. I may be overly critical here, considering we're talking about sound from a television show. However, this show tries very hard to be an extended cinematic experience, like most network shows today, and such is why I review it this way. I guess the best word I can use to describe the audio experience I had, was 'inconsistent'.
Also provided are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portugues, and Thai.
- Disc 1 -
To start things off, we have a couple of commentaries. The episode Pilot includes discussion with Josh Friedman, James Middleton, David Nutter and Summer Glau. There's also one for The Turk with Josh Friedman, John Wirth, Lena Headey, and Thomas Dekker. With four people at a time discussing a show that's taking on the burden of an epic storyline, you would think there would never be a single moment of silence. We get that a bit unfortunately, and on top of that we don't get a great deal of background information. Everyone has a good time together, but we mostly get chatter about how they feel about certain scenes instead of good behind the scenes stuff.
It's a good thing we have Creating the Chronicles, a three part series that actually does explain how this show was brought from conception, to the small screen. Brian Austin Green even sits down to tell us about what it was like to film scenes about the inevitable future they're fighting desperately to stop.
Next up are a series of deleted scenes, mostly from the Pilot episode. The clips are all pretty short, over the course of six clips we only have about eleven minutes worth of footage. They weren't exactly throw-away material, but they added nothing new to the story that wasn't already clear to us.
The Gag Reel is only about three and a half minutes, but there wasn't anything here that really wowed me either. All we really see are people messing up their lines. There are no on-set hijinks or anything else that might be fun for the viewer to see.
- Disc 2 -
We have a Terminated Scene from the episode, Dungeons and Dragons. In this scene, John and an old fling of Sarah's sit down and discuss if it's possible to have feelings for a cyborg. It sounds pretty corny, and that's probably why it was cut from the episode. It certainly got me thinking though. I would be lying if I said I didn't envy John Connor for being in a position to have Cameron do everything he says.
Cast Audition Tapes is pretty self explanatory. We have audition tapes for Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, and Richard T. Jones. I always love watching this sort of thing. To see the original performance that landed an actor their role? You can almost see the 'magic' unfold. There's no Summer Glau here though, and perhaps this deserves a feature in itself. The terminator has to be cold yet kind of human at the same time for this show. Was she chosen as just a pretty face at first? I'd love to see her audition tape, along with some of the other girls who tried out.
We have a Summer Glau Dance Rehearsal next. There's an episode where Cameron has to act like a ballet dancer but I could have done without this extra.
Last but not least for the second disc, is a Storyboard Animatic from the first episode. There's no split screen showing the final product along with the storyboard, so all we're seeing are the drawings. I would have been interested in seeing an on screen comparison. Without it, this feature was pretty dull.
- Disc 3 -
Brian Austin Green joins Josh Friedman and Ian Goldberg for a commentary on What He Beheld. The commentary is once again fairly uninformative, which truly is a shame. Again, little bits and pieces of information surface throughout, but most of it is insignificant. As the last commentary this set has to offer, I felt cheated. A show based on the Terminator, demands clarification on everything it took to bring this show to life, so where is it?
Two more deleted scenes on this disc, and unlike the commentaries, I feel they're much better than what was presented on the first two discs. One shows us Lena Headey holding her own very well in an emotional scene. The other is also pretty powerful. John scares away a guy in class who was making a girl feel uncomfortable. This was personally my favorite deleted scene, because we get to see John stepping up in a way that's relevant to his life right now. Usually when he stands up to something, the result of his actions won't be seen for years.
An extended cut of The Demon Hand easily stands out as the best extra. Eight minutes of deleted material due to time constraints, shows us some great insight on Sarah by showing us some of her childhood.
The first season of something I'm sure most people thought would be a flop, started a little slow but ended up exceeding my expectations. We have three main leading actors, as well as a great supporting cast, surprisingly delivering the goods consistently. Action, drama, heart, morality, it's all here due in large part to them.
Summer Glau gave us the perfect balance as a machine that was cold and heartless, yet had the ability to mesh with the human race better than any terminator before. Lena Headey wasn't Linda Hamilton, but she was as close as I think we'd ever get with another Hollywood actress. Thomas Dekker portrays a frustrated John Connor that's finally grasping his fate very well. It never would have worked if they didn't all have chemistry together, fortunately for everyone invested in the show, they have quite a bit.
The season was cut short due to the writer's strike, but it certainly left me feeling like I wanted more... in a good way. The extras on this set are abundant and try to pull a 'quantity over quality' equation on us, the video could have been just a tad cleaner, but the show alone is enough to make me recommend this three disc set. The only problem a show like this has is that it consistently needs to push the envelope further with each episode. Season one did this quite well, but season two is going to have to deliver. It's also going to be interesting to see how this story ties in with 2009's Terminator: Salvation, if it will at all.
Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles will begin airing on FOX again in the fall. Until then, pick up the first season. As long as you don't compare it to the superiority of Terminator 2, I think you'll all be in for a treat.