In order to gear up some interest in their new Blu-Ray video technology, Sony has released several action films in the first wave of discs using the new technology. Arguably the most popular film in this group is Terminator, the 1984 SF film that has become a classic of the genre. Sony has cleaned the film up for this release, removing some grain and adjusting the color a tad, and has also used the dynamic 5.1 soundtrack that was included on the MGM SD DVD release. Unfortunately for every step forward Blu-Ray seems to take a step backwards. This disc is also missing some of the extras that were on the MGM Special Edition and, even worse, the original mono soundtrack is no where to be found.
On the off chance you've never seen this modern day masterpiece here's a recap of the film: Sara Conner (Linda Hamilton) is an attractive young girl who splits her time between waiting tables at a diner and dating cute guys. Her life changes one evening however when she finds herself being chased by someone who wants to killer, an unstoppable killing machine from the future: The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
She's not alone though. Also sent from the future is her protector, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn.) He explains that in a handful of years, there will be a nuclear war that a defense computer starts. This computer has decided that all humans are the enemy, not just those on the other side. The people who survive are hunted down and either killed or forced to do slave labor. The human race as a whole has given up and is nearly extinct until one man turns things around. This charismatic leader connives the remaining humans to fight, teaches them how to destroy the Hunter-Killers and other machines that were created to kill people. He turns the tide of the battle and the humans storm the main computer's location and destroy its defense grid. The computer realizes that killing the leader, a man named John Conner, won't allow it to win the war, so in a last ditch desperate attempt to avert the inevitable, the computer uses an experimental time machine to send one robot back in time. Its assignment is to kill John Conner's mother before he was ever born: a young girl named Sara.
With inferior weapons and almost no chance of survival Kyle and Sara have to stay alive, or else the human race will cease to exist.
This is a classic film because it works on so many levels. As an action film, it has few peers. The chases and gun battles work well, and the tension keeps rising as the movie goes one. Every time the Terminator is 'killed' and then gets up again makes the situation for the two young people absolutely hopeless.
Most action films dispense with things like character development and depth in order to spend more time blowing things up. Going against the grain, Terminator develops Sara's character and shows how the events that she goes through changes her. At the beginning she's soft, slightly vain and not interested in anything more than who she's going to go out with. As the film progresses however, she evolves into a hard, strong woman whose ready to take on the challenge of raising the man who would save the human race. It's a gradual bu believable change from victim to warrior that raises this film above many other shoot-'em-up films.
This movie made a star out of Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and director James Cameron, as well it should. Arnold was perfect for the role, his limited speech and accent making him seem even more formidable. Cameron did a fantastic job directing the film, creating a taunt, tense film that keeps viewers on the edge of their seat. A very suspenseful and dynamic movie that is well deserving of the acclaim it has received.
The movie comes with an English uncompressed 5.1 PCM audio track as well as DD 5.1 tracks in English and French. The first thing fans of the film will notice is that the original mono soundtrack is missing. Yep, it's nowhere to be found which is a shame. The five channel mix is more dynamic and impressive and if the movie were made today, it would certainly have a 360 degree soundtrack like the one presented here.
This remix has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it does make full use of the soundstage and has some impressive panning. The gun fire sounds better than in the original mono track, which always sounded a bit thin to me, and the explosions have an *umph* to them that the mono track just can't reproduce.
On the downside some of the sound effects are a little heavy handed with some of the bullets ricocheting a bit too loudly. Every once in a while there will be one sound effect during a gun battle that is mixed above everything else and travels from once speaker to the next. It's as if the sound engineer was saying "Look at the cool effects I can add!" This is distracting are really takes away from the overall feel of the scene rather than complimenting it.
The music for the film, while it was fine in 1984, sounds really hokey today. The 'futuristic' synthesizer tunes sound like something a high school kid would create on his Casio keyboard one lonely Friday night. My biggest complaint with the audio is that this music was mixed too high, especially in the rear speakers where it was overpowering at times. If anything this should have been de-emphasized.
Happily, there are no audio defects, the quality is just fine. There are subtitles in just about every language you could want: English, French, Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Sony has presented a nice solid transfer for this disc which looks very good, especially for a 20 year old movie.
This was a low budget film made over two decades ago, and the quality of the negative at the time wasn't spectacular. On this disc the many night scenes are still dark, with a lot of detail obscured in the shadows. The scenes at the beginning where Kyle is being chased through alleys by police are still not as clear as they could be and too dark. THe blacks were particularly weak, being more of a very dark grey than actual black. The daylight scenes look good though, with nice color and a fine level of detail. This version does have a very few print defects however. There are a couple of spots on the film when Arnold is first transported to the past, and a piece of dirt or two are evident when he's operating on his hand. I was a little surprised that these weren't corrected, but these two instances were the only ones that I noticed.
Of course the previous MGM release of the movie looked good too. Is there much difference? Well, yes and no. This widescreen 1.85:1 picture is an improvement over the earlier release, but only by a bit. It's a subtle difference that people with large displays are more likely to see. Sitting 8 feet away from a 27" TV, I would doubt that many people would be able to tell the difference.
The first frame of chapter 8 is a good comparison. (It's chapter 12 on the MGM release.) This is where Kyle and Sara are fleeing the Terminator in a stolen car after leaving the night club. The frame shows a closeup of Kyle driving the car, and the stubble on his chin and sweat on his face are very clear. The Blu-Ray image has had much of the grain removed and has significantly less posterization. The color transitions are smoother though on the Blu-Ray disc giving Kyle a more natural appearance. The main improvement is the lack of grain this transfer has. While there's still a fair amount, it's been significantly reduced making for a more pleasing picture. The Blu-Ray image is a bit softer though, which is to be expected after the digital clean-up.
While this Blu-Ray version of the movie isn't a quantum leap forward, but it does provide a slightly more pleasing picture. To tell the truth, I didn't notice much improvement when I first popped in the Blu-Ray disc. It was only after a side-by-side A/B comparison that the improvements were evident.
Like the other Blu-Ray discs that I've seen, there are no bonus items on this disc that weren't on the SD version. To make matters worse, several featurettes that were on the regular version are omitted from this Blu-Ray disc. Thanks a lot Sony.
Another slap in the face to early adopters of this format is the fact that the extras, all in 4:3 format, are stretched to fill a 16:9 picture. I assume that this is the fault of the Samsung BD-P1000 player and not the DVD, but without another player to compare it with it's hard to be certain.
The biggest omission is the nice hour long documentary Other Voices that was on the MGM disc. In an effort to remind viewers what they are missing, they edited that featurette down significantly and renamed it Creating the Terminator: Visual Effects and Music. *sigh* Apparently the PCM audio track ate up so much room there wasn't room for the full documentary.
Also on this disc is an amusing interview with Cammeron and Schwarzenegger;
Terminator: A Retrospective. This is a nearly 20-minute talk
with the pair from 1986 is really interesting, and though many of the anecdotes
had been related over and over again since the film was released, it's
still fun to hear them again.
This is a fantastic movie that still works well over 20 years after
it was made. This Blu-Ray disc does look better than the MGM Special
Edition, but only by a small amount. If you have the two discs playing
side-by-side you can tell a slight improvement, but just watching the Blu-Ray
alone it's hard to tell that there was an improvement. The film itself
is a classic get the highest possible recommendation, but the lack of extras
available on the SE, no original soundtrack, and only a very slight improvement
in video quality earns this disc an overall rating of Recommended.