Before he was "King of the World" with "Titanic", director James Cameron had to start somewhere. After writing and directing a couple of low-budget features (as well as working on a couple of director Roger Corman's films), Cameron was eventually asked to take the helm of "The Terminator", a script that he had written with producer Gale Anne Hurd ("The Relic"). A low-budget feature by today's standards, the film went on to not only be one of the most highly regarded sci-fi pictures of all time, but it also pushed both its director and actor to new heights of stardom.
The film revolves around Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who is a waitress living an exceptionally ordinary life in the middle of Los Angeles. Things change for the much worse one night when a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives from the future to take her out, since the son she's carrying will lead the human resistance movement against the machines after a war breaks out. She's informed of her destiny by another warrior sent to save her, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).
The film displays what Cameron does best. He creates a stunning and chilling vision of the future, brings together marvelous amounts of tension, has a terrific visual style, but doesn't quite succeed in dialogue. Yet, although the dialogue doesn't always seem that wonderful, at least Cameron lets us get to know the characters and sympathize with them before really starting the battles and chase sequences. Remarkably, not that much seems too dated about the picture, with the exception of Linda Hamilton's hairdo. Performances throughout the picture are superb. Although the part doesn't require him to act much, Schwartzenegger has an incredibly intimidating and scary presence as the machine who won't quit and can't be bargained with. Hamilton and Biehn are also solid in their roles.
Although "The Terminator" is a low-budget picture, that didn't mean that Cameron was working with an inexperienced crew. Cinematographer Adam Greenberg is one of the more highly regarded in his field. He's since gone on to work on "Rush Hour", "Dave" and "Eraser". He was nominated for best cinematography for the "Terminator" sequel and will be returning for duty on "Terminator 3". Editor Mark Goldblatt has gone on to work on such pictures as "Pearl Harbor" and effects creator Stan Winston is, of course, known as one of the very best special/makeup effects artists in the industry. So, Cameron obviously knew that, to create his vision of the movie, he really had to allign himself with an exceptionally talented crew.
Obviously, the result was a tremenous success and a picture that still holds up very well today - also one that has spawned a sequel as well as a sequel in-the-works from director Jonathan Mostow ("U-571").
VIDEO: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by MGM, while the previous release from Live Entertainment was unfortunately not. This new transfer from MGM is not quite as stunning as the film's revitalized sound presentation, but the image quality is still very good, considering the film's age and low-budget origins. Sharpness and detail are generally very good - a few scenes here and there do not look quite as well-defined, but overall, the picture remained crisp and clear.
A few minor flaws presented themselves, but I really didn't find them that much of a concern. I saw little or nothing in the way of print flaws - a couple of minor speckles appeared now and then, but that was about it. A scene or two also displayed some very minor pixelation. I didn't notice any edge enhancement, though. Colors appeared accurate and natural throughout the movie, although the color palette remained subdued. Not perfect, but probably the best the film has looked in quite some time.
SOUND: The film's soundtrack has been newly remastered and redesigned in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX. Although this might dismay some purists, the original mono soundtrack is also available on the DVD. Although the new 5.1-EX presentation can't always quite escape the limitations of the original motion picture recording, it often boasts impressive activity and suprisingly pleasing sound quality.
I'm consistently amazed by what technology can accomplish when it comes to the format. I wouldn't think that the original mono soundtrack could be spread out with any great detail before it started to sound gimmicky. Although there are a few minor scenes that do have a bit of a "forced" quality about the surround use, the activity throughout the great majority the movie sounds exceptionally crisp and smooth, as well as appropriate. There's an impressive amount of surround use as well, as many of the scenes in the film have the surrounds working overtime to deliver music, effects or ambient sounds.
The sound effects themselves, on the other hand, do sound a bit rough at times, considering this was a low budget movie from the early 80's. Still, they're certainly not too objectionable and often, sound just fine. The score, on the other hand, is one of the most enjoyable elements of the presentation. Brad Fidel's tense, metallic score sounds terrifically eerie and often fills the listening space with impressive ease.
Audio quality was quite good throughout the entire picture. Nice, deep low bass was often present during the more intense sequences. Again, the score sounded superb and dialogue sounded clear and easily understood, as well. I don't think this is going to stand up to the sound presentations that more recent pictures offer, but on its own terms, I found it to be a very impressive effort.
MENUS:: Full 3-D animated menus have been created for both the "Special Features" section on the flip-side of the DVD as well as the main movie menu. These menus are not only wonderfully animated (similar to the "T2" and "Abyss" menus), but also quite easy to navigate.
Other Voices: Creating the Terminator: This is a newly created documentary that offers interviews with an amazing amount of the collaborators that played a role in the picture. Director James Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, editor Mark Goldblatt, composer Brad Fiedel, effects artist Stan Winston and many others discuss the entire arc of the production for the picture. Starting off with a look at Cameron's previous credits before the picture, the documentary then discusses "Terminator"-related issues such as casting (Lance Henriksen was originally going to be Terminator, for example), production, effects and other elements. Unfortunately, actress Linda Hamilton and actor Arnold Schwartzenegger have not participated with this new documentary - their interviews are taken from older footage. Especially fascinating are the interview clips with Stan Winston, whose discussion of the creation of the FX is extremely interesting.
This hour-long documentary is a splendid look at the production of the picture and the obstacles encountered. It's not my favorite "Cameron" documentary - that would be the hour-long "Abyss" documentary, which still remains my favorite DVD documentary, but it's still highly informative and entertaining.
Terminator: A Retrospective: This is an 18-minute documentary that offers director James Cameron and star Schwartzenegger discussing their memories of working on the picture, from early moments to the production. The two have worked together on other films and obviously, have a strong friendship, which is apparent here as the two joke around and have a few good laughs. Not as informative as the "Other Voices" effort, but still an entertaining piece that fans will enjoy.
TV Spots/Trailers: Teaser trailer, trailer, foreign trailer and 2 TV spots are included.
Deleted Scenes: 7 scenes are included with commentary from director James Cameron. A couple of these elements are interesting, but were deleted for issues regarding pace, story or simply were deemed unnecessary.
Still Galleries: 5 still galleries offer a wealth of concept art and production design; the sections are: "James Cameron Artwork", "Production Photos", "Stan Winston Effects", "Fantasy II: Visual FX" and "Publicity Materials".
Also: Also included are the original treatment by James Cameron as well as DVD-ROM script-to-screen option.
Final Thoughts: "The Terminator" remains a wonderfully frightening and tense sci-fi classic from Cameron. The DVD is a strong effort, as well. The picture is presented with very fine image quality as well as a fresh, new surround presentation that definitely exceeded my expectations. I certainly would have liked to have heard a commentary from Cameron or members of the cast and crew, but the supplements included certainly are enjoyable and informative.
After being dissapointed with much of MGM's catalog product recently, I would hope that this fine special edition (as well as the upcoming edition of "Fiddler On The Roof") are a signal that the studio is finally realizing that consumers desire more than the minimum when it comes to presentation and supplemental materials.
As for this edition, "Terminator" fans will be thrilled to be able to experience the film with a new presentation and learn more through the informative extras. A definite recommendation.