To start this review, I must tell you that this special-edition DVD makes a sensational first impression: When you plop this disc into your player, be sure to crank up that home-theater sound, because the first thing you'll see is a THX promo created specifically to introduce Terminator 2. I'm only half-exaggerating when I say that this 30-second promo is itself worth the price of the DVD. That said, it's also nice to have the actual film and a bunch of terrific special features on top of that wonderful THX promo.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
T2 is to the original Terminator what Aliens is to the original Alien. In both cases, James Cameron created pumped-up sequels to genre classics, injecting them with a hard military edge, state-of-the-art special effects, and killer action. (He didn't do so bad with the stories, either, although his dialog can get a bit clunky.)
Whereas the original Terminator is a funky, down-and-dirty time-travel sleeper that took everyone by surprise in 1984, T2 was a colossal entertainment that reveled in the fact that Schwarzenegger had become an action superhero (just as, I'm sure, Cameron reveled in the fact that he was now an A-list director). T2's story—a terrific extension of Terminator's plot that has Arnold returning as a bad-ass good guy—is an exhilarating and fresh take on the original film's mythology and the perfect vehicle for Arnold's moviestar persona. This is a movie that roars on all cylinders, leaving you breathless and giddy. If it seems to have slow spots weighing down the middle, that's only because the rest of the film's pace is near absurd in its relentlessness.
In terms of special effects, T2 is a landmark achievement. The liquid-metal T-1000—Arnold's nemesis—is an extraordinary computer-modeled creation that holds up just fine almost 10 years later. And even if the T-1000 does defy all scientific logic, you have to forgive it simply because it looks so damn cool. Other effects in the film, such as the nuclear blast and the battered-Terminator make-up effects, aren't holding up as well. Instead, they're taking on a nice "charming" quality that you just shrug away. Nevertheless, T2 still has the power to grab you by the throat.
What kind of special-edition DVD treatment might we expect from the self-professed king of the world? Why, a set that has a lot of wonderful, obsequious things to say about the film's creator, naturally. Throughout this disc's supplements (which I'll get to in a moment), you'll listen to nearly every member of the crew fawning over Jim's directorial talents. I found myself grating my teeth, but it's awfully difficult to fault the super-ego of a man who directed at least two of the most influential and powerful films in the history of science fiction.
T2: Ultimate Edition presents three separate versions of the film, each of which you can watch fluidly through seamless branching. You can choose the theatrical version, the extended cut (which contains such legendary deleted scenes as Michael Biehn's dream-sequence cameo and Schwarzenegger's hilarious "smiling Terminator" performance), or an "extended" extended cut that tacks on an alternate ending. (You access the third option through an Easter egg or with your remote control's title function.)
HOW'S IT LOOK?
This new special-edition DVD gives us T2 in glorious anamorphic widescreen. This is a fine digital presentation with which you can show off your home-theater system. I've always admired the way Cameron shoots night scenes—everything has a hard steely blue edge, and the blacks are so deep, it's like you're peering into (couldn't resist) an abyss. This transfer brings across that palette accurately. However, this transfer was created early in DVD's history and has some problems that we're more aware of now. In short, the image has a digital look, containing significant edge enhancement.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
If you're like me, you've long used your various T2 discs as your audio benchmarks when buying new equipment or just showing off for friends and family. On this DVD, you get an enveloping Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX channel, as well as a dts 5.1 ES track, both of which will make you giggle helplessly with geeky joy. The soundtrack is full and rich and realistic.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Van Ling, the designer of the fluidly interactive DVD menus for The Abyss and Independence Day, has come up with some great thematic menus for T2. He thrusts you into the world of the film, from hovering Hunter Killers to the Terminator factory to the Time Displacement Chamber. Some have complained about the interactive nature of some DVD menus, but I'm a big fan.
Beyond the menus, most of the supplements have been translated directly from the special-edition laser disc. However, the DVD format offers some interesting variations to their presentation. For example, during the audio commentary, the DVD identifies the various speakers in subtitles. Incidentally, this commentary, which features 25 members of the cast and crew, isn't scene-specific and yet it's one of the most fascinating and informative commentaries I've heard. (All three versions of the film sport a seamlessly branched version of the commentary, too.)
Side B of T2 holds the bulk of the disc's special-edition material. The first submenu offers three featurettes, each clocking in at the 20-to-30 minute range. The first, "The Making of T2" is a fun little promo piece that originally aired on television. The second, "T2: More Than Meets the Eye" is the best of the bunch, and talks at length about the deleted scenes and the film's extended cut. I've always had a bone to pick with Cameron about some of the scenes he deleted from Aliens—namely, the scene in which Ripley learns about her daughter—but in T2, I think his decisions were on the money (although Arnold's smiling scene is a laugh riot.) The third featurette, "The Making of T2: 3-D: Breaking the Screen Barrier" is about the creation of the Universal Studios attraction.
The most notable supplement here (and on the laserdisc) is the Data Core, a book-length, mostly text-based history of the film's history and production. Each chapter of the incredibly elaborate Data Core covers an aspect of the filmmaking process, from concept to publicity, and is supported by short video segments and conceptual drawings. (One fascinating tidbit I learned here was that the unused design of the Time Displacement Chamber eventually turned up in the movie Contact.) The presentation of this material hasn't changed much from its laserdisc presentation, and for that reason it produces a nice feeling of nostalgia.
Also on Side B, you'll find the complete screenplay, more than 700 storyboards, and extensive cast and crew biographies. You can view a gaggle of domestic and international publicity materials. DVD-ROM features let you view the screenplay and jump to a scene to watch a given scene's translation to film.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Even if you own the benchmark special-edition laserdisc, you'll need to pick up this relatively inexpensive DVD—if only for Van Ling's thematic menus and the new sound presentation. The brushed-metal sleeve is also a nice touch. This fine DVD set is easily one of the most impressive releases of the year—despite its gratingly "rah-rah" pro-Cameron thrust.