James Cameron made The Terminator pretty early in his directorial career, yet it remains to be one of his most applauded efforts nearly 30 years after the fact. This film introduced us to Sarah Connor, the young and innocent waitress who finds herself targeted by a serial killer. One evening, she comes dreadfully close to being gunned down in the middle of a crowded club, but is rescued by another stranger, Kyle Reese, who drops the weight of the world on her shoulders besides:
Coming from a post-apocalyptic 2029, Kyle explains that the world has been taken over by machines. There's still a small pocket of resistance that's struggling to survive, and their leader just happens to be Sarah's future son - John Connor. The machines figure the easiest way to destroy humanity and take ownership of the world once and for all, is to kill Sarah before she has a chance to give birth to the future resistance leader. So, they dispatch a cyborg through time to destroy her. The only thing standing between her and certain death is Kyle, her mystery man from the future. Despite his experience fighting the machines, is he capable to stop a 'Terminator' on his own without any of the future's weapons at his disposal?
It's a simple premise but it's one that held infinite possibilities for expanding the story (as evidenced by the inevitable sequels). Although James Cameron is known nowadays for implementing many thematic ideas to drive a story, The Terminator plays out as simple as the original premise suggests - Character development isn't anything to write home about, and there's nothing more complicated at play than a simple game of cat and mouse. I hate to make it sound so trivially bland, but that's The Terminator in a nutshell - Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up with lots of guns and unleashes hell while Kyle and Sarah flee for their lives.
Despite its simplistic plot and character structure though, James Cameron really knew how to make such a simple film feel like it had a lot of depth. There are a couple of moments when Kyle's narration gives us a brief glimpse at what a post apocalyptic world run by machines is like, and although these sequences don't add up to much, they give the audience just enough sight and sound to create the full blown mythos in their minds. Regardless of how I feel about Cameron's capability as a director after the likes of Avatar, I can't take away the sheer brilliance it took to pull this off. Much like Spielberg with Jaws, Cameron gave us a little so that we might imagine a lot. This was a gamble, for sure, but it was a gamble that worked. Couple that with the amazing cinematography that heightened the action and suspense, and it's no wonder why The Terminator was as effective as it was with audiences worldwide.
Terminator 2 - Judgment Day could just have easily been a rehash of the original with a much bigger budget, but Cameron wasn't content in taking that route. A rough version of the story he wanted to tell at large was developed shortly after The Terminator proved to be a major success, but some haggling over the intellectual-property rights gummed up the works. Furthermore, the special effects just weren't up to snuff for bringing the T-1000 to life, and the director wasn't willing to settle for something less than he was after. In 1991 however, T2 was released and met with critical acclaim.
T2 fast forwards to when John Connor is ten years old, and he's quite a handful for his age. Could we expect much more from a child who was raised to believe he was going to grow up to become an important military leader, only to be ripped away from his mother and told she was nuts? Acting out, he's consistently in trouble with the law - He steals money from ATM machines, rides around town causing a ruckus on his dirt bike and makes life for his foster parents a living hell. While John is separated from his mother, the machines seize the opportunity to put him down while he's still a non-threat. They send a T-1000, a new Terminator model that's made of liquid metal and virtually indestructible. A T-800 (the same model that tried to kill Sarah) is also sent, but this time as the Connors protector. Since it seems wiping out a single Terminator will do nothing to change the future, Sarah sets a plan in motion to kill the developer of the super CPU that will ultimately bring the world to its knees. In this respect, Sarah is taking a page out of the 'book' of the machines, hoping a little proactive action will stop Judgment Day from ever happening.
Again, the premise of the film is pretty simplistic, but the ideology this time around feels much stronger. Of course, the real strengths of this film lies in its incredible action sequences, as well as its ability to keep a rather lengthy runtime as painless as possible. I can't honestly say the script itself is mind blowing or that the acting is superb, as Edward Furlong and Linda Hamilton have a tendency to go over the top. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick aren't exactly known for their acting talent, either.
No, once again, James Cameron was the key behind making the entire production a complete success. Despite the flaws the film may have in its writing or acting, Cameron has made Terminator 2 an entirely seamless experience. Everything that happens in the film, be it an action scene or any given conversation, is all in there for a reason. Nothing is gratuitous. The end result is a film that seems to be almost too> perfect in how it's structured, but even if you disagree with that, there's no arguing that T2 remains one of the top action power houses of all time. James Cameron's unique vision here is just as fresh today as it was 20 years ago. If you're one of the few people who have never seen this before, then you're not just missing a great film; you're missing one of the best sci-fi action extravaganzas ever to come out of Hollywood.
Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines is where things really went south. Although James Cameron teased the possibility of a T3 numerous times throughout the 90's, he eventually decided he didn't want to continue the franchise. The first two films told such a complete story, that he felt pushing forward would be unnecessary and probably produce an inferior film. However, Cameron knew how important T3 would be to Arnold, so he allowed him to go ahead and get the ball rolling for the 'threequel'. The only stipulation? "Take nothing less than 30 million for the role (paraphrased)." Clearly, this film was going to be made for all the wrong reasons. The originator of the franchise brought a decent story full circle and that's where it should have ended.
Instead, we're treated to a typical Hollywood sequel - They took the same old story and recycled it, making minimal changes along the way in order to make it feel fresh. Basically, John Connor is older now and living off the grid. You know, just in case another Terminator comes back in time looking for him. Predictably, a new model does step out of a time bubble - A deceptively gorgeous T-X, who seems to be a feminine T-800 and T-1000 all in one... with some lethal additions, of course. Her mission is to get rid of any resistance leader from the future, up to and including John's future wife.
So, this is basically Terminator 2 all over again, but without any of the thought provoking themes that question what humanity and fate are supposed to mean. It has no heart and no soul. No, what T3 does is fulfill the desire to see lots of gunfire, explosions and robots throwing each other through walls. At best, T3 is nothing more than a summer popcorn action flick. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't very good, either. Its only saving grace is that many of the action scenes were actually more impressive than I thought they would have been. Without Cameron's directing eye, I thought the action would lose the flare that made it so exhilarating in T2. Fortunately for us, director Jonathan Mostow stepped up to the plate and gave us more than a few memorable sequences. Does this make up for the rehashed plot? Not really, but at least the film is fun, even if it isn't in the spirit of the first two.
Many might disagree with me here, but I actually found Terminator: Salvation to be a damn good flick. I had my concerns, of course, one of which being how the visual tone was going to be conveyed. T3 missed every opportunity to keep the viewer grounded in reality, or even provide any real suspense, as it often opted to wow the audience with flashy effects and cartoonish machine designs instead. Much to my surprise though, Salvation returned the franchise to the dark and gritty roots that made the story so appealing to begin with. Every Skynet branded design is logical when taking Cameron's directorial offerings into consideration; they're cold, just as physically menacing and devastatingly calculative. To complete the post-apocalyptic world McG set out to achieve, he shook off the tone dampening Hollywood sheen that T3 had adopted. There's not a single environmental setting that looks pretty or welcoming; everything is comprised of large pockets of dirt and rubble as far as the eye can see.
The film does more than just look the part however, as the context behind why the war between man and machine is so important, is more prevalent in Salvation than it ever was before thanks to the introduction of Marcus Wright. This character shows us that the human spirit is always going to have the will to adapt and push on no matter how great the challenge, no matter which 'life defining' characteristics change along the way. Where there's an able mind and a willing heart, there's a light to be found in even the most hopeless of situations. That's really the point of the entire film, and if you want an in-depth breakdown, you can read my full length review HERE. I'll just echo in this Salvation recap, that the writers took a significant gamble in shifting the focus of the franchise from John Connor to Marcus Wright. In my opinion, that gamble paid off and then some. Does Terminator Salvation live up to the standards that were set by Cameron's previous efforts? Of course not, but I'll take this film over Terminator 3 any day of the week, especially since it reintroduces the thematic elements that helped make T2 an instant classic.
This digipack is housed in a slipcover that has a 'T' carved out of the front. The horizontal bar of the 'T' reveals the eyes of a T-800, whereas the vertical bar shows the nose and part of the mouth. Removing the slip reveals an entirely embossed T-800 skull. Opening the digipack, you'll see pictures that say 'T1' and 'T2', and opening it again reveals 'T3' and 'T4'. Once the digipack is completely unfolded, you'll see five black discs inside. Despite sporting new disc art, each disc is exactly the same as the individual releases already available:
-Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (Skynet Edition)
-Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines (corrected 1080p video)
-Terminator: Salvation (2 disc set)
Despite the fact that the Terminator franchise is amongst the most iconic of all time, Blu-ray hasn't treated it as such.
The Terminator was first released in the format's infancy, and suffers from a poor encode that leaves the image to look soft and pixilated. Furthermore, black levels had a tendency to crush. It's a very, very minor step up from the DVD and only a direct A/B comparison will allow you to see a difference. People have been waiting for a proper remaster, or even a proper encode, for quite some time. Unfortunately, since this disc is exactly the same as the original Region 1 release, the same crappy encode/transfer is what we get in the Terminator Anthology.
The kicker? The Terminator has been 'remastered' and is getting released overseas on October 1st. Nobody really knows if this is just a new encode of the existing transfer or what (although it's rumored to be the much anticipated work done by Lowry), but it's bound to look better than what we already have. Foxconnect and Canadian retailers are listing a September 11th release for a Blu-ray that sports the same cover art as the remastered edition in the UK, but nobody knows if these will also contain the remastered disc.
This is massively confusing. The Terminator Anthology is a Best Buy exclusive, and if internet rumors are to be trusted (which they almost never are), that exclusivity will end to allow a wider release near the end of October. That means that while other parts of the world are set to receive a remastered edition of The Terminator, anyone who buys this set at the same time in the States will have the same crappy release they've been watching for years. Yep, if you ever want a remastered disc, you're going to have to double dip, and import at that. There's no real confirmation if the UK release will be region free, but most titles distributed by Fox tend to be, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say you can pre-order without a care.
As far as the audio on this disc is concerned, all we have is a 5.1 mix that actually implements different sound effects while also missing vital bits of the musical score. The original, superior mono track is not available on this release.
Terminator 2 - Judgment Day had two releases on the format - The original release didn't look too bad, but it was problematic for sure. It was somewhat bit-starved, as evidenced by a fair amount of digital artifacts. The artifacts weren't nearly as obnoxious as they were with T1, but it was obvious a better encode could have improved the picture by a fair margin. Black levels were typically strong but inconsistent, and edge enhancement was also abound. Years later, the Skynet Edition (which is the disc that comes in this Anthology) fixed all of these issues - Black levels were immaculate, colors were bolder, while edge enhancement and compression issues were thankfully a thing of the past. Unfortunately, too much DNR (digital noise reduction) was applied. Although the Skynet Edition actually seemed to reveal more clarity and detail than the previous release, every 'fine' detail had been obliterated. The DNR wasn't as bad as the Patton Blu-ray, but it did rob T2 of a filmic appearance.
The audio on T2's Skynet Edition was quite the revelation however, and I'd find it difficult to believe this film could sound any better than it does here.
Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines had a problematic release as well, as it originally featured a 1080i encode instead of the standardized 1080p. Eventually, the fixed 1080p version was silently released to retailers, and if you were worrying if they would flub and include the wrong version in the Terminator Anthology, put those fears to bed. This is the 1080p release. Unfortunately, both versions of T3 have lossy audio.
Yes, the first three films still leave a lot to be desired, but Terminator: Salvation is a home run. The video is pretty much flawless and the audio is still one of the most immersive experiences on Blu-ray to date. I didn't hesitate in my previous review of Salvation to say it was demo worthy, and it's still my go to disc for showing off my home theater.
For complete breakdowns of the audio, video and supplemental material, you can read these reviews by fellow DVDTalk staff and myself. Again, these are the exact same discs already on the market, so there's no need to provide an exhaustive rundown here:
The Terminator - Blu-ray Review by Joshua Zyber
Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (Skynet Edition) - Blu-ray Review by Michael Zupan
Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines - HD-DVD Review by Joshua Zyber (No Blu-ray Review Available)
Terminator Salvation - Blu-ray Review by Michael Zupan
It all comes down to this - If you already own these films on Blu-ray, there's going to be very little incentive for you to upgrade other than the snazzy new box. Speaking of which, the package is a lethal blend of class and bad-ass, and if you love to display great looking sets or just want to have all four films in one box, then the Terminator Anthology is nothing to scoff at. If you don't own most or all of these films however, it's a fantastic set at a reasonable price. There's no question that I can recommend this set to the masses, but there's a less than stellar A/V presentation across the board that may leave a sour taste in your mouth. The fact that the UK is getting a remastered version of The Terminator in early October only adds salt to the wound, and is bound to make most who know about its existence question why it wasn't included in the Anthology. All in all, it makes what should have been the penultimate Terminator set, just another blatant cash grab by the studio. Even if you don't own the previous films on Bu, buying this set now means you'll likely have to invest in a remastered version of The Terminator, because sooner or later we're bound to see it released in Region 1.