FIRST, WHAT'S WITH THE CASE?
What on EARTH was Artisan thinking when it decided to cram this poor defenseless disc set into a constricted metal prison, from which you can extract your precious new version of T2 only with a blowtorch and pliers? I am now the proud owner of a metal sleeve I will never use, and a keepcase that looks like it's been dragged behind my car for the day. Understand that the vast majority of these discs have this problem, so buyer beware. Fortunately, Artisan has been quick to acknowledge its error and has set up an email address through which you can obtain a free new plastic sleeve: firstname.lastname@example.org. This solution still leaves you with a defective metal housing, which looks cool but is useless.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Once you calm down from the fit of cursing caused by the case, you're left with the inevitable questions, Do we need this new version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? Does T2: Extreme DVD really have anything new to offer, above and beyond that which T2: The Ultimate Edition gave us in summer 2000? The answer is yes and no. Yes, the new disc fixes some annoying edge enhancement that plagued previous versions. The new transfer alone is sufficient reason to pick up this new edition, particularly if you value relatively high-end video presentation. And yes, there's an insightful new commentary from James Cameron and a couple new featurettes that are undeniably cool. But no, I'm not convinced that a major selling point of this DVD—a High-Definition transfer playable by only expensive semiprofessional equipment—means anything to the vast majority of the film's audience. I'm flummoxed why Artisan has decided to trumpet and release a version of T2 that most of us won't be able to enjoy for a significant amount of time. Indeed, by the time I'll be able to fully appreciate this presentation, the DVD medium itself might by usurped by a different format, and this antiquated High-Definition disc will be a coaster on my coffee table.
But first, let's talk about the film. 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.
I loved the Ultimate Edition set, but I faulted its tone for all the wonderful, obsequious things it had to say about the film's creator. Throughout that disc's supplements, nearly every crewmember fawned over Jim's directorial talents. I found myself grating my teeth, but it was 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. The new T2: Extreme DVD dumps most of that supplemental content and offers instead a couple of new featurettes, one of which is firmly in the same tradition of Cameron worship.
YOU'RE KIDDING. AN EASTER EGG?
T2: Extreme DVD primarily offers the extended version of the film, which gives you about 16 extra minutes of footage. (This is the same footage offered on the previous release, so I won't get too in-depth about it here, except to say that although the added scenes are quite interesting to see, I wouldn't want to view them every time I watch the film.) I was initially afraid that the extended edition would be all we'd get, because I'm more a fan of the original theatrical cut, which is tighter and, after all, is the original version I was amazed by at the theater. Thankfully, the theatrical edition is on this DVD...as an EASTER EGG! On the main menu, go to Sensory Control, and press your remote's right arrow 5 times. The words "The future is not set" appear to the right, and you can now access the theatrical version.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
The transfer on T2: The Ultimate Edition wowed us back in 2000, but our expectations have increased over 3 years. When you look at that version of T2—as well as the previous barebones release—you'll see noticeable edge-enhancement halos, an off-kilter color palette, and contrasty imagery. It remains a good, watchable presentation, but it doesn't look totally filmlike. It looks digital.
Artisan presents T2: Extreme DVD in a fabulous anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. The transfer was struck from a 1080p High Definition source, and I would say that all the problems of the previous transfer are now absent. (But who's to say what I'll think in another 3 years, right?) Detail is exquisite, reaching into backgrounds. Sharpness is dead-on, avoiding going overboard toward the high-contrast look of the original DVDs. Edge halos are gone. Colors are accurate, at once more vivid and more natural. Blacks are deep and solid. Skin tones are just right. The disc is playing before me as I type, and I honestly can find nothing to complain about. I'm not even seeing any specks or flaws. This new transfer is a qualitative leap forward. Whereas the Ultimate edition gave you a great DVD presentation, the Extreme edition gives you a great film presentation. It's definitely top-notch and worth an upgrade.
The preceding comments represent my review of the video presentation on Disc 1 of T2: Extreme DVD. I watched mere moments of Disc 2's High-Definition version before deciding it was a waste of my time, considering the computer equipment I was using. (See the "What Else Is There?" section for more comments.)
HOW'S IT SOUND?
Here's an area in which T2: Extreme DVD suffers in comparison with T2: The Ultimate Edition. One of my favorite components of that earlier release was the inclusion of a powerful DTS track, which was intensely enveloping and rich. This release drops that track in favor of a new supplemental feature called Extreme Interactive Mode (more on that later) and instead offers a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX track.
This is not to say that the Dolby track is subpar. To the contrary, this is a fantastic action-movie soundtrack, full of tight, accurate, loud moments. At the high end, shouted dialog, explosions, and gunshots fare very well, coming across cleanly with little distortion. At the low end, bass has a tremendous oomph factor while retaining a terrific punchiness. Dialog is consistently clear and warm. Surround activity is always enveloping, providing for a wonderfully full and dynamic experience. I'm just saying that a direct comparison with the DTS track of the older DVD proves that the DTS track provides just a bit more spaciousness and bang.
You also get a Dolby Headphone Track, which simulates the surround experience through a set of stereo headphones.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
T2: Extreme DVD dumps many of the wonderful supplements that graced T2: The Ultimate Edition. However, there are at least two compelling supplements on this new release.
First of all, I suppose you could consider the inclusion of the film's theatrical cut as a special feature. That seems odd, but its easter egg status (see above for instructions how to access it) indeed downgrades it to a supplement.
But the primary new supplement in this set is an Audio Commentary by Cameron and co-writer William Wisher. Chalk up one more reason to buy this version of T2, because this is a damn good commentary track. This is Cameron's first-ever scene-specific audio track, and after listening to this one, you'll wish he'd done one on all his previous releases. Cameron provides an incredibly detailed discussion of the film, striking an entertaining balance between technical information and amusing anecdotes from the set. Best of all, he comes across as rather down-to-earth, praising the efforts of all involved and modestly walking us through T2's production. Wisher has good information to add, but this is definitely Cameron's track. Each voice occupies a separate channel, fostering a nice back-and-forth feel. This track has catapulted into my list of the very best DVD commentaries.
Another interesting feature on Disc 1 is the Extreme Interactive Mode, with which you can view the film while reading a text commentary and accessing intermittent behind-the-scenes footage. This is an extremely informative technical option that flashes an icon in the upper-right section of the frame when supplemental footage is available. The text information comes in the form of two subtitle tracks, one yellow and one white. The yellow text at the top of the screen focuses on technical minutia, whereas the white text at the bottom of the screen is more along the lines of fun trivia. It can be a challenge to watch both streams of text, but if you have trouble, hey, just watch it twice.
Disc 2's content is divided into three sections: Information Programs, DVD ROM, and High Definition.
Under Information Programs, you'll find two brand-new featurettes. One is excellent and the other is merely fun.
First up is No Feat But What We Make, a 24-minute documentary about T2's groundbreaking digital effects. Naturally, the piece begins by studying the origins of the effects in Cameron's own The Abyss, and acknowledges key films such as TRON and The Last Starfighter. You get new interviews with Cameron, ILM's Dennis Muren, and even Peter Jackson, discussing the evolution of digital technology. This is a terrific piece, full of fun archival behind-the-magic shots.
Wrapping up this section is T2: On the Set, a short but satisfying 8-minute montage of behind-the-scenes footage and goofs and candid moments.
Before I get to the DVD-ROM material and the High-Definition content, I'll just mention one last thing: Watch for an easter egg on this page that gives you a trailer advertising, of all things, T2: The Ultimate Edition.
I don't have much to say about these DVD-ROM features, because I tend to shy away from stuff that I can't play on my player, but I'll give you the rundown. This section contains two features that let you import digital photographs and morph them into T-1000 or T-800 Terminators. Another one lets you create fighting machines.
Under High Definition, you get the celebrated 1080i high-definition theatrical version of T2, playable only on a Microsoft Windows Media 9 Series player (on your PC). I work for a magazine about Windows technology, and at our Lab we were able to play some scenes of the film on a machine that boasted the required high-end hardware. The results looked clear and fine to me—the best PC presentation of a film that I've seen—but I still noticed jitters in the video now and then. And I'll be damned if the experience was anything near what I have in my home theater.
Seems to me that the inclusion of this high-end content is nothing more than a preview of what's to come. I would guess that no more than about 5 percent of the people who purchase this set will be able to gain anything from this High-Definition presentation. It seems odd to include it on a commercial DVD that can't help but disappoint consumers who believe they might be in for something special. And who would want to watch T2 on a PC screen? Systems administrators who spend no time at home? In my opinion, the inclusion of this presentation is a waste of time. More accurately, it's a presentation that's way too ahead of its time to be widely appreciated.
Worst, a lot of great supplements on T2: The Ultimate Edition were sacrificed to make room for this behemoth, so you're going to have to hang on to that edition.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
T2: Extreme DVD represents the third incarnation of this film on DVD. Although the inclusion of a new high-definition transfer and an illuminating commentary are adequate reasons to upgrade, Disc 2 is something of a bust—unless you have access to high-end computer hardware. Except for a couple of new featurettes, Disc 2 is aimed at the DVD-ROM audience. Consider me old-fashioned, but I like to access most of a DVD's content from my DVD player.