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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Complete First Season
Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // August 19, 2008
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted August 12, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Because I'm so self-indulgent, I'm going to describe the evolutionary process that found me being a fan of Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Now, I've seen the first two Terminator films countless times like everybody else has, and I can quote them pretty well from memory. I didn't see the third because, well, it's clear that it was a bit of a cash grab, so why bother? So it was with trepidation that I crept up on what many people seem to call the Terminator Show. And I sure didn't watch it when it aired either. Then I went to the San Diego Comic-Con and attended a show runners panel in which creator Josh Friedman, whose previous writing credits were for the Black Dahlia and War of the Worlds remakes, came across as a nice, funny guy. You see, the panel included Lost show runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, and just about everyone was asking those two questions, to the point when Friedman said that he "felt like a Pip." And from there, why not give the show a whirl? After watching Season One, I've got to hand it to him. Big ups, Josh Friedman, I read your book you magnificent bastard!

By no means does The Sarah Conner Chronicles attempt to rewrite the history or the mythology of the Terminator franchise that has already been established. In fact, the belief appears to be that Sarah was perhaps one of the strongest, more grounded characters in the sci-fi/action genres, and that perhaps one of the reasons why Rise of the Machines was so poorly received is because she was missing from it. So Sarah is played by Lena Headey (300), and John is played by Thomas Dekker (Heroes). The show is initially set in 1999, where Sarah is engaged to Charley Dixon (Dean Winters, Oz), and John is going to high school in the Midwest. A T-800 has been sent to find him, and when it makes its intentions known, John is saved by Cameron (Summer Glau, Serenity), a female terminator. Both cyborgs were sent back in time from the future but, obviously, Cameron was sent to protect John. So while Sarah, John and Cameron try to do whatever possible to keep Skynet from starting a war, the main terminator, named Cromartie, tries to hunt down John. Simple enough, I know. However, when it comes to Sarah Conner Chronicles, there are some slight modifications to every little bit of technology. First off, the cyborgs here are a hell of a lot more resourceful than previous models; one manages to recreate a new skin for itself after it rebooted as an endoskeleton. It regenerated in a bathtub full of blood that was pretty damn cool. And an advanced model robot named a T-888 was introduced in the season as well. Those cyborgs acclimate more effectively with humans than previous models have, and one even appeared to have been married. There is another model whose features have yet to be explained fully though.

I think one of my main concerns when I heard and later watched the show was whether or not they could afford a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget, when talking about production values. You can't make a $25 million episode a week, last I checked. But Friedman, who appears to have contributed to writing some or all of the first season's nine episode run, manages to strike an effective balance. There is quite a bit of action, and sure, there is an occasional moment where a stunt or an effect looks a little bit goofy. But most of it is pretty well done. There were at least two or three car sequences that were cool to watch, and occasionally I found myself surprised that the actions performed were done for this little show on Fox. As far as creatively, he fills in the blanks rather well. One of the potential pitfalls the show faces at all times was the legacy of the work before it. Let's face it, the atmosphere of the films is hard to ignore, so it's supplemented and subtly embraced at the same time. In "The Demon Hand," the seventh episode of the season, the prison psychiatrist at Tuscadero is now played by Bruce Davison (Longtime Companion), and his monologue about when the T-800 and T-1000 both came to the hospital for Sarah is fascinating. You remember the scene from T2, and the psychiatrist's reaction was more for laughs than anything, but you never saw his reaction or what might have occurred afterwards, and Davison conveys how this vision has haunted him. A key scene in the season finale "What He Beheld" where an FBI agent (played by Richard T. Jones of Judging Amy lore) and a SWAT team try to take out one of the cyborgs, and the sequence is set to Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" that is absolutely awesome. It's not related to anything, but I wanted to mention how cool it was. Another scene in another episode finds John meeting up with two boys playing a game of catch; the hitter, who's barely five years old, is discovered to be Kyle Reese. It sounds corny, but it's done in a dare I say poignant manner and is something that we hadn't seen before in the films.

The other question perhaps tantamount on everyone's minds is just how do these actors measure up to those that proceeded them cinematically. I think the jury is still out a little bit to be honest with you. Season one after all only lasted nine episodes, but if I was forced to make a "stay or go" decision on each one, Headey does have the toughness that Linda Hamilton did. She brings a more emotionally conflicted side to the role, regretting that John has basically been without a childhood, fulfilling his future by saving the world and all. Dekker is probably one of the other characters who gets the most room to work, as the only real point of reference was Edward Furlong in T2, so he can move onward and upward. Glau is a bit of a mixed bag. In the show, her terminator model has yet to be defined, which means she'll probably be able to do stuff that others (even the T-888) can't. It could potentially be huge. On the flip side though, she's no Schwarzenegger. I know, nobody can be I guess, but I think there's a bit of unwanted human nuance in the role. When she walks, there's a bit of a swagger, when she talks, she tends to pick up small bits of slang "gonna, hafta, etc." a little too easily. Arnold was as literal as you got. He picked up what was taught to him, he walked and talked like a cold-blooded robot with an Austrian accent. But again, there's some more to her character that hasn't been revealed. So we'll see what comes of it.

Easily the casting surprise of the millennium is that of Brian Austin Green. Yeah, the kid who was in Beverly Hills, 90210. He plays a character that I'd rather not spoil the surprise on, but it's not a hard leap to make, and it's a stroke of luck. And since I was ready to watch him go off on some breakdancing tangent, not only was I surprised that he didn't, but he plays another guy who won't hesitate to kill to advance a cause, and he only truly trusts a small group of people. Friedman summed up the surprise of hiring Green for the role he plays on the show rather well by saying at the Con, "Brian Austin Green? Really?", but Friedman also said he nailed the role perfectly, and I agree. He doesn't come into the season until halfway through, and you're almost surprised to see him, but you'll wind up liking the character, I think.

The Disc:
Video:

The Sarah Conner Chronicles comes to standard definition in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation to presumably retain the glory of its high-definition broadcasts. The detail looks pretty good, but the problem in some of the shows is that the edge enhancement in some episodes is visible sporadically. This isn't a large distraction. Quality-wise, things look good.

Audio:

A word on the show's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack; it is extremely bass heavy, so much so that some environmental effects that you wouldn't think require low-end fidelity somehow end up using it. What winds up happening is that you compensate, and fairly soft dialogue sounds that much softer. There are some directional effects that sound well-placed and excellent, and some of the action sequences are quietly immersive, so I'd chalk the soundtrack up to a better-than-expected experience.

Extras:

In terms of format, the first season's nine episodes are spread out over three discs, which perhaps might border a little on overkill, but at least the extras aren't too bad. Disc one has commentary on the pilot from Friedman, director David Nutter, Glau and executive producer James Middleton. Aside from discussing how they had to redo an action sequence because of the Virginia Tech shootings, nobody really brings anything to the table. Friedman continues to be jokey, but that's a good thing. The omitted sequence is included as a deleted scene on the episode, along with four others (9:02), but aside from a nice sequence where Sarah protects John, the scenes are forgettable. On "The Turk," there's a two-minute deleted scene that's also forgettable, and Friedman returns to do a commentary on the episode, along with Headey, Dekker and executive producer John Wirth. Dekker is a livelier participant, and the track is more anedoctal than fun. "Creating the Chronicles" is a three-part look at the making of the show, starting with "Reboot" (16:41), which examines the show within the context of the franchise. Casting and story ideas are discussed and the cast share their thoughts on the roles. The crew discuss production difficulties and how to create robots, along with shooting for TV. It's a good piece, followed up with "Future War" (10:23), which examines the "Dungeons and Dragons " episode, and the origins of the episode. Green shares his thoughts on the character, while the visual effects team talk about the effects created for the episode. "The Demon Hand" (11:54) looks at the creative chances taken in the episode, along with the flirting of the cinematic franchise by the show. This one is an interesting piece. A gag reel (3:35) is full of flubs and giggles but nothing memorable.

Disc two has audition tapes for Headey, Dekker and Jones, but at 11:17 they were a little long. Glau has footage from a dance rehearsal here as well (1:41), but that's a potload of boring. An animatic (3:25) for the pilot episode is included, along with a deleted scene from "Dungeons and Dragons" (2:08). Disc three includes an extended cut of "The Demon Hand" (51:47), with introduction, but it's in unfinished form and two-channel audio, but the deleted scenes (7:22) are included for your reference. A commentary on "What He Beheld" with Friedman, Glau, Green and Ian Goldberg is here, but there's virtually no information to gain from this commentary either.

Final Thoughts:

In a way, I almost feel bad for Terminator - The Sarah Conner Chronicles. On one hand, the show is smartly written, the performances are good, and the stories are action packed and better than expected. On the other hand, the show might fall victim to two things; the continued stigma of being a show on the Terminator, which as I've tried to explain is an unfair stereotype, but its airtime runs smack up against Heroes on Mondays at 9. I really hate that two good science fiction shows are airing against each other as some kind of broadcast Thunderdome, but I encourage everyone to check out the show for a couple of episodes; I firmly believe you might wind up being as hooked as I am.

P.S., for the record, I did manage to see some footage of Terminator Salvation, which McG is shooting for theatrical release in the summer of 2009. I think the show at this point might be better than the movie will eventually become, but we'll see.

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