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The year is 2018, roughly 14 years after Skynet became self aware and unleashed a nuclear apocalypse (known as Judgment Day) upon the human race. Since that fateful day, survivors have banded together to form the Resistance, a militant organization that acts as humanity's final hope against extinction. John Connor isn't the leader he was fabled to be as of yet, but his pre-existing knowledge of the machines has gained him a lot of respect amongst the ranks. When the cogs of war have felt the human spirit was nothing but a distant memory, Connor has continually been the motivational voice to keep morale high when it mattered most. On the flip side of the coin, there are also those that consider the hype around Connor to be foolishly unwarranted. Connor's time to stand up and command is drawing close though, as pieces of the puzzle his mother told him about when he was just a boy are finally coming to fruition. Initiating a raid on a Skynet base reveals blueprints for the T-800 model he became familiar with during his childhood, as well as a termination order that has his father, Kyle Reese, at the top of the list.
Meanwhile, the central character of this particular Terminator film, Marcus Wright, wakes up naked and confused at a decimated Skynet facility. He was sentenced to death in 2003 via lethal injection, but had agreed to donate his body to science shortly before his execution. Now he's up and walking around again for reasons unbeknownst to him, forced to explore the cracks and crevices of a world he's become a stranger to. Entirely unaware of the ongoing annihilation of the human race by the machines, Marcus eventually finds himself on the run from a T-600 model terminator. Kyle Reese saves Marcus from the death-hungry pile of tin, and fills him in on everything that's been going on since Judgment Day. Later that evening, they hear Connor broadcasting an uplifting message of hope and survival. Tired of waiting around to be found and exterminated, they decide to leave their shelter so they can find and join the Resistance. Unfortunately, Reese is kidnapped by the machines along the way, and is held at a Skynet facility that the Resistance is planning to destroy. Connor learns of his father's capture, and worries the attack on the Skynet base will drastically alter the fate of mankind, and any hope it has to survive along with it. Furthermore, Marcus' eventual arrival at Resistance headquarters brings important information to light that challenges everything Connor thought he knew about the machines capabilities and wartime strategies.
One of the major concerns I had going into this film was how the visual tone was going to be conveyed. Terminator 3 missed every opportunity it had to keep the viewer grounded in reality, as it often opted to wow the audience with flashy effects and cartoonish machine designs instead. Fortunately, Terminator Salvation returns the series to the dark and gritty roots that made the franchise so appealing to begin with. Every Skynet branded design is logical when taking James Cameron's directorial offerings into consideration; they're cold, just as physically menacing as the fleshless exoskeleton from the first film, and devastatingly calculative. To complete the post-apocalyptic world McG set out to achieve, he shook off the tone dampening Hollywood sheen from the environment. There's not a single environmental setting that looks pretty, as mostly everything is comprised of large pockets of dirt and rubble as far as the eye can see. Everyone behind the scenes deserves a pat on the back for giving this film a visual style that earns Salvation the right to be considered canon. Most of all however, the fantastically bleak visual design has helped to faithfully restore the vital elements of fear, suspense, and hopelessness to the franchise.
This film does more than look the part however, as the context behind why the war between man and machine is so important is more prevalent now than it ever was, thanks to the introduction of Marcus Wright. Marcus shows the audience 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 so-called 'life defining' characteristics in a person might change. Where there's an able mind and a willing heart, there's hope even in the most hopeless of situations. The writing staff took a huge gamble making the focus of a Terminator war film someone other than John Connor, because if the actor portraying Marcus didn't drive these points home the film would have been a total flop. Thankfully, Sam Worthington not only plays his 'unique' role to perfection, he's even more engaging than the talented Christian Bale. I'm a huge fan of Christian Bale's work and he certainly did a great job at portraying Connor, but if Bale hadn't absolutely insisted on playing the part of Connor as opposed to Marcus, this would have been an entirely different film for me, and perhaps not for the better. Bale has a way of being overly intense at times, so I'm glad to see Worthington was consistently able to make Marcus one of the more relatable characters I've seen on film in quite some time.
Terminator Salvation is truly a suitable name for this film in more ways than one. It doesn't quite live up to the standards that were set by Cameron's efforts, but it successfully brings many more appreciable pieces to the table than its less than fulfilling predecessor. Terminator 3 had almost made the franchise formulaic - Make John a little older, have Arnie back to protect the future Resistance leader, and send back an even more complex robot from the future to destroy them - yawn. This movie was brave enough to take the franchise somewhere that wasn't going to solely make it an action-packed war film featuring gobs of murderous machines, and it did so while remaining thoughtful, relevant, and keeping every aspect of the story believably canon. If you're a Terminator fan that's looking for an excuse to get sucked back into the story that you grew up with, Terminator Salvation is probably the best reason we could have hoped for.
Terminator Salvation impresses quite a bit with its 1080p VC-1 encode (2.39:1). The film's color design gave me quite a bit of concern before screening this at home, as it's bleak and dark post-apocalyptic look could have brought with it black crush (or perhaps not being dark enough), or perhaps even causing a nasty reduction in sharpness or detail. All those fears can be put to rest, as not only does the transfer perfectly convey the darkness of the world that's in the midst of termination, it keeps a nearly flawless level of detail, depth, and dimensionality present throughout. There's no edge enhancement to complain about, and a very fine layer of film grain keeps worries of digital noise reduction off the table. There are a couple of nighttime scenes that do appear to be a little brighter than they should, but I believe this is an accurate representation of what I saw in theaters over the summer. Another minor complaint that keeps this from being rated five stars for picture quality is the presence of some -very- minor artifacting when things are moving along at a fast clip. However, the fast moving action keeps this from being a noticeable issue unless you're watching this on a really big screen and looking for it. Still, all in all, this is one of the better looking titles I've seen on Blu-ray in a while, and is sure to please most every video aficionado out there.
Wow. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is what lossless audio at home is all about. The entire sound field is engaged throughout the entirety of the film. When things are quiet, there's always a little noise in the rears to provide pinpoint ambience that really brings alive the post-apocalyptic world of Terminator Salvation. The track doesn't disappoint when the action gets into gear either, as the sound effects are loud and realistic sounding enough to make you believe a Hunter Killer is right in your living room. Explosions, gunfire, three story tall mechanical movement; it's all flawlessly reproduced to not only provide a loud directional experience at home, but it does so with believable audible depth all around. The bass is quite an experience as well, because it has the ability to rumble in your theater as well as in your body, while never coming across as overpowering to other elements of the track. Dialogue never seems to suffer as a result either, and with how loud the experience is on this disc, that's saying a lot. This track has it all, and leaves me with no nitpick whatsoever to deter this from receiving a five star rating. If you want a new demo disc for home audio, this is it.
Included in this set are three discs. The first includes the Director's Cut of the film and BD-Live access, the second contains the original Theatrical Cut as well as the bonus features listed below, and the third has a digital copy of the film.
Maximum Movie Mode - For those of you who fell in love with the Maximum Movie Mode as it was presented on the Watchmen Blu-ray release, Warner Brothers has treated us to the best supplemental feature on any digital format to date yet again. McG stands between two screens; one to show us the final product, the other to show us behind the scenes footage, interviews, how the effects were crafted for some of the more impressive special effect shots in the film, as well as presenting a great wealth of information himself. Maximum Movie Mode basically serves as a one stop shop, as you get pretty much all the information you could possibly want out of a director's commentary, while the director interacts with the usual supplemental stuff you'd normally have to go down an exhaustive 'extras' menu to typically enjoy. You'll also have the ability to play with some interactive stuff yourself during the Maximum experience, such as pictures of storyboard work and production, with my personal favorite being a timeline for everything that happens throughout the entire Terminator mythology we've been presented to date. Going through the extras on any given release can be a daunting task, especially if a commentary is as yawn inducing as watching your grandmother fill her candy jar, but Maximum Movie Mode proves once again to be the special feature that is likely to entertain every supplemental viewer at home, casual or otherwise. If you care to watch some of the behind the scenes featurettes presented in Maximum Movie Mode on their own however, you can access them through the main disc menu under the Focus Point listing.
Reforging the Future - This feature clocks in at nearly 20 minutes in length, and covers how the people behind the scenes were able to accomplish the insane task of making a unique Terminator flick, while making sure it looks as faithful to the Terminator lore we've been previously introduced to as possible. This focuses mainly on all the physical aspects we see in the film, such as special effects, wardrobe, stage, and most importantly, robot design.
The Moto-Terminator - New to Terminator lore, the 'Moto-Terminator' is a machine you don't want on your tail if you're trying to put some distance between you and the machines. They're fast, and can maneuver their way around obstacles in ways that would spell instant death if a human being attempted the same. They're featured in a key action sequence in the film, and this nearly 9 minute featurette shows how this concept was brought from conception to the finished product we see on film.
Director's Cut vs. Theatrical Cut - There's honestly not that much of a difference between both cuts. McG stated in early interviews that the Director's Cut would be an additional 30 or 40 minutes when compared to what we've seen in theaters, but that doesn't appear to be the case as there's only 3 minutes of new material here. Most of the additions come in the form of added violence, some awesome boobage, and some minor scene extensions. Although I typically frown on this sort of marketing for a 'Director's Cut', I can't complain this time around because these 3 minutes really do enhance the original product. Certain moments in the film really seemed like they had some obvious cuts when I first saw the film in theaters, but the Director's Cut makes things seem a bit more seamless. The fact that Warner Brothers have included the Theatrical Cut as well is a plus, since we won't have to worry about them making us double dip for it somewhere down the line.
The list of supplements may be small, but I feel everything that needed to be pointed out or said is done within the perfectly executed Maximum Movie Mode. The information there is interactive and never seems to bore, and it provides a lot of insight for anyone who's willing to learn about every aspect of the film's production. I'll take 'quality' over 'quantity' any day, and the supplements on this release although few in number, certainly round out to be one of the finest supplemental offerings we could have received for Salvation. Hopefully Warner Brothers makes Maximum Movie Mode the norm for big titles such as this in the future.
Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines was a blatant cash-grab for Hollywood, but Terminator Salvation brings the series back to a place that's filled with both jaw-dropping action and thought provoking, thematically driven concepts. Even more impressive is its ability to heighten the man vs. machine storyline element by using a character other than John Connor. Sam Worthington brings more to the table than even Christian Bale this time around, and that says a lot. Salvation not only feels familiar and canon despite taking a new, bold direction in storytelling, but it also returns the terminator machines themselves to a place where they can once again be considered intimidating to the audience. The Blu-ray disc presentation can be considered practically reference quality especially when taking the audio design into consideration, and the Maximum Movie Mode is enough to make any supplement loving geek pleased with how incredibly fun and informative it is to watch. This is easily a release I can highly recommend, but those who don't care for double dips should be warned - That extra 30 or 40 minutes McG told us about might surface at some point when Warner Brothers wants to cash in on the film once again, but considering how well the film stands on its own as is in the Director's Cut, it probably wouldn't be for the better.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!