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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Terminator Salvation
Terminator Salvation
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // December 1, 2009
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted November 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Music and movies go hand-in-hand...so when I say that Terminator Salvation (2009) is the feature-length equivalent to a cover album, I trust you'll get the analogy. Following in the footsteps of the pitch-perfect first and second installments---and, to a lesser extent, the slightly underrated Rise of the Machines---this bleak, action-packed adventure quickly ushered in a flurry of emotions for die-hard fans, even as the film was still in production. Stop me if you felt any of these during the past year or two: disappointment when "McG" was announced as the director. Cautious optimism---to borrow a popular phrase from The Onion's A.V. Club---when Christan Bale entered the ring as John Connor. Increased optimism when a few glimpses of the trailer and production sketches became available. Confusion and laughter when Bale's infamous "outburst" was leaked. Finally, the stinging return of disappointment as the finished film underperformed at the box office this summer, sandwiched between the insipid Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the stellar Star Trek.

Terminator Salvation is a flat and uninspiring film, to be sure, and it's easy to see why: nearly all of the key players from the first two films have left the franchise during the past few decades. James Cameron, Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong were not involved with Rise of the Machines or Salvation, though Hamilton contributes her voice to a few scenes here. Brad Fiedel hasn't scored a film in nearly fifteen years, though his memorable themes have continually been used in every installment. Stan Winston passed away during production in 2008. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't on board this time around (for obvious reasons), though a partially convincing digital look-alike shows up in his place. Terminator Salvation, to its credit, fills in some of the gaps nicely: Anton Yelchin and Christian Bale---and Sam Worthington, for the most part---offer solid performances. Danny Elfman's score provides a threatening, mechanical backdrop. Also unsurprisingly, Industrial Light & Magic's digital effects provide a dynamic atmosphere.

The remaining problems, as expected, rest solely on the film's odd sense of storytelling. The Terminator franchise has branched out too far to follow one specific timeline, which includes the three previous films, a brilliant-but-canceled television series, a few dozen comic books and much, much more. For the sake of time, let's focus solely on the films. The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day served up generous portions of action, suspense, visual prowess and humanity, closing the story with a dark but hopeful coda...not counting the "happy ending" from T2's extended edition, of course. The stories were generally well-told, the suspense never let up and the characters were interesting and easy to relate to. Even Rise of the Machines did an admirable job of restarting the story and leaving things on a similar note, reminding us that the future can't always be changed. But again, it resolved everything fairly well and left the rest up to common sense: we know that humans struggled in the future, thanks to flashbacks and first-person narratives.

So why, then, is a film like Terminator Salvation necessary? Set in the post-apocalyptic world following Judgment Day and the rise of technology-driven superpower Skynet, it's a simple exercise in blowing things up first and asking questions later. John Connor (Bale) is more of a supporting character, surprisingly enough, as he leads the Resistance in their fight against the machines. Kyle Reese (Yelchin) is still a teenager at this point, fending off robots with a young girl in the smoldering remains of Los Angeles. Marcus Wright (Worthington) is the new man on the block: sentenced to death by lethal injection years ago, his body was donated to Cyberdyne Systems for the purpose of technological research...which, in this case, means he's resurrected as something more than your average human. Other supporting characters include Katherine Brewster (John's wife, first introduced in Terminator 3), Blair Williams (a Resistance fighter who develops sympathy for Wright), General Ashdown (leader of the Resistance) and several others. Most are given little to do...especially Williams, who contributes to an unnecessary quasi-romantic subplot.

Our story is a mish-mash of convenient twists, gaping plot holes and blistering action sequences, while the film's most engaging segments are ones that borrow from past installments. Long-standing quotes, such as "Come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" are thrown in for an easy crowd response. To make matters worse, the tacked-on ending hints strongly at further installments, which proves to be equally hopeful and disappointing: the next chapter(s) might be better, but probably won't be. To make a long story short, I was hoping to enjoy this a little more the second time around, and that didn't happen. Terminator Salvation occasionally works as a connect-the-dots action/adventure, but ultimately fails as a successor to the Terminator franchise.

Presented on DVD by Warner Bros., Terminator Salvation arrives with a stunning lack of fanfare. The film's technical presentation typically gets the job done, but for those hoping for a well-rounded collection of extras: keep looking, or upgrade to Blu-Ray. It all adds up to a thoroughly underwhelming release, so put Star Trek on your Christmas list instead.

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Terminator Salvation looks very good with a few mild reservations. The film's extremely desaturated color palette appears accurate, black levels are consistent and image detail is generally solid. Digital problems don't seem to be a major issue, though several instances of mosquito noise and mild pixellation were spotted along the way. It's tough to tell whether the film's intended look made these problems inevitable, as Terminator Salvation was never intended to look smooth and polished. The Blu-Ray release undoubtedly offers a tighter visual presentation...but for those limited to standard-def, there's relatively little to complain about overall.

There's nothing to complain about in the audio department, as the robust Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (with French and Spanish dubs) really packs a wallop. Though many dialogue-driven scenes are anchored squarely in the front, we're also treated to intense levels of surround activity once the action heats up. Danny Elfman's percussive score is strong without fighting for attention, creating a dynamic atmosphere that fans should enjoy. Optional English (SDH), Spanish and French subtitles are included during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Seen above, the static menu designs are simple and easy to navigate. The 115-minute main feature has been divided into 27 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes an insert for the included Digital Copy of the film.

Bonus Features

Aside from the previously-mentioned Digital Copy of the film, there's nothing here. No fluffy behind-the-scenes featurettes, no commentaries, no trailer...hell, we don't even get the available extended cut of the film. Some of this material is available on the Blu-Ray edition, which is extremely disappointing and a poor decision by the studio. I could rant for another paragraph, but it's simply not worth the effort; instead, I'll just encourage DVD fans to speak with their wallets.

UPDATE: An eagle-eyed reader pointed out that Target is offering an exclusive 2-Disc Edition, which reportedly includes the Director's Cut and roughly 30 minutes of bonus features. It's currently up for pre-order on their website and will presumably be available in-store on release day as well. This doesn't affect my rating or advice for the one-disc copy at hand (and don't get me started on these exclusive editions), but die-hard fans may want to seek out this alternate version if possible.

It may not have been expected a year ago, but Terminator Salvation is one of 2009's most disappointing film and DVD releases from a major studio. The movie has a few bright spots, but simply pales in comparison to the first, second and even third installments; not surprisingly, the most effective moments are ones that borrow from the original. A few decent performances and solid visual effects almost salvage parts of this scrap heap, but it's just not enough: the film's heart isn't strong enough. Warner's DVD effort is even more disappointing, unfortunately: the technical presentation is solid, but absolutely no extras are on board...even those included on the Blu-Ray release. Those who weren't thrilled in theaters should skip it: this one's only worth a weekend spin for new fans who don't mind lowering their expectations for the weekend. Rent It, but only because the holidays put me in a good mood.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.
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