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Terminator 2: Judgement Day 4K Ultra HD
Never seen this film? You may not be able to go back in time to correct that mistake, but you should get around to watching it as soon as possible. The narrative of this franchise - and Terminator 2, specifically - is that humanity, fascinated with the idea of playing God, would ultimately forge their own demise. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves, and the fate of mankind hinges on the development of AI. In attempting to achieve the Singularity, though - basically when AI becomes intelligent enough to grow on its own and change civilization as we know it - corporate scientists were so caught up by what they could do, that they never stopped to think if they should.
In The Terminator, Sarah Connor found out such technological advancements would pit humanity in a fight for survival against an army of machines, and that she was destined to be the mother of John Connor, leader of the human resistance. The machines, wanting to scrub John from the fabric of existence, sent a cyborg back in time to destroy Sarah before he could be born. The resistance similarly sent a man back to protect Sarah, and thanks to his involvement, Sarah lived to fight another day. She had her son, went on the run, and raised him with the pressure of being the beacon of hope for all mankind. However, she's eventually caught and thrown into a maximum security psych ward.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day fast forwards to when John is 10 years old. He's quite the handful, which is understandable considering the fact his mother robbed him of his childhood so he could focus on becoming a great military leader, only to later have her ripped from his arms and told, "Sorry kid, your mom's a psycho, didn't you know?" He constantly acts out and attracts the attention of local law enforcement - for him, stealing money out of ATM's is child's play - and makes his foster parents lives a living hell. With John separated from his mother, the machines seize their opportunity to move in. They've spared no expense, either, because this time they send a T-1000 for the job. This model is made from an intelligent, shapeshifting liquid metal that can piece itself back together at a moment's notice, meaning it's virtually indestructible. The resistance sends a T-800 (the same model which hunted Sarah in the first film) to protect him, but his very presence strikes fear in the hearts of the people he's meant to save. Can one learn to trust, or even love a machine? Either way, Sarah sets a logical string of events in motion, planning to do a bit of historical revisionism herself: if she can destroy the man who developed the fate sealing super CPU, judgement day might never happen.
The premise for this franchise is pretty simple, but the ideology behind it is sound. More importantly, Terminator 2 itself is solid, if not timeless. While the real driving force behind this film is undoubtedly its breathtaking action sequences - nearly every scene featuring the T-1000 will permanently brand itself in your memories - it's rounded out with the exploration of unconventional relationships, introducing much needed heart to the themes Cameron wanted to convey.
Action films often shoulder a reputation for being loud and dumb, but Terminator 2 has substantial plot devices and a fair amount of characterization, ensuring its lengthy runtime never feels like a drag (unless you're watching one of extended cuts, which despite having interesting additions ultimately drags the pacing). That's not to say the script is Shakespearian or anything, but it works. I think the same can be said for much of Cameron's work overall, though. And what's even more interesting is that the acting isn't superb. Fitting for the film, sure, but nobody had a chance at winning an Academy Award here. Edward Furlong and Linda Hamilton both have a tendency to go over the top, and while Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick have amazing presences, they're not on display for their acting abilities. Even so, Cameron has managed to make this film a seamless experience. Everything it offers, be it action or conversation, happens for a specific reason. Nothing is gratuitous. The end result is a movie that feels a little too perfect in its execution, if that makes sense.
But, that matters little, as it's easy to understand why Terminator 2 remains one of the top action power houses of all time. Cameron brought a unique vision to the table, and even after 25 years, still holds an important place in cinematic history. If you're one of the few people who have never seen this film, again, I strongly urge you to do so now. However, you may want to seek a different release…
I hate being right about this kind of stuff. I really do.
Despite being presented at 2160p via the HEVC H.265 codec (at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1), whatever effort went into remastering this flick has been wasted. For context, I have 73 films in my personal 4K Blu-ray collection, and this has to be the most disappointing release I've seen to date, if not the worst overall. There's no reason why Studio Canal couldn't have provided an unmolested 2D transfer, but no, we're stuck with yet another DNR'd iteration of T2.
DNR (digital noise reduction) is the ‘bad three letter word' of home video, and I've lashed out against it at every turn. That said, there is precedent for good DNR management. When done carefully, it can be alright… but that's not the case with Terminator 2. There are wax figures aplenty, and even hair has a tendency to look unnatural. At times, though, this release does offer more in the way of clarity. In my A/B test - comparing the 4K to the previous, non-DNR'd Lionsgate release - when Arnold steps out of the biker club fully clothed for the first time and we're staring at his feet before the camera pans up, the pavement looks better. When seen up close, other small details have a similar boost in clarity (Arnold's leather jacket, Linda Hamilton's hair as it shines against a window behind her, etc). But as soon as the camera pulls out a bit, that detail gets obliterated.
Thinking about soldiering on because you can handle wax-like textures as long as the image is sharp otherwise? Well, it's not. Medium-to-long shots look soft, and aren't much better than watching a mediocre 1080p transfer that's been upscaled.
I wish I didn't have to go on, but I must.
Even with such excessive DNR present, HDR could have made this release worth it. There's plenty of opportunity for it to shine - such as when lasers are zapping across the screen during the war, whenever there's explosions, or when light reflects off of the T-1000's liquid-metallic surface… but they dropped the ball on each and every one of these opportunities. I love when HDR is applied realistically - when it isn't always eye-scorchingly bright just for the sake of being so - but there's no such argument for Terminator 2. The implementation of HDR is so subtle, you'll often wonder if any has been applied at all.
And what would a botched release be without poor color timing? Now, I don't usually froth at the mouth over such things, because I try to remember that whatever we've grown accustomed to over the years probably wasn't accurate (and this is true more often than not). I'm also not opposed to minor changes as long as they work, but as far as this remaster goes, they don't. As soon as the camera pulls out on the first skull crushing terminator, you can tell things have gone awry. The terminators in this scene are supposed to look metallic, bathed in shades of nighttime blue, but whoever did the color correction must have said, "Yes, BLUE! That's what I remember about that scene! It was blue as f&$%! That's what we need to go for!" Well, mission accomplished, I guess, because the terminators look blue. Not a cool steel blue, but blue. And this new tint wasn't applied with any grace, as the first explosion that roars behind that machine is now green. Yes, green, ladies and gentlemen. As far as the rest of the film, things are comparatively better, but still off. Terminator 2 always exhibited a mechanically cold aesthetic, but the new color timing just looks cold and flat.
Black levels range from deep to ‘alright', but I don't recall this film having the most consistent level of inky blacks to begin with. Contrast has been improved on numerous occasions, and it's nice to behold when the color timing isn't ruining the overall effect.
The included 1080p Blu-ray also represents the new remaster, so for those hoping they'd get the DNR-less 2015 release, you'll have to find a copy elsewhere. You could wait for a better version to come out somewhere down the road, but considering James Cameron had a hand in this and seemingly approves, don't hold your breath.
Simply put, if you see this sitting on a local retail shelf, do the right thing and say, "Hasta la vista, baby."
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has spurred some controversy of its own since the Skynet Edition had a 6.1 mix. Furthermore, people want Atmos these days. That said, I really couldn't find anything to complain about. I was floored by an old Blu-ray release I had reviewed some years ago, but thanks to some years of experience, my ears are more finicky than ever. The dynamic range is respectable, but don't expect it to ape other action films from the last decade or so. Likewise, the LFE on this release is effective but can't compare to modern films. Dialogue is prioritized well and sounds crisp and clean. But the most impressive aspect of the film's sound design are the directional sound effects. The soundstage isn't always active due to the film's quieter moments, but once things kick into high gear, your surrounds will get a decent workout. There's plenty of exciting pans, and you get a good sense of dimensionality with various other effects. The only thing that bothers me is that the UK version has a German 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Not sure why the United States couldn't be treated to the same, but it is what it is. The important thing is that this seems to be a fairly accurate representation of what the film would have sounded like theatrically.
All the bonus goodies are only available on the accompanying 1080p Blu-ray disc. That's standard for the 4K format thus far, but here's the kicker: If you prefer the Special Edition or Extended Special Edition cuts of the film, 1080p is the only way to watch them. The 4K disc has not been given any sort of branching treatment, and is theatrical only.
-Audio Commentaries - There's a couple of commentaries included on this release. You can choose between James Cameron and William Wysher, or a secondary track which pieces a bunch of interviews and cast and crew blurbs together. Honestly, it's the writer/director commentary you'll want to listen to, as they bounce off of each other quite well and deliver the goods without leaving a bunch of dry air in the middle.
-Reprogramming - This documentary is nearly an hour in length, and features recent cast and crew interviews. Nearly every aspect of the film's production is dissected, and serves as fantastic supplement to the Cameron/Wysher commentary.
-The Making Of - This is more standard behind-the-scenes fare. There's cast and crew interviews, but it seems more like a lengthy ‘this is why you should watch T2' pitch than a genuine look at the making of the film. The previous documentary is what you'll want to stick with.
Watching Studio Canal with the movie, it was suddenly so clear. The studio would never stop. It would never leave grain alone, never use the original color timing, or do something to replicate its intended look, or say they were too cheap and lazy to spend time doing right by the home video release. The DNR would always be there. The grain would die to appease casual filmgoers. Of all the would-be studios who could have handled this over the years, this one, this company, was the one that screwed up most. In an insane world, this was the most insane choice.
Enough of the film quote riffing, because you get the point. Terminator 2 is a spectacle to behold even 25 years after the fact, but this 4K release, even with a lower MSRP than most catalog titles, isn't worth the money. Instead of watching whatever Studio Canal did to an amazing 2D source, you should instead seek out the 2015 Lionsgate release without DNR. It's by far the best way to watch the film to date. The fact that I'm recommending a Blu-ray over a 4K release should say enough. This may not be the fault of Lionsgate, but as far as this release is concerned, skip it.
-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!