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Blu-ray Review: Terminator Anthology

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The Terminator Anthology collects the four films from the Terminator franchise in one set for the first time. However, there’s nothing new here as the set collects previously released Blu-rays: The Terminator (2006, MGM), Terminator 2: Judgment Day Skynet Edition (2009, Lionsgate), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2008, Warner Bros), and the 2-disc Terminator Salvation (2009, Warner Bros).

For those that don’t know the mythology, the franchise tells the story of the war between humans and machines. In the future, the U.S. strategic defense computer system, known as Skynet, will become self-aware. To protect itself from being turned off, Skynet begins a nuclear war, referred to as Judgment Day. While many of the remaining humans are put into labor camps, a resistance rises up, led by John Connor. Before the humans can defeat Skynet, it creates a time machine, which it makes use of multiple times by sending cyborgs known as Terminators back into the past in an effort to alter the timeline.

James Cameron’s The Terminator is a marvelous, low-budget science fiction film that brings to mind the work of John Carpenter, particularly the synth soundtrack. A Terminator model T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from 2029 is sent back to 1984 (the film looks every bit like it was set/made in the ’80s) to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton). To protect her, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent back by the resistance. The Terminator is relentless, a nearly unstoppable force, but the future depends on her survival. The film is a classic because of its smart script, Cameron’s talented direction, and Schwarzenegger delivering an iconic performance that cemented his status in the history of cinema. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray does match those same high standards.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-2 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. It deserves a much-needed upgrade, though I am curious how much better it can look, considering how many scenes are shot in low light and filled with smoke. Colors are adequate but blacks are light. Depth is limited as are details. Though the audio for the menus is thunderous, the LPCM 5.1 audio is limited by its source as well, so the experience is merely adequate when compared with the rest of the set. Dialogue is usually understandable, but the ADR sounds flat. The synth score has a limited dynamic range, but the effects offer a decent surround experience.

The Terminator 2 disc is rather annoying before the movie begins. It tries accessing Skynet (wink, wink, the Internet) when it begins to load and then takes a while before offering the menu. There are three versions of the movie available, the original Theatrical version, the Special Edition from 1993 that includes 16 additional minutes, and the Extended Special Edition, which is accessed by entering 82997 and comes with an alternative ending. After selecting, there are loud and needless Ids for DTS and THX. Lucky the movie is good enough to offset the frustration.

James Cameron is back at the helm and finds a way to repeat the first film’s story yet still make it engaging with the help of a bigger budget, leading to massive action sequences and more impressive special effects. Skynet sends an upgraded Terminator model T-1000 (Robert Patrick), composed of liquid metal, back to 1995 to kill 10-year-old John Connor (Edward Furlong). To protect his younger self, John sends back a reprogrammed Series 800 T-101 (Schwarzenegger). His mother Sarah (Hamilton) is in an institution because she tried to stop Skynet from being created by blowing up a computer factory. The film then features a similar idea of an ongoing chase as the Connors and T-101 try and stay ahead of the T-1000. The story presents a paradox when it is revealed the work of Cyberdyne Systems engineer Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) on the previous T-101’s CPU is what leads to the creation of Skynet. Sarah decides she must stop him to save humanity.

Terminator 2 is a sequel that works. While it further develops the story and characters of this cinematic universe for fans, the real triumph is Cameron has created an exciting action adventure that stands on its own in part because of the impressive stunt work and landmark visual effects.

The video has been given a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer displayed at 2.35:1. Colors are details look good in scenes that are well lit, but the quality diminishes during the many nighttime and low-lit exteriors that are bathed in blue light. The audio comes in numerous options, but the DTS-HD MA 6.1 delivers the most dynamic experience. Effects surround the viewer. They can be heard moving across channels and the LFE gives a great bass punch. Yet, the dialogue is never overwhelmed, balancing well with the music and effects.

Though Cameron didn’t return, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was more enjoyable than I anticipated as it covered familiar ground for the franchise. The work of the Connors in the previous film didn’t stop Judgment Day; it only postponed it. Since John (Nick Stahl) has been living off the grid, Skynet sends a new and improved Terminator, T-X (Kristanna Loken), back to 2004 to kill people who will fight alongside him in the resistance, like Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Sent to protect those people is a Series 850 model 101 Terminator (Schwarzenegger). Skynet is being developed by the U.S. Air Force and the project is headed by Kate’s father, Lieutenant General Robert Brewster (David Andrews).

T3 offers more of the same as John, Kate, and T-101 lead T-X on a number of chase scenes. Director Jonathan Mostow does a good job taking over for Cameron. There’s an excellent action sequence as T-X chases after John and T-101, tearing up city and suburban streets and the CGI effects blend well. There’s a funny bit where a squeak of child’s toy can be heard after being hit by a vehicle and Schwarzenegger delivers a nice throwback line to Commando. The Terminator mythology gets expanded a little further, with the story explaining the paradox from the previous film. It also presents an interesting theory about the ability to alter future events.

The video has been given a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer displayed at 2.40:1. Colors are strong consistent hues. Blacks are inky, though leaning towards crush on occasion. The image reveals very good depth and detail. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and though the sound design is recreated well, I was expecting a much louder mix. But once the volume is turned up on your tuner, it delivers a satisfying presentation. The action fills the surrounds and places the viewer in the action. The dynamic range is wide, anchored by a booming LFE channel. Dialogue is clean and clear.

My review of Terminator Salvation can be found here. A Director’s Cut that includes three minutes is also available. The Blu-ray offers a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer displayed at 2.40:1. Though lacking in bright primaries, the earth tones have strong hues. There is great object detail throughout as the textures really present themselves. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 is a powerful, reference-quality experience that immerses the viewer, not only amidst the intense action scenes, but quieter moments as well. Objects move through the channels, and the LFE thunder as required. Danny Elfman’s score rings out and the dialogue is always clear.

The extras are as follows. The Terminator are all in SD. They are “Creating The Terminator: Visual Effects and Music” (13 min), “The Making of The Terminator: A Retrospective” (21 min), and seven Terminated Scenes. Digging through the bulky T2 menu reveals two Audio Commentaries, one with Cameron and writer William Wisher, and the other features 26 cast and crew members. There is also an Interactive Modes (HD) section that includes things like the picture-in-picture “Visual Implants;” Trivia Data” to help prepare for the “Query Mode” quizzes; and games in “Processor Tests.” Terminated Data (HD, 3 min) offers two deleted scenes with optional commentary. T3 offers its own In-Movie Picture-in-Picture Experience; three Audio Commentaries, all of which feature director Mostow, the four “Behind the Story” (SD, 20 min), which looks at storyboards and costumes; “Additional Footage” (SD, 5 min) featuring one deleted scene and a gag reel; and “Fun & Games” (SD, 16 min) which examines Todd McFarlane’s Terminator toy line and the “Making of the Videogame”. All Salvation extras are in HD. The Maximum Movie Mode is a very good video commentary track and elements from it can be accessed on their own in “Focus Points” (30 min). “Reforging the Future” (19 min) finds director McG and crew discuss their approach to the franchise and he leads discussion in “The Moto-Terminator” (9 min) where Ducati motorcycles and Industrial Light & Magic combined forces.

Since fans of the franchise likely have some of, if not all, the discs already in this set, the Terminator Anthology is geared toward someone who doesn’t own them or who is new to the franchise. For those people, it makes for a great set.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS