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Blu-ray Review: Terminator Salvation

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1984’s Terminator was nothing short of a masterpiece. Inspired by two episodes from the original The Outer Limits series, the film told the tale of a cybernetic killing machine sent from the future to eliminate its victim. It brought on a flood of imitations (including an Italian-made “sequel” best known as Shocking Dark), and propelled actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the status of international star. 1990’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day took the science fiction genre to a whole new level, breaking box office records around the world, and raising the requirements of summer blockbusters up to 11. As it was, the franchise could have (and perhaps would have) held its own for many years to come with just those two entries.

Alas, it was not to be: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines hit theaters in 2003. But, by this point in time, moviegoers had become far too cynical, bored, and/or spoiled to be entertained by the mere sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger doing little more than maiming people. Worse still, the makers of T3 were either lazy, stupid, or just didn’t bother to do their homework: the story was nothing new compared to the first two films, and the continuity (both to itself and the franchise) was rather inept. The reception of the film was duly justified: lukewarm and short-lived. By all accounts, it was to be the end of the Terminator franchise — a true example of “flogging a dead horse.”

Then came a TV series (which I never bothered watching, despite hearing that Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson had a recurring role in it). Reports of a fourth theatrical feature began to emerge, leading the now-disillusioned fans of the series to wonder if there was any integrity in the universe at all. And when we heard that music video guru McG (who also directed both of those god-awful Charlie’s Angels flicks) was directing, we figured all was lost for sure.

You can imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch Terminator Salvation and discovered it was actually good.

Ditching the tired “Terminator heads back to present-day L.A.” motif and instead jumping us straight ahead into the war-torn post-apocalyptic future from whence the entire ordeal began, Terminator Salvation finds John Connor (this time played by Christian Bale) in the year 2018. The machines at SkyNet have destroyed most of humanity, and those that are left are either hiding from or fighting against their common enemy. Connor, naturally, is of the latter movement — and he is seeking the whereabouts of Kyle Reese, the man who will become his father in the past (um, it’s complicated). Enter into the mix a fish out of the water named Marcus (Sam Worthington). Executed in 2003 for murder (shortly before the Armageddon commenced), Marcus awakens in 2018 to find himself in the middle of a battle between man and machine.

Befriending a young lad named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), Marcus heads north from what’s left of Los Angeles (surprisingly, Hollywood still looks about the same!) to find the bastards that gave him a second chance at a life in a seemingly lifeless world. Meanwhile, Connor and his Resistance fighters (veteran character actor Michael Ironside has a small part as a General) are preparing for a pre-emptive strike against SkyNet, after discovering the enemy has assembled a massive hit list of rebels, including both Connor and Reese.

A lot of people cite it as little more than a “popcorn movie.” Technically, Terminator Salvation is such a film: it relies heavily on special effects, while the story (which is good) hops into the back seat to nap every now and again. Amazingly though, the special effects aren’t the usual “pile o’CGI crap” that we’re accustomed to seeing nowadays. Instead, McG uses some of the more “traditional” visual effects techniques (i.e. methods dating back to the mid-‘90s), giving the movie a more believable feel to it — which is definitely a good thing. Plus, there are a great number of nods to the original film(s) that should please the fans.

On Blu-ray, Terminator Salvation boasts an absolutely stunning 1080p/VC-1 2.39:1 widescreen transfer. Being that it’s a post-apocalyptic adventure, the color scheme is deliberately washed-out, so don’t expect the reds, blues, greens, etc. to flop out at you. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, however: the video presentation herein is spectacular, with some super-sharp contrast, next to no (unnecessary) grain, and extremely fine detail throughout. Thanks to the filmmakers’ sparing use of CGI, Terminator Salvation looks even better in High Def, as computer-generated special effects tend to stand out a lot more (in my opinion).

The Blu-ray release of Terminator Salvation houses the original PG-13 Theatrical Edition of the film on one disc, while the R-Rated Director’s Cut (my preference) resides on another disc. Both features include a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Put simply, this mix is wonderful, and the movie has enough explosions, music queues, and dialogue to keep all of your speakers working full time. The Theatrical Cut of the film also contains a French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Subtitles are included on both cuts in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

If you only pop in the Director’s Cut of the film, you’re going to feel a bit gypped in terms of special features, since there’s nothing else on that disc except the movie. The Theatrical Edition disc contains a nifty little “Maximum Movie Mode” (like the one featured on the Watchmen Blu release), wherein director McG pops up to tell us about the making of the film and giving us the option to look into a few other behind-the-scenes goodies. Said goodies are also available as standalone featurettes. Two other featurettes, “Reforging The Future” and “Moto-Terminators” round up Theatrical Cut’s bonus festivities, while a third disc houses a Digital Copy of the film.

I thought for sure that I was going to hate Terminator Salvation from the moment that I heard that McG was attached to direct. I figured for sure it’d be another Charlie’s Angels. Sure, Terminator Salvation has the required scene of motorcycle mania that McG seems to place in just about everything. But, all in all, this Terminator was just the sort of Salvation that the series needed.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    I have to admit that I liked Salvation. I thought there were enough connections to the older three movies (#3 was bad, but it’s still there in the history books) and plenty of room to grow with future films. We’ll have to see if there are more films with the rights going up for auction again recently (or soon)… Great review!

  • http://insomniacentertainment.com Luigi Bastardo

    Thanks, Fitz. I didn’t know they were auctioning off the rights — how interesting. And yes, #3 was bad…really bad.