Movie series take many forms. Some, such as James Bond, are almost like non-episodic television, with very little connection between the individual films save for the primary character. On the other end of the spectrum is The Lord of the Rings series, serialized from start to finish, shot together and released on a schedule to maximize such. Somewhere in between lies the Terminator series, available now in the 5-disc Blu-ray box set Terminator Anthology.
What is interesting about the Terminator series as a collection of films is that they at once have that interconnectedness of story, due to their epic scope spanning the series, and episodic individuality, due not only to the vast periods of time that pass in between each story and the movies’ releases. Hit the jump for my review of the box set.
The Terminator, the original, is an almost quintessentially ‘80s sci-fi movie (of the non-blockbuster space-opera variety). Dark and streamlined in both production values and story, the film has almost B-movie sensibilities, but in the best sense of the term B-movie–and decidedly better directing. The levels of action and violence were considered pretty intense and extreme for the time, but compared today are nothing at which we would blink twice.
One odd thing about the movie–harkening back to the points in my introduction–is that, despite the fact that the film sets up this fantastic, horrific future with obvious potential for future stories (once the machines take over, if not before), The Terminator feels like a completely stand alone picture, not the launch of a franchise in the same way that Star Wars does.
The video of The Terminator (1.85:1) leaves something to be desired; the film is in obvious need of a new transfer and some remastering (it should be noted that all of the transfers included in Terminator Anthology have been culled from previous discs; the set as a whole is a repackage of various individual releases). Not unwatchable mind you–the telltale scratches and dust of an above average but not great print, nothing extreme–but not what you would expect in the way of treatment in a Blu-ray box set. Colors and grain are also typical of an unremastered ‘80s flick. The audio, however, sounds great; considering that the movie had previously been remixed in 5.1 and is uncompressed PCM, this is not surprising.
Special features include “terminated” scenes and two featurettes, “Creating the Terminator: Visual Effects & Music” and “Terminator: A Retrospective.” Both featurettes show their age, being standard definition with some pronounced video wear, but seeing how the miniatures were used to create the special effects is always a treat, especially in these days of CGI.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
How does Terminator 2: Judgment Day compare to its predecessor? Sequels more often than not fall short of the original, with some notable exceptions (e.g. The Empire Strikes Back).
Some may disagree, but to me T2 definitely belongs in that rarified crowd of sequels at least matching, if not bettering, the original.
Everything in T2 is amped up from The Terminator. The scope of the story, the action, the special effects (inconceivable technologically when the original came out), you name it. Even the humor. A lot can happen over seven years, especially in Hollywood. Not only had the tools at their disposal improved, but the profiles of James Cameron and his lead actors had risen substantially since they had made the first film–in no small measure due to the success of The Terminator itself. Needless to say, budget increased accordingly.
Also needless to say, those B-movie sensibilities are long gone, as well as the feeling that the movies belongs to a special time as does The Terminator to the 1980s.
Three versions of T2 are included here: the theatrical release (137 minutes), the special edition (154 minutes), and the extended special edition (156 minutes, requiring an unlock code to access). Where The Terminator’s transfer is lacking, T2’s 2.35:1 is spectacular, clean, crisp, sharp, with robust color–and who could forget those intense blues of the night-time photography? And the 6.1 DTS sound will simply knock you out.
Special features are also far more extensive than those on The Terminator disc. There are your usual inclusions–commentaries, several different trailers, and deleted scenes (this time know as “Terminated Data”)–but also some nice interactive extras, many taking full advantage of the Blu-ray format. These “Interactive Modes” feature picture-in-picture video about the making of the film; pop-up trivia and text commentary; specific shot methodologies overlays; behind-the-scenes slideshows (with audio); storyboards and the screenplay synched to the film; and games/quizzes.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
While T2 elevated the series, I have always found Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to fall short–indeed, I consider it the weakest of all the Terminator movies.
I’m talking in terms of story, mind you–obviously, with a full 12 years having passed since the release of T2, 12 years during which visual effects technology and other storytelling tools advanced by leaps and bounds, not to mention the size of tentpole budgets–the production values of Rise of the Machines exceed the benchmarks set by Judgment Day…by a significant margin. And T3 continues to raise the bar for action, a hallmark of all the films (the $1 million truck stunt that Arnold Schwarzenegger paid for himself to save from being cut from the film has been well documented).
To some extent the story weaknesses are inherent with the concept itself, stemming from the finality of ending with the actual rise of the machines. Such a defined endpoint, known in advance, by its very nature limits the full extent of what can be written.
It also doesn’t help that Nick Stahl is not nearly as compelling as John Connor as the young Edward Furlong, nor that Kristanna Loken comes across as wooden–even for an emotionless killer robot (compare her to her Schwarzenegger equivalent). On the other hand, Claire Danes does elevate anything in which she appears.
The film (like T2, 2.35:1) looks spectacular but is the weakest in terms of audio in the set–not bad, mind you, but not as great, exhibiting a certain softness, a lack of crispness and sharpness, coming from its Dolby Digital 5.1.
Special features include your de rigueur commentaries, trailers (for the movie and PC Game), deleted scene (only one) and blooper reel. There is an extensive “Behind the Story” section with the “HBO First Look” special, storyboards matched to film footage, and a featurette on the costumes and gear. A little further than the norm (and thus a little more interesting) are the featurettes on the making of the video game and the Macfarlane toys. Finally, the “In Movie Experience” expands upon your typical commentary by mixing pop-up videos of commentary over the movie while it plays with its normal audio track.
And that takes us to Terminator Salvation. In one place in the packaging the movie is labeled T4, even though I do not recall ever it seeing be designated such at the time of release. For good reason–while it is the fourth film in the series, Terminator Salvation stands apart from its predecessors. The the first three films act as a trilogy, a complete thought in their own right, centered around the birth and survival of John Connor to lead the rebellion in the future. Terminator Salvation takes place in that future after the machines have taken control, centered around mankind’s battle against their tyranny. The film was intended to launch a second trilogy that has yet to materialize for various legal and bankruptcy reasons.
Although I enjoyed Terminator Salvation, the film does suffer shortcomings, although I would still say it is a better movie than Rise of the Machines. For all the amping up of the action and violence–after all, it does take place in the horrific future–McG is simply too slick a director to bring (and carry on) the sense of foreboding of the other movies. By showing in detail the future of which we’ve previously only seen short clips, Terminator Salvation treads the thin line of violating some of the precepts that have been set up about the time of the machines–or at least the viewer’s preconceptions of such.
And, of course, as the first Terminator film without Arnie, something is lost in terms of the series no matter what the acting talents of Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, et al.
Terminator Salvation, not surprisingly being the newest, easily looks the best of any of the films in the Terminator Anthology, and sound is on par with that of T2. It is also the only movie in the set that comes with two discs, one containing the theatrical release of the movie and the other the R-rated director’s cut. The “main” special feature is the “Maximum Movie Mode”, an evolution of the “In Movie Experience” on Rise of the Machines. Hosted by McG, it allows for all sorts of supplemental material–storyboards, photo galleries, “Focus Point” videos, etc–that can be entered at the viewer’s discretion at the coinciding segment of the movie. As opposed to having to access such materials separately, being able to flow into and out of them fluidly with the film augments both their interest and usefulness. In many ways the interface feels like second screen extensions on a single screen. Also included are two more standard featurettes, “Reforging the Future” (about expanding the mythology and the challenges of staying true therein) and “The Moto-Terminator” (about relationship with Ducati that created the motorcycle-like Terminators).
As previously mentioned, the 5-disc box set collects various individual releases in one repackage, so if you have all of the individual Blu-rays–or are only seeking freshly transferred, fully remastered versions–Terminator Anthology probably is not for you. (Speaking of packaging
That having been said, if the above are not the case for you, Terminator Anthology is a great collection, complete with attractive packaging featuring an outer-box with a cut-out T revealing an embossed Terminator skeleton on the inner disc case.