Warner Bros. // 2009 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // November 27th, 2009
We Fight Back
Released just a week after Star Trek, Terminator Salvation bears some thematic similarities to the other franchise. While Trek would garner nearly universal acclaim for what it did with the tired franchise, Salvation would not be greeted as warmly. This trickled down to the moviegoer and while Trek would have a take of over $250 million (domestic) Salvation would get only half that. In my opinion, a lot of people missed another great invigoration of a faltering franchise.
Judgment Day has come and gone, and the Earth lay in ruin. The future is unfolding as Kyle Reese once told the late Sarah Conner. Machines have gained sentience, saw man as a threat, and scorched the Earth. But man survives; they have banded into a resistance and they are fighting the machines to reclaim the planet. Skynet and its artificial intelligence knows that man is still a threat, and it must do everything it can to stop it. It is hunting down John Conner (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight) and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek (2009)).
The story of John Conner is now prophesy, an unfulfilled one. Many people believe that Conner will lead the resistance; but he is just a cog in the machinery and the true leaders aren't convinced of what is supposed to be.
During a failed infiltration of an advanced genetics research facility for Skynet, everyone is killed but Conner. Soon after he is rescued a man emerges from the destroyed facility. His name is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, Avatar), and he has no idea what he's doing in the middle of the desert. He finds his way to the Los Angeles where he joins up with Kyle Reese and a young girl named Star (Jadagrace). The three of them unwittingly finds themselves instrumental players in the battle between the resistance and Skynet.
As John Conner works to find Kyle Reese, key future events must unfold. Conner knows that the T-800 models are in development, he knows he has to find Reese, and he knows he must lead the resistance. Can Conner alter the future to save mankind?
I must admit to continued confusion about the lack of enthusiasm for this fourth entry in the Terminator franchise. Salvation is an excellent entry into the series that works both from the perspective of advancing the story and also from that of a summer action flick. Yet people have avoided this movie, dismissing it without giving it a chance. That's somewhat understandable when you look back to Rise of the Machines. That third entry fell flat on many marks, souring the casual fan. They likely believed that the newest entry would only go further down, but they are wrong. These people are missing a great movie that significantly propels the story combined with some excellent action sequences. Fortunately you have a second chance with this high quality Blu-ray release.
Ever since we glimpsed the future Earth in the first film, fans have wanted more of the scorched Earth. We were teased again in the first minutes of the second film, but we were shut out in the third. Now that Judgment Day has passed and the nuclear weapons have been launched, Salvation is all about the future and man's fight against the machines. We see the destroyed Earth, shattered lives, fatigued people, and determined warriors all struggling to reclaim their planet. The story is about the resistance and their struggles, battles, and victories; it's about John Conner knowing what is going to happen and trying to prevent it; and it's about how time and the future seem to be on a determined path that ensures that no matter what man tries to do to alter the timeline, those events will still happen. Parallel to that is Skynet's story its efforts to counteract Conner and Reese's plans to change the future. It's a struggle for supremacy.
And in the struggle comes the action: man versus machine. Salvation treats us to all manner of battle: man versus man, man versus terminator, man versus moto-terminator, man versus flying terminator, man versus giant harvester terminator, and more. It's a plethora of permutations in the battles, all diverse and exciting. But it's just another action sequence, you say. What's left to see and hasn't been done a hundred times before? While Hollywood is often bereft of new ideas, Salvation still packs a few surprises -- most of them in the intriguing new terminators. Watching the lumbering T-600 get clobbered is quite satisfying. Seeing the harvesters go on a rampage, destroying everything around them with ease is a chilling site. Cruising along with the moto-terminators is a thrilling chase sequence. And then we finally are treated to a battle inside a terminator factory. Now there's a sequence that can't be described but is worth the price of admission alone.
The story and action are both interesting and fun, but we have to remember it's the characters we need to care about. While we have an established bond with Conner himself (despite Nick Stahl's sleepy performance), we need to meet the new players and care about their struggle to save humanity. Kyle Reese will one day travel back in time, save Sarah Conner, and become a daddy. But who is he in the future? How does he meet John Conner? How does he become such a formidable fighter? We learn all this with the added twist that Kyle is a young man, still in his teens. Another character we meet is Marcus Wright. His is a journey of loss and discovery, and how his past crimes will help mold the future. You find yourself immediately drawn to these characters, and you want them to succeed...and not get terminated.
While the movie stalled on the big screen, Warner Brothers nonetheless gave the Blu-ray all the attention it deserves; and this Blu-ray is an absolute joy to watch and listen to, easily becoming a movie you'll pull out to impress and wow your friends. Video is a beautiful 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that rocks from beginning to end. Because director McG (Charlie's Angels) used significant post-production to drain all the color out of the print, it's difficult to spout on about the usual lush, rich colors with natural flesh tones and whatnot. None of that is on this disc. Instead you get a very drained, dull, almost sepia-toned movie. Yet that tone is exceptionally consistent across the film, with nary a flutter. In that is a bounty of detail with pores, hairs, speckles of dirt, and all other tiny details jumping off the screen. My one and only minor quibble is with the black levels. For 98% of the film, blacks are inky and accurate. However, in that 2%, I felt a few scenes were darker than what I recalled from my theater experience; and it was hard to see everything that was going on. Again, this is a minor quibble of which there is yet another small one on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This track positively rocks. It is loud, it is rambunctious, and it will bring a smile to your face with its power and precision. Outside of just a few sentences near the beginning of the film where I had trouble discerning dialogue over the sound effects, the entirety of the audio track is well balanced. You'll love the level of immersion on this track, feeling like you're always in the middle of the action with things zipping around you constantly. And then you have a bass line that will keep your subwoofer very busy and will vibrate your walls like crazy. This track is decidedly powerful, yet it doesn't lose any fidelity.
The three-disc Blu-ray release comes with a remarkably small menu of bonus materials; fortunately one is so good it almost makes up for everything else. Let's start with the "small stuff" and work our way to the top.
Contained here is the digital copy of the movie. It's definitely worth copying to your computer but do it as quickly as possible. Not only do hackers look for codes but Warner Brothers likes to impose expiration dates on the copies. That's a very bad idea.
This disc contains the director's cut of the film. Running three minutes longer than the theatrical release (1:57 versus 1:54), this cut obviously has very small additions to the movie; most of which you won't notice. Yet these additions, which do not alter the story in any fashion, bump the rating to R from PG-13.
Also on this disc will you find the link to BD-Live content, and Warner Brothers requires you to create a BD-Live account to view this content. I do not like being forced to register for anything that should be free with my purchase, so I refuse to create an account. I doubt I missed anything since there's rarely ever anything of note in BD-Live offerings.
This disc contains the theatrical cut of the movie and the bulk of the bonus materials, but before you can get to the menu you have to wade through two trailers for Blu-ray and a trailer for Warner Brother's digital copies. (The nerve of them to advertise limited time bonus material!)
There are two small featurettes to view. The first is "Reforging the Future" (19:01) and it's an overall look at the production of the film. It's a decent piece, but its content is repeated in the other bonus items. The second is "The Moto-Terminator" (8:33) and it focuses on the new terminators that are sentient motorcycles.
The real meat of the bonus materials is in the last and best bonus feature: Maximum Movie Mode (MMM). This is what Blu-ray is about, and is the type of interactive bonus material that I've wanted to see since my first Blu-ray disc. (Maybe it's on other releases, but it's new for me.) Instead of just an audio or text-based commentary track, MMM is a combination of all other commentaries and more. You get picture-in-picture featurettes, optional "focus point" featurettes (press Enter to view them), a text-based timeline of the Terminator franchise, storyboard comparisons, optional picture galleries, but that's just the beginning. MMM is an examination of Terminator Salvation wherein McG comes onscreen to talk about the movie. He's not there the entire time. When he appears the movie shifts to behind him and to the left, a second screen appears adjacent to the right that shows supplemental video related to that scene, and McG stands in the center and talks away. It's an in-depth, scene-specific discussion of his movie that really bests any other type of commentary. Why? Because on top of all the other information you are viewing, McG will pause the film to highlight key events and point out the good and the bad. I really enjoyed Maximum Movie Mode and look for more of them. (MMM is only available on the theatrical version.)
As satisfying as MMM is, I think the disc is missing a little bit of bonus material. Though not a fan of photo galleries, there are some available but only in MMM mode. There's no outside link. But the "focus points," which are very short featurettes (a few minutes each), which are also optional during MMM playback, they are available on the bonus menu -- but without a play all feature. What I really wanted was deleted and extended scenes. A few are discussed and shown in MMM, but those (and probably others not mentioned) should be a feature as well.
What is wrong with Christian Bale and his voice? Is that throaty American accent the only way to disguise his natural accent? It was the main critique with his performance in The Dark Knight and it is again here in Salvation. That voice is cringe worthy at times, often ruining the moment.
The last scene of the movie is a bit too schmaltzy. The original, alternate ending would have been one amazingly bold way to do things.
And it occurred to me that another reason Salvation stumbled at the box office is that it's directed by a man named McG. It's really hard to take someone with a name like that seriously. I know it clouded my judgment of the movie before I saw it, lowering my expectations. It's illogical, but it's human nature.
Terminator Salvation is an excellent entry in the venerable franchise, erasing any bad taste residue the previous movie. It was lost in a summer of other big budget blockbusters, but this movie deserves to be recognized. Not only does it do justice to the series, it also stands on its own as a solid, fun movie. Yes, it's a dour, dark, and gritty movie, but it still has characters you can root for, action scenes that will thrill you, and an adventure that will have you coming back for more. Add to that a brilliant Blu-ray release with superb audio and video transfers and some awesome bonus materials, and you have a movie you really need to watch and enjoy. Terminator Salvation is given a very strong and robust buy recommendation. It is one of the year's best discs. I hope it'll be back in a fifth movie.
Terminator Salvation is hereby found guilty of kicking some terminator booty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Maximum Movie Mode
* Official Site