Judge Christopher Kulik pumped a lot of polyurethane to prepare for this review.
Our reviews of Red Heat: Special Edition (published October 28th, 2004), Red Heat (Blu-ray) (published July 2nd, 2011), The Running Man: Special Edition (published April 19th, 2004), The Running Man (Blu-ray) (published September 19th, 2011), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (published July 3rd, 1999), Terminator 2: Judgment Day Ultimate Edition (published September 5th, 2000), Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Extreme Edition (published June 17th, 2003), Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Skynet Edition (Blu-Ray) (published May 19th, 2009), Terminator Anthology (Blu-ray) (published September 19th, 2012), Total Recall (1990) (published September 12th, 2000), Total Recall (2012) (published January 7th, 2013), Total Recall (1990) (Blu-ray) (published August 10th, 2012), Total Recall (1990) Special Edition (published October 18th, 2001), and Women In Prison Triple Pack (published June 9th, 2011) are also available.
"Hasta la vista, baby!"
The packaging says it all: four popular Arnold Schwarzenegger flicks are combined in this special Collector's Set courtesy of Lionsgate. Sounds tempting, but is there anything more to this set than simply being a glorified double-dip?
Facts of the Case
The Running Man (1987): In the near future (to be more precise, a decade from now), the world has become a bleak totalitarian state. The government uses television as a means to keep the controlled public amused with ridiculously violent fare, with "The Running Man" as its crown jewel in terms of ratings. Hosted by genuine sleaze Damon Killian (Richard Dawson, Hogan's Heroes), the program involves prisoners who have one last shot at freedom by surviving an urban jungle of cartoonish assassins. Most don't survive; however, a former fallen cop named Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) might have just enough muscle to endure the torture.
Red Heat (1988): Soviet cop Capt. Ivan Danko (Schwarzenegger) must go to Chicago to nab slimy drug dealer Viktor Rosta (Ed O'Ross, Six Feet Under). Unfortunately for our Russki hero, he's forced to team up with smart-ass Chicago detective Art Ridzik (James Belushi, According To Jim). Can these two put aside their differences to accomplish Danko's mission?
Total Recall (1990): In the near future, Mars has become a place to live and work, even if it's being ruled by a nasty dictator named Cohaagen (Ronny Cox, RoboCop). Ordinary Earth citizen Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) has dreams of doing something on Mars that he can't explain to his bombshell of a wife Lori (Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct). A visit to a "virtual vacation" place opens up the possibility of Quaid's mind being tampered with. Within minutes of leaving, he finds himself being chased by assassins for no rhyme or reason…but is it all a dream, or the secret agent package of his mental holiday?
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): When the first Terminator failed to murder John Conner (Edward Furlong, American History X) as a child, a second Terminator is sent back in time to 1997 L.A. to try again. This time, it's the highly advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick, Walk the Line). At the exact moment this "liquid metal" machine arrives, however, another Terminator (Schwarzenegger) morphs with the unique mission of protecting the soon-to-be-savior of humanity. Who will get to Conner first?
Let's cut right to the chase. All four films being offered here are the latest Special Edition versions and thankfully not bare-bones. In addition, with the exception of Red Heat, all have been reviewed already here at DVD Verdict, with Terminator 2 having a quartet of critiques already, including the just-released Skynet Blu-ray. So, instead of wasting time rehashing Judge Adam Arseneau's exhaustive essay on The Running Man: Special Edition or Judge Mike Pinksy's thought-provoking study of Total Recall: Special Limited Edition, I will go on my own simple, summarized path in reviewing these now-classic Schwarzenegger blockbusters.
First and foremost, I love the Governator, even though calling him a legitimate actor would be like calling a skateboard transportation. I'll always think his best "performance" will be as Conan in the original 1982 Barbarian, as Destroyer shamefully turned the compelling warrior into a toy-marketing action figure sans kung-fu grip. Many point to The Terminator as the movie that made the Austrian body-builder a star, but I beg to differ. After two cheesy misfires (Red Sonja, Raw Deal) and the guilty-pleasure known as Commando, Schwarzenegger finally found double box-office success in both Predator and The Running Man. The former is arguably the superior of the two, but The Running Man sports some serious fun, even though it's terminally moronic if you really think about it.
Borrowing elements from Richard Connell ("The Most Dangerous Game"), Orwell's 1984, and Stephen King (based on one of his Bachman novellas), The Running Man is about as intellectual as a gum wrapper. It's easy to dismiss the film as tripe, but Arnie plays a likable hero, and he's matched well with Dawson, who really steals the show as the game show host from hell. Arnold may have the one-liners, but Dawson has the colorful personality. The "slayers" of the game show look like they would be more at home in a Mortal Kombat video game, but The Running Man still has enough bone-crunching action and inspired comedy to make it worthwhile. The film also looks dazzling on DVD despite its age, with outstanding audio (the one in this set to have a 6.1 ES mix), and some awesome bonus features. What we have are two audio commentaries, several documentaries and a second disc containing a full-frame version. Excessive? Maybe, but welcome all the same.
After shedding the spandex, Schwarzenegger would slip into a Russian uniform for Red Heat, which is easily the weakest film in this set. This is not a terrible film, mind you, but it seems like co-writer/co-producer/director Walter Hill wanted to re-generate some 48 Hrs. magic but failed miserably. The primary problem: barely any conflict (or chemistry, for that matter) between the two leads, with Belushi's mugging becoming monotonous after several minutes. There are some choice moments, such as Schwarzenegger shaking his head and saying "Capitalism," to American porn, along with a hair-raising bus chase in downtown Chicago. There's also an impressive supporting cast, with the late Peter Boyle contributing fine work as Belushi's boss, Laurence (here billed as "Larry") Fishburne as another detective, and Gina Gershon (Face/Off) in of her earliest roles as a aerobics instructor who's married to the bad guy. Still, Red Heat ultimately becomes too contrived and clichéd for us to really give a damn, and its "red" humor is now just embarrassing.
It should be noted that while Red Heat is the first American film to shoot scenes in Moscow's Red Square, it was really done without permission, as explained in the one of the featurettes. As for the picture, it's quite dirty and showcases its dull '80s colors proudly. The two audio tracks come through with flying colors, even though we get to hear very little of James Horner's score. The "Special Edition" tagline for Red Heat is a bit exaggerated, as we only have three featurettes; for what it's worth, they are all actually interesting and worth a look. The first one ("East Meets West") we meet former Carolco partners Mario Kassar & Andrew Vagna, who discuss working on the film for about nine minutes. The second one is devoted to stunt man Bennie Dobbins, who sadly died of a heart attack while filming the opening snow fight in Hungary. The final featurette has Ed O'Ross chatting for about five minutes on what it was like playing a Russian. However, there's also a 15-minute promotional piece containing vintage interviews with Belushi & Schwarzenegger, along with some trailers and TV spots, which were all fun to watch. The quality of these bonus features are actually better than Red Heat itself, but die-hard Governator fans will have nothing to complain about.
Following Red Heat, Arnold decided on a change-of-pace by volunteering for two "cute" Ivan Reitman comedies (Twins, Kindergarten Cop) before hooking up with action maestro Paul Verhoeven, whose Robocop tripped The Running Man at the box office. Loosely based on Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," Total Recall is a visual extravaganza featuring over-the-top violence, fantastic special effects (which earned a special Academy Award) and a surprisingly smart plotline which makes you think. I still get a kick out of it every time I watch it, with some of the most insane one-liners ever spouted by Schwarzenegger ("See you at the party, Richter!"). Bonus: the Johnny Cab is hilariously voiced by Robert Picardo, who's been in many Joe Dante movies and Star Trek: Voyager.
Trust me when I say the special edition of Total Recall on regular DVD is the one to own, as the 2006 Blu-ray had none of the bonus features from the 2001 limited edition. Best of all, we no longer have to deal with that Mars-like can which housed the previous DVD. Just like The Running Man, Total Recall is spectacular when it comes to both visual and audio quality, and the disc is jam-packed with extras. The informative commentary with Verhoeven & Schwarzenegger is here, along with several featurettes, storyboard comparisons, an art gallery, and the usual promotional tidbits.
As for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it's still one of the finest action/sci-fi films ever made and doesn't need anything from me that hasn't already been said. The Extreme Edition (next to the Skynet Blu-ray) is still the best way to go when it comes to owning the film.
At a retail price of $21.99 from Amazon, it's admittedly not a bad deal. Still, this is really Lionsgate's attempt to profit from the new Terminator feature while also conveniently decreasing its warehouse stock. Three out of four films are good or great, so it really boils down to the consumer. If you like all these film but only one, go for it. Chances are you're comfortable with what you have but this set—at the very least—provides back-up copies.
All of the films are free to go, except for Red Heat, which is found
guilty of miscasting and its ugly look. Lionsgate is charged with
double-dipping, but they get a reduced sentence for the attractive packaging and
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