Come with Judge Erich Asperschlager, if you want to double-dip.
Our reviews of Schwarzenegger: 4-Film Collector's Set (published May 22nd, 2009), The Terminator: Special Edition (published September 17th, 2001), 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 3: Rise Of The Machines (published November 11th, 2003), Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (Blu-Ray) (published January 17th, 2008), Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (HD DVD) (published October 9th, 2006), Terminator (Blu-ray) DigiBook (published May 30th, 2011), The Terminator (Blu-ray) (published March 4th, 2013), Terminator Salvation (published December 1st, 2009), and Terminator Salvation (Blu-Ray) (published November 27th, 2009) are also available.
"Cyborgs don't feel pain. I do."
There have been a lot of high-profile "trilogy" and "anthology" Blu-ray sets in recent years, boasting copious bonus features and new transfers, usually released to coincide with the gift-giving season. The latest hi-def box set to jockey for position under the holiday tree is the Terminator Anthology, a handsome collection from Warner Bros. that houses all four movies in a hefty fold-out packaging with an embossed metallic T-800 head and die-cut slipcase. For now, it's a Best Buy exclusive, with plans for wider release later this fall. If you've been waiting for the right time to buy the Terminator movies on Blu-ray, it's here—maybe. Warner's set may meet the basic standards of other big box sets, but it falls short in several key ways.
Anthology's biggest problem is that, except for new label art, it's just a collection of previously released Blu-rays—same menus, same video, same sound, same bonus features—which would be fine if the included movies all came with pristine transfers and exhaustive bonus features. They don't.
Facts of the Case
Let's tackle the movies themselves first:
The Terminator was James Cameron's first major movie. It was a huge hit, launching a franchise and a filmmaking career. It seems crazy now that the film's success was a surprise, but at the time Cameron wasn't the only untested talent. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on his way to becoming an action superstar, but in 1984 the only blockbuster to his name was Conan the Barbarian. Cameron was the first to put machine guns in his beefy hands. The rest is history.
Unfortunately, the film's quality doesn't match its importance in modern movie history. The Terminator was made for a lot less money than Cameron's later movies, and it shows. Although some special effects hold up better than others (anything involving a fake Arnold head, for instance, is tough to watch), Cameron was able to mask the film's budgetary constraints by limiting the effects shots to a few key action scenes. The future war, in particular, is more talked about than actually shown. For the most part, the movie alternates between chase scenes and plot exposition, with a little future-hero conception thrown in for good measure.
Cameron picked up the series again in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a sequel that's bigger than the original every way. Building off of the first film's story about a cyborg sent back in time to kill the woman whose son will lead the resistance in a war against the machines, T2 picks up 10 years later, with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) institutionalized, and her son John (Edward Furlong) a surly teen in foster care. Schwarzenegger returns, although this time as a good Terminator sent back in time to protect the Connors. He is replaced as antagonist by the upgraded T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a liquid metal monster whose CGI transformations account for a good chunk of the film's almost $100 million budget.
Although T2 is a more thrilling ride than the first film, when it strays from loud action set-pieces it stumbles in the same way all of Cameron's films do when he tries to depict humans (and near-humans) interacting with each other. Furlong is annoying enough without having to watch him teach Arnold how to act like a human—a difficult enough task when he's not playing a cyborg. It doesn't help that the middle of the film is dragged down by a severe lack of Terminator action, or that—as would become a series hallmark—it repeats a lot of moments and lines from the original.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a big deal when it was released in 1991, in part because of its groundbreaking CGI effects. Those effects don't hold up that well two decades later, and neither does the movie. As with so many blockbusters, T2 shrivels out of the summer sun. James Cameron has always cared more for technology than characters and that bias is evident in this film, which spends way more time with its paper-thin characters than it should.
After T2, Cameron stepped down, handing directorial duties to Jonathan Mostow for 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, a mostly unnecessary film that has one of the series' best scenes and many of the worst. Not only does the movie ignore the established timeline by retroactively changing John Connor's age in T2 to give him a past romantic connection with Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), it brings back Arnold Schwarzenegger for no good reason. Arnold plays essentially the same protector Terminator he did in T2, although not the exact same Terminator, because that one died at the end of the last movie. The only change to the formula is cosmetic, replacing Robert Patrick's evil cyborg with a female version, played by Kristanna Loken. Other than that, the movie is a rinse and repeat of the first two movies.
Repetitive as it is, Terminator 3 delivers on action. One scene, in which the T-X is chasing down John and Kate with a crane truck and an army of unmanned emergency vehicles, is easily the best set-piece in all four movies. Even better, the effects are largely practical, which helps the film feel less dated than other, CGI-heavy movies from the early 2000s. It also finally takes the series to "Judgment Day" and the beginning of the war between humans and machines—setting the stage for the final film.
For Terminator Salvation, director McG took the franchise into the future, with Christian Bale as John Connor, Sam Worthington as newcomer Marcus, and Anton Yelchin as teenage Kyle Reese. Although it's a visually impressive sci-fi flick, the story has trouble finding a balance between two heroes. When John and Marcus's storylines meet up, it leads into a fitting, if predictable, finale—complete with punching, shooting, explosions, and a Schwarzenegger cameo.
Viewed immediately following the first three movies, Salvation works pretty well. It helps that the story doesn't involve one or more Terminators being sent back in time to kill or protect John Connor. Even though it repeats the themes and catchphrases from the previous films, it's worth watching to see Skynet's massive robot soldiers duke it out with the post-apocalyptic survivors of a war we'd only heard characters talk about in previous films, or seen snippets of in dreams and flash-forward sequences.
Maybe Terminator Salvation seems better than its aggregate critic score because the other Terminator movies don't hold up that well. The first film is a fun slice of B-grade sci-fi, but there was never enough in Cameron's original idea to justify a franchise, as evidenced by how much the sequels rely on repeating the same story over and over. Even when the series moves into the future, it arrives there with a muddled mix of characters and timelines that fall apart under scrutiny. As a bunch of loosely related action movies, however, the Terminator series works much better. Cameron's talent for staging and shooting action elevates the first two entries, and is followed by strong visual efforts by Mostow and McG. It's fun, but hardly one of the all-time best science fiction epics. Of course, that's just one man's opinion. If you love this series, great. You should own these movies—and you probably do, which is the main problem with this set. The Terminator Anthology might look like a fancy new box set, but the only difference between this collection and the individual Blu-rays you can already buy is the packaging.
The A/V specs and bonus features for these discs have been covered elsewhere, but let's take another look:
The Terminator might be the movie that started it all, but it suffers the most with a 1.85:1 1080p transfer that's been around since 2006. Although it looks better than standard-def—much better in a few scenes—the picture is muddy, soft, and occasionally marred by scratches and dirt. It falls apart in the dark scenes, and there are a lot of dark scenes. I'm not saying we need enough shadow detail to see Arnold's cyber-wang, but The Terminator is long-overdue for a ground-up transfer—the kind of thing you'd hope would have happened before its inclusion in a pricey box set. The 5.1 LPCM audio fares much better. It's a crisp, aggressive mix. The included extras are limited to two featurettes—"Creating the Terminator: Visual Effects & Music" and "Terminator: A Retrospective"—and about 10 minutes of deleted scenes.
The version of Terminator 2 included here is the "Skynet Edition," which came out in 2009 with a new 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. It is an undeniably sharp picture, with strong detail and color. Cameron's love of DNR hurts the visuals a little, but it's hard to imagine T2 looking much better. The same is true of the immersive 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, which comes to life during the movie's hardest-hitting sequences. If you can find your way through the labyrinthine menu system, this disc has a wealth of bonus features—including the theatrical and special editions of the film (as well as an extended special edition accessible by entering a secret authorization code with your remote), two audio commentaries, picture-in-picture, a trivia track and quiz, production notes, behind-the-scenes video, original screenplay and storyboards, mini-games, trailers, and two deleted scenes.
When Terminator 3 was first released on Blu-ray, it mistakenly shipped with a 2.40:1 transfer in 1080i. The Blu-ray was quickly upgraded to 1080p, with new discs replacing the old ones on store shelves. The disc included here is the 1080p version, although it comes saddled with the same 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track—something else that should have been fixed for this set. Despite the lossy mix, it's plenty powerful. There's a good collection of extras, including an in-movie experience with the director, introduction by Schwarzenegger, a 13-minute HBO making-of special, storyboards, costume featurette, three audio commentaries, deleted scene, blooper reel, look at Todd McFarlane's action figures, video game making-of, and trailers.
As the newest film in the series and the only one to hit Blu-ray right out of the gate, Terminator Salvation is the best looking and sounding of the bunch. With a razor sharp 2.40:1 1080p transfer and cutting-edge CGI, it brings the post-apocalypse to life (or its equivalent). The 5.1 DTS-Master Audio mix is just as good. It rattles, roars, and rumbles from beginning to end. Salvation accounts for the fourth and fifth discs of this four-movie, five-disc set. The first disc has the theatrical cut and all bonus features, while the second is reserved for the slightly longer, R-rated "director's cut." Extras include the feature-length "Maximum Movie Mode"—a fancier picture-in-picture commentary—with director McG, a series of short "Focus Points" featurettes, the 19-minute making-of doc "Reforging the Future," and a look at the filmmakers' collaboration with Ducati that gave birth to "The Moto-Terminator."
The cinematic quality of the Terminator series is up for debate. The shortcomings of the Terminator Anthology collection are not. Although fans who do not own these films in hi-def may wish to buy this set, it should be with the understanding that movies as popular as these will no doubt see better releases in the future. At the very least, I expect The Terminator will be remastered and Terminator 3 will get a proper lossless audio track.
Like the endless production of Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alikes in the near future, better versions of these films will come out in their own box set. If you're worried that won't happen before the robot apocalypse hits, or just really want to see the T-800 staring down at you from your shelf, by all means pick up this beautifully packaged collection of old Blu-rays.
Not human, but not guilty!
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Scales of Justice, The Terminator
Perp Profile, The Terminator
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Terminator
• Deleted Scenes
Scales of Justice, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Perp Profile, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
• Theatrical Cut
Scales of Justice, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
Perp Profile, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
• In-Movie Experience
Scales of Justice, Terminator Salvation
Perp Profile, Terminator Salvation
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Terminator Salvation
• Maximum Movie Mode
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.