Judge Jim Thomas will be back. Sorry, but you're stuck with him. Just like his wife.
Our reviews of The Terminator: Special Edition (published September 17th, 2001), Terminator Anthology (Blu-ray) (published September 19th, 2012), and Terminator (Blu-ray) DigiBook (published May 30th, 2011) are also available.
"I know he said he'd be back, but this is ridiculous."—Groucho Marx
The DVD/Blu-Ray history of The Terminator is littered with a series of poor video transfers. In fact, the previous three Blu-Ray releases were essentially the same disc. MGM has coughed up the cash for re-mastered audio and video, at least, so now you can buy The Terminator (Blu-Ray) again, but just so you know, to them it's still just a catalog title, so they won't pony up for any decent extras. Sigh.
Rather than rehash the plot, I prefer to comment on the ridiculous efficiency with which Cameron develops the various aspects of his story. Consider the titular nemesis: Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, Aliens) describes the T-800 to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and we see Reese shooting up the Terminator—but there aren't gouts of blood marking each bullet impact, and there's no overt indications of the T-800's mechanical nature beyond the fact that he keeps getting up after being shot. For all we knew, Skynet really sent back Michael Myers. Then we get one scene. The Terminator, in a room, is repairing some damage. It cuts open an arm, revealing the wrist mechanism, servos moving fingers. Then it cuts some damaged tissue away from the eye, revealing the red sensor. Then Schwarzenegger puts on his Gargoyles and goes out to kill some more. And we're sold. That one scene—slow, calm, controlled—keeps Cameron from having to do anything else in the way of special effects, until the final battle. That's Roger Corman filmmaking at its finest.
I can't help but wonder what would have happened had The Terminator only been a modest success. Could Cameron have continued to develop as a director without the enormous budgets he has enjoyed on all of his subsequent movies? I dunno, but it's an interesting thought.
Performance-wise, I always come back to Michael Biehn. He manages to hit the perfect balance of intensity, earnestness, and franticness, so that you are almost positive that he's not nuts. Linda Hamilton is not as solid—she had more than a few wooden line readings. However, she also has the most difficult character arc, going from this almost waifish waitress to a protector of humanity. It's particularly impressive to compare our first view of her in this film with our first view of her in the sequel—an impact that Cameron specifically said he was going for. The romance between Sarah and Reese, though it's quick and abbreviated, doesn't come off as cheap; there's real emotion there, not just pent up adrenaline and lust.
In any event, MGM has at long last done a little re-mastering on this classic. The AVC-encoded video is a marked improvement over previous Blu-Rays releases (which all used the same master). Colors are stronger, and there's a better feeling of depth in the image. The only downside is that the increased detail makes the miniature work a bit more obvious. The DTS-HD track is solid, with great surround presence and enhanced bass. People who prefer original audio tracks will be disappointed, however, as the original mono track is not included. Nothing new on the extra front, sadly. The featurette on the special effects in interesting, but the retrospective interview with Schwarzenegger and Cameron is dated and more than just a little self-serving; it has a Carolco logo on it, so it was probably done as a Terminator 2 promotion. There are a handful of deleted scenes. Most are forgettable, but there are a couple of interesting ones, including an extended scene of Sarah trying to convince Reese to go with her to take out Cyberdyne. Not only does it develop both characters a little more, but it also prefigures events in the sequel. For several of the deleted scenes, including this one, some sort of commentary would have been welcome.
While the new transfers are nice and all, MGM's still guilty of failing to spring for some new extras.
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