The neverending battle against the machines continues. What, you thought it was over? Get real. Skynet and its legion of unstoppable killer Terminators come home yet again in a new “The Terminator Anthology” Blu-ray limited edition box set. Boasting “the complete world as created by Academy Award-winning director James Cameron with the complete and definitive collection of all four films on Blu-ray”, the anthology box set arrives in a 5-disc package, consisting of all four titles in the series (“Terminator: Salvation”, the latest movie, takes up two discs). The set comes in sturdy box construction with excellent casting, but let’s face it, the real treat here isn’t the set, it’s the movies themselves.
THE TERMINATOR (1984)
The first, and still the best of the bunch. I know, a lot of people think the sequel, 1991’s “Judgment Day” is the pinnacle of the series, but for my money, the almost low-tech approach (at least compared to the rest of the installments) is what makes “The Terminator” stand out. The fact that it was also written and directed by a young James Cameron, full of piss and vinegar, also marks the film as one of a kind. Cameron would go on to become a slicker director, but “The Terminator” was as gritty a start to an apocalyptic franchise as you could possibly get, and its dark and almost dirty aesthetics contributed to that.
Essentially the story of a soldier from the future (Michael Biehn) sent on a suicide mission into the past to rescue the mother of his commander, who also happens to be the savior of mankind, there’s a surprising amount of tenderness among all the rubble and cyborg bloodbath. Linda Hamilton plays the damsel in the distress, a waitress who comes to realize she has more in her than just serving drinks and food. This was a star making turn for Biehn, and a perfect launching pad for what has become an unstoppable franchise to this day. As we speak, the powers that be are making plans for more sequels. Have no fear, it will be back.
The treat of “The Terminator” Blu-ray is, well, the movie itself, which is a real blast even 28 years later. Wow. Has it really been that long ago? Yup. But for those of you looking for additional content, there are some of that, too, but there is nothing new here to get too excited about. As far as I can tell, these are all previously released stuff, including a 13-minute “Creating the Terminator: Visual Effects and Music”, which is exactly what you think it is. “Terminator: A Retrospective” is a 20-minute documentary looking back at the 1984 film with director James Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger sitting down to reminisce. And finally, “Terminated Scenes” features 7 deleted scenes from the movie. It’s too bad the studio didn’t do more in terms of new bonus content, but maybe they’re saving it up for the 30th anniversary edition 2 years from now.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
A direct sequel to 1984’s “The Terminator”, “Judgment Day” finds John Connor (Edward Furlong), just an infant at the end of the first movie, now grown up into a devil-may-care teenager running afoul of the law, his foster parents, and an unstoppable killing machine called the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Fortunately for the teenage tyke, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is once again sent back through time — but in a twist, this time he’s here to protect the savior of mankind. Together, machine and boy spring Sarah Connor (Hamilton) out of an insane asylum and seek to prevent Judgement Day once and for all. Will they succeed? Well, there are two more installments in the series, so you figure it out.
Generally considered the biggest and best of the series by a lot of fans, thanks to its status quo-shattering CGI and special effects, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is a fantastic follow-up to the 1984 original. Seven years later, Cameron’s growth as a director of big-budget movies show up in every frame, and where the film lacks in subtlety (seriously, the whole robot as dad thing was a bit on the nose there, James), it more than makes up with some ridiculously spectacular action sequences. Arnold with a mini-gun? Check. The unstoppable “it can be anything it damn well wants” T-1000? Double check. And let’s not forget, the emergence of Linda Hamilton as a kickass heroine.
If the first disc was a little short on the pizazz, the “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” disc makes up for it big time with a main menu in the form of a Time Displacement Unit (aka the time machine). Pretty cool. You have two options to watch the film, the original Theatrical version or a Special Edition, which features 16 additional minutes (154 minutes total). (Apparently there is a heavy Internet component here, but my Blu-ray isn’t connected to the ‘net, so we’ll never know.) Bonus content includes 5 whopping trailers and two deleted scenes (with optional commentary). The film is available in Picture-in-Picture mode, always a great treat for viewers who just love knowing how certain scenes were shot or why, and various trivia-themed goody options to watch/read along with the film. If you’ve seen the film a dozen times, I suppose these would make another go-through worthwhile. There are two full-length audio commentaries available, one with writer/director James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher, and one with the production crew.
TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)
More than ten years later, the battle to stop Skynet continues, now with a 20-something John Connor (Nick Stahl) living “off the grid” in an attempt to avoid detection (and thus stay off Skynet’s radar). John’s lonely life comes to a grinding halt when he runs across his old girlfriend Kate (Claire Danes), a reunion that puts John right back into the crosshairs of Skynet’s latest killing machine, the T-X (Kristanna Loken). Once again, the future resistance is able to send yet another version of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to protect its leader. The trio goes on the run, but quickly realize that the only way to stop Skynet isn’t avoiding it, but confronting it once and for all.
You won’t find many people who consider “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” to be worthwhile, but I’m an exception. Mind you, compared to the previous two entries it doesn’t stack up, but there’s a certain charm to “Rise of the Machines” that I can’t shake. While the film still uses plenty of CG, director Jonathan Mostow also relies heavily on practical effects, so in a way it’s even more faithful to the original “Terminator” than Cameron’s own 1991 sequel. And while it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep justifying the T-800 (as played by an aging Arnold) returning over and over, the film does feature a couple of rather clever explanations for this. For those who never cared much for “Rise of the Machines”, I think you should take a new look at it, and you might realize it’s nowhere as bad as you originally thought.
After going from the basic Blu-ray menu of the first “Terminator” disc to the high-tech menu of “Judgement Day”, I was kinda expecting “Rise of the Machines” to up the ante. It, uh, doesn’t. Instead, the movie plays automatically, and you have to bring up the menu at the bottom of the screen. Bonus content includes an optional “In-Movie Experience”, with director Jonathan Moscow walking you through pretty much every aspect of making the film from beginning to end. Cool stuff if you’re a fan of the movie like I am. There is a brief intro by Arnold, a 13-minute HBO First Look documentary, storyboards, and a short 2-minute “Dress to Kill” spot. You also get a hilariously bad deleted scene that explains why the T-800 looks and, um, sounds the way it does (i.e. like Arnold), 3 minutes worth of bloopers, and not one, not two, but three full-length audio commentary with the cast and crew, with director Mostow coming back for multiple sit-downs. And finally, the usual assortment of trailers for the movie, including games and toys.
TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)
Like “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, “Terminator Salvation” gets little to respect from “Terminator” fans. But like “Rise of the Machines”, I think if you were to look at it as a stand-alone sci-fi action movie, it’s actually not a bad film. Heck, you could even say it’s pretty good, especially coming from McG, the director of those awful “Charlie’s Angels” movies. Unfortunately it is part of a well-established (and well-loved) sci-fi franchise, so it does feel like a big let-down considering the massive set-up of the three films that came before it. Huh. I think I just contradicted myself there. Oh well, moving on.
“Salvation” takes the franchise into the future (or is that back to the future?), with a now-grown John Connor (Christian Bale) leading the human resistance. Well, part of it, anyway. Connor isn’t the big-time messiah-like leader that we’ve come to know in previous films — yet. The movie also introduces Sam Worthington into the franchise, along with a host of other characters that, ultimately, doesn’t matter very much, so you wonder what the point was in the first place. “Terminator Salvation” is a polished, high-octane sci-fi movie with plenty of great action sequences and battling robots. Again, as a stand-alone sci-fi action movie, it’s not half bad. It’s just that, well, there’s that whole problem with with having the “Terminator” in the title. More should have been done with the Connor character, and the addition of Worthington and his many side plots are simply not interesting enough. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — either go big with Connor, or don’t go near him at all.
“Terminator Salvation” is so good, it gets two discs where the others only had to make due with one. (Just kidding.) The biggest bonus content on any Blu-ray these days is Maximum Movie Mode, which is available here with director McG doing the honors. As with most MMM, you get plenty of behind-the-scenes stuff, including informative pop-ups like timelines, etc. Instead of watching MMM with McG, you can elect to watch the goodies in individual Focal Point segments. Other bonus content includes a 19-minute “Forging the Future” featurette, about making the film’s apocalyptic timeline. Given that “Salvation” is the first film in the series that actually takes place in the future, they had plenty of room to roam. The 8-minute “Moto-Terminator” featurette is a cool look at how they made the killer two-wheeled Terminator, aka Skynet’s “attack dogs”. As a bike fan, this was rad, as the kids would say. The movie comes in two versions, including a Director’s Cut. Curiously, the disc labeled “Bonus Content” doesn’t actually have any bonus content, while unlabeled disc comes with all the bonus content. Go figure.