If classic film fans fear one thing more than a shiny remake of their favorite flick, it’s the news that an untouchable masterpiece is being adapted into a television show. When I first heard the news that someone was going to transplant Skynet and our lovable Connor clan into an episodic series, I was ready to march on the Warner Brothers lot and demand to know who was responsible. However, after gritting my teeth and sitting through the first nine episodes of ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles,’ I have to admit I’ll probably be tuning in for another season. I’m not about to declare the series the second coming of the ‘Terminator’ franchise, but I will say that it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.
Poor Sarah Connor. After preventing an apocalyptic clash with an army of machines and eliminating a bleak future, Sarah (Lena Headey) learns she’s only postponed Judgment Day by fourteen years. Conveniently traveling to 2007 using a makeshift time machine with her son and future savior of mankind, John (Thomas Dekker), and yet another Terminator programmed to protect him, Cameron (Summer Glau), Sarah has to contend with an unfamiliar decade, a slew of machines sent back through time to ensure Skynet’s future, and a band of freedom fighters with their own agenda. To make matters worse, she must protect her son from a relentless FBI agent (Richard Jones) and a particularly vicious Terminator (Garret Dillahunt) who followed the trio through the temporal rift. Luckily, Sarah finds allies in the form of a resistance fighter named Derek Reese (the surprisingly well-cast Brian Austin Green) and a former flame named Charley (Dean Winters).
Disavowing any knowledge or connection to ‘Terminator 3’ may seem like an odd decision for a series working to stay faithful to its cinematic roots, but it proves to be a very wise move. Sarah Connor was always the most interesting character in the series -- after all, John Connor was little more than a notion in the first ‘Terminator’ and basically a supporting MacGuffin in its pitch-perfect sequel -- so it’s really nice to see the material find its way back to her. Headey fills Linda Hamilton’s shoes with ease, capturing the ferocity and desperation of a mother fighting to protect her son. She sells the conviction of the character, makes her passion feel relevant and bold, and even manages to create a compelling mother/son dynamic from the tenuous relationship the two exhibited in the second film. As a result, ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ rises and falls with her. When Headey is on-screen, the show has a definite purpose and direction, but when she’s missing, it feels empty. The downside is that I was far more interested in her storylines than those of the majority of the other characters.
The uneven quality doesn’t level out until Green shows up. I remember rolling my eyes when I heard the “90210” alum was going to pop in as a series regular, but I think his presence and performance immediately brings more balance to the series and gives it another engaging character. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Summer Glau. I’m a big fan of her work in “Firefly” and ‘Serenity,’ and even enjoyed her appearances in the short-lived “4400,” however, she doesn’t have a lot to work with here. Jumping through all of the hoops Schwarzenegger already did in ‘Terminator 2’ is a tedious task and one that the series’ writers are too eager to have her do. She certainly isn’t annoying or underdeveloped, but I hope the writers find some new and interesting things to do with her in future seasons.
Ultimately, had the series started off as confidently and strong as it ended, I probably would’ve enjoyed its run a lot more. However, the first few episodes lack focus, their scripts take too long to establish the series’ voice and tone, and the subplots really would have benefited from some polishing (way too many impossibly convenient events contribute to the direction of the central story). Thankfully, Headey and Green keep things afloat long enough for the show to discover its identity. The end result is a flawed but interesting reinvention of the franchise that has plenty of potential for future seasons. Here’s hoping the second season gets even better.
(‘Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 1’ includes all nine first season episodes including the “Pilot,” “Gnothi Seauton,” “The Turk,” “Heavy Metal,” “Queen’s Gambit,” “Dungeons and Dragons,” broadcast and regular cuts of “The Demon Hand,” “Vick’s Chip,” and “What We Beheld.”)
’The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ features an above average 1080p/VC-1 transfer that handles the series’ sunny-pop exteriors and dingy interiors without any dehabilitating mishaps. The palette is intentionally oversaturated, but the color palette is vibrant, skintones are relatively natural, and contrast is comfortable (albeit tonally inconsistent and rather harsh at times). While whites are too hot and blacks are occasionally crushed, the overall image offers adequate depth and dimensionality. I doubt anyone will use the phrase “picture window” to describe this transfer, but it represents a sturdy effort from Warner nonetheless. Detail is also quite good -- aside from some errant softness and a few muddled shots, each scene looks much better than it does on the standard DVD or HD television broadcast.
I did notice a bit of source noise clouding bright skies and dark shadows on occasion, bursts of minor artifacts, and some contrast wavering, but each issue was reasonably insignificant and infrequent in the grand scheme of things. All in all, fans won’t be disappointed by the visual upgrade and casual inductees won’t encounter any major problems.
For a series loaded with gunfire, explosions, and shattering furniture (those pesky robots from the future are always tossing people through tables), I really expected ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ to sound better than it does. Presented with a run-of-the-mill Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, this release’s audio fails to make an impact or match the fervor of its on-screen action. LFE support is decent but underwhelming, the rear speakers are busy but stagey, and directionality is robust but too exaggerated for my tastes. In fact, I found little to fall in love with on this track since the majority of the effects sounded artificial, its dynamics were relatively weak, and its prioritization wasn’t as finely tuned as it should be. Unfortunately, these bothersome issues accentuate the fact that the production was made for TV rather than your local theater. Considering the fact that the show’s creators were working to blur the line between the feature films and the series, such shortcomings can be a bit distracting.
Don’t get me wrong, the track isn’t a bust by any stretch of the imagination -- dialogue is crisp and balanced, a fairly immersive soundfield appears anytime action dominates a scene, and high-end tones are stable -- it just isn’t impressive enough to offer fans any substantial value over the standard DVD. As it stands, ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ could sound a lot better… whether the culprit is lazy sound design or lackluster audio is up for debate. Either way, don’t get your hopes up for a jaw-dropping sonic experience.
The Blu-ray Edition of ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ includes all of the supplemental content found on the concurrently released standard DVD version. Unfortunately, the commentaries are a drag and only one feature is presented in HD. There isn’t anything bad on the discs per se, but other Blu-ray television releases have offered far more compelling looks behind the scenes than this one.
’The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ sputters out of the gate, but soon establishes a faithful tone, an intriguing story, and a fairly engaging cast of characters. Thankfully, while the Blu-ray edition suffers from a few problems, the release as a whole is a solid offering that should please fans. It features an above average video transfer, a satisfactory audio track, and a decent supplemental package. Neither the series nor these discs are anywhere close to perfect, but they’re impressive enough to make this release worth a look.