Is 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' the greatest sequel, ever? I know 'T2' has many, many fans who rate it higher than 1984's cult sleeper hit 'The Terminator,' and I would never try to persuade them otherwise. But for me, I dunno. 'T2' doesn't work quite as well as the original, if only because the first two 'Terminator' films are really very different from each other. Much like what director James Cameron managed to do with 1986's 'Aliens' -- namely take Ridley Scott's dark, more-horror-than-sci-fi opus 'Alien' and transform it into a non-stop action film -- 'T2' doesn't so much replicate the scrappy B-movie thrills of the first 'Terminator' as morph its chintzy charms into a bombastic, special-effects-laden morality play. 'T2' isn't a remake or even a reimagining -- instead, it pumps up its best qualities of 'The Terminator' and grafts them onto a family drama, adding fable-like qualities. Weird, yes, but it certainly worked.
I suppose I could recap the story of 'T2' for the three people who have yet to see the film, but then they probably know the story, too. Let's just say that Cameron wisely doesn't try to revert his main characters -- Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, and of course the Terminator -- back to the state where we last left them at the end of the first film, as most sequels-slash-remakes would. Rather, he turns Sarah into a nutjob who has effectively abandoned her son and turned herself into the martyr to end all martyrs, allowing the story to expand naturally into new directions. But even better, Cameron inverts the Terminator himself -- it is no secret to reveal that the mean ol' Arnie of 'Terminator' is all soft and cuddly in 'T2,' now the protector of the young John Connor (Edward Furlong). So not only does that give 'T2' a great spin on the original, but it allows for the introduction of a brand-new villain, the morphing T-1000 (Robert Patrick, still the best android-creature ever seen on screen). Let's just say had Cameron simply restaged the Sarah-Terminator battles from the first film only with more money, we wouldn't still be talking about 'T2' today.
Unfortunately, that brings me to my biggest gripe about 'T2' -- though what also, ironically, cemented its status as such an influential blockbuster. Quite frankly, the film's once-cutting edge CGI effects have quickly become outdated. Even back in 1992, I thought the film's effects coup, the "liquid metal" T-1000, looked lame. I know, I know, it unleashed the monstrosity that is "morphing" unto the world, but even by the rules and structure of the fantasy world Cameron created the effect feels like a cheat. While in the framework of the film I could believe that a liquid metal Mr. Roboto could goop all around and kill people, I'm still confused as to how his clothes and skin miraculously reappear at a moment's notice. Are they liquid metal, too? And where is his CPU central processing unit located? How are all the individual molecules bound together? And how come whenever the T-1000 gets split apart or blown up, all the pieces can still function? And if the machine is supposed to be liquid metal by Earth standards (this is still, after all, supposed to be a "realistic future"), how does the metal heat itself up and cool itself off so quickly?
Perhaps I'm asking too many questions. Because strip away all the post-apocalyptic talk, all the Sarah-John intra-family melodramatics, and the numerous time-travel plot holes (though to be fair, time travel itself is one big plot hole), and 'T2' still works like gangbusters. It is one great big action spectacle full of explosions, car chases, lots of cyborg fighting and Edward Furlong spouting lines like "Affirmative" in his mini-Keanu Reeves baritone. So what's not to love, even if I miss some of the low-budget charm and inventiveness of the original? And really, can any movie that features a Terminator asking, "Why do you cry?" be all bad?
With 'Terminator 2' having been released on videotape, laserdisc and DVD about, oh, a million times now, judging this first-ever Blu-ray version is tough. Quite frankly, I feel like I've seen this movie so many times now and in so many permutations that it is hard not to be cynical. After so many versions, will anything less than perfection satisfy me? (Well, at least if Blu-ray can't deliver, I can always wait for the inevitable Super Platinum Ultimate Holographic Edition.) Add to that, past home video versions of 'T2' have always suffered a few slings and arrows, namely due to James Cameron having shot the film in the controversial Super35 process, which allows for greater flexibility in terms of recomposing the image when transferring to video, but the tradeoff is decreased resolution and more noticeable film grain. Now, before any of you send me hate mail, I once went to a director's panel a few years back, with some of the leading filmmakers at the time heatedly discussing the merits of Super35 versus more low-grain, high-resolution processes such as 70mm and anamorphic. So it is not a question of whether film grain is a bad thing or not, simply that Super35 does have its tradeoffs and it is important to state that in any review of the film on home video. 'T2' has always looked a bit more grainy than perhaps the average action film of its type, but it is entirely indicative of its source. So short of removing all of the grain and other anomalies from the image by way of computer-assisted technology, that is the way the film is always going to look and always should look.
That said, I can say I was very impressed with this Blu-ray release from Lionsgate -- it is certainly up there with the best of the first Blu-ray titles I've yet seen from any studio. Presented in its 137-minute theatrical cut version (sorry, no extended version or alternate ending here, which are currently available on DVD in too many editions to list), framed at 2.35:1 and encoded at 1080p, this transfer is a clear step up from all previous NTSC video versions.
Most aspects of this presentation are just as good as before -- great blacks, clean and consistent contrast (aside from the Linda Hamilton character's numerous post-apocalyptic flashbacks, which have an intentionally overblown, slightly hazy look to them) and a nearly-pristine print. Yes, there is still grain visible, and sometimes it can be more distracting than on the standard DVD, simply because HD's finer resolution makes it more apparent. Plus, I did notice the rare blemish (such as a speckle of dirt here or there), but that really is nitpicking. However, where this Blu-ray upgrade really shines is in the level of detail and color reproduction. This is simply a much more three-dimensional image, with fine details more visible throughout, from more discernible textures and fabrics to the intricacies of Stan Winston's landmark robotic and animatronics creations. I was genuinely blown away by many times I noticed new things while watching this transfer, even having seen the film so many times before. And per usual with HD, colors are also richer and cleaner. The harsh blues that are closely identified with Cameron's visual style here look better than ever before, and even fleshtones are slightly improved; I often felt previous transfers veered a little too much towards the red end of the spectrum, but here skin tones are more or less a dead-on fleshy orange.
It is also worth nothing that this new transfer appears to be minted from the same HD master also used for the "Extreme Edition" DVD release from 2003, but not 1999's "Ultimate Edition." That latter version suffered from some noticeable edge enhancement and had a rather artificial look, but this transfer is much more smooth and natural, and virtually eliminates any noticeable halos and other artifacts. The "Ultimate Edition" also appeared a bit noisy in spots, and some past reviews also complained of minor macroblocking during scenes with fast action. Thankfully, I did not find that a problem here -- perhaps that's why Lionsgate only included the theatrical cut on the disc, and few extras? Whatever the case, 'T2' delivers the kind of stable image that really positions the next-gen HD formats above over-the-air high-def broadcasts, which often can't handle fast-moving action and suffer from excessive pixelization.
(Note: As originally reported by The Digital Bits, some users have experienced poor image quality when viewing Blu-ray discs on the Samsung first-generation BD-P1000 Blu-ray disc player when connected via the deck's HDMI output. Apparently these problems, including decreased resolution and diluted color reproduction, are largely corrected when switching to the BD-P1000's component outputs.
It has also been confirmed that both Samsung and Sony are now aware of the issue, and the problem most likely stems from a faulty internal scaler chip in the BD-P1000. Samsung is reportedly working to fix the problem on future shipments of the unit, and also plans to issue a firmware upgrade to correct the problem on current players.
When assessing the transfer of any Blu-ray or HD DVD disc title, we here at High Def Digest always compare the HDMI versus component output on every disc to detect any depreciable differences in image quality, as well as to confirm whether or not the Image Constraint Token (ICT) has been activated on a particular disc title or not (which would down-convert the component output's resolution to standard DVD quality).
If and when Samsung makes an official announcement of a firmware upgrade that corrects the problem with the BD-P1000's HDMI output, all of our Blu-ray reviews here at High Def Digest will be revisited to reassess picture quality. In light of the continuing problems with the Samsung, and given the fact that it is currently the only Blu-ray player available on the consumer market, some readers may wish to reserve judgment on this or any Blu-ray title until picture quality can be reassessed.)
Like the image quality on previous releases of 'T2,' the film always boasted a terrific soundtrack, so the question wasn't whether it was any good but how good? Same goes for this new Blu-ray release, which offers no new real upgrade, instead porting over the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and DTS-ES Matrixed 5.1 surround tracks from the "Ultimate Edition" DVD release. Still, that's not a terrible thing -- while I would have loved new uncompressed PCM or Dolby TrueHD options, 'T2' still sounds pretty dang good for a 15-odd year-old film.
I suppose it is obvious to say, but 'T2' really raised the bar in terms of surround sound when it was first released in 1992. Granted, it didn't pioneer a new format the way 'Jurassic Park' did when it introduced DTS to the world in 1993, but I can still remember seeing 'T2' in the theater and just being amazed at the sound that was coming out of the speakers all around me. And I still can't help but get a bit giddy whenever I fire up 'T2' on my home theater, if only for the warm nostalgia of it all. So perhaps I'm biased, but I really enjoyed hearing 'T2' again on Blu-ray. The sound design still sounds quite aggressive, with very active use of the rear channels for both loud action as well as minor atmospheric details. And both the EX and ES tracks benefit from the extra surround center channel; granted, pans across the rear soundfield are not as seamless or abundant as on, say, one of the new 'Star Wars' flicks, but it their presence at all is impressive for a remix of an older film. Dynamic range is also quite spacious, with only the occasional gimmicky sound effect or bit of ADR'd dialogue to indicate this is not a film that came out last month. However, I did feel that Brad Fiedel's terrific score still sounds somewhat harsh in the mix -- it is very percussive with lots of metallic sounds, and at points it sounded slightly flat and cold. But no matter -- I loved listening to 'T2' again on Blu-ray, even if it doesn't really offer anything new over current DVD editions of the film.
No, there aren't very many extras on this first Blu-ray release of 'T2,' but then again, there have been so many different versions of this film released before that it is hard to imagine even a next-gen format like Blu-ray could contain them all. Personally, I thought a good portion of the supplements on past releases were overkill, but I know you diehard completists out there still want it all. Alas, you're just not going to get that here, not even close -- Lionsgate has only included two audio commentaries on this release, and no video-based extras at all.
However, the two "archival" tracks included here are both very good. Director James Cameron recorded his first-ever audio commentary for the 'T2' "Extreme Edition," along with co-writer William Wysher, and it is a very strong effort indeed. Say what you want about the one-time "King of the World!", but he is a very intelligent, articulate, passionate guy, and along with Wysher he imparts a great deal of detail on all aspects of the film's development, production and release. Definitely a must listen. The second track is just as good, even it is just an assemblage of audio interview extracts and the participants do not address directly what is onscreen. However, with 26 members of the cast and crew of 'T2' on board and all the major players are represented -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, and most of the main technical team -- how could it not succeed? And I really like these compiled, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tracks, because they are so informative and no one person gets to dominate. Plus this one is very, very well edited by longtime Cameron DVD producer Van Ling. So I'm afraid along with the Cameron and Wysher track, you're going to have to watch 'T2' yet two more times.
'T2' has been issued on home video so many times it has become a joke among even the film's biggest fans, which makes this Blu-ray release a dicey proposition. Yes, the picture is really quite good and it's a clear upgrade over the previous standard DVD editions. However, the soundtrack is nothing new and the extras are minimal. It is also hard to imagine Lionsgate isn't going to release this one again (and again and again) with more extras. So is a beautiful-looking 'T2' in high-def, sans extras, worth spending another $39.95 for? This time, I'm afraid, I'm going to have to leave that choice up to you.