Like many movie lovers, I'm a huge fan of the original 'The Terminator' from 1984. On the surface, it was basically a straightforward chase film with an interesting sci-fi twist (a relentless cyborg from the future is sent back in time with only one directive -- to kill the mother of humanity's savior before he is born). Simple, yes, but in director James Cameron's masterful hands, the film exploded into a cult phenomenon and transformed bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger into a Hollywood A-list superstar.
Then came 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' seven years later. Cameron's follow-up was essentially part remake and part sequel. It had exactly the same premise as the first film (and even brought back Linda Hamilton and Schwarzenegger), only it was sort of flip-flopped around and introduced Edward Furlong as the teen John Connor into the mix. The simplicity behind this "mirror" concept really was ingenious, and being topped off with a monster budget and state-of-the-art special effects (at the time anyway), the movie defied the odds and became one of the most popular sequels in cinematic history. I know I'm not alone in thinking the franchise should have ended right then and there, as in a roundabout way, Cameron's masterpiece had a fitting and almost poetic conclusion.
Alas, as is usually the case when a property is blistering hot, that sadly wasn't the end. In 2003, the third chapter 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines descended upon us. This time, though, only Schwarzenegger returned--with Cameron, Hamilton, and Furlong all MIA. Although moderately entertaining, the second sequel was just a rehash of 'T2.' The only real difference was that the villain was now given a sex change. But the same story can only be repeated so many times, and without Cameron behind the camera the magic went down the drain.
This of course leads us to the fourth installment, 'Terminator Salvation.' Unlike the previous three films, time travel is not involved, and the bulk of the movie is set in the post-apocalyptic future. With an insane $200 million budget and Christian Bale brought on board to take on the role of resistance leader John Connor, the opportunity was there to give the series a refreshing new beginning, much like Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' update. The film was helmed by McG ('We Are Marshall' and the 'Charlie's Angels' films) and was met, frankly, with a barrage of scathing reviews. While I don't think it's quite as bad as some of the critics have made it out to be, I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it disappointing. Somewhere among the razzle dazzle of effects the human element gets lost in the shuffle, and like Peter Bracke noted in his 'review,' the strength of Cameron's films is that he never sacrifices heart for mechanics.
The story opens with a brief prologue set in 2003. A man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is on death row for murder. When Marcus is visited by Dr. Serena Kogen (Helena Bonham Carter) with a rather unique proposition for medical research, he decides to do one last good deed and grants her request shortly before being put to death by lethal injection.
Flash forward to 2018, fourteen years after the artificial intelligence known as Skynet nearly destroyed all of mankind during "Judgment Day." During an attack on a Skynet base where he is the only survivor, John Connor (Christian Bale) uncovers Skynet's plans for a new advanced terminator. After reporting his findings to his commander, General Ashdown (Michael Ironside), Connor learns the resistance may also have found a chink in Skynet's armor and is preparing to launch an offensive.
Meanwhile, Marcus has suddenly reappeared out of the rubble of the destroyed Skynet base. Apparently suffering from amnesia, Marcus can't remember who he is or how he got there, and sets out to find answers. Along his journey, Marcus befriends a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who has decided to seek out and join the resistance. As all three destinies converge (John, Kyle, and Marcus)--secrets will be revealed, trust will have to be earned, and what's left of humanity may never be the same.
Admittedly, there are things to like in 'Terminator Salvation.' The terminator designs once again by Stan Winston Studios look fantastic and even the pre-T800 models are pretty cool with their rougher, primitive craftsmanship. It was nice to finally get a deeper look within Skynet's operations and the little nods to the previous films were great (although sneaking in the same Guns n' Roses tune from 'T2' was overkill). I even thought the casting was decent. Bale oozes the charisma necessary to pull off a born leader. Some have criticized him for being too "wooden" as Connor, but I actually thought his take was accurate, aside from the grizzled Batman-voice slip ups. Understandably, the younger version of the character in 'T2' had more personality and a sense of humor, but after what he's been through it makes sense that it's all withered away. Everything his mother preached has come true, human civilization has nearly been wiped off the face of the earth, and Youtube still hasn't taken down that damn rant remix! Can you blame the guy for being cold? I also think it helps retain the mirroring element with Connor becoming emotionless like a machine or his mother, while Marcus on the other hand is the one who grows the most as he struggles with the revelations from his past. It's really Worthington's show all the way, and it's his performance that is the most interesting in the film.
Unfortunately as I mentioned earlier, the biggest hindrance of 'Terminator Salvation' is that McG glosses over the "heart," which is kind of ironic once you actually see the film. The action sequences are excessive, and some seem like they are just there to go through the motions--as terminators often pop up without generating any fear, tension, or excitement--feeling more like something from a mild amusement park ride than a futuristic war zone. I was also put off by the whole harvester terminator segment, as it really wasn't thought out well at all. How on earth can something that makes Optimus Prime look like a munchkin sneak up on a gas station in the middle of nowhere? I mean, even if the humans weren't smart enough to keep a lookout when they know the area is crawling with deadly things, surely they can hear an enormous mass of machinery stomping along from a mile away. So I'm sorry, but this didn't make one lick of sense.
That being said, I didn't loathe 'Terminator Salvation,' but I didn't love it either. I think if McG had refined some of the action, toned down the fluff, and put a bit more focus on a few characters (a couple are a total waste and only there for show) then it may have had a stronger reception. As it stands, the film is still entertaining for what it is and oddly enough does seem to improve on repeat viewings, just don't expect the second coming of Cameron.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers presents 'Terminator Salvation' on Blu-ray as a three-disc set consisting of two dual-layered BD-50 Blu-ray discs (the Theatrical version and supplements on one, and the extended Director's Cut with BD-Live features on the other) and a third disc containing a digital copy. The discs are housed in a blue butterfly keepcase and my copy also came with an embossed slipcover. The Theatrical contains not one, but two annoying forced Blu-ray advertisements (still baffles me these show up on a format we're already watching) and another for digital copy. Fortunately, the Director's Cut doesn't have any trailers at all and directly goes right into the film. The U.S. version of the Blu-rays are also reported to be region free and therefore should play properly on all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
On a technical level, Warner's 1080p/VC-1 (2.40:1 aspect ratio) encode on the 'Terminator Salvation' Blu-ray is practically flawless. The source is terrific, completely devoid of dirt, debris, and other imperfections. As one would expect from this type of movie, the picture has a very washed-out palette primarily consisting of various shades of browns and grays to replicate the bleak futuristic world of tomorrow. There's a mild to medium grain presence for a gritty film-like appearance, and although grain levels do become heavier in poorly lit areas like the tunnels and sewers, it's never a distraction and really suits the mood of the film. The sense of depth is also pleasing and detailing is fantastic. Everything looks grungy and is caked with dust and grime. Facial close-ups reveal pores, stubble, and other fine intricate details with incredible distinction. The texturing on clothing and weathered remnants of civilized life is outstanding. I did spot the occasional scene having a slight softness and black level down to about 98 percent, but both of these instances were minimal at best in an otherwise stellar transfer.
Even better is the bombastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Man, is this thing intense.
Starting things off is Danny Elfman's score that fills the soundstage like liquid metal, and as soon as it is punctuated with the thunderous Terminator percussions it pretty much seals the demo material deal. Dialogue is always intelligible even amidst all the chaos going on in the film. Dynamic range is also among the grandest I've heard yet. Explosions, gunfire, and clanking machinery are extremely powerful, and the sense of directional movement is as authentic and immersive as it can get. Aerial flybys have smooth pans and a hefty presence viewers can actually feel. The rear channels are vigorous throughout too (the scene when Connor is attacked by the hydrobots is amazing) and even the quieter, subtler moments deliver realistic and convincing acoustics. Without any doubts whatsoever, I can safely say fans will be ecstatic with this mix.
The disc also includes alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on the theatrical cut in French and Spanish, as well as optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
In another bold move, Warner Brothers has reserved all of the supplemental features exclusively for the Blu-ray release. As such, everything has been shifted to the appropriate section below.
If I were asked to make a list of the three biggest blockbuster busts of 2009, 'Terminator Salvation' wouldn't be among my picks. Now that doesn't mean the film is great by any means and it certainly doesn't hold a candle to James Cameron's entries, but considering some of the year's other disasters it could have been far worse. If you're able to get over the initial hump of disappointment the movie isn't half bad, although in all fairness I do think the amazing video/audio presentation of the Blu-ray makes it go down a little easier. Let's not forget the entire supplemental package is exclusive to the format as well, and as usual Warner's cutting-edge Maximum Movie Mode is enough of a reason to own this disc.