Before starting this review I'd just like to point out that this release is essentially the exact same disc that has been available in some form or another since 2006, just repackaged in a digibook case. That being said, some elements haven't exactly aged as well as others and this review provides a fresh look.
What started as a fever dream induced hallucination of a towering metallic skeleton rising out of a billowing plume of flames, has now gone on to spawn a franchise of big budget movies, theme park attractions, video games, comic books, and various other merchandise that are still popular and expanding even today. At the heart of it all though, is still that original, action-packed, dark explosion of science fiction and suspense from 1984. James Cameron's 'The Terminator' is a milestone of its genre, effectively taking inspiration from all that came before, to end up with something refreshingly unique that has itself proven to be one of the most influential sci-fi thrillers ever made.
For the very few who may not be familiar with the story, the tale follows an average waitress named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who suddenly becomes the target of an unstoppable, cybernetic killing machine from the future (Arnold Schwarzenegger). A soldier named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent to the past to intercept The Terminator and protect Connor. Together, they flee from the metallic assassin in an exciting, edge-of-your-seat, effects-laden spectacle that sees the very fate of humanity hanging in the balance.
The script is strong on ideas, but a bit broad on characterizations. Hamilton is good as Sarah Connor and imbues the role with a relatable, sweet every-woman appeal that makes her a great surrogate for the audience. Her character's gradual strengthening over the course of the story is handled well and hints at the more dramatic changes we will see in her in the sequel. Biehn is also solid as the brooding, war weary hero from a dystopian future, and the pair have decent, but not quite sparkling chemistry. Schwarzenegger's performance has of course become iconic and no matter how many times it has been parodied or sanitized in sequels, his cold, intimidating presence still brings a level of true menace to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, though the story itself is wonderfully creative, there are some minor issues with the execution. Dialogue can occasionally come across as a bit cheesy, stilted, or overly dramatic, and likewise the performances can also lose their way a bit and ring false from time to time. The real focus here, however, is on the effects, mood, and bigger ideas, and on all those fronts Cameron does an amazing job.
Combining visual effects, make-up work, and an unrelenting pace, Cameron brings an energetic and raw visual style to the screen. Though fairly low budget, the filmmakers never let it show with fantastic chases, explosions, and shootouts. Stan Winston's creations have become the stuff of legends, and while a few shots may be slightly dated, the film's effects still hold up remarkably well.
'The Terminator' is a staple of the science fiction genre and one of the defining examples of blockbuster filmmaking. While there are certain weaknesses in the script, the action, effects, and creativity more than make up for any minor shortcomings. Cameron was able to tap into some very basic fears and create a truly terrifying story of a creature that will literally stop at nothing to terminate its target. Even in the film world's current climate of big budget computer-generated summer tent-poles, 'The Terminator' remains to show that all one really needs to create explosive entertainment is talent, ingenuity, and courage.
'The Terminator' is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This appears to be the exact same disc as the previous Blu-ray releases of this title, and unfortunately, it's not very impressive.
The print itself is only in decent shape, with some noticeable signs of age and damage peppered throughout. Grain is visible periodically during the presentation, but its appearance is inconsistent and rarely has a natural unprocessed look. DNR seems to have been applied to several scenes which occasionally causes a slightly smeared appearance, though its usage is not as severe as some other titles.
Detail is rarely impressive and the majority of the movie looks quite soft with a lack of depth. Colors are intentionally drab in order to reinforce the film's gritty look and contrast can seem a bit low, though black levels are mostly deep. Still, there is an occasional pop to some scenes and a few sequences do offer moments of visual excitement.
While this transfer may have been acceptable in 2006, it certainly has not aged well and is average at best. Though many of the issues discussed may be a result of the film's low budget roots and intended gritty look, the fact of the matter is this just isn't a very good video presentation. This classic film deserves so much better, so instead of simply repackaging the same lackluster disc over and over again, it might be a worthy investment to actually remaster the video and give customers something of actual value.
Like the video, this appears to be the same exact audio track as previous releases, but unlike the video, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Presented in an uncompressed English LPCM 5.1 track, along with English and French standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, 'The Terminator' sounds pretty good.
Dialogue is clean, though there are some slight distortions and crackles in the high frequencies. Surround usage sends laser blasts, explosions, gun shots, and squealing tires all around in a fairly enveloping and seamless presentation. Directionality and imaging are also well handled to provide a pretty natural experience, though some choices can feel as a bit too deliberate or artificial. Dynamic range and bass both bring a decent scale and kick to effects, even if neither are on par with contemporary action films.
Overall, while not quite at the same level as some new releases, this audio mix is a fairly powerful 5.1 rendition of the film's original mono track. Unfortuantely, that original mono track is not included here, which might upset purists who are not fans of the film's remixed audio. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Again, supplements are replicated from previous Blu-ray releases. Though sparse, there is some fairly interesting stuff here, but it's unlikely fans of the film haven't already seen or heard the content countless times before. All of the features are provided in standard definition with Dolby Digital stereo tracks and no subtitle options. The only new addition to this release is the digibook packaging itself, which features twenty four pages of material including essays on the director's style and road toward success, cast filmographies, trivia, and color photos from the movie. It's a neat package, but it certainly doesn't warrant a double dip for those that already own one of the previous Blu-rays.
'The Terminator' is a science fiction classic that still holds up remarkably well and is a testament to raw, low budget, but still wonderfully creative and innovative filmmaking. Unfortunately, this is essentially the exact same Blu-ray disc from 2006 repackaged in a shiny new digibook case. While the audio is solid, the video transfer is outdated and weak, and supplements are pretty slim and offer nothing new. I can't say this is a worthy upgrade to anyone who already owns the previous Blu-ray, but based on the strength of the movie itself, it does get a lukewarm recommendation to those who don't. Whew, I actually made it through that whole review without a single mention of the Schwarzenegger love child. No wait… damn it!