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The Terminator
Special Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 107 minutes

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton and Paul Winfield

Written by: James Cameron with Gale Anne Hurd

Directed by: James Cameron

 

Studio: MGM

Retail Price: $19.99

Features: "The Terminator: A Retrospective" Documentary, "Other Voices" Documentary, Terminated Scenes with Optional James Cameron Audio Commentary, Still Galleries, Original Treatment, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots. DVD-ROM: Screenplays, Weblink

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround, French 5.1 EX Surround, Spanish 5.1 EX Surround, English Mono, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (32 Scenes)

Released: October 2nd, 2001

 

 

While James Cameron is now one of the world's most prolific and innovative filmmakers, one who always pushes the boundaries of technology and storytelling, he was just getting his feet wet in 1984 with the release of "The Terminator." Little did he - or anyone else know - he was on the verge of what would be not only a major motion picture success, but a pop culture phenonemon. And while it's hard to believe the film is nearly twenty years old, what's not surprising is how well it still holds up today. Not only is "The Terminator" still a terrific action film, but it still ranks as a pretty terrific story-driven film with great ideas and certainly great characters.

For the few of you who still haven't seen this film, here's the plot: it's modern day Los Angeles, circa 1984. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) seems to be an ordinary waitress, but the future has big plans for her. An advanced cyborg that is quite humanlike known as the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzanegger) has been sent back in time from the future to kill her. Why? Because Sarah's future son, John, will be the leader of the resistance in the future war against machines. So it's up to Sarah to surive... but she's not alone. The resistance has sent a protector through time for her, someone by the name of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). Will Sarah survive so the future of mankind will be safe? Or will she and the world end up getting crushed?

I think it's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes "The Terminator" such a good movie, since it pretty much has the whole package. James Cameron, with former lover and producer Gale Anne Hurd, craft a solid and smart script that is well-constructed and is multi-layered - something a lot of action thrillers never have going for it. What I certainly appreciated is that the film begins to set up a whole different universe that takes place in the future - something that would be expanded on in the sequel, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." The backstory that intertwines Connor in the future war is certainly well set-up, intriguing and explained well, but the backstory doesn't go over-the-top and leaves things open for the viewer to question and wonder. Some might not like that, but I thought is well done. And besides, that's what sequels are for (as this film would certainly get).

The film is brilliantly plotted - I loved how things just kept leading into one another and how the Terminator is always hot on Sarah's trail. It does create a strong level of suspense. Besides the cool backstory, the characters are also well developed. You do end up caring for Sarah and you do end up caring what happens to Kyle... and maybe even a little for the guys at the police department. The film's themes of machines growing more powerful and more human-like still stands strong today, as technology just keeps on evolving. Oh, and say what you want about recent James Cameron films and their dialogue. At least "The Terminator" has good dialogue that at least sounds natural and believable, not to mention some fun touches of humor (the answering machine in Sarah's apartment, and some of Arnold's deadpan expressions and remarks).

The writing is not all perfect though. Sarah seems to buy into what Kyle is saying all too easily, and when Kyle is at the police station being questioned, I was surprised how little he was mocked and that Sarah didn't bother to try and defend him. There's also a growing intimacy between Kyle and Sarah. It's something you always see coming and does work for the most part, but at times it feels contrived. Nonetheless, it is quite necessary as much of what Kyle refers to and implies all comes together quite nicely (see the last scene). And then there's the whole time travel thing. Certainly, there are a number of paradoxes and I have a number of questions about that, but there's no point in going into them since time travel will always create paradoxes. Besides, time travel paradoxes make my head hurt and I don't want to hurt your heads too. As long as you don't question the time travel aspects of the movie (or any movie for that matter), you'll be fine.

Everyone knows that "The Terminator" catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger into a worldwide star, not to mention it's probably his most famous role. And while Arnold doesn't say much in this movie, he does a great job here because acting isn't all about words. Arnold's buff, Arnold's powerful... we get the point. But his deadpan humor is certainly one of the film's highlights, and he's certainly quite intimidating throughout the movie (he can sure move those eyes into a nasty expression). Even though some of you might differ in opinion, I still say Schwarzenegger's performance is real acting.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor is the definite film heroine. She's brave, she's lean and she's certainly strong physically and emotionally. Hamilton has real passion in the role, and it comes across quite well. She's believable, and that's what really counts. Besides being a run and kick-ass heroine, she also displays nice moments of humanity. In the club scene she looks really scared, and when she finds out her best friend and her lover are dead, those tears seem quite real. There's also Michael Biehn (whatever happened to him!?) as Kyle Reese. Reese shows an admirable amount of strength and intensity as well, and he certainly plays well off Hamilton. Oh, and how can you not love Paul Winfield in this movie!?

As far as the directing, James Cameron does a very impressive job and as we all know, he would only get better. Cameron doesn't hold back at all in the film and takes risks - and they all pay off. He creates a rather dark and moody film that is surprisingly effective and very thrilling. Cameron paces the movie quite well and has a lovely array of shots. And while there is a lot of action and violence, all of it does seem necessary (believe it or not) and is certainly a lot of fun to watch. Cameron also builds a lot of momentum that has you on the edge of your seat - he certainly knows how to keep a movie going and keep the audience interested as well as entertained. Just when you think something is about to end, it doesn't and something entirely new begins. I also liked how Cameron integrates Reese's flashbacks to the future. All of what Cameron does here is certainly refreshing.

"The Terminator" also has some great special effects and stunts, and like I said, they still hold up well today (not bad for a low budget film). Still, I think when the actual Terminator robot is walking it looks like something from Ray Harryhausen. Then of course there's the incredibly make-up wizardry of Stan Winston. Winston of course has advanced in this area during the past few years as well as other forms of effects, but the stuff he did for this film still looks cool and in case of human make-up, realistic. Cool stuff.

"The Terminator" is a film that is one-of-a-kind, and would even get better with it's sequel nearly seven years later. Still, the first one still holds up and is quite entertaining. The story shifts in great fashion and is logical, and also tends to work on deeper and perhaps more meaningful levels. James Cameron does a fine job directing it, the action sequences are great and the acting is well done and downright likeable. There's more to "The Terminator" that I could go on about, but it'd probably be pointless. It's a definitive piece of cinema that needs to be in your library.

 

MGM has served up a new digital master of the film from a hi-definition transfer, all presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. It's a pretty great transfer in my opinion that deserves more credit than what many will probably give it. Why? Well, it's true that it's not in perfect shape and flaws are pretty apparent throughout on the transfer. And while many of us consider the "Terminator" films to be big budgeted blockbuster action flicks, many don't realize that the first movie was shot on a pretty low budget. This means the film can't exactly benefit from every portion of remastering, and some of the way it looks is just because of how it was shot at the time. You can't help that, and as long as you realize that, you're fine.

I'll get the bad over with first: blemishes and dirt pieces can be noticed here and there, and only at times do they ever become distracting. There is some shimmering to be had, as well as noise. Edge halos also pop up here and there, not to mention the film looks slightly faded and overly grainy at times. Other than that, it's all good. The film looks much sharper than I anticipated. Color saturation is pretty, bold and overall excelent with a pretty strong sense of vibrancy. Fleshtones look pretty fabulous, detail is well-refined while black levels and shadow detail look quite nice as well. The film's look does not call for much light and is really quite moody, and the transfer really captures the film's dark look. Well done.

 

The audio for the film has been remixed to take advantage of advances in sound technology and the popularity of home theater, so you get Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mixes in English, French and Spanish. Thankfully, unlike most remixes, these are actually pretty swell and really go well with the film. Surrounds fill the sound stage in a strong and pretty powerful manner, ones that sound sharp and pretty loud and tend to really get you in the film. And while for the most part they do fit in with the scheme of things nicely and do shake your speakers, at times the surrounds do sound a tad bit artificial and not as discrete as you'd probably like them. It makes sense since it is a remix and the film's original sound elements are older, but in the end, the EX mix really does work for what it is and is good at pumping the action right at you just to the point where you can feel it and really get into it, but it's not as strong or "real" as you'd probably like it to be. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the cars crashing, the gun shootouts and the chases in all their remixed glory.

The 5.1 EX remixes are also well centered, meaning that all the sound portions come together smoothly and don't overlap or overpower one another. The dialogue sounds crisp and clear, while the excellent and underrated musical score from Brad Fiedel is well spread through the channels. Actual songs used in the movie are also well mixed. Subwoofer use is decent, but nothing spectacular which is to be somewhat expected as well. Still, the English 5.1 remix is pretty in synch the movie and while it's probably not as powerful as you want it, it does tend to impress and is a lot better than most DVD sound remixes you'll probably hear. And for you purists, the original English mono track is included (thank the Lord!). You also get subtitles in English, French and Spanish plus English closed captions.

 

By no means does MGM's special edition release of the film match Artisan's glorious "T2: Ultimate Edition" set. Hell, it's far from it. But MGM has always been good at producing special editions, and what this DVD loses in quantity surely makes up in quality. First off, the first side of the disc. You'll just find the movie and assorted options, but if you click around, you're sure to find some nifty (and usually well-hidden) easter eggs. The first side also has the DVD-ROM portion of the extras, where you can check out a weblink and read some versions of "The Terminator" screenplay. Not bad at all.

Turning the disc over to the "Special Features" side is where you'll find the bulk of the supplements. First up there are two documentaries. The Terminator: A Retrospective is from 1992 and is probably from around the time "T2" was made. It's a very intriguing and interesting documentary which is hybrid of a sit-down filmed conversation between Schwarzenegger and James Cameron and a video taped television interview involving James Cameron from 1986. The back-and-forth nature between them is seamless since the editing is so great here, not to mention there's a strong use of clips from the movie and stills. Nonetheless, the Schwarzenegger and Cameron portion is the main part of all this and is delightful. The two friends just sit down and look back at the making of such a groundbreaking film, discussing how Schwarzenegger originally read for the part of Kyle Reese, how Terminator was supposed to act, Stan Winston's effects, Linda Hamilton and much more. Very cool stuff with a casual atmosphere, though Cameron seems to dominate it all at times and offers hints at how much of a perfectionist he is. Nonetheless, it's well worth a watch.

The second documentary is called Other Voices. Using film clips, stills and interviews, the story of "The Terminator" from its early stages to production to film breakthrough is all recounted here. I particuarly enjoyed how Cameron met some of his collaborators pretty early on. James Cameron, Bill Wisher, Fantasy II VFX Supervisor Gene Wisher Jr., Arnold Schwarzenegger, co-writer and producer Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Winston, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, visual effects pyrotechnician Joe Viskocil, editor Mark Goldblatt and composer Brad Fiedel all get their say in - which is pretty impressive, and everyone delivers something insightful to the table. One of the best documentaries I've seen on DVD since so many little details are revealed here, and well worth a watch if you liked the movie or if you're a Cameron fan.

Terminated Scenes with Optional James Cameron Audio Commentary is pretty cool. Seven deleted scenes from the movie are presented here, each with their own text introduction that is specific. But wait! James Cameron has recorded direct audio commentary for these scenes which you can listen to if you want. He and the text explain the cuts (some of them are actually alternate scenes or extended scenes) pretty well and with much articulation, but they are still fun to watch anyway even if the scenes don't add up to much (the commentary is certainly the most interesting out of everything here). The scenes are in non-anamorphic widescreen and are in pretty amazing shape. You can play them seperate or play them all at once. Too bad Cameron didn't do a full commentary on the actual movie - I would have loved that.

There are five Still Galleries (each with their own text background) and with plenty of stills in each section: "James Cameron Artwork" (the man was an apsiring comic book artist after all), "Production Photos," "Stan Winston Effects," "Fantasy II: Visual Effects" and "Publicity Materials." You can also read the Original Treatment of the movie all the way from 1982 (if you can stare at a screen that long!), also with a nice and informative text introduction. Two of these drafts are on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc as well.

Finally, there are three Theatrical Trailers: one is a teaser, one is full and one is for foreign markets. Each are in English two channel sound and in anamorphic widescreen, and are in very good shape. There are also two full framed TV Spots to watch. And on two different notes, the menus are quite nice for the movie and well detailed and inside the keep case, there's a nifty collectible booklet with a lot of information on the film's background, production and effects after it was released. Oh, and the O.J. Simpson bit in the booklet is priceless (hell no - I won't spoil it for you!).

 

"The Terminator" is a film that should be in every film fan's library, and MGM's special edition does not disappoint. The soundtrack remixes are a cut above most remixes and sound great (plus you get the original mono track), the transfer certainly delivers and the extras give a strong overview of the film's production and what it all adds up to. The retail price of this DVD has been lowered too, making this special edition harder to resist. Definitely go out there and pick it up.