Holding The Terminator Anthology Blu-Ray box set in my hands, the first thought that ran through my mind was “what took them so long?”
Creative inconsistencies aside, The Terminator is one of the most successful and influential franchises in film history, and given just how many home video reissues the films have received, it’s a little amazing that the best of these releases have never been compiled into one handy box-set.
But that’s what Warner Bros. has finally done, and the results are impressive. The Terminator Anthology is a handsome, substantial package that serves, for now at least, as the best available compilation of cinematic Terminator material. Though no new features or transfers have been produced, each of the four films is presented in the best of its Blu-Ray renditions. That means you get the generally comprehensive single-disc versions of the first three films (though they do not contain all DVD content from past editions), and the complete two-disc special edition of Terminator Salvation.
With that in mind, The Terminator Anthology is the absolute perfect release for fans, like myself, who have not yet gotten around to purchasing the films on Blu-Ray. Buying the set – which is available exclusively at Best Buy for a more than reasonable price – gives you everything the format has had so far, all in one fell swoop.
If you already own these films on Blu-Ray, there’s absolutely no reason to upgrade – you won’t get anything new – but that doesn’t mean the set lacks worth. It is a quality purchase, and it feels undeniably nice to have the whole series together in one uniform package.
Video, audio, and extras vary wildly from title to title, so we’ll examine the whole set film by film, starting with an analysis of the movies themselves.
It amazes me, every time I watch the film, just how thoroughly homemade The Terminator feels. This is not the big-budget studio action epic the franchise would come to define. This is a low-budget independent horror flick, featuring a simple story, a small cast, and a whole lot of creative ingenuity. It is decidedly imperfect, but imbued in every frame with a great deal of heart. James Cameron truly believed in the story he told, and that earnestness is so enveloping that not even the wonkiest bits of writing or special effects feel out of place. The result is one of the greatest B-movies ever made, a relentless marathon of tension that is endlessly entertaining from beginning to end.
Cameron suggests such a vast science-fiction mythology – one that has still, by and large, gone creatively unexplored – that it’s easy to forget how simple this particular story really is. The Terminator arrives in 1984. Kyle Reese arrives in 1984. The former tries to kill Sarah Connor; the latter tries protecting her. That’s the movie, and it works flawlessly for Cameron’s incredible handle on horror language and compelling characterization. We really do care about the fate of these characters, are truly terrified by the Terminator’s presence, and always believe in the larger, apocalyptic stakes.
That the film does so much with such extreme narrative simplicity is fascinating. The special effects are equally awe-inspiring, especially considering how little Cameron had to work with. With the help of stop-motion guru Phil Tippet, Cameron’s future vision is unlike anything else ever seen in the world of sci-fi: A dark, gritty, blue-tinted technological landscape that is a wonder to behold. The stop-motion affects on the skinless Terminator at the film’s conclusion are even more amazing.
The Terminator works on nearly every level, and holds up insanely well despite (or, sometimes, because of) its explicit eighties flourishes. It is a true classic, one that arguably gets better with time. 90%
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I used to believe Terminator 2 was the superior entry in Cameron’s duology, but as time goes by, I grow less confident. I still think this film has more impressive individual elements than its predecessor. Schwarzenegger, for instance, has never been better than he is here, and every moment he’s on screen is an absolute joy. Linda Hamilton too is a wonder to behold, physically and psychologically fascinating from start to finish. The action sequences are generally stronger, effects bolder and bigger, the story more complex and multi-faceted.
But despite all these strengths, the film’s cumulative effect seems diluted when compared to its predecessor. Terminator 2 has pacing issues, no matter which version one watches, a problem the relentlessly efficient original never encountered. It fails to build John Connor as a truly memorable protagonist, a shame given we are supposed to believe he shall grow to be humanity’s greatest military genius. There are plot holes galore, mostly due to Cameron’s own misunderstanding of the time travel rules he established in the first film. And for all the cutting-edge effects and truly revolutionary set pieces, Terminator 2 feels even more dated than the first film, possibly due to its garish and unappealing visual palette.
To be clear, I really do love this movie, if not as much as I once did. It remains one of the greatest blockbuster sequels ever made, and for those who continue to believe it is the high-point of the franchise, I completely understand where you’re coming from. It’s great. But all things being equal, I still think the first film is slightly better, especially when watching both back-to-back. 85%
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Terminator 3 really only works if one can slow down one’s mental functions enough to ignore the many ways the film betrays, neglects, or belittles much of what James Cameron built in his nigh-flawless duology. Characters – especially John Connor – just don’t act the way they should, far too much time is spent ‘humorously’ referencing prior iconic moments, Schwarzenegger is given too many groan-inducing one-liners, etc.
Still, the biggest problem is the pervading sense of pointlessness. Cameron ended this story in Terminator 2, and he did so rather definitively. To continue the saga, in any capacity, automatically betrays every major theme of Cameron’s films, and renders even the film’s best moments – like the admittedly bold, audacious ending – disappointing. If the future really cannot be avoided, then Sarah Connor really was a blubbering lunatic, and our hero’s efforts through the first two films really didn’t mean a damn thing. And that bothers me. It bothers me so much that I have trouble accepting Terminator 3 at face value, no matter how many things the film does right.
And to be clear, I think the film does many things well. Jonathan Mostow directs action spectacularly, staging one of the single greatest car chases of all time late in the first act. Schwarzenegger continues to excel in the main role, Nick Stahl is a decent John Connor, and Claire Danes is always a welcome present. I don’t always like what they do with these characters, or how contrived and aimless much of the narrative feels, but for the most part, Terminator 3 is entirely watchable.
The ending, of course, is brilliant. Mostow beautifully builds to what feels like a very traditional climax – Connor gets to his destination and saves the day – before violently pulling the rug out from under us. It’s one of the most memorable moments in modern blockbuster cinema, one I really do adore for its willingness to go as far as possible.
I still find the ending, and the rest of the film, difficult to enjoy given just how counter it runs to the first two films, but that doesn’t mean Terminator 3 isn’t worth watching. It is, and I’m glad to have it in the set. It’s just not a movie anyone ever needed, and that’s not an issue that’s easily overcome. 65%
Like Terminator 3, Salvation is a film simultaneously filled with things to admire and plagued by underwhelming (or downright obnoxious) elements. The film is first and foremost a visual triumph, one that crafts an absolutely spectacular future landscape and fills it to burst with well-designed detail. Director McG intelligently illustrates how a mechanical army like Skynet might operate, and gives a great amount of thought to how humans might effectively fight back. There is a really strong scope to this film that was missing from Terminator 3, and a strong foundation for future stories set in the franchise’s dark future.
But I am not overly fond of the story they chose to tell. Instead of finally showing us how John Connor might lead his resistance, Salvation is the story of how he forms his resistance, though even that simple description may give it too much credit. Connor still isn’t a dynamic enough character, and supporting protagonist Marcus (Sam Worthington) is a bit of a non-starter, an interesting idea executed without much style. It doesn’t feel like anything truly important is accomplished over the course of the narrative, and little of what happens stands out as memorable.
I do like some of the performances. Christian Bale, simply by virtue of being Christian Bale, is easily the best actor to play John Connor on film (I still overall prefer Thomas Dekker in The Sarah Connor Chronicles), even if the script doesn’t give him a whole lot of notes to play. Anton Yelchin is a spectacular Kyle Reese, using Michael Biehn’s work as a foundation and expanding beautifully from there. Worthington is decent, as is the entire supporting cast, with no major weak links to be found.
But on the whole, Terminator Salvation is competent at best. It’s the least memorable of the films by far, and even if it takes fewer missteps than Terminator 3, it doesn’t reach the same occasional highs. It’s the weakest film in the set, and a disappointing close (for now) to the series. 55%
THE AUDIO/VISUAL EXPERIENCE
First things first: Short of a herculean restoration effort, The Terminator will never look conventionally ‘good.’ On DVD, Blu-Ray, or even the original 35mm prints, the film’s ultra low-budget production makes for an inherently soft image, one lacking in fine detail or vivid colors. That’s just how the movie looks, and while this 1080p transfer may look underwhelming to newcomers, longtime viewers know that given the source limitations, this is the best The Terminator has ever looked on home video.
There is a pleasing, film-like quality to the entire presentation; grain is left intact (just as it should be), and though the colors may be washed out here and there, they still look extremely natural, accurate to the source and time period. The print used to strike the master sadly appears to have been in pretty rough shape in some spots; every scene involving special effects is simply littered with print damage, with varying degrees of stability throughout the rest of the movie. Fine detail is, again, as good as it’s ever going to be; razor-sharp in some moments and practically non-existent in the next. But contrast is spectacular given how much of the film takes place at night, and on the whole, I cannot image The Terminator looking much better than it does here. This would have been a nice opportunity to give the transfer a modern update – it was originally mastered in 2006, when Blu-Ray encoding and compression were less impressive than they are now – but I can’t find much room to complain. Short of owning a 35mm print, this is the best way to experience The Terminator. 70%
Sound is the real treat here, as unlike the video, it truly seems to surpass the limitations of the source. Originally mastered in mono, the Blu-Ray features a lossless PCM 5.1 mix that expertly reconstructs the 1984 sound design. Simply put, The Terminator has never sounded this good. Gunfire is incredible crisp, the iconic electronic score shakes the room, dialogue is balanced and natural, etc. The futuristic war sequences, in particular, are sonically awe-inspiring, and will give your entire sound system – especially the subwoofer – a healthy workout. The original Mono mix is not included, which is a bit unfortunate. It is not the version I would normally watch, given the strength of the 5.1 track, but as an integral piece of the film’s history, the original sound design should be included. Not a huge complaint, but one worth noting. Overall, the audio does not disappoint. 85%
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Unlike the first Terminator, this is a visual presentation I cannot make excuses for. It looks like absolute garbage, and though it is indeed encoded at 1080p, very few shots look like actual hi-definition. With slightly stronger color, tone, and contrast reproduction, along with slight upticks in detail, this Blu-Ray does look noticeably better than the DVD, but the difference isn’t all that great. On the whole, Terminator 2 looks extremely soft, with waxy, muddy textures, dull and muted colors, and a disappointing lack of fine detail from start to finish.
To be fair, Terminator 2 has always looked this way. The cinematography is generally pleasant, but Cameron chose to film with a thick blue color scheme, and combined with the erratic Super 35 film stock and numerous primitive digital effects shots, the movie has always appeared soft and grainless. On the Blu-Ray, one cannot even tell that it was originally shot on film. It looks like a low-quality digital production, a sad fate for a film that was once the most expensive ever made.
That being said, I still think Terminator 2 could look better than it does here. An extensive restoration and remaster (perhaps with toned-down noise reduction) could probably resolve some of the more pressing issues, and at the very least, the film has the potential to look dramatically better than its DVD counterpart. But the upgrade to hi-def is practically negligible, leaving one of cinema’s most celebrated sequels lacking an efficient home video release. That is a damn tragedy. 35%
The audio is much better. There are a number of tracks to choose from – including, oddly enough, the DVD’s ‘headphone listening’ mix, which I remember using on car trips many years ago – but the best, of course, is the lossless 6.1 DTS-HD master audio. It is a bombastic and revelatory experience for fans of the film, a tremendous reproduction of the theatrical sound experience. Dialogue is crisp and clear, while sound effects tear across the room with power and precision. It’s all very well balanced, and markedly clearer than earlier home video versions. The audio doesn’t make up for visual failings, but it does make the Blu-Ray easier to recommend. 85%
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Given the relatively recent age of the film, Terminator 3 looks dramatically better than its predecessors. The image is gorgeous, with bright, vivid colors and very strong contrast, allowing nighttime scenes to showcase as much as detail as those set in the day. Detail across the board isn’t quite as ‘crystal clear’ as it could be, but it’s tough to complain when so much of the image comes close to perfection. Still, there are moments that look a tad dated, with waxy facial features, sudden drops in fine detail, or momentarily washed out colors. These issues are fleeting, and shared by nearly all films produced in the early 2000s; flaws in digital editing and effects procedures often created moments of softness that are inherent to the image, and Terminator 3 is no exception. Still, the film looks much stronger than many of its contemporaries, and I cannot imagine it looking much better on home video. 85%
Sound, sadly, is a bit of a letdown. This is the exact same disc that was mastered in 2008, and back then, Warner was much spottier about including lossless audio tracks. Terminator 3 was a victim of such oversight, and includes a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track. As such mixes go, this is one of the very best, and on DVD, would earn a perfect score. Every sound effect is crisp and realistic, the dialogue is loud and clear, and every element is extremely well balanced with a strong sense of directionality. But one can easily tell, even compared to the other films in this set, that the track is not the best Blu-Ray can offer. Lossless would obviously be preferable, and given that this box-set constitutes the third reissue of the same disc, it is very disappointing that Warner couldn’t take the time to include an HD track. 65%
I have little to say about a film that was produced and mastered so recently. Terminator Salvation looks close to perfect, and exactly as it should. Colors are muted and there’s a high amount of grain, but those are deliberate creative decisions that help produce the film’s distinctive visual palette. Detail and depth are as clear and enveloping as one could ever hope for, every single color, shade, and texture is perfectly reproduced, and contrast is flawless. Terminator Salvation provides a reference-quality image from beginning to end, and having actually seen this one theatrically in 35mm, I can confirm it is a faithful and immaculate recreation of the source. 95%
The sound is just as strong. Graced with a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track, Salvation sounds just like it did in theatres, with a wide, sweeping soundscape that immerses the listener in the film’s futuristic war zone. This is big-budget sound design at its best, with a startling array of sound effects, ambiance, and background detail. Dialogue is never lost in the chaos, and Danny Elfman’s score sounds crystal clear. This is not quite the best Blu-Ray audio has to offer, but it’s damn close. 95%
EXTRAS AND PRESENTATION
As always, the first film sports a rather meager set of extras. There are seven deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a retrospective documentary. The latter is the best of the bunch, though none of the material is revelatory. I still wish Cameron would record an Audio Commentary for this some day; he is a terrific speaker, and I would love to hear his undoubtedly insightful take on the film. Oh well. For now, this will do. 50%
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2 technically contains a lot of material – over eight hours in all, the packaging boasts – but most of it comes in the form of picture-in-picture tracks. You get seven of those, though only one – a traditional PiP video track – is worth sitting through. The others, which range from read-along scripts to storyboard comparisons, are nice to have, but not essential, and I would prefer to access most of them other ways. When one adds in the two audio commentaries and considers there are three versions of the film on this disc, it would take twelve whole viewings of the same film to see all of the disc’s content, and that just seems like a poor organizational method.
Still, fans of the film absolutely must listen to James Cameron and William Wisher’s highly informational audio commentary. It is one of the best of its kind, entertaining, informative, and compelling at all times. There are other behind-the-scenes videos and galleries included as well, but like the rest of the content, it’s a tad underwhelming, and not particularly riveting. It is also worth noting that this Blu-Ray (originally released as the Skynet Edition) lacks much of the video content contained on the 2-Disc DVD special edition, which sported a better extras package overall. 60%
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
There is a decent amount of bonus material here to sink one’s teeth into, especially if you like commentaries. There are four – count ‘em, four – of those here, one picture-in-picture track and three audio tracks. The ‘In-Movie Experience’ is a decent one, if a bit too intermittent, while Jonathan Mostow’s Director’s commentary is the best of the audio experiences. Only die-hard fans of the film will really get a kick out of the individual Crew and Cast and Crew commentaries, but they are well done nevertheless, and I am glad to have them.
An assortment of EPK-style ‘making-of’ features, deleted scenes, and trailers round out the bonus material. Like many early Warner Blu-Ray discs, there is no ‘main menu’ at start-up; instead, the film plays automatically, and options are accessed through a pop-up guide. 60%
The worst film in the set once again gets the best presentation. This is the original 2-Disc collection, rich with extras that are truly worth your time. First and foremost is the R-rated Director’s Cut of the film, contained, oddly enough, on Disc 2. Disc 1 houses the Theatrical Cut, alongside the best Bonus Feature on the entire set: Maximum Movie Mode. In this feature, director McG takes the viewer through an interactive and visually inventive behind-the-scenes tour of the film’s production, all of it taking place while the movie plays. It is one of the coolest bonuses ever produced, and I wish Warner had continued this practice with more of their blockbuster titles.
Maximum Movie Mode would honestly be enough, but there are some standalone featurettes worth watching as well, along with individually accessible Focus Points from the PiP presentation. This is a very strong set of extras worth spending time with, and I wish the rest of the set was reflective of this quality. 85%
For fans who have kept up-to-date with Terminator releases, there is absolutely no reason to buy The Terminator Anthology. It contains nothing new.
But for those, like me, who have only ever purchased the films on DVD, the Anthology is a really nice deal. It collects all the releases in one handy, handsome package, ensuring the buyer doesn’t miss out on anything released thus far. It is far from definitive – the first two films need extensive restorations and new bonus material – but for now, it will do. Especially considering the low price point, The Terminator Anthology is a great purchase for fans of the series, a healthy archive that will do well until something better comes along.