The Terminator - Special Edition Review
The sequel to The Terminator broke box office records and garnered four Oscars for its technical quality, yet is a film for kids compared to the frenetic, intensely violent tech-noir nightmare that was the first film. James Cameron, who would later lodge himself as an A-List director with such classic actioners as Aliens, True Lies, Titanic, produced in 1984 a ruthless and brilliant foray into intelligent yet accessible science-fiction.
Based on a Harlan Ellison premise, The Terminator commences in a dark and future world (Los Angeles in 2029) in which machines have advanced too far beyond their original purpose, and appear to be effortlessly wiping out the last remnants of the human race. A small band of resisting humans, led by the dynamic John Connor, continues to maintain humanity's last grip on the world. The tide of the war might be changing, and the machines are starting to predict that under Connor's leadership the humans might actually win the war. This causes the machines to lead one last ditch attempt to snatch the victory back from the humans. In an inspired move, the machines send back to the year 1984 a cyborg with the code T-800 and known as The Terminator. Its mission is to kill Sarah Connor, John's mother, thus denying the future human race his tremendous leadership. The Terminator (played by the muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a hulking human on the outside but an entire cybernetic organism on the inside, and can withstand most known attacks. It begins to methodically kill off all of the Sarah Connors living in the area, in order to ensure success of the mission, and the relevant Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is next on the list. Fortunately, a protector has been provided, in the form of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human sent back by John Connor in the future to protect his own mother. Reese has his work cut out to stop the unstoppable Terminator, and to make matters worse the police will not believe Sarah and Kyle's story, but the duo still must not give up hope, as the future of mankind rests upon their shoulders.
The Terminator is a visual and action-filled delight from beginning to end, and the violently dark and noirish setting gives the film its very own world to possess. This isn't futuristic LA with flashy neon signs as depicted in Blade Runner, but is actually a murky blue LA of 1984, showing signs that it is already on the road to becoming a living nightmare of a city. The production design, cinematography and musical score all corroborate to give the film a brooding and dark intensity, and the film's final sequences contain visuals that will truly be remembered in cinema history. The plotting is simplistic yet structured perfectly, and the directing by Cameron gives tremendous suggestion as to why his films are favourites among young males, as the film is a champion of visual and violent gore. Schwarzenegger is an act of inspired casting as The Terminator, as the role gives him a chance to show off his vast physique whilst giving him little dialogue, which suits him perfectly. Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn have great chemistry together, and it's a shame Biehn didn't have more action role than he was given, as he is more than capable of filling them.
To criticise the film slightly, the term paradoxical has to be mentioned, as if you apply some simple logic and mathematical thinking towards the film plotting, you will conclude that the Terminator will never succeed because if he kills Sarah Connor, it will erase his own future need to travel back to 1984! Confused? It appears James Cameron is hoping us cynics forgo such small points.
To conclude, The Terminator is a classic science-fiction film and has aged brilliantly. It's ruthless and violent, compared to the tame effect driven sequel, and you will struggle to find a film in which Schwarzenegger, Hamilton, Biehn and even Cameron have performed better. It does have a few borrowed elements from the classic seventies futurama of Westworld, but on the whole The Terminator is a force in movies to be reckoned with.
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, the transfer is extremely gloomy (which is mostly the point) and relatively dirt free, although it appears that no remastering has been attempted. A few speckles appear occasionally, but overall, the film has a dated eighties look that somehow adds appeal to the film.
The film has been remixed into 5.1 surround, and is quite a good mix, with lots of added sound effects and some acceptable use of the surrounding channels. Brad Fiedel's music score is much more vibrant when spread out over more than one channel, although it's a pity that the original mono soundtrack hasn't been included (especially as the R1 version includes it and it's not as if the R2 has any other language tracks on it).
Menu: An excellent, atmospheric menu, working through the cybernetic interface of the T-800 and ending up with a full-on facial glimpse of the great machine. It maintains the same essence of the film and is easy to navigate, complete with good score elements from Brad Fiedel's soundtrack.
Packaging: As MGM have released a two disk version, they have given the film a cardboard packaging treatment, with the usual fold out casing inserting into an exterior cardboard cover. Although visually the artwork is very good, the case is susceptible to damage easily, and the fact that the R4 version has an amaray case has caused some consumers to look abroad.
The Making Of The Terminator: A Retrospective: A short eighteen minute featurette with James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger with the two reminiscing about various elements of the film's production. An interesting piece, although it would probably have been more advisable to incorporate this segment into the brilliant, larger Other Voices documentary.
Other Voices: Cast And Crew Recollections - Documentary: An excellently produced and fascinating documentary lasting just under an hour, containing retrospective interviews from all of the major cast and crew, and revealing many secrets and revelations about the production. Some interesting anecdotes revealed during the documentary are that Lance Henriksen was originally cast as The Terminator, but was later cast to play Detective Vukovich instead. Also, O.J. Simpson was one of Cameron's original choices to play the Terminator, but the booklet contained in the DVD suggests that Cameron thought no one would believe that a nice man such as Simpson would be a horrible killing machine! This documentary makes up for the lack of a commentary.
Terminated Scenes: For a change, the deleted scenes from the movie actually prove to be fascinating viewing, and for some scenes there are serious cases backing their inclusion in the film. There are seven scenes in total, and some scenes reveal missing key plot points from the film. For example, one scene reveals the final battle of Sarah Connor vs. The Terminator to actually have taken place in the factory of Cyberdyne, the company which fans will no doubt know is the chief architects of the impending mechanical tyranny of the world. The scene suggests that remnants of the Terminator might have sparked the whole saga off, in a bizarre paradoxical sort of way. Another classic omitted scene involves Sarah and Kyle arguing in a patch of greenery, and shows Kyle breaking down at his inability to deal with the surroundings that no longer feature in his world. The deleted sequences all feature textual explanations as to why the scenes were omitted, although the R1 version also contains a commentary from James Cameron, which is sadly lacking from this version.
Trailers & TV Spots: Three trailers and two TV spots are included, these are all slightly differently edited versions of the same product, but are all well made and intensely exciting. They also contain the header of Orion pictures, which is nostalgic considering the studio has now ceased to exist.
James Cameron's Original 1982 Treatment: An exciting read is provided by the on-screen textual presentation of James Cameron's original treatment. Split up into twelve chapters for easy accessibility, the text is backed by nice original artwork from Cameron itself, which is also of very good quality.
James Cameron Artwork: Providing added evidence as to the immense ability of James Cameron as an illustrator, this extra provides a collection of artwork stills containing sketches Cameron produced in order to help aid the production. The stills are excellent, but each still should have been given a page of its own, and not have to share the screen with two other stills each time in most cases.
Production Photographs: Appearing as the same format as the above artwork, but this time the showcase is production photographs from the film, and these are the usual film shots and pictures of the actors being directed by Cameron.
Stan Winston: Terminator and Makeup Effects: A good collection of images detailing the excellent and innovative makeup and special effects work achieved behind the scenes by the talented Stan Winston.
Fantasy II: Visual Effects: Fantasy II were the company responsible for achieving the fundamental visual effects to the film, and the still images document their output and are separated into three sections: The future war, the tanker-truck explosion and the stop-motion endoskeleton sequences.
Publicity Materials: A collection of varying images publicising the film, from posters, to cast pictures to car stickers with the slogan 'Touch my car and you're terminated, sucker!'
DVD-ROM Features: Three scripts are featured on the DVD-ROM contents, and these are good entertainment and highlight the changes that were implemented as the script developed. The scripts featured are the Original Film treatment, the Fourth Draft and the Final Shooting Script.
People have been split into two camps as to which of the Terminator films they prefer, and the two films are certainly aimed at different markets. For intense action and a superbly realised horror world, The Terminator eliminates Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but both should certainly be seen. If anything, the film was the start of the 'I'll Be Back' tagline that was branded everywhere Schwarzenegger went for most of a decade. On the sound and extras front, both aspects aren't as good as the R1, as the US release contains other elements such as hidden features and a commentary from Cameron on the deleted scenes. Even so, the MGM two disk R2 release is a worthy effort, and will certainly provide immense enjoyment to any fan of the film, or any newcomer, as the extras that are provided are fabulous entertainment, and complement the film.