Terminator 2: Judgment Day (UK - BD RA/B)
Chris takes a look at the new Optimum Blu-ray release of the 90s sci-fi sequel
Set roughly ten years after the events of the original The Terminator, T2 jumps forward to a time when Sarah Connor has given birth to her son, John. Skynet, the supercomputer that controls the machine armies of the future, has sent another Terminator back through time in an attempt to kill John. However, this is no ordinary machine, but an advanced prototype: the T1000. Composed of a mimetic-poly-alloy, or liquid metal, the T1000 can imitate anything it samples by physical contact, making it an ideal assassin. The future resistance learns of the plan to assassinate John, and manages to capture and reprogram an old T800 series Terminator, assigning it one mission: to protect the life of John Connor at all costs. The race is on to see which machine will find the adolescent Connor first, with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance.
Of course the main reason for the film's blockbuster status is the (for the time) ground breaking special effects, be they digital or practical. Who can forget the incredible sight of the T-1000 morphing into various shapes as it stalked the Connors, or Arnie's battered T-800 with exposed endoskeleton? It reminded me what a great loss Stan Winston was to the effects community, but I took comfort in the fact that we have this and other examples of his work to remind us of his genius. Of course the technology is old hat by today's standards, but the effects hold up fairly well when you consider that they're over fifteen years old. The T-1000 looks a little odd whenever he's walking in liquid metal form, but animating humanoid forms in a convincing manner is very difficult, even to this day (although things have improved dramatically in recent years, as evidenced by the CGI Silver Surfer). Unfortunately the effects served to remind me of why everyone raved about the film in 1991. Seventeen years later we're all used to flashy effects, and the chinks in Terminator 2's armour are starting to show.
Having said that, the years have been relatively kind to T2, as has an extended period of absence from my DVD player. When I last reviewed the film I was suffering from T2 overload, which undoubtedly influenced my opinion. This Blu-ray release marks the first time I've watched the film in years, and the experience was more gratifying for it. It's not quite as 'edge of your seat' as I remember, possibly because this is the extended cut with added exposition, but it is an incredibly ambitious project that deserves its place in history. Me, I still prefer the low-budget grittiness of the original, but I can understand why many people gravitate towards this glitzy sequel. I just feel that it lacks the drive and relentless pace of The Terminator, which runs almost forty minutes shorter than this version of the sequel. I found myself losing interest during the long periods of time when neither Terminator was on screen, and the action wasn't as exciting as I remember. I also have issues with some of the choices made by the characters, not to mention the performances of certain members of the cast. Don't get me wrong, T2 is still a good film, but I preferred Arnie before his conscious shift to good guy roles in which he doesn't intentionally harm people.
Terminator 2 is another port of the a Studio Canal HD DVD release, which means a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer at the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. The image is generally very pleasing, with solid contrast, decent black levels and natural colour rendition. The image is quite a lot softer than the Blu-ray transfers of most modern features, but detail is still far more impressive than the previous DVD releases. However, this proves to be a bit of a mixed blessing as it draws attention to some of the less impressive effects work, such as the slightly suspect model cars and buildings destroyed during Sarah's 'nuclear nightmare'. I also noticed some of the digitally erased wires that were used to support the Terminator's motorcycle as it jumped into the storm drain. On the plus side, this was the first time I ever noticed that the T-1000 grew an extra hand to pilot the helicopter as it reloaded!
There's quite a lot of grain in the image, but this is fairly typical of films shot in Super 35 (as opposed to anamorphic), and it's rarely distracting. There was one scene where the image appeared far grainier than any at other point in the feature, but this was not repeated. I also noticed a reasonable amount of film artefacts throughout the duration of the film, but these were mostly limited to small black or white flecks and only one of them was large enough to draw undue attention to itself. There are some very light edge halos in a number of scenes, but they only showed up under close examination of still frames and I didn't notice them during normal playback on a 42" set. All things considered this is an excellent presentation that does justice to the source material.
As with most of Optimum's recent Blu-ray releases, we get another DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Again, this is ported over from the HD DVD release, but thankfully this time there is no controversy about whether the track's pitch has been altered (see my Total Recall review). The music and dialogue sound as expected. As with all DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, current hardware limitations restrict me to sampling the DTS Core element.
As to the quality, well it's easily the most impressive aspect of the disc. It's an incredibly active track right from the get-go, with almost constant use of all five channels to create a fully immersive world. There's plenty of directionality, be it panning across the front of the sound stage, or cleverly placed discreet effects in the rears. The opening scenes of battle in Los Angeles circa 2029 are incredibly atmospheric, filled with the sounds of Hunker Killers whooshing overhead and plasma rifles blasting away. Bass is extremely ferocious, with each gunshot packing a satisfying punch and some of the larger explosions resulting in ornament displacement. Brad Feidel's score sits nicely alongside the rest of the mix, never overwhelming the effects. If I had to nitpick I would say that the dialogue is a little indistinct on a couple of occasions and fidelity isn't quite up there with modern soundtracks. However, these are are very minor criticisms of what is otherwise a fine mix.
Once again I find myself in possession of an Optimum Blu-ray Disc with zero bonus features. It's very disappointing given the wealth of bonus material available for the film. At the very least it would have been nice to have a choice between the theatrical and special editions of the film, like the French Studio Canal HD DVD, especially since Studio Canal own Optimum (and Kinowelt for that matter, and their HD DVD version of T2 had bags of extras).
As with the |Total Recall disc, Optimum has included video and audio calibration tools, but they don't really qualify as bonus material in my book. They're functional at best, without any of the advanced calibration settings found in the THX Optimizer or Digital Video Essentials tools. In fact, the reference levels suggested for the video are some way off the optimum setting for this film.
Terminator 2 is a landmark film that deserves its place in the sci-fi pantheon. However, I stand by my assertion that it's not quite as rewarding as its done-on-a-shoestring predecessor. For me, the moral elements don't quite work as well as the action scenes, and I preferred Schwarzenegger's turn as an implacable killing machine than the more humanised role of protector. Hey, different strokes and all that.
This Blu-ray release is a mixed affair, with the solid audio-visual elements somewhat let down by the complete lack of extras. However, if you're unconcerned with bonus material and just want a great looking and sounding version of the film you could do a lot worse than checking this release out. It can be picked up for a little under thirteen pounds if you shop around, which is pretty good value for a Blu-ray Disc.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 4th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: French, Dutch
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, Castulo Guerra, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 153 minutes
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