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When John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the human resistance against Skynet, sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), from a Terminator assassin, an unexpected turn of events creates an altered timeline. Instead of a scared waitress, Sarah is a skilled fighter and has a Terminator guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) by her side. Faced with unlikely allies and dangerous new enemies, Reese sets out on an unexpected new mission: reset the future. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 Terminator Genysis
Contrary to my own fond memories, I’m beginning to suspect that James Cameron’s The Terminator wasn’t destined to spawn a franchise. The core problem is that the series is so focused on the same basic quadrant of characters – Sarah Connor, John Connor, Kyle Reese, and the Terminator as portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fans now have five movies and two seasons worth of a television show that revolve around various combinations of these characters, yet none of them have really grown, because the time travel motif traps them in variations on the same arcs. The first film is a nearly perfectly, self-contained sci-fi thriller with strong characters. The first sequel, Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, basically retold the same story, but successfully extended the scope and tacked on a few new themes. The third film, Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, once again retold the story with even fewer new ideas beyond a bleaker tone and shocking, but still entirely predictable ending. McG’s Terminator Salvation finally changed the setting to the war-torn future fans had heard about throughout the first three movies, but its weak box-office – the fault of an overly-safe script, bland aesthetic, and public apathy – put the kibosh on a proposed future-set trilogy. Now, director Alan Taylor and writers Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier (they probably had plenty of uncredited assistance) have decided that there’s still juice in the ‘prevent the future’ model and crammed all four members of the Sarah/John/Kyle/Schwarzenegger Terminator quartet into the story (the first time all four have appeared in the same timeline).

To make matters worse, other recent and extremely popular blockbuster franchises are stealing Terminator’s thunder with their own time travel applications. J.J. Abrams and company reintroduced temporal tripping to the Star Trek universe in order to ‘soft reboot’ the original series, which created ripples that endured through two new movies. More recently and more relevant to the Terminator template, Bryan Singer and his X-Men crew adapted Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s Days of Future Past – one of the comic book’s most revered story arcs. The story, which was written and released three years before James Cameron’s The Terminator, involves one of the mutant heroes journeying back through time to prevent an event that led to a robot-ruled dystopian future. In both cases, time travel is applied to an established formula to spice up the storytelling. Terminator Genisys, on the other hand, is already built on the well-worn narrative possibilities of time travel. Without new characters, mature themes, or even genre reassignment (Rian Johnson’s Looper, 2012, is essentially a more delicate, film noir version of Cameron’s oft-repeated story), it tends to flounder for all of the same reasons that every other Terminator sequel pales in comparison to the original.

 Terminator Genysis
Genisys’ early attempts at recreating iconic sequences from the original Cameron movies reek of the same stifling nostalgia that strangled the joy out of Jurassic World, but, witnessing Taylor and his writers struggle to find something, anything interesting to do with the middling franchise they’ve inherited, it’s hard to completely dismiss their efforts. The best I can say about these messier aspects is that they’re kind of cute. ‘Cute’ isn’t the ideal reaction to a Terminator movie, but it’s the best I can muster. The spoiler-y trailers didn’t do it any favours, since so much of its success depends on the surprises in the timeline. Yet, these surprises tend to succeed at their most basic level, because there are so many of them. If the last one didn’t thrill you, don’t worry, there will be another one along shortly. Watching the stiff, fan-film-quality recreations of the series’ most indelible sequences is embarrassing. I found myself cringing at the prospect of another one every time I recognized the beginning of a classic shot. Unfortunately, as the shameless mimicry tapers off and Terminator Genisys gets to be an actual sequel, instead of a greatest hits package, the second and third acts drone into the same territory as Judgement Day and Rise of the Machines. At least the mimicry is a solid gimmick.

Taylor proved his ability to work with an ensemble cast while staff on Game of Thrones and directed one of the better action sequences in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the portal scene at the end of Thor: The Dark World); both of which make him a reasonable choice to reboot the The Terminator with something other than McG’s grim ‘n gritty future war. Sadly, his work is spotty at best, wildly swinging from genuinely evocative images (Sarah’s flashbacks to her childhood Terminator rescue) to ugly handheld shots that practically scream ‘We’ll fix it in post!’ I’m not sure if the production period was particularly short or if the script went through considerable changes after filming, but there are some suspiciously incomplete action scenes and special effects. The best example would be a particularly incoherent shot where Pops the Terminator jumps from a helicopter into the blades of a different helicopter in order to bring it down. When the shot appeared in an early trailer and I noticed that there was no actual object, Terminator or otherwise, hitting the blades, I assumed that Schwarzenegger’s digital double would be added before the film premiered. Somehow, the T-800  is still missing in the final film.

 Terminator Genysis
The erratic visual qualities are magnified across the board by abysmal dialogue and character work. The wall of clichés & pointless arguments (most of which are designed to unload even more exposition) becomes exhausting less than half an hour into the film. The stiff performances bungle the comedic and dramatic rhythms (Arnold tends to be on-point throughout, while everyone else struggles to maintain an American accent) and make it really difficult to care about the outcome of this gimmick-driven plot. We are expected to love these characters, because we remember better movies. There are interesting concepts (many of them taken from the superior Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series) trapped by what feels like first draft storytelling choices and the evil spectre of nostalgia. Hopefully, when the inevitable sixth film arrives (thanks to its Chinese box-office) this creative team will have worked through these easily avoided problems.

Video


Terminator Genisys was shot with digital HD Arri Alexa cameras and post-converted for 3D distribution. This 2D Blu-ray is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p video. According to press interviews, Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau tried to match the imagery for Cameron’s original Terminator and Terminator 2, especially during the sequences that overlap with the timelines from those older movies. This can definitely be seen in the excessive use of Cameron’s favourite electric/steel blue palette, but, otherwise, it is an awfully modern-looking, and very digital picture. And that’s just fine, at least as far as the transfer is concerned. Details are extremely tight, assuming they’re in focus – the 2017 scenes are really soft and blurred by diffused fluorescent lighting. There aren’t any notable issues with over-sharpening effects, though during some of the darker scenes, the blurry background lights have blocky outlines. Those Cameron blues are contrasted by semi-natural browns and skin tones, as well as some very Days of Future Past-esque lavender/pinks in the future-set scenes. Colour blends can be soft, but a lot of the high contrast lighting requires hard edges and deep black divisions. Hues are consistent without much compression noise and only a bit of posterisation.

 Terminator Genysis

Audio


Terminator Genisys is presented in Dolby Atmos sound with a core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 option. I regret not having a Dolby Atmos system (which would be pretty silly, honestly, given the size of my apartment), because this particular film was mixed specifically with the new codec in mind. It’s alright, though, because the core track is pretty damn strong. The cool stuff begins with the apocalyptic pre-title sequence and its exploding nukes spreading from a bassy crack to a full-channel rush of fire and debris. The brief future-set battles feature unique sci-fi laser and ‘pulse-rifle’ blasts that are missed during the more traditionally bombastic bullet-riddled modern/past-set action scenes. The ‘plip plip plip’ of bullets hitting the T-1000 and [character name redacted]’s nano-machine regeneration certainly helps soften the blow. Dialogue is nicely centered, of course, and is rarely overpowered by crashing cars or whirring helicopters. Lorne Balfe’s music utilizes some of Brad Fiedel’s original themes, minus the electro-synth qualities that made them so memorable. Her strictly symphonic tunes sit nicely behind the action, though they rarely get a chance to really shine.

Extras


  • Family Dynamics (15:50, HD) – A look at the casting process and what each actor brought to the film.
  • Infiltration and Termination (25:30, HD)  – This more extended, but still pretty fluffy featurette explores the locations, production design, and cinematography. It includes behind-the-scenes footage, pre-viz, and production art.
  • Upgrades: VFX of Terminator Genisys (15:10, HD) – A breakdown of the film’s extensive special effects. James Cameron himself shows up to talk about the process.


 Terminator Genysis

Overall


After the ads gave away Terminator Genisys’ biggest twist (one that I haven’t spoiled in this review, because I’m a super nice guy) I was hoping that there’d be existential or esoteric events at play here. I dared to dream that someone would make a Terminator movie that explored the true nature of artificial consciousness, like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina or Spike Jonze’s Her, just with a more mainstream friendly, action-packed slant. Instead, I got another chase movie where someone named Conner attempts to destroy Skynet while contending with the threat of another new Terminator model. The lack of any real twist in the formula puts this entry well below the maligned third entry in my book. This Blu-ray release looks and sounds gorgeous, but, despite their length, the special features are basically a series of fluff pieces.

 Terminator Genysis

 Terminator Genysis
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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