Terminator Salvation (UK - BD)
Chris watches McG's recent movie and finds that it's still f*cking distraaaacting
This review contains spoilers. If you have not seen the film you might want to skip ahead to the technical sections.
In the post-apocalyptic world of 2018 John Connor (Christian Bale) fights alongside the remnants of humanity as they wage war against the implacable mechanical armies of Skynet, the sentient computer system that engineered the nuclear holocaust known as Judgement Day. Shortly after infiltrating a Skynet R&D centre, Connor and his squad discover human prisoners and plans for a new Terminator: the T-800. John recognises the T-800 as the model from his childhood, but his superiors refuse to listen to his concerns. When the base is annihilated by a nuclear explosion John barely manages to escape with his life, and fails to notice a mysterious figure emerging from the wreckage. The mystery man turns out to be Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signed his body over to science shortly before his execution by lethal injection. Alone and with no memory of events since his ‘execution’, Marcus wonders the desolate landscape until he arrives in Los Angeles, where he is almost killed in an encounter with a T-600. Marcus is saved by a young survivor called Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), and together they attempt to locate John Connor while evading all manner of mechanised nightmares.
If you came here looking for an objective review of Terminator Salvation you’re going to be disappointed. I really disliked the film when I caught it at the cinema and this latest viewing has done nothing to alter my perception. My biggest problem with the film is its own sense of logic—pretty much everything that happens relies on co-incidence, with character A running into character B not through any conscious act, but rather through a series of utterly random events. For example, Marcus meets Kyle completely by chance, and the fact that he just happens to run into the one soldier (Blair) who can lead him to John Connor is also extremely convenient. As for the time travel, well that’s always a complex subject, and in order for it to work films must have their own set of rules that are consistently applied across any sequels. However, for reasons that are never really explained the Skynet of Terminator Salvation has knowledge of the events of the past three films and knows that Kyle Reese is John Connor’s father. That’s why it has set an elaborate trap using Marcus and Reese to lure Connor to his death. However, if Skynet knows Reese is Connor’s father why doesn’t it just kill him right then and there and erase all trace of Connor?
Now there is a counter argument that Skynet knows that Reese going back in time led to Cyberdyne Systems discovering the damaged T-800 parts, thus leading to Skynet’s creation. This makes sense to a point, as the whole paradox thing is pretty much unavoidable with time travel stories, but if this is the case why is it explicitly stated that Kyle Reese is number one of Skynet’s ‘to kill’ list (and indeed multiple attempts are made on his life)? Even if the writers did think everything through—which I’m not for a moment convinced that they did—this alone constitutes a massive plot hole and incredibly sloppy writing. Unfortunately this is indicative of most of Terminator Salvation’s plot, which stretches the bounds of believability even for a film involving killer robots and time travel. The film’s closing scenes are so ridiculous that I completely lost any goodwill I might have had left (which wasn’t much to begin with). Seriously, we’re expected to believe that not only can John Connor survive being stabbed thought the heart, but that he lives long enough for his veterinarian wife to attempt a heart transplant in a field hospital in the middle of a nuclear wasteland, and that Marcus just happens to be a compatible donor? The second word is ‘off’…
However, there are some positives. First and foremost, the Terminator effects in this film are the most convincing of any in the franchise. The hulking T-600s are very imposing, there are nods to the T-1s from Rise of the Machines, the HKs look great, and even the Harvester is very impressive (even if it does look like it escaped from a certain Michael Bay movie playing on an adjacent screen). There’s even a fan-friendly nod to the Governator himself courtesy of some not entirely convincing CGI work from ILM. The acting is decent enough, although Bale spends most of the time either whispering in a gruff voice or bellowing in a manner similar to his infamous outburst at cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, and Worthington goes back and forth between an Aussie trying to sound American and, well, and Aussie. Star Trek star Anton Yelchin is an interesting choice for the young Kyle Reese, and he does a decent enough job in the role, and Moon Bloodgood is always visually impressive if nothing else. Some of the action set-pieces are also quite impressive, even if there’s nothing on a par with the stunts seen in either Terminator 2 or Rise of the Machines.
I had hoped to end this section on a more positive not, but I’m afraid that writing about the action scenes has started me off again. How is it that the T-800 in the original film was damaged by crashing a car into a wall, but this T-800 can take multiple hits from a grenade launcher without so much as a scratch? For that matter, how is it able to survive being covered in molten steel and rapidly cooled without so much as a fracture? Why does Marcus go from beating up a few thugs to standing toe-to-toe with a T-800 and indeed throwing it across the room with relative ease? Talking of throwing people across the room, why do the damn Terminators insist on doing just that to John Connor every time they get their hands on him, rather than just snapping his neck? Why does Kyle tell Marcus that it’s safer to move about in the daytime in direct contradiction to his comments in the first film about staying down by day and moving around at night? Why... Oh, forget it—I’ll be here all day at this rate.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the disc includes both the theatrical and director’s cuts of the main feature by way of seamless branching. To be honest the only obvious differences were some more violence in the fight between Marcus and the thugs and a brief shot of the side of Moon Bloodgood’s boobs, which I suppose is better than no shot at all. There are probably a few other extensions here and there to account for the extra three minutes, but I couldn’t tell you what they are.
Terminator Salvation’s 2.40:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) is exactly what you’d expect from a mega-budgeted movie that’s less than six months old. It’s incredibly clean, without a hint of film or even digital artefacts (save for perhaps some very light posterisation that could easily be inherent to the source) and impressively detailed throughout. The filmmakers have employed plenty of filters to give each setting a distinct look of its own, and the Blu-ray does an admirable job of reproducing things. Most of the film takes place in the harsh light of the scorched earth, during which time the palette shifts towards more muted tones and has a bleached-out look. At other times we find ourselves in dimly lit underground bases, submarines, or Skynet factories, during which the film takes on a colder, more industrial appearance, and once the action moves to Skynet’s command tower we get a cleaner, almost antiseptic look. Natural grain is present throughout, but it is light and never becomes distracting, although it is heavier in the darker scenes. Talking of the darker scenes, black levels are consistent throughout (which is handy considering that much of the film takes place in dark environments) and shadow detail remains good. Admittedly the blacks aren’t always completely inky, but this would seem to be a stylistic choice rather than a transfer deficiency. Another selling point is the virtually seamless integration of effects with live-action elements. Quite often Blu-ray will show up any dodgy CGI work, but apart from the aforementioned T-800 everything looks like it’s part of the real world. From what I can remember this would appear to be a very faithful representation of the theatrical experience, and although I’m hesitant to start labelling transfers 'reference quality' I will say that it is an extremely impressive visual experience from start to finish.
The disc includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and it’s another corker. Right from the opening moments you know you’re in for a real treat, as the maelstrom of sound that accompanies the attack on the R&D lab assaults you from all angles. You’re surrounded by helicopters, A-10s, gunfire, explosions and Terminators, creating a three-hundred-and-sixty degree soundfield of death. This aural tour de force is just the beginning though, as there are numerous highlights through the film such as Marcus’ encounter with the T-600, the Harvester attack, the Moto-Terminator chase, the HK assault, and the infiltration of the Skynet complex. Each of these scenes is backed up by some incredibly ferocious bass, of the kind that really rattles your ribcage. The track also delivers in the quieter moments, be it the ambient sounds of the Terminator factory with its dripping pipes, hissing steam, and whirring machinery, or the whistling of the wind across the endless wasteland, and the sound of rainfall during a desert storm. Impressively, dialogue is always perfectly balanced during even the most thunderous of scenes, something that hasn’t always been the case with recent high-profile releases. I was a little disappointed by the rather generic score, which features only the occasional snippet of the series’ iconic theme, but it was nice to hear source music from Guns ‘n’ Roses, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the events on screen. Even so, this is clearly a very, very good sound mix, and the disc’s stand-out element.
Whatever my thoughts about the movie, there is no denying that the Blu-ray features some fairly innovative bonus content. I expected the 'Maximum Movie Mode' from Warner's release to be ripped from Sony's release of the film like so much dead tissue from a T-800 endoskeleton (hey, it happened with Paramount's release of Watchmen), so I was pleasantly surprised when its inclusion was confirmed. It's basically an advanced video commentary in which director McG occasionally walks on-screen to talk about specific scenes, but there are also other elements such as a timeline, picture-in-picture featurettes, focus points, still galleries and storyboards. It’s actually a neat feature, and all the different elements prevent the track from becoming stale in the way that some commentaries (standard or PiP) can. Unfortunately I really didn’t take to McG as a presenter, partially because he insists on referring to himself as ‘McG’ and partially because I don’t like his persona. There’s a reason Bill Murray (allegedly) head butted him.
Next up is 'Reforging the Future' (19:01 HD), a featurette that focuses on the creators' attempts to bring the post-apocalyptic world glimpsed at in the first three films to life. We're shown set construction, costume design, visual effects, stunts, and more. It is followed by 'The Moto-Terminator' (08:33 HD), which details the process of designing and creating the all-new Terminator bikes that attack Marcus and Kyle as they escape from the Harvester. We're shown the fabrication and shooting processes, with the latter consisting mostly of stuntmen riding Ducatis as reference for the digital doubles.
Up next we have eleven 'Focus Points' (29:47 HD) as featured in the 'Maximum Movie Mode', which can be viewed individually or by means of a 'play all' function. They basically just provide a closer look at how certain effects were created, such as the Imocap system used to match up the digital doubles, the particle simulations used for the molten metal in the Terminator factory, or the design and construction of the gas stations set. There are also trailers for Blu-ray Disc is High Definition! and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, along with the new BD-Live technologies CineChat and MovieIQ, which let you chat to your friends and look up facts about the cast and crew. The packaging also mentions more BD-Live content in the form of TechCom Videos, but at the time of writing these were not available.
Terminator Salvation is proof that throwing millions of dollars at the screen is simply no substitute for a great story and assured direction. Whoever thought that it was a good idea to hand such a beloved franchise over to the director of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. It’s a sad day when the best thing you can say about a film is that a rant by its star spawned an amusing Internet meme. I’ll admit that it’s not the worst of the summer blockbusters (that dubious honour belongs to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), but it’s certainly near the bottom of the pile in a year where Star Trek was the only big-budget franchise to escape with its credibility intact.
Clearly I wasn’t too keen on the film, so I don’t expect any hardcore Terminator Salvation fans to base their purchasing decision on the feature section of my review. However, I was very taken with the disc’s technical elements, particularly the audio, which manages to outshine even the impressive visual transfer. Although relatively thin on the ground, the extras offer more than the average title by way of the excellent ‘Maximum Movie Mode’, which succeeds in blending traditional commentary with video sequences, branching features, stills and more. My one criticism is that I would have liked more of a focus on Stan Winston’s contribution to the film in the form of a dedicated featurette, but sadly that was not to be. Even so, this is a technically brilliant presentation of a mediocre (at best) feature. Buy it by all means, but please do so knowing that it’s not a patch on the James Cameron films.
* 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.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 23rd November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio Description English
Subtitles: English, English HoH, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Maximum Movie Mode, Re-Forging the Future, The Moto-Terminator, Focus Points, Trailers, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter, Common, Jadagrace
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi and War
Length: 118 minutes
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