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THE TERMINATOR: SPECIAL EDITION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield
Director:  James Cameron
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  107 Minutes
Release Date:  October 2, 2001

“I’ll be back.”

Film ***1/2

The Terminator put writer/director James Cameron on the map, cemented the film career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, added a catch phrase to the Hollywood vernacular, and became a landmark action/science fiction picture.  In other words, it brought a lot of changes to modern movie culture, despite a fairly low budget and limited resources.

Cameron’s only prior credit in the director’s chair was Piranha II: The Spawning…hardly a shining résumé.  But he had a new and unique vision to bring to the screen:  that of an unstoppable killing machine that could pass for human and blend into a crowd.  He dubbed his creature a Terminator, and envisioned a story of this futuristic cyborg traveling back in time to our day in order to alter the course of history.

Arnold, who had made a big box office impression in the title role of Conan the Barbarian, brought the Terminator to life with icy cold efficiency and menace.  The machine’s dour purpose:  to assassinate Sarah Connor (Hamilton), who would one day become the mother of a future revolutionary warrior who would lead a fight against the dominating machines that rose to power after a nuclear holocaust.  The Terminator feels no pain or pity, is practically indestructible, and will never stop until its task has been carried out.

This resistance of humans also manage to send a lone warrior back in time:  Kyle Reese (Biehn), a resourceful but overmatched hero.  His job is to protect Sarah, and therefore the hope of the future.  It won’t be an easy assignment.

The film moves at a fast clip, mixing scenes of horrific violence with relentless action, but maintaining integrity with its characters and taut storyline.  The action itself is expository; it helps to define the principals, their motivations, and their relationships.  When the picture slows and relaxes, the timing is perfect.  It happens when the audience most needs a chance to relax, assess, and catch up.

But like its title character, The Terminator is a film that keeps springing to life just when you thought it was ready to lie down for good.  Cameron established the action style that would come to define his career in this movie.  His instincts are right on the money, and his feel for pacing and rhythm are impeccable.  Consider the points in the film where he deliberately slows the action, and what a different effect it causes than had he opted for real time.  These decisions are crucial, and they’re always the correct ones.

In addition to the writing, directing and acting, credit make-up and effects wizard Stan Winston for adding an indelible layer of believability to the story.  Arnold makes the machine a reality, but Winston’s special Terminator designs cement the illusion.  The combination of flesh and machine had never been depicted with such detail before, and the imagery it created has proven unforgettable.

And so, with a small amount of money but a large amount of imagination, The Terminator proved to be an unqualified success, and a film that reached fans of all ages, backgrounds, and genders.  A sequel seven years later and constant rumors about another new installment have only served to prove that audiences can’t get enough of this big, bad machine with an attitude problem.  It always promised it would be back…and if it does return, people will ready and waiting for it.

Video ***1/2

As with The Silence of the Lambs, MGM has proven once again what a huge difference a carefully mastered anamorphic transfer can make.  I wouldn’t have believed a fairly low budget picture from 1984 could look as good as it does here.  Darks are much cleaner than ever before, with no interfering grain and a much improved new print that doesn’t suffer from dirt and debris.  Images are much sharper and clearer, and in a more natural way…no evidence of artificial enhancement anywhere.  Colors are more brightly rendered, and flesh tones look more natural than ever before.  Fans are in for a real treat with this new DVD pressing!

Audio ***1/2

If you’re wondering whether or not the newly remixed 5.1 soundtrack will really make good use of your system, wonder no more.  The opening scenes alone indicate what a bold new track this is, instantly calling the surrounds into play with smooth crossovers and punchy dynamic range.  Occasionally, dialogue sounds a bit thin in the center channel, especially when lots of action is occurring in the other speakers, but that’s the sole complaint.  The .1 channel carries the score’s and effects’ bottom ends nicely…and the music itself gets a fresh new spin with plenty of appropriate panning action and extra range with 5.1.  Listening to this DVD alone will make the experience of viewing The Terminator seem brand new.  The original mono track is included for purists, but trust me…you’ll never use it.

Features ****

What a package!  Most of the features are on side two of the disc, and they start with not one, but TWO great documentaries.  “Other Voices” is an extremely complete and informative look back at the making of the film, featuring interviews with Cameron, Hamilton, Biehn, effects wizards Stan Winston, and many more.  It’s extremely entertaining and detailed, covering everything from casting to technical considerations to money problems and more.  But where’s Arnold, you ask?  There are a few clips of him, to be sure, but the second documentary, “The Terminator: A Retrospective” has more of him.  The majority of it centers on Arnold and James Cameron sitting side by side, comfortably, and sharing their memories of the movie.

There are seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by Cameron, plus storyboards, and a handful of trailers (the teaser refers to the movie as just Terminator…no “the”).  Finally, there is a DVD ROM script to screen feature, and a number of hidden Easter eggs (hint…they’re all on side one, and easy to find…look especially around the scene selection menu screens) for the happy hunter.  Also, the menu screens feature dynamite animation and audio.

Summary:

Immediately retire any home video copy of The Terminator you have in your library…you’ll never look at them again once you’ve seen this definitive DVD version from MGM.  It looks and sounds better than ever, and with a boatload of extras to keep even the most die-hard fans entertained, this is an unquestionable must-own disc.