Quick Take: Technically stupendous but otherwise with flaws.
Terminator Salvation comes to Blu-ray with an unfortunate chip on its shoulder. After director McG informed the media that the high definition version would run over 30 minutes longer and be slapped with the fan requested R-rating, Warner delivered the final specs that held up on the rating but fell about 90 percent short on the additional footage.
The fourth installment in the Terminator lexicon is as much a reboot as a continuation, shuffling the entire cast and setting the film in a post apocalyptic Judgment Day world where Skynet rules and humans scavenge for life’s necessities in order to survive. A war-grizzled John Connor (Christian Bale) is the central character, the prophesied savior of mankind whose very existence Skynet is willing to travel through time to extinguish. He is not quite the Resistance’s leader yet but makes up for any lack of authoritative control by barking commands in the familiar low gruff Batman monotone voice.
Bumping heads with Connor is Marcus Wright who, as every trailer has revealed, is a Terminator. Unlike a fabricated T-800 in a factory, Marcus awakes naked in a hole after being executed for a triple-murder decades before. Disoriented and confused, he teams up with the last two humans alive in Los Angeles, one of whom is a young Kyle Reese, until the Resistance shows him who – or what – he really is.
Glimpses of the “future” in past Terminator films depict a nuclear-ravished wasteland where human survivors hide underground and live in constant fear of being infiltrated by Terminators. They are visibly scared, hungry to the point of starvation, and mired in desperation.
McG’s vision for the post-Judgment Day world is so focused on painting a unique canvas of monochromatic action sequences that it mostly forgoes human condition Cameron so beautifully integrated into the originals. John Connor, his presumed and visibly pregnant but never properly introduced wife (Bryce Dallas Howard), Resistance fighter Barnes (Common) and the Resistance “High Command” never smile, never emote and never say much of anything other than to yell at one another. It is hard to care about someone’s fate when you never get to know them as people or gain an understanding of their purported suffering. Aside from John Connor, Kyle Reese and Marcus Wright, any character could be removed entirely from Salvation and the story would stay firmly on the tracks.
Only non-human Marcus Wright offers any form of compassion and emotion, and to a lesser extent grossly underutilized Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese. During Marcus’ journey from rebirth to “salvation,” Worthington shows his range with subtle eye movements that say a thousand words to shrieks of pain, anguish and confliction. His character is by far the most developed and central to Salvation, but inconsequential and relatively pointless when viewing the series as a whole.
Where Terminator Salvation succeeds draws strongly from the franchise’s roots. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a brief pseudo-cameo, but the best action is the most intimate: a good old fashioned search and destroy between a T-800 Endo-Skeleton and John Connor. Its intensity and nods to James Cameron and the late Stan Winston’s model work on the T-800 almost forgives the ludicrousness of global Skynet putting all of its eggs into a Hollywood-favorite San Francisco base of operations.
Terminator films have always succeeded on a technical level and Salvation is no different. The world McG has created with tactile props and film stock tricks is unique and the action, while failing to deliver emotionally, is the type of summer blockbuster fare Blu-ray fans should be salivating over.
Warner brings the theatrical cut and director’s cut of Terminator Salvation to Blu-ray in its originally framed 2.35:1 aspect ratio encoded in 1080p via VC-1. All the dirt, dust and decay in the film are beautifully rendered with strong detail in high definition. Contrasting metallic Endo-Skeleton Terminators also look fantastic to the point where you can clearly make out little gears and pistons moving within their frames and faces. Because McG’s world is so visually complex before explosions start going off, there is some blocking in a handful of scenes where a large amount of dust and smoke kicks up under low light conditions that vanishes almost as quickly as it appears.
Terminators are aggressive killing machines that will keep after their target even after a massive railway car is dropped on them. Likewise the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix keeps pounding away with barrages of explosions, bangs and gunfire with enough consistency that I had to turn back the dial a couple notches. LFE response is nearly off the chart on numerous occasions including raptor jets dropping napalm bombs while surrounds are active even when you think they will not be such as when molten metal is poured from high above. Terminator Salvation’s lossless audio mix fits nicely right along side the equally impressive treatment Paramount bestowed upon J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek on Blu-ray.
The R-rated director’s cut sits by its lonesome on disc one of the set while the theatrical cut and bonus features are on disc two. A third disc includes a digital copy of the theatrical cut. The problem with this format is Maximum Movie Mode, the equivalent of a director’s commentary, is on the second disc and attached to the theatrical cut. That means there is no way to tell the three additional minutes on the director’s cut other than the obvious topless scene with Moon Bloodgood. Not only is Warner offering a fraction of additional footage everyone thought would be included, but they failed to flag what has been added or give McG an opportunity to discuss the footage.
With Maximum Movie Mode, we get approximately 8 instances of McG cutting into the film to talks specifics about a scene or sequence, over 40 minutes of various picture-in-picture making-of material, storyboards on a 3D wheel that cycle through in unison with the film, and jump points to 10 short focal points featurettes (2-3 minutes each, accessible from the main menu as well) and stills galleries. McG is upfront about some of the issues encountered on the set because of the different approaches to the craft that Bale and Worthington take. With his passion throw into the mix there were “fireworks” on the set as everyone has already heard in the leaked Bale “rant” tape.
Re-watching Terminator Salvation in Maximum Movie Mode is worthwhile after viewing the director’s cut as there are a trio of new and extended scenes that McG reveals for the first time ever. The first is the single cut take of Christian Bale as Connor delivering his important speech to the Resistance that includes new dialogue referencing Sarah Connor. An entirely new scene adds more power to Kyle Reese’s line about humans burying their dead. And a third scene that ties into rumors about John Connor being a machine is revealed in storyboard form and would have caused riots had it been shot and included in the final cut.
The Moto-Terminator (8:33, HD) – These new Terminators are touched upon in Maximum Movie Mode but this featurette delves much deeper into how they came about and how the production team brought them to life using stunt bike riders for reference.
Reforging the Future (19:00, HD) – A fluff-less mini documentary that traces through all the design and creative decisions that went into building the post apocalyptic world of Terminator Salvation. McG’s choice to keep the effects as practical as possible are reiterated throughout and by the end of this featurette it is hard not to have a better appreciation for all that came with that choice and how it benefited the final product. The only knock against this piece is that quite a bit is repetitive with the focus points and picture-in-picture from Maximum Movie Mode. For viewers who like a straight shot of information rather than having to work for it with button clicks, this is the route to go.
Terminator Salvation was an opportunity for McG to start with a virtual blank slate and put together a compelling story told within the framework of a post apocalyptic world. Though he, his production team and Stan Winston Studios nailed the look and sound of the film, the story comes up short compared to previous Terminator films – Rise of the Machines included.
Because Terminator Salvation is a technical marvel made for home theater, the Blu-ray Disc – currently the only place to get the director’s cut – comes with a bittersweet recommendation.
– Dan Bradley
Pre-order Terminator Salvation: Director’s Cut on Blu-ray at a discounted price from Amazon.com.