The Terminator [Blu-ray Book] (1984)

Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton
Director: James Cameron
Format: AC-3, Dolby, Dubbed, Limited Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: Chinese, English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
DVD Release Date: May 10, 2011




Remember the days what you could watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie without thinking of the child he fathered out of wedlock? We were all so much more innocent way back then in the heady spring of a week ago . . .

Anyhow, now we have to deal with the new Blu-ray of his crowning cinematic achievement in the wake of a truly embarrassing scandal, leading to all kinds of easy jokes that we will refrain from indulging in here. In point of fact The Terminator is still a masterpiece no matter who stepped out on whose member-of-an-unspeakably-powerful-political-dynasty of a wife. It doesn’t take full advantage of the new formatting, but it looks so good that you really shouldn’t care.

The specifics of the film have become the stuff of legend: a killer robot sent back from the future to hunt down the mother of its ultimate destroyer and kill him before he’s even conceived. A lone soldier follows the robot in an effort to save the “mother of the future” and – in the process – humanity itself.

Considering the recent budgetary excesses of director James Cameron, the lean efficiency on display here feels truly remarkable. He paints Los Angeles circa 1984 as predatory and isolating: a true urban jungle lit by harsh neon and walled in by imposing skyscrapers. It differs little from the future scenes created by Stan Winston studios with little more than chicken wire and string.

“Tech-Noir,” the name of the bar where Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) futilely hides from the pursuing T-800 (Schwarzenegger), perfectly captures the mood of the piece.

Cameron adds tons of little touches to elevate the seemingly pulp material beyond its B-movie roots.

The film’s cause-effect time-travel paradox – in which the very act of trying to change the past ensures that the future will unfold as it does – can do your head in if you think about it too much.

The Terminator slyly upends our contemporary reliance on machines as well: the headphones that prevent one of the T-800’s victims from hearing her impending doom, for example, or the answering machine that ultimately betrays Sarah to her pursuer. The deftness with which Cameron deploys such tropes stands in marked contrast to his heavy-handed sermonizing in Avatar and Titanic.

The true stroke of genius, however, lies in making Schwarzenegger the villain instead of the hero as Cameron originally intended. The actor’s Teutonic demeanor and cartoonish muscles truly sold the character’s relentlessness in a way that Lance Henriksen (originally pegged for the role) could never have achieved.

His presence lends The Terminator the quality of a nightmare: the sense that no matter how far or how quickly you run, he’s always just two steps behind. It also lends hero Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) a great deal of vulnerability, tempering the tough guy machismo he might have succumbed to otherwise.

Add to that a great performance from Hamilton – the first of Cameron’s long line of kick-ass women – and the sheer exhilaration of the taut ongoing chase, and it’s not hard to see why The Terminator has withstood the test of time. Even the badly dated 80s clothes and hairstyles play into the drama, feeding resolutely into the time travel scenario.

Schwarzenegger said he’d be back, in the line that defined his career here. Truth be told, he really didn’t need to: it couldn’t get any better than this.

THE DISC: The Blu-ray quality is exceptional, and the disc comes in a nice booklet/case with images from the film. Unfortunately, the extra features are identical to the DVD special edition released in 2001, ported over in the depressingly standard “get this into the market as quickly as possible” strategy.

It includes two documentaries with interviews from the principals, deleted scenes with Cameron’s audio commentary, trailers, TV spots and storyboards. It’s good stuff – or it would be if it hadn’t been recycled from multiple earlier versions, including several other Blu-ray editions.

WORTH IT? It’s the best copy of an indisputable classic on the market, though if you have an earlier edition on Blu-ray (there has been three already!) or even on DVD, this version really isn’t necessary.

RECOMMENDATION: Every collection should have a copy of this film, but if you already have one, you should find something else to spend your money on.

- Rob Vaux



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