This past summer lead way to a whole series of sequels and/or remakes, but the loudest and angriest of the bunch, Terminator Salvation ended up being the quietest of the bunch in terms of box office receipts. The $200 million budgeted film produced only $371 million worldwide and while that’s not chump change by any means, for a franchise as big as this one it’s more than a little disappointing. While the previous outing in the franchise was similarly disappointing, Salvation no doubt hurt from the lack of Schwarzenegger’s participation. What fans got from Salvation was a new setting for the films that we’d only seen briefly prior and combined with the unrelenting action and weak plot direction, the end result left critics and fans a little more than disappointed.
In the aftermath of Judgment Day and the machine takeover, resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale) must counter Skynet’s plan to terminate mankind. Rallying his underground street fighters for a last, desperate battle, he realizes that to save the future he must rescue his own father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). But the most shocking discovery comes with the arrival of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a mysterious loner from the past who challenges Connor with an impossible choice and leads them both on a brutal journey into the heart of the enemy.
It should be made known that I never liked the Terminator series. I’d never seen them until I was older and after watching the three of them back-to-back-to-back, I wondered what everyone saw in the series. I actually enjoyed the third film more for its story, although the acting, directing, and overall writing was the poorest of the bunch. With Salvation I was so enamored with its desolate visuals and unrepentant action that it took me awhile to even see where the story was going or what it was doing.
And after watching the film in full I still don’t know what its purpose was. The whole character of Marcus Wright, while pivotal to this film, was entirely confusing to me as I wasn’t sure what the point of his character was in the overall series. Granted I’m rusty on my Terminator lore as I watched only the first season of the TV show and the movies once, but aside from his sacrifice in the end I’m completely bewildered as to the whole point of the character. A great character study, sure, but his overall creation just seemed like a big goof up on Skynet’s part. In fact Skynet itself seems to be a big goof up, as their Terminator’s are easily duped and relatively easily taken out in this film. Granted if they were truly unstoppable then there’d be no film, but they’re nearly as bad a shot as Stormtroopers.
But lazy robots aside, this film really was quite a visual feast for the senses. I’d opted out of seeing it in the theater, but now I wish I had as the audio mix for this film is nothing short of a sonic experience. I’ll discuss that more later, but really it’s the visuals and aural stimulation that make this film so damn exciting and fun to watch. I actually got completely sidetracked about the plot and where Marcus Wright even came from (it was right when he was inside Skynet’s base that I had to pause and try to remember when he got introduced in this movie) because of the intensity of the action. I mean there was some serious carnage to partake in with this film and I have to hand it to director McG for unleashed as much mayhem as he did. That opening copter shot with Bale in it still impresses me, as it was so beautifully executed and fluid in its motion. Only rarely did the CGI look kind of hokey, but even then it was still wonderfully done. Considering the budget of this film was the same as Terminator 3, it’s a true testament to what technology can do and what a director with a vision can accomplish with what they’re given. Top it all off with the washed out visuals of the results of Judgment Day and you end up with a very starkly contrasted wasteland of humans versus robots for over two hours.
But as great a job as McG did with it all…man, the humans just really brought this one down. Bale and Bryce Dallas Howard were nearly non-existent for the most part (and I didn’t even realize until I’d read up on this film that Howard was playing Claire Daine’s role from the third film. Which makes the lack of discussion about their relationship a lot more clear now…) and the film really was more about Sam Worthington. He didn’t so much “steal” the film away from Bale, but it was just that he had more to do and more screen time. As I said earlier I’m not sure what impact the Marcus Wright character has on the Terminator mythos, but as far as this film was concerned he pretty much was written out.
It wasn’t even the odd levels of character screen time that hindered the film, however; what really brought the film down to the ground for me was Moon Bloodgood’s character. Nothing against her as an actress, but I’ve never really liked her in any of her roles and the same is true here; there’s just something about her that isn’t up to the same caliber as the rest of the actors in this film and I am just bewildered as to how she came to join this group. The situations she was put in with Wright were nothing short of boring and dull and the additional footage of her in the Director’s Cut seemed entirely superfluous, even if it did add the necessary flesh to pad the film into an R rating. Seriously, she takes her top off and then they just look awkwardly at each other while she holds her breasts. The hell was that all about?
But as thin as the plot was in this film, it was still an action junkie’s delight. It definitely could’ve used a bit more of a focused plot and story as well as some more “normal” terminator’s (the fish, bike, and multi-story tall ones were awesome, granted, but nothing beats red eyes staring out of a chrome skull), but in the end there’s a lot here for Terminator fans to eat up. Whether it’s the re-usage of phrases, music, actions, or mannerisms, there are plenty of little callbacks to past films that will keep fans entertained. At times they feel gimmicky, like Bale’s usage of “I’ll be back,” but I think that had more to do with the fact the references made you laugh or smile and this film was a really freakin’ desolate and depressing wasteland of human death.
Overall the film had its flaws but even as someone who was never a fan of the franchise, I still really enjoyed this movie if only for the unrepentant action that infused it and took up 80% of the screen time. When the film had time to take a breather and allow the characters to advance the plot it became a much weaker production, but all of the actors involved (Bloodgood aside…sorry, Moon) really did their best with what material there was. Recommended.
Warner is definitely gunning to move a lot of Salvation this holiday season, with pricing of this Blu-ray set three-disc set already down to $16.99 on Amazon (as of this writing, at least). Granted the first disc is only the Director’s Cut, the second disc is the Theatrical Cut + Bonus Features (considering the two films have very little different between the two [a whole three minutes], I’m curious as to how they justified two individual discs rather than a bridging option), and the third disc is the Digital Copy, so it’s kind of unnecessary filler in some cases but overall it’s a solid set. Plus it’s wrapped up in an embossed/foil reflective slipcover, so it’s nice and fancy.
Video arrives in a VC-1 encoded 2.4:1 1080p transfer and…hot damn does this one look nice. It is very devoid of colors with its washed out desolate landscape, but it still looks absolutely brilliant. The heavy load of grain that is imprinted on every frame looks magnificent and the detail throughout the transfer is ridiculous. The close-ups on Bale and Worthington’s faces are incredibly detailed to the point you feel you could reach out and touch their stubble. The detail on the terminator’s themselves is quite impressive as well, especially the one that Wright and Reese first encounter with the machine gun—the mix of CGI and live action puppetry is nothing short of fantastic looking. Of course there are a few moments where the clarity works against the film, such as the close-up on the T-800’s Arnold face…it just looked a bit too shiny at times. But hey, he was a newly minted Terminator…there’s bound to be some of that new robot smell/sheen to it I suppose. In terms of artifacting/crushing…honestly this transfer, as dark as it was at times, really just looked outstanding from start to finish. From the piles of debris to wrecked cars and machine gun fire, everything on this transfer looked spectacular. The only thing holding it back was the real lack of color, but that has everything to do with the look of the film and nothing to do with the transfer itself.
And now the real star of the disc…the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Now Warner uses DTS-HD on few films; they didn’t even give The Dark Knight such a mix. So while DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD are comparable in terms of the quality you get from them, there’s just something more demanding about a DTS-HD MA track and what we get out of this film is exactly that: a track that demands attention. If, for an instance, you think that this film will let your subwoofer (or your neighbors) sleep, then think again. This is a highly aggressive track that is really quite unrelenting. I feared for the integrity of the windows in my house and wondered if my subwoofer would just say “screw this!” and shut off at some point. But, no…the film rocked from the opening titles to the very end, with very few moments to breathe inbetween.
Honestly I haven’t heard a mix this aggressive since the first Transformers film hit Blu-ray. I still haven’t listened to the second films mix so I can’t compare it to this one, but Terminator Salvation may just be the noisiest, coolest, and most diverse audio mix I’ve heard on the format. Because it’s so in your face, however, I have a hard time picking out a single moment to use as a demo reel; the film is just so noisy that it rarely lets up. When it does it still makes ample use of the surrounds with little clinks, clangs, background chatter or any other thing it can find. Then there’s the frequent aircraft overhead that you hear and feel, especially the helicopters—the swooping sound and constant spinning blades just stir up all kinds of surround and LFE output. More than anything I think I enjoyed this movie as much as I did simply for the audio mix. If bass could power a house, I’m sure this film could produce enough to allow you to go off-grid for a couple days. It’s honestly that noisy. And I loved every blasting minute of it.
And now…the extras. Honestly after the DTS-HD mix I was completely satisfied, but Warner continues the Maximum Movie Mode they started with Watchmen and brings in director McG to present the film to us. This is on the theatrical version only but the smooth in-and-out presentation of it is really quite impressive (and probably explains why they didn’t stuff the Director’s Cut onto the disc…I’m not sure how Movie Mode is done but judging by the fluidity of it, I’m guessing it’s an actual video transfer rather than an overlay of some kind). McG makes for an entertaining listen from beginning to end and if you enjoyed the film and were curious how some things were done, then this is a solid way to check it out. A bit of a bummer there’s no standard audio-only commentary, but this takes the place of it fairly nicely.
Moving on we have Focus Points, which are all included within the Movie Mode or individually via the menu. All of the pieces, eleven total, are in 1080p and run from two to four minutes in length each. Next is Re-Forging the Future (19:00, 1080p) which focuses on the lore that was presented in the film and the new directions this film took the franchise. The Moto-Terminator (8:33, 1080p) rounds out the theatrical disc. There’s really not a whole lot on this first disc, but McG’s Movie Mode is as in-depth as we go across the whole set, so if you’re looking for anything other than a brief history and a CGI featurette…then you’ll probably be disappointed. The Director’s Cut disc boasts some BD-Live goodies with featured items such as “Resist or Be Terminated” Video Archive and Terminator Salvation Official Movie Prequel Digital Comic Issue #1.
Finally there is the third disc which is the digital copy only…but I honestly couldn’t imagine watching this on anything smaller than a full size TV set with a home theater setup, as you’re doing it a great injustice otherwise.
Overall Terminator Salvation is an OK movie, an amazing Blu-ray experience, and a mildly disappointing set of extras. In the end though the purchase of the set hinges on the movie itself and if you’re an action junkie you really can’t pass this one up. Highly Recommended.
Terminator Salvation arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on December 1st, 2009.