Anyone who has read reviews here will no doubt have come across one of my many mentions of my dislike for 1980s action films. This extends all the way over to the Terminator series, which I always found incredibly unexciting and rather boring (I know, shocking). I did like the third films plot, but the directing for it really was quite…awkward, and when the TV series was announced, I wondered which end of the spectrum my opinion of this series would fall under. While it started out on the low end, I began to warm up to the series, going as far as tuning in weekly to see the latest venture.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles revolves around Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker), the future leader of mankind, and Sarah’s fight to not only protect her son from the Terminators that are sent back through time to destroy him, but also to teach him and help him grow into the kind of man that is required to lead the war against the endoskeleton army. With the help of a “good” Terminator, Cameron (Summer Glau), Sarah and John fight their way not only to protect their own lives, but also the lives of everyone on Earth in an effort to prevent Judgment Day.
I gave up watching the series after the lackluster pilot and I didn’t make a return trip until three or four episodes into the series. Everyone I talked to began to talk about how much it was improving, so I opted to give it another shot—it was something to watch on Monday nights at least. While the show never escalated to a “must-watch” level for me, it was enough to keep me coming back each week. Oddly enough, although I never cared about the characters much in the film, I became really intrigued by them in the series, likely just because they had more screen time and the ability to grow and adapt.
I think what aided in my enjoyment of the series was the addition of Summer Glau in the series, who I’d become a fan of due to her roles in Firefly. At first it was a curious casting choice, as Glau had played such an emotional and acrobatic character in Firefly, that for her to switch to a stone-cold machine was a curious choice. It was interesting to see her role as the Terminator expand over the course of the series, something that I wonder if was originally planned; the series was meant to focus on the Connor’s, but the Cameron character became such a huge part of the series over the course of the series that it’s a wonder she didn’t get her own spin off.
The introduction of other Terminator lore into the series was also a fun thing for fans to pick up on, even if all I could muster up was a “hey they’re referencing so-and-so, that’s cool” each time something popped up. The inclusion of Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green), brother of Kyle Reese, into the series was quite enjoyable, as was the character of Charley Dixon (Dean Winters). Though they were late in the game, they offered their fair share of sequences to the series that not only helped the characters around them grow, but to also offer us a glance into the past of the Connor’s. In the case of Dixon, he was vitally important in exploring these angles, although that may again be some bias creeping in just because I love the man’s work from Rescue Me and 30 Rock.
There were quite a few episodes that stood out, but “The Turk” is one of my favorite episodes of the series. It’s the one that got me wrapped up in its story enough to keep me on truckin’ through the rest of the series. “Dungeons and Dragons” was another fantastic episode where we saw the war-torn future and “The Demon Hand” was a very revealing look into the history of Sarah Connor and what she went through while she was institutionalized. “What He Beheld”, the season finale, was ultimately a disappointment, as the “cliffhanger” ending didn’t leave me wanting more and I felt rather disappointed by the series big setup, only to have it to end with such a lackluster finale. Of course that was a hindrance of the writers’ strike, so I shouldn’t blame the writers for that one—it wasn’t planned to be the big one to end the season.
Throughout the first seasons short run of nine episodes we saw the series go from a weak effort to a full-blown action show, employing some of the finest CGI a television show has yet to see, as well as some solid actors that really stepped up their game as the series progressed. While I was entirely underwhelmed by the first season finale, I’m delighted to see that it will return for a second season and have high hopes that it will continue on the fantastic path that it’s set out for itself. Recommended.
Warner Home Video is releasing The Sarah Connor Chronicles first season on both DVD and Blu-ray day and date. Both are three-disc sets with the same extras spread across the board. The Blu-ray release comes in a slightly wider than usual Blu-ray case to house the three discs and a booklet with information about the episodes and contents of each disc. While I’m all for slimmed down packaging, the prongs that hold the first disc of the set in don’t do a good job and the disc frequently comes loose just from turning the case around to read the back cover. I know the Blu-ray discs have that protective layer to resist scratching, but…that’s not really the best way to test it. Menus are simple and easy to navigate with little fuss and the overall presentation of the set looks fantastic.
Video and audio transfers are what you’d expect from a newly produced show. Everything is clean and clear, with only the occasional hint of grain (often intentional). There are quite a few “wow” moments in the series and within minutes of the pilot starting up, I was already quite impressed by the VC-1 encoded transfer. The pits in the road, the sunglight hitting cars and just about every little detail was shown in perfect detail. The episodes sport 5.1 Dolby Surround audio, so for those hoping for some TrueHD difference compared to the standard audio found on the DVD edition…you’ll be a bit disappointed. The surround isn’t quite as ambitious as one would hope in the early episodes, but as the series moves on, the surrounds really come into play. “Dungeons and Dragons” especially makes full use of the surrounds and subwoofer. The line between TV productions and films is blurring faster with every one of these shows, as they’re perfecting the art of production quality even with smaller budgets.
There are plenty of extras to sort through on this release. The first are the three commentaries; the first two are on the first disc and include commentary on “Pilot” by Josh Friedman, James Middleton, David Nutter and Summer Glau , one “The Turk” by Josh Friedman, John Wirth, Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker and another on “What He Beheld” by Josh Friedman, Ian Goldberg, Summer Glau, Brian Austin Green. Although there are only three, the commentaries are light and informative, with a great array of input from both cast and crew. They’re a lot of fun to listen to as they joke about the series and also comment on all that they were able to do on the short nine episode run for the first season.
“Terminated” (Deleted) scenes are included on the set as well and include five deleted scenes for “Pilot”, one from “Turk”, one from “Dungeons and Dragons” and two from “The Demon Hand.” The scenes are a nice little bonus and fun to watch, but you aren’t missing too much by them not being included with the rest of the episodes. All deleted scenes are presented in 480i/p.
On the first disc of the set is a trio of featurettes, all of which are presented in 1080p, that delve deep into the production of the series. “Re-Boot” (16:41) is talk of how the series came about, while “Future War” (10:23) and “The Demon Hand” (11:54) revolve specifically around the episodes “Dungeons and Dragons” and “The Demon Hand.” They’re completely episode specific and are actually a fair trade off for lack of commentary on the episodes, as we get to see a lot more information that’s in-depth including pre-production shots of the war-torn landscape from “Dungeons and Dragons.” The first disc wraps up with Bloopers (3:35, 480i/p), which is almost disorienting to watch as Summer Glau breaks her stone cold character and goes into fits of laughter on occasion.
Disc two houses a trio of “Cast Audition Tapes” (480i/p) and include Lena Headey (4:19), Thomas Dekker (2:29) and Richard T. Jones (4:30). The audio on these tapes is incredibly hard to hear and very distant; Dekker’s track isn’t as bad as the other two, but Headey’s especially looks like it was recorded with the oldest camera they could find. Disc two also includes Summer Glau Dance Rehearsal (1:41, 480i/p), a montage of her dance rehearsals for her characters ballet sequence in the film. Also include is a Storyboard Animatic (3:26, 480i/p).
The third disc contains the aforementioned commentaries and deleted scenes, as well as an extended cut of “The Demon Hand” (51:48, 1080p, Stereo Audio). There’s an intro by the crew who talk about things they had wanted to leave into the episode, so they included this extended cut here, which is essentially just an early cut of the episode, complete with unfinished audio and special effects.
That wraps up the first season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It’s a rather packed release for a nine-episode season and will definitely keep the Terminator fan busy for more than a few hours. Recommended.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on August 19th.