Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, and Joe Morton
Extras: Commentary Track from Director & Writer, Commentary Track from Cast & Crew

"The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope… because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life… maybe we can too."

When "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was released in theaters, the idea of a series of mainstream movies, particularly in the Science Fiction genre, was left to mass market family films like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek". But "Terminator 2" defied all odds and broke ground with the idea that mature science fiction, even something R-rated, could find a massive audience, win critical praise, and become a timeless film classic.

The sequel picks up years after the original "Terminator" and changes things so drastically that it's like visiting a new world. At the same time, every choice is logical and everything we learn about the once frail Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is completely believable in every right. In fact, the characterizations in this movie are so pitch perfect, that there isn't a legitimate loophole to be found, even in a complex and layered picture such as this. The story centers on Sarah's son, played with eager tenacity by an adolescent Edward Furlong, who is attacked by an improved, shape-shifting Terminator (Robert Patrick) and rescued by an older model T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). What follows is one of the best stories to ever arrive in action-feature packaging and even tired clichés, such as heroes returning to danger instead of escaping, is handled with deft attention to detail and logic.

The movie hardly shows its age and showcases bombastic, explosive action sequences that the filmmakers somehow intimately marry with quieter moments where the main characters connect as sentient beings, whether they're human or not. Forever burned into my mind are the moments in the mental hospital, at the ranch near the border, and at the Dyson home. Each of these scenes are wonderful and heart wrenching, introducing many exciting concepts and ideas into the mythology of the series. The growing relationship between the fatherless Furlong and the killer machine is beautiful and really makes you buy into what should be a corny separation at the end of the film. The supporting cast, at every turn, performs so well that the movie could follow any minor character and still be interesting to me. Earl Boen, as the series' Dr. Silberman, and Joe Morton, as Dr. Miles Dyson, bring more than is necessary to the table and give us strong performances that really echo, each for entirely different reasons, throughout the story.

The visual effects, particularly the T-1000, still hold up by today's standards. I was shocked when watching this release to notice that the T-1000 looks better and more natural than the Silver Surfer in the trailer for the recently previewed "Fantastic Four 2", made fifteen years later. The only small rock I can throw at "Terminator 2" is the noticeably changed appearances of actors when their stuntmen take the stage. With modern techniques all but eliminating this old eyesore, I had forgotten how painfully distracting and obvious these moments were. But aside from the dated 90's wardrobe, some of the slang, and the questionable thumbs-up, the stuntmen are about the only things I can nitpick here. If any of those things bother you, just think of the movie as a period piece.

I was excited to see that this Blu-Ray disc contains the original theatrical version of the film rather than the extended edition released on DVD so many times. I've never been a huge fan of many of the additional scenes (especially the alternate ending) and feel they really slow down the movie. Some of you will be disappointed… but I was ecstatic.

The video is gorgeous and is presented in what is most likely the best transfer the film will ever have. There are a few scratches and grain storms on occasion but they can all be attributed to the original print, rather than the Blu-Ray codec. The only time this is really noticeable is in the factory at the end of the movie and, even then, everything still looks light years better than any of the former releases on DVD. The colors, contrast, and level of detail couldn't get any better than what is presented here without digital manipulation. The desert scenes fell warm, the night shots feel frigid, and the streets are bristling with the tiniest of details in every corner. The explosions and the fire are impressively vibrant and never fail to feel deadly. This transfer is also the first that has let me see how much work was put into the metallic T-1000. Every reflection and twist is perfect and I would be impressed with these effects if I paid to see them in a theater in 2006.

The audio has a great mix with a lot of sound depth but the track is essentially the same 5.1 track that was used on the latest DVD release of the film. There's not much to say other than pointing out that each surround channel gets a workout over the course of the movie but never falters or lacks quality. Of note, the soundtrack is one of my old favorites and elevates every scene in the movie. It's never overdone even though it's percussion segments are quite powerful and it never shies away from melody or its sci-fi roots.

The extras are straight ports of a few supplements found on various other DVD releases of the film. But the best, and the one I was most excited to see included, was the commentary with James Cameron. This is one of the most interesting, if not the best, commentaries I've ever listened to. It's informative, funny, and packed with stories and anecdotes that really expound upon the film. Cameron and his co-writer don't always pat each other on the back and they're more honest than anyone I've ever heard talk about their own work. I usually have to tackle commentaries in chunks, with breaks every now and then, but the Cameron commentary kept me rooted in my seat like any other good movie. More importantly, points raised in the commentary – especially the many thematic and visual links between both "Terminator" movies – are details I've never noticed. The amount of planning and thought that went into each shot and each scene as it was written is extraordinary. By the end of the track, I felt a deeper appreciation of the movie than I had before. It's definitely worth your time, even if you usually skip commentaries all together.

To wrap things up… if you haven't seen "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", you need to experience it as soon as possible. It's a classic in every sense of the word and no collection should be without it. It has influenced a staggering number of movies over the last decade and only a few have ever challenged its status as one of the greatest film sequels of all time. Even if you already own every iteration of the movie on DVD, buy the Blu-Ray edition and be prepared to be wowed by the visuals on your HDTV all over again. Do yourself a favor and pick up this release… and don't skip the surprising commentary with James Cameron. Enjoy!