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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/21/01

The Terminator
Special Edition - 1984 (2001) - Hemdale/Orion (MGM)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Terminator: Special Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A-/A

Specs and Features

107 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, dual-sided, RSDL dual-layered on Side A (layer switch at 54:31 in chapter 16) and single-layered on side B (DVD-14 format disc), Other Voices: Back Through Time - Creating The Terminator documentary, The Making of The Terminator: A Retrospective documentary, 7 deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by writer/director James Cameron, storyboards and stills galleries (James Cameron Artwork, Production Photos, Stan Winston Effects, Fantasy II: Visual Effects and Publicity Materials), James Cameron's original story treatment, teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, international trailer, 2 TV spots, DVD-ROM features (including "script-to-screen"), Easter eggs, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & mono), French and Spanish (DD 5.1 EX) , subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"Listen and understand. That Terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop - ever! Until you are dead."

Everyone loves The Terminator. Seriously, who wouldn't? It has something for everyone. For the guys, it's a balls-to-the-wall action flick with explosions, car chases and gun battles. And for the ladies (and we love the ladies here at the Bits), it's a love story about a man willing to travel through time itself to save the woman he loves. The plot is pretty simple. A machine goes back in time to kill its greatest enemy's mother, thus preventing his birth. But the machine's enemy sends a protector back to save his mother, initiating a race against time (literally) to see who gets her first. A lot of action and some touching love ensues, and it's all good. The Terminator is just a great flick.

James Cameron went from being an art director for Roger Corman (and sometime matte painter - Escape from New York) to become a failed, first-time filmmaker (with the Piranha sequel, The Spawning - a flop he found himself fired from - twice). But not one to take a kick while lying down, Cameron next took a small idea he'd had while lying sick in bed in Rome during post production on The Spawning and made it one of Sci-Fi's most enduring films (and, along with its sequel, one of Hollywood's most profitable franchises).

The Terminator has been released once before on DVD, as a movie-only disc from Image Entertainment. But now MGM's ponied-up for a loaded special edition. And this is one bad-assed disc, man. Now... it's by no means the "perfect DVD", nor is it (in my mind) even close to it. But I have to say that it just may be the perfect DVD for this film (except maybe if you're a purist - more on that in a minute).

First off, the video quality is absolutely superb. You have to remember that The Terminator was a very low budget, B-grade Sci-Fi flick, churned out by a bunch of wannabes with a handful of hope, a bright-eyed dream and some money men who believed in them. Great imagination went into this film, and every ounce of it shows up on the screen. But The Terminator was never the most technologically advanced looking film ever made. The film stock was weak in spots, some of the effects shots didn't match grain and color tone-wise, and the special effects sometimes had a very cartoony look to them, even for 1984. But somehow, with this new super-deluxe hi-def transfer, MGM's fixed most of those problems nicely. Plus, they cleaned up the film significantly (dirt, scratches, etc.) and made it look like it could have been pumped out of an indy studio yesterday. There's no artifacts, shimmer or edginess to be seen in this anamorphic widescreen transfer. The cold blues and trademark Cameron lighting are in full effect and are mouth-wateringly beautiful. The Terminator never looked this good. I doubt even the first print of this film looked this good.

The sound here is also pretty nice. Well... that is, at least the new Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is pretty nice. The one thing that sticks out as "wrong" with this track is, in the opening theme, there used to be the distinct sound of a sharp piece of metal being run down a blunt edge. It's there in the original mono track, but is distractingly absent in this new 5.1 track. Based on disc producer Van Ling's comments at the DVD Panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, Brad Fiedel came in and re-orchestrated some of the track for the new mix, so maybe he purposefully took that sound out of the theme. If he did, he took my favorite piece out and it hurt. If he didn't, somebody dropped the ball in the mixing room and assumed that sound should have been mixed down. Either way, it ain't there. But for the most part, the track itself is very dynamic. It's not as punchy as it could be, but there's some nice play in the surrounds and effects are spatial and scattered. It manages to mostly maintain the spirit of the original audio, while breathing new life into the track as well. On the other hand, the original mono track that's included on this new disc is very weak when held up against the original Image DVD released back in 1997. That mono track rocked with low frequency that made it much more vivid and aggressive sounding. If you have that disc, I'd say you should keep it because it represents the original sound of The Terminator much better than this new DVD does.

A 17-year old film has to have a history and, when it's as beloved as The Terminator, you expect there to be a LOT of history. Thankfully, this DVD reflects that nicely with a stockpile of extras for your money. This is the first DVD to incorporate DVD-14, which is a single-layer of information on one side and an RSDL dual-layer for the side with the movie. On the movie side, you'll find your DVD-ROM material (mainly a script-to-screen feature) and a handful of Easter eggs. They're easy to find, look for small squares that outline the menu screens and try to highlight them, particularly in the scene selection pages (but elsewhere as well - note that there are no Easter eggs on the special edition side of the disc). The eggs are short interview clips saved from the cutting room floor (originally intended for the Other Voices documentary on the extras side). But to save disc space, the clips are presented as audio segments with a slideshow-like series of still images to illustrates them. It appears jumpy at first, and it actually had Bill pausing his player to figure out if he didn't have a glitch on the disc. But it's a neat way to squeeze in interesting extra material and, once you get used to it, you'll enjoy the clips.

The flip side of the disc has all of the meaty extras. First up is a nice selection of trailers and TV spots. The teaser is neat because of the angle taken with the film for the initial promotion. After that are two documentaries. The first one is The Terminator: A Retrospective which was done for the initial T2 VHS release (so it hasn't been seen by a lot of higher-end collectors). It's essentially a conversation between Arnold and Cameron, where they talk about how they came together and how much they loved working together on the film. The next documentary is Other Voices, which is your most traditional making of documentary. Created specifically for this DVD edition, the documentary features new interviews with every major cast and crewmember of the film except Arnold and Linda Hamilton. They are represented, however, in interviews conducted during the filming of T2. It's a very good documentary over all, and you'll learn a lot by watching it. It's especially interesting to see some of the "cheating" the filmmakers used to get some of the effects done.

After that, there are 7 deleted scenes included here in surprisingly good quality, which don't add a thing to the film but are important because they feature optional audio commentary by James Cameron - a first for the writer/director. You'll also find a series of 5 artwork and still photo galleries. The best of these is a gallery of pseudo-storyboards painted by Cameron himself to sell the idea of the movie to financial backers, but other galleries include production effects photos and original poster designs for the film. This is some neat stuff. And when you get done with all that, you can wrap-up your viewing experience by reading Cameron's original story treatment for the film, which shows that Cameron had a firm grasp on the story even from day one. I think you'll find that everything and anything you could want related to this film is nicely covered on this special edition. It's not even close to being the greatest DVD extras-wise, but it fits this film nicely and that's what counts.

So The Terminator: Special Edition is another must-have disc for the ol' library. For fans of the film, there's a lot of meat here to bite into. The video quality is great and the sound quality, although very good, is "different" than fans will remember. But that's okay. If a filmmaker can go back and add stuff and get us to pay for it all over again, I guess a composer can do the same. As a great philosopher once said, "I'll be back."

Todd Doogan
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