"Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The Terminator would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him or get drunk and hit him or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there, and it would die to protect him." --Linda Hamilton, "Terminator 2"
There is no doubt that James Cameron's 1991 "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was a landmark film in the development of special effects, but more important it was a landmark film in establishing a truly touching relationship in an all-out action flick. For that reason alone I would place it in the front ranks of great action films, maybe among the best two or three of all time. Just don't run out and try to buy the HD-DVD version of it at your local video store. The one under review here is a two-disc French import from Studio Canal, containing both the theatrical version and the Director's Cut of the movie in 1080p.
As of this writing the film is only available in high definition in the United States on Blu-ray, which my colleague Dean Winkelspecht reviewed earlier. Fortunately for HD-DVD fans, however, there are a number of HD-DVD movies available in Europe that in the U.S. you can only find on Blu-ray; and among the various places you can find these elusive import HD-DVDs are Amazon.com, France, and xploitedcinema.com. For a list of many current HD-DVD releases worldwide, you might also check out Microsoft's Web site under "Music and Video/HD-DVD" and go from there.
The nice thing is that (again, as of this writing) there is no region coding enforced on the discs. European HD-DVDs will work in American players and vice versa. How long this situation will last I don't know, but for the time being it makes buying HD-DVDs a lot simpler. And as far as buying HD-DVD import discs from Europe, if my experience is any indication, it's pretty easy, too. It's a bit more expensive than you would pay in the U.S. for an HD disc when you include the postage, but when you face the choice of paying a little more or not having something at all, the few extra dollars may be worth it.
First, let's talk about the movie. You will remember from the initial film in the trilogy, "The Terminator," that the first terminator cyborg failed to change history. Its makers had sent it back from the future to kill the one person, John Connor, who would eventually stop the machines from taking over the world; they intended to kill him before he was ever born. In that movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger played the bad cyborg terminator, a career move that seemed pretty risky for the actor at the time but turned out to be the best thing he ever did.
In this second installment, the future machines send out another indestructible metal man, a T-1000 (Robert Patrick), to kill Connor (Edward Furlong), by now a teenager. And in yet another of Big Arnold's fortuitous career moves, he plays a second terminator sent back from the good-guy humans of the future to protect young John and his mother (Linda Hamilton). Now, you understand that if it were just the Schwarzenegger cyborg against any old cyborg, it would be no contest. So, the new evil robot is more technologically advanced. It has the ability to imitate in molten metal any nonmechanical object it sees, so Arnold's rather old-fashioned T-800 model is up against a seemingly hopeless situation in this terminator-vs-terminator confrontation. But it's Arnold. What more do you need? This is the guy who not only made two great "Terminator" pictures and third OK one, but became governor of California in the process. The guy can transform himself into anything and beat the odds.
When Arnold shows up in the present (what would we do in science fiction without time travel?), he found that John Connor's mother had raised him to believe that robots would soon destroy the world, and that he would have to lead the war against the machines. However, people thought his mother was nuts and committed her to a mental institution, leaving young John in the care of foster parents, which is where our present movie begins. John had never believed his mother until the two terminator robots show up, and he finally realizes that his mother was right all along.
Here's the thing: Left to its own devices as a pure action flick, "T2" works commendably well. It has all the fast-paced fighting, explosions, chases, and the like that mark an engrossing actioner. But it has something more: It has heart. The T-800, without feeling, without the knowledge of good or bad, love or hate, nevertheless becomes an effective paternal figure for the rebellious young man who has never known his real father. When the picture comes to its finale, I guarantee it will move even the most flint-hearted souls.
What's more, "Terminator 2" was a pioneering film in the development of computer-generated imagery. It was not the first film to use CGI, mind you; filmmakers had used computer effects for a decade or more previously. But it was the first film most of us remember using them to such an extent that we literally oohed and aahed about them. It would be almost two more years before "Jurassic Park" would augment the world of CGI further, and the rest is history.
If there are any flaws in the video quality of this HD-DVD, I missed them. The picture displays no noise, lines, flecks, fades, scratches, or grit that I could see. What little grain that shows up is undoubtedly inherent to the original print. Definition is as good as on any high-definition disc I've seen, and colors in daylight scenes are as natural as you'll find, although a trifle light at times. If I had to comment on any issue at all, it might be that in some shots, the picture doesn't look as bright or the hues as deep as I expected them to be. The colors are a bit lighter than usual in an HD-DVD, yet perfectly realistic. Frankly, I'd rather have them like this than being too dark or oversaturated, which is the way a few HD-DVDs look.
By comparison to the standard-definition "Ultimate Edition DVD," the picture quality of the new HD-DVD is sharper and cleaner, as expected. The HD-DVD shows up at a 2.40:1 theatrical ratio and the overall definition looks good. Additionally, the SD version shows the same image lightness in the same few scenes that I noticed before, so like what little grain there is, it is probably also inherent to the original print.
The Studio Canal sound engineers provide a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, which does everything one could ask of it. Cameron made "T2" a few years before multichannel sound became the ubiquitous system we know today in homes and theaters, so the filmmaker probably wasn't thinking of surround effects in the same way back then as he would today. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of rear-channel activity, especially in the big fight and chase sequences. Mainly, the audio shows its strengths in its wide frequency response (the bass thunders), its strong dynamic contrasts, its powerful dynamic punch, and the all-around tautness and clarity of its reproduction.
Again, by comparison to the SD edition, the sound of the HD-DVD is tighter, clearer, more dynamic, and seemingly more ambient. The HD soundtrack is also several decibels louder, so during comparisons I had to readjust the output levels. Even so, it was no contest. The HD-DVD is the obvious winner in every category.
Disc one of this two-disc set contains the HD theatrical version of the movie, and here's the bad part about it: If you want it in English, you have to put up with French subtitles that you cannot remove. I know; it's goofy. Why Studio Canal chose to do this I have no idea, and for me it renders the theatrical version practically useless because I find these meaningless subtitles distracting. Fortunately, the Director's Cut on the second disc presents no such concern, so just figure that you're getting the theatrical version (French subtitles and all) as a freebie. The Director's Cut is all I figured I was getting in the first place, so it's "no problemo." English and French are the spoken languages involved, with French, Dutch, and German subtitles, and twelve scene selections.
Disc two contains the HD Director's Cut of the movie. English is the only spoken language, with Dutch, French, and German subtitles. Again, despite the added minutes, there are twelve scene selections.
Both discs contain a widescreen, high-definition promo trailer for various Studio Canal HD-DVDs, including this one; video and audio configuration guides; and optional on-screen information. The two discs come packaged in what looks from the outside like a regular Elite Red HD case, but on the inside has spindles on the walls for two discs, facing each other. Since there is no chapter insert involved, it works out fine.
Without question, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is the best of its breed. It is a milestone in the evolution of action films and their now-omnipresent computer-generated imagery. Needless to say, in HD-DVD "T2" looks and sounds better than ever, and it surpasses any previous incarnation of it I've experienced for the home.
"The unknown future rolls towards 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." --Linda Hamilton, "T2"