For those folks who have Blu-ray players but somehow missed getting one or more of the four “Terminator” films in high-def, here they are in a big box set from Warner Bros.  No, WB didn’t produce the first two films, MGM and Carolco among others did, but WB got the rights to distribute them all together, so here they are, in a five-disc set, a foldout Digipak container, and a handsome slipcase.  The only minor snags are, first, it’s a Best Buy exclusive; if you don’t have a Best Buy store nearby, you’ll have to order it on-line from them.  And, second, the BDs are the same ones MGM, Lionsgate, and WB already released, with no upgrades or remasterings in the new set.

The Terminator
“The Terminator” was a turning point in Big Arnold’s career, the first time he played a bona fide villain in a movie.  Unlike his fellow superhero actors, he proved willing to take chances and follow a film path that would benefit from his reaching beyond his biceps.  For a lot of folks, “The Terminator” from 1984 remains the quintessential Schwarzenegger movie, relatively unencumbered by the special-effects excesses of later projects.

It apparently took some persuasion on director James Cameron’s part to get Schwarzenegger to play the role of the heavy.  Initially, the actor and director assumed Arnold would play the hero’s part, Kyle Reese, which went instead to Michael Biehn.  But Cameron said the moment he looked at Arnold across a lunch table, it convinced him this was his evil cyborg, his ultimate killing machine.  “The Terminator” is, as you recall, an advanced robot from the year 2029 that comes back from the future to terminate a woman, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who will give birth to a man who would become the ultimate threat to the robots’ existence.  Seems that in the near future machines take over the world after a nuclear war wipes out most of Mankind.  The Terminator is an appliance with humanlike flesh over its metal substructure, strong as a bull, single-minded to a fault, relentless, and remorseless.  In the future, Sarah’s son, John Connor, would lead a resistance to the machines, so the machines use a time-displacement device to go back and make sure he never gets born!  The Terminator’s programmed assignment is to kill Sarah Connor, and nothing will deter him from his job in this high-octane, tech-noir adventure.

“The Terminator” is a good sci-fi fantasy, and with Schwarzenegger remaining totally in character throughout, with Hamilton’s waitress a frightened, bewildered, and later strengthened heroine, with Biehn’s Reese a stalwart warrior, and with James Cameron’s direction innovative and fast paced, the movie is probably better than its subject matter.  My only disappointment was always with the miniatures used for the war sequences, which still don’t look to me too convincing.  Fortunately, it’s a small matter that pales next to the film’s personal drama and nonstop action.

The debate will undoubtedly continue over which “Terminator” film is best, this one or “T2,” but it seems a pointless exercise.  Both films are good in their own ways, “T2” employing more computer graphics for its thrilling events, “The Terminator” more raw energy.  In the sci-fi action field, both “Terminators” are hard to beat.

MGM used a single-layer BD25, an MPEG-2 codec, and a fairly low bit rate to transfer this first film to Blu-ray, retaining its 1.85:1 screen ratio.  They obtained a good, clean print, but it’s a dark movie, and with a moderately soft image, it’s the least good-looking of the four films.  The picture quality is a little gritty most of the time and a bit dull and veiled in dimmer light, which is most of the time.

MGM engineers deliver a lossless PCM 5.1 remix that provides not only good channel separation across the front channels but a good deal of material in the rear and side speakers as well, producing an aural experience almost the equal of “T2.”  What’s more, the dynamics and frequency range are quite strong, recreating an exciting, lifelike quality with gut-thumping bass.  It’s impressively taut sound, with equally impressive surround effects.

Among the extras we find two featurettes:  The first is “Creating the Terminator:  Visual Effects and Music,” about thirty minutes and self-explanatory.   The second is “The Terminator: A Retrospective,” about twenty minutes, comprising interviews mainly with Cameron and Schwarzenegger made in 1986 and 1992.   After those items, there are seven “Terminated” or deleted scenes; and several previews of other releases:  “S.W.A.T., “Underworld:  Evolution,” and “xXx.”

The extras conclude with sixteen scene selections; English and French spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Terminator 2:  Judgment Day
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.

You will remember from the initial film in the series, “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 the 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 filmmakers have made the new evil robot more technologically advanced than Arnold’s machine.  The new villain has the ability to imitate in molten metal any nonmechanical object it sees or touches, 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 a third OK one, but became the governor of California in the process.  The guy can transform himself into anything and beat the odds.  “Trust me.”

When Arnold shows up in the present (what would we do in science fiction without time travel?), he finds that John Connor’s mother has 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 father figure for the rebellious young man who has never known a real dad.  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 “T2” 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” came out to augment the world of CGI further, and the rest is history.

Without question, “Terminator 2:  Judgment Day” is the best of its breed.  It’s a milestone in the evolution of action films and their now-omnipresent CGI.

Lionsgate used a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 encode for the Blu-ray transfer, but they seem to have used much of the disc space for bonus materials because the bit rate is relatively low.  Still, the 2.40:1 ratio picture is more than acceptable, very clean if a little soft and a tad veiled in dimmer lit shots.  Colors are natural, particularly in bright scenes where they radiate a clear, lifelike glow.  The “however” is that there is a kind of ultrasmooth, filtered look to the picture, which will delight viewers who hate print grain and probably annoy audiophiles who want the sharpest image possible.

The audio engineers provide a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 soundtrack that provides plenty of side and rear-channel activity, especially in the big fight and chase sequences.  Indeed, the audio shows its strengths in its wide frequency response (the bass thunders), its strong dynamic contrasts (things explode with vigor), its powerful dynamic punch, and the all-around tautness and clarity of its reproduction.

What we get with “T2” is Lionsgate’s Skynet Edition, with all the bells and whistles (the slipcover claims you get over eight hours of material here).  The primary thing is that you can choose among three different variations of the movie:  the theatrical version at 137 minutes, the Special Edition at 154 minutes, and the Extended Special Edition at 156 minutes.  The latter version requires that you punch in a special secret code (hint, try 82997).

Next up, we find a series of bonus items that include two audio commentaries, one by co-writer and director James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher and the other by members of the production crew.  Then, you can “Browse Timeline” (chapter selections); access various “Interactive Modes” depending on the movie version you’ve chosen; check out featurettes in “Visual Implants”; and peruse a “Trivia Data Overlay,” a “Linked Data Module,” some “Source Code Schematics,” a “Query Mode,” and “Processor Tests.”  Next, Under “Ancillary Data” there are, deleted scenes, “T-1000’s Search,” “Future Coda,” and “Dyson Protocol List,” and five teaser and theatrical trailers.

Finally, the disc contains a “Skynet Access” connection to the Internet (BD-Live, which if you don’t have your player connected to the Internet delays the disc’s boot-up time by about six hours); a whopping eighty scene selections; bookmarks; D-Box functionality; a THX Optimizer; English and French spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and Dolby 2.0 headphones.

Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines
Arnold always said he’d be back.  Obviously, he meant it.  The question was, could he pull it off?  After all, Schwarzenegger was fifty-five when he returned as the muscular futuristic cyborg.  I’m happy to say yes, he did pull it off, his physique looking a little less muscle-bound and a little more human now but still as chiseled as ever, and, even more happily, his character every bit the dogged machine it always was.  Apparently, the intensive exercise he went through to put himself back into shape for the role paid off, and because his face is either that of a machine or heavily made up, the years hardly show.  The movie may not be quite up to the standards of its predecessors, but at least its star is up to par.

The things that set the first two “Terminator” movies apart from the rest of the action crowd were originality and spirit in the first instance and heart in the second.  Schwarzenegger made the career choices of a lifetime (screen career, apart from his political career) by accepting the role of a villain in the first film and then coming back in a sympathetic tearjerker role in the second.  The oddball father-son relationship between his T-800 protector and the adolescent John Connor made for terrific screen chemistry.  This third “Terminator,” unfortunately, has none of the best qualities of its precursors.  It is no longer original or innovative, its action largely dominated by chases and its heart almost entirely gone.  Does that make it bad movie?  Not on your life.  It’s just not as good as the first two.

You’ll remember from the previous episodes of this continuously circular saga that in the near future machines of our own making had almost taken over Earth, and because a pesky bunch of resistance fighters led by one John Connor were annoying them, the machines decided to send a cyborg, a robot, back in time to eliminate Connor before he was born.  Neither of the first two tries was successful, and in this third attempt on his life the machines have designed an even more potent weapon, a Terminatrix, or T-X, in the form of a shapely female.  Just why she needs to look like a beautiful young woman is really not so relevant to the plot as it is to good, old-fashioned sex appeal.  You’ll recall, for instance, that nobody, human or machine, can go through the time portal with clothes on.  This new Ms. T-X (Kristanna Loken) is about the only thing different in the new movie, but you’ll not hear a complaint from me about watching so comely a robot.  Besides being easy on the eyes, Ms. T-X has an all-new arsenal of gadgets and weaponry, plus she is “faster, more powerful, and more intelligent” than any previous model.  Her makers designed her to terminate not only people but other Terminators.  She’s “an anti-Terminator Terminator.”

So, it’s ten years down the road from “T2,” and John Connor (now played by Nick Stahl) is in his early twenties.  His mother has died and John is hiding out, worried that the future will find him.  It does, as Ms. T-X comes through the portal looking for him and for everybody who ever had anything to do with him.  While the T-X goes on a rampage killing everyone in sight, John runs into an old school friend, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), an assistant veterinarian who gets roped into the story.  Then Arnold shows up as the obsolete T-800 protector, and the rest of the picture is a seemingly endless succession of chases and fights.

The movie may have little novelty left, but it does have some nifty stunts.  The action is relentless, as are the two robots, with Arnold’s job mainly to deadpan some succinct and often cute comments like “I want your clothes,” “I’ll drive,” “You need a new vehicle,” and “Talk to the hand.”  He also does a nice deadpan parody of his old entrance in “T2.”

“T3” gets an R rating like the rest of its kin, so expect some gory scenes, but there is not as much profanity as one found in “T2.”  Also expect a lot of noise, destruction, and explosions; yet thanks to director Jonathan Mostow (who replaces James Cameron) it’s all so well paced it never becomes completely breathless…just close.  Finally, expect even better special effects than before (computer graphics having come a long since the pioneering days of “T2”), better and more elaborate set designs, and a more open-ended and thought-provoking climax.  Indeed, the finish is one of the best parts of the show and fairly begs for yet another sequel.

“T3” is entertaining for the moment, exciting, even exhilarating in parts, if ultimately an empty exercise in fuss and bother that leaves one oddly dissatisfied.

Warners use a VC-1 codec, a dual-layer BD50, but a fairly low bit rate to transfer the movie to Blu-ray in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1. Despite the skimpy bit rate, the image looks reasonably good, if a little soft (again) in detail.  Colors are realistically natural, although there aren’t a lot of  bright hues involved except in a cemetery sequence; most of the film is fairly subdued.  Black levels vary, darker scenes getting a tad murky, and skin tones are not always as natural as they could be.

The sonics in “T3” are the kind guaranteed to impress your neighbors, even though Warner engineers chose to use only lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 to reproduce the sound.  Nevertheless, the Dolby Digital track produces an extremely dynamic response, featuring some lease-breaking bass if you live in an apartment.  Surround effects are on a par with the best action movies around, meaning the sound envelopes you in explosions front, back, and sides, with bullets, bombs, cars, glass, airplanes, and helicopters flying by in all directions.  If there’s anything in the house the soundtrack won’t rattle, I don’t know what it is.  This isn’t very subtle audio, but neither is the movie.

The BD contains a number of extras, again taking up a lot of the space that might have gone to a higher-bit-rate transfer.  The first of these extras is an “In-Movie Experience” where the filmmakers, mostly director Jonathan Mostow in this case and a few others, talk to us about the movie from little picture-in-picture insets, which also move us behind the scenes of the filmmaking while we’re watching the movie.  This “In-Movie Experience” provides a few interesting insights, but after also listening to ten or fifteen minutes of each of the audio commentaries, I felt I was hearing a lot of material being repeated.  Next, there are three separate audio commentaries, the first one with director Jonathan Mostow and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, and Kristanna Loken; the second with director Jonathan Mostow alone; and the third with other members of the crew.

In addition to all the talk, there is a widescreen theatrical trailer; a “T3” PC game trailer; and a ton of other stuff.  I have to admit I didn’t find much of this bonus material particularly engrossing.  They include a brief introduction by Arnold, followed by a silly bit of footage called the “Sgt. Candy Scene” that, thankfully, you won’t find in the film.  Think of Arnold with a hick hillbilly accent.  After that is an HBO First Look: “The Making of Terminator 3,” lasting about thirteen minutes.  Then, there’s a gag reel, “Terminal Flaws,” that lasts about three minutes.  “Dressed to Kill” gives us info on costume design.  About four minutes worth of storyboards-to-film comparisons come next, and “Toys in Action” is a six-minute chapter on “T3” action figures.

Lastly, there’s an eight-minute promo on “The Making of the Video Game”; thirty-three scene selections; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English and French subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Terminator Salvation
OK, you remember John Connor.  He was the fellow who saved the world, sort of.  Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor had a child, John, who would eventually grow up to defeat the evil Skynet machines that were trying to take over the planet, so the evil machines decided to send a Terminator robot back in time to stop him from ever being born, but they were unsuccessful, sort of, because the world ended anyhow in a series of nuclear explosions, Judgment Day, which Connor stopped again somehow, sort of…and my brain hurts.

The first “Terminator” movie was quite a lot of fun, with the evil Terminator robot out to kill Sarah Connor before she gave birth to son John.  The second movie was even better because it developed the characterizations further and added some touching relationships.  Then “Terminator 3” came along, and, while it didn’t live up to the first two movies, at least it was a good, rousing action yarn.  What all three of these first “Terminator” movies had in common, of course, was Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead, either as the good or bad robot.  Now, we’ve got “Terminator Salvation” (or “T4”) sans Big Arnold, who was in Sacramento at the time trying his best to govern California.  So, instead, we get the Dark Knight as star.  Or, rather, Christian Bale as an adult John Connor often speaking in a hoarse Batman whisper.  But no Arnold.  It ain’t the same.  Except one scene.  Sort of.  Remember, this is Hollywood and the movies.

Now, if you think the previous “Terminator” movies were brain teasers, at least this one, a prequel of sorts, doesn’t play around too much with the time-travel motif.  The story takes place almost entirely in the future, 2018, before the time-travel business of the first three moves starts happening, and it tells us how things are going in the war against the machines, with both John Connor and his father, Kyle Reese, half the son’s age, involved because the father hasn’t gone back in time yet to father the son, but the son is there because the father eventually would.  My brain is hurting again.

The drawback is that without the continuing presence of Arnold and without any notable interpersonal relationships, the movie is mostly loud, blaring battles.  The director, McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol), has several popular films to his credit, but the most popular of all have been the two “Charlie’s Angels” flicks.  You saw them?  Expect more of the same.  Maybe I just look with suspicion upon anyone pretentious enough to call himself by a single name, and an abbreviation at that.  Think Liberace, Cher, Prince (or O(+> or The Artist or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince), or Kennedy (Nigel Kennedy, the violinist, who, thankfully, abandoned the affectation of going by a single moniker).  In any case, McG directs “T4” as he did “Charlie’s Angels,” all fast motion, quick edits, close-ups, fancy visuals, and splashy sound.

The movie begins with a brief back story:  It’s 2003, and the state is executing a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington).  But just before he’s to die, a scientist, Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), from the Cyberdyne Corporation visits him, asking him if after his death they can use his body for experiments.  He agrees.  Then Wright awakens fifteen years later quite alive, unaware that humanity is at war with the machines and not knowing much about who he is or what’s happened to him.

At this same time John Connor is fighting in a small Resistance unit, but the top brass of the movement, including a General Ashdown (played in his usual hard-ass style by hard-assed Michael Ironside; always good to see him back in an action picture), have heard the story of Connor being the chosen one, the savior of Mankind, so they kind of give him some slack.  More than that, they agree when Connor asks to infiltrate Skynet Central and pull the switch that controls the robots.

And so it goes.  Along the way, we also meet Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), another Resistance fighter and a beautiful romantic interest; Star (Jadagrace Berry), a little girl reminiscent of the kid in “Aliens”; Kate Connor (Bryce Dallas Howard), Connor’s pregnant wife, who has virtually nothing to do in the film that I could determine; and the aforementioned Dr. Kogan, who practically disappears after her first scene in the prison.

Basically, though, the film is all about chasing and shooting and stuff blowing up, most of it highly exaggerated.  People get thrown ten feet against solid walls and get up without a scratch; Wright knocks a flying Skynet probe out of the air with a tire iron; in the middle of the desert in broad daylight a two-hundred-foot Terminator (the size of a giant Transformer) sneaks up on a whole group of people without their even noticing it; and so forth.  Oh, and there are almost no trees or vegetation left on Earth after the nuclear holocaust, only endless desert wastes, yet it doesn’t seem to affect the oxygen supply.  I tell you, there isn’t a moment of this film that doesn’t defy logic or credibility.

There is, naturally, continuous conflict, with virtually none of it generating any tension, suspense, excitement, or thrills.  Nor is there any humor in the film; it’s a dour business, with not so much as a single person cracking a smile in the whole course of the story.  OK, I lied; I did laugh out loud once at “I’ll be back.”  You’ve got to have the iconic line in there somewhere.

More detrimental, there are no sympathetic characters in the film, no one to care about.  In past “Terminator” films we had folks to root for, like Sarah Connor or John Connor or Kyle Reese or the good Terminator robots.  Here, the closest thing we have to a hero is Marcus Wright, and we’re really not sure who he is or whether he’s a good guy or not.  And poor John Connor remains a cipher throughout; we know he’s a good guy, but we couldn’t care less if he’s good or bad because he’s so cold and distant.

In all, “Terminator Salvation” is an awfully bleak, dull affair, with little happening beneath the carnage and nobody to cheer.  The Director’s Cut throws in a few more minutes of violence and a moment of partial nudity, but nothing helps, so all we can do is admire the sets, the costumes, the sounds, and the special effects.  It’s not enough.  “Terminator Salvation” is essentially just another loud, empty entry in the action-adventure genre and a not-so-worthy successor to three far-better “Terminator” forerunners.

My guess is that the Blu-ray transfer replicates the original print pretty closely.  It’s just that the original print intentionally doesn’t give the viewer the best, clearest picture quality.  This is a postapocalyptic future, after all, and it’s dark, dim, dusty, dirty, and gritty.  Remember the steel mill at the end of “T2”?  That’s about all we get here.  Warners capture this look with a dual-layer BD50 and VC-1 encode of the movie’s theatrical aspect ratio, 2.40:1.  Yes, the image is deliberately grim, so expect mostly dull gray and brown tones everywhere.  Also expect a somewhat soft appearance at times to replicate the dreariness of the war, excellent detail in close-ups, and mostly decent black levels.

For this one, the audio engineers use lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and, boy, is it loud.  I mean that in both a literal and a figurative sense.  Here, you’ll get some very wide dynamics, with huge crescendos and enormous impact.  Be careful of those speaker cones, though.  The sonic fireworks tend to overwhelm the dialogue on occasion, which is definitely a drawback (although, to be fair, there’s isn’t a lot of meaningful dialogue to matter), and, obviously, the surround activities are up to par for a big action movie.  Crank it up, and you’ll have the neighbors knocking at the door.

Disc one of the two discs devoted to “Terminator Salvation” contains the PG-13-rated theatrical version of the film, 115 minutes, and a series of extras.  The most important of the bonuses is a “Maximum Movie Mode” hosted by director McG that explores the movie as you watch it with walk-ons, Focus Points (brief featurettes), picture-in-picture, storyboards, comparisons, pop-up trivia, still galleries, and a Terminator mythology timeline.  Then, if you want to watch the Focus Points featurettes separately, they’re available.  Furthermore, you’ll find “Re-Forging the Future,” nineteen minutes, telling how the filmmakers reinvented the franchise, and “The Moto-Terminator,” eight minutes, explaining how Ducati motorcycles became Skynet motorcycles.  Disc two, labeled the “Bonus Disc,” contains the R-rated Director’s Cut of the film, 118 minutes; and BD-Live access.

Things wrap up with twenty-seven scene selections; trailers and promos at start-up only; and, depending on the version of the film you choose, English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Thoughts:
In my original reviews I gave “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2” film ratings of 9/10 each.  I gave “Terminator 3” a 7/10 and “Terminator Salvation” a 5/10.  Let’s say they average out to about 8/10 for the set.