When DVD first arrived as a home video format, the notion of added content was its biggest selling point. Fans of films that had previously been presented sans extras were now salivating – cinematically speaking – over the wealth of information this new presentation paradigm could provide. And indeed, throughout the years, companies have made it their goal to take favored titles and reissue them with a larger and larger assortment of bonus features. Now comes Blu-ray, a technology that allows even more information to be packed onto each plastic covered aluminum disc – and with it, the clear notion of digital features overkill. A prime example of this desire to overindulge comes with Lionsgate’s latest release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While this is not the first time the movie has been offered in a “special edition” package, the sheer wealth of material here is enough to make a motion picture aficionado sit up and shout “No More!”
For those unfamiliar with the genre-changing effort, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is everything writer/director James Cameron’s first installment in the burgeoning franchise offered times 20. It’s bigger, more ambitious, loaded with special effects (including the then novel seamless introduction of CGI), and takes the story of a time traveling robot bent on assassinating the man responsible for a rebellion in a future war between humans and machines and twists the allegiances and the possible outcomes. It offered bodybuilder turned cultural superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to expand on his iconic role, brought newcomers Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick into the mix, and made Linda Hamilton into a lean, mean female fighting badass. With action amped over into warp drive and stunning visual acumen, Cameron reset the standard for future shock thrillers, something follow-up filmmakers have been cribbing since its debut 18 years ago.
As plots go, things are kind of complicated. When Sarah Connor, the target of the first film’s relentless murder machine, is institutionalized for her compelling if quite insane story of robots and nukes, her son John is taken away and placed with foster parents. Growing up angry and disaffected, the boy spends his days defying authority, his nights wondering if his mother’s stories about a Terminator and the end of the world are true. Sure enough, a T-100 model returns to 1990s Earth bent on one mission – protecting John and his mother. It seems the machines have developed a liquid metal version of the programmed killer, and have sent it back to stop the Connors once and for all.
The stakes remain the same – if the Terminator isn’t successful, John will grow up to become a famous leader, helping the rest of humanity battle back against corporate juggernaut Skynet and its race of intelligent machines. If it can succeed, then the moment of Judgment Day will arrive, the now intelligent technology will control the planet and all will be lost. In essence, we have a war set up between old school and advanced versions of the same technology, with the Connors – and scientist Miles Bennett Dyson – in the middle.
In any one of the three versions available on the this “Skynet Edition” Blu-ray (more on this in a moment), Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a brilliant amalgamation of artistic ambition, celluloid know-how, creative capabilities, and speculative fiction fallacy. It’s a wonderful sequel, the kind of revisit that actually makes the concept of a continuing film series seem sensible. Cameron, who cemented his case for consideration as a visionary/auteur/outright pain in the ass with this over the top talent showcase, would parlay this experience into a pair of remarkable movies – 1994’s True Lies (which deserves this kind of digital treatment, by the way) and the multiple Oscar winning Titanic. Since then, he’s indulged in personal whims while preparing mankind for the next step in the evolution of cinema, the 3D computer generated science fiction epic Avatar. But Terminator 2 is where he finally found the balance that had avoided him since his original foray into the world of Sarah Connor and her place in planetary history.
Viewed 18 years after its original release, it remains a definitive statement. The special effects work here is still jawdropping, with the physical effects by the late great Stan Winston more than stunning, especially when you consider how they had to mesh perfectly with the images coming out of the studio’s supercomputers. The CG is basic but very believable, still expert at illustrating how this visual tweak can be used to accentuate, not overwhelm, a narrative. From the brutal sadism of the playground/A-bomb attack to the various examples of morphing, Cameron pushed the boundaries and then reinvented the margins to move even further beyond them. Thanks to the wonderful performances from everyone involved – including Patrick who one-ups the take on the technological assassin that Schwarzenegger nailed back in ’84 – and the tireless efforts of an entire directory of stuntmen and coordinators, the first legitimate action spectacular was born – and still stands today.
Indeed, Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘s effect on the cinematic category has been profound. While the notion of sentient computers taking over the world has been around for decades, Cameron gave them a face, a fight, and a psychologically sound means of approaching their aims. He also drew on elements and ideas mastered by previous sci-fi giants like Harlan Ellison and Arthur C. Clarke. He gave geeks a reason to celebrate and novice nerds a chance to indulge in their greatest film fantasies – and he made it all mainstream enough so that even the average moviegoer could step in and experience his universe without feeling completely overwhelmed by science and scope. As the fourth film in the franchise prepares to bow in Summer 2009 sans Cameron’s careful input (he had little to do with the decision to make said sequels, feeling he has “told” the story in T2), its clear that the man has made a lasting impression on motion picture speculative fiction.
But does such a statement deserve endless exaggeration and reinvention? DVD, to its benefit, has allowed several catalogs worth of information to be divvied up and dispersed among several menus of bonus material. Everything from commentary tracks and EPK-like production featurettes have been developed to explain Terminator 2‘s influence and appeal. Of course, Lionsgate has let loose with several previous editions of the title, each one expanding on the one before to give fans the ‘feeling’ they are getting more for their money. This latest Blu-ray release is no different. If offers the film in both its theatrical cut and expanded director’s version, and just to make matters a little more confusing, there’s an “extended special edition” which tacks on a happier ending to the longer adaptation. Cameron and Winston are everywhere, as are the other actors and crewmembers responsible. There are interactive facets, picture-in-picture variables, deleted scenes, and lots and lots of production featurettes. As for the purely technical elements, fans can rejoice in receiving a marvelous audio upgrade from pervious format takes. For purists, the supposedly flawless transfer may leave a little to be desired (though the image does look stunning from a novice’s perspective). Complaints are best reserved for a late night Google search.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the release is the Internet link capabilities. As “Skynet” accesses information over the web, you suddenly see a map of the world materialize on your flatscreen. The computer announces that it has located you, and is accessing “target” information – and sure enough, hometown data and other pertinent quasi-personal statistics start showing up. All these bells and whistles make the Blu-ray experience more interactive than DVD ever was, but the question is clearly one of marketing. After all, fans of this film love it for what it represents artistically and action-wise, not for how clever a company can be in repackaging and promoting it. Bad films are never ‘bettered’ by a sudden content upgrade on home video. Conversely, a great movie can be marginalized by a notion of commercial compensation and consumer con jobbing. This latest Blu-ray may not be “definitive” in the minds of some, but it’s a great format update for those new to the technologies expanded capabilities. It comes close to overkill, but then so does the film featured.