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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season (2008)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 8/19/2008

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/20/2008

Creating a spin-off isn't all that challenging. The characters and situations are all in place -- all that you have to do is tweak a few things and you're good to go. However, what if you decided to do a spin-off from a very successful film series and decided that you wanted to ignore one of the movies? And what if that movie had been one of the most expensive movies ever made? Would you alienate the fans? Would you run the risk of dismissing important information? That's the risk taken by the television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The show takes one of the most beloved science-fiction franchises and puts a new spin on it.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after the events of Terminator 2. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son, John Connor (Thomas Dekker), are attempting to lead normal lives. Having destroyed the chip which leads to the creation of SkyNet, and thus, the war between humans and machines, Sarah knows that the future is now secure. However, she is still wanted for murder, so she and John are constantly on the run. They have settled in Nebraska, when John is suddenly attacked by a Terminator. While that event is shocking enough, John and Sarah are even further surprised when Terminator, in the guise of a teenaged girl named Cameron (Summer Glau), comes to John's rescue. The three flee to Los Angeles to try and learn how and why the machines are back. Sarah learns that the John Connor of the future, who will lead the human resistance, has been planning for this and set several things in motion. Cameron finds a hidden time machine and takes herself, Sarah and John to 2007, a time which will better equip them to try and stop the creation of SkyNet. While Sarah attempts to learn who will create SkyNet and struggles to protect John, Cameron must learn to assimilate to the human world.

As implied above, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles totally ignores the existence of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and follows the plotline set in motion by Terminator 2. Is this a wise choice? In this instance, it is. The show splits its focus between the relationship between Sarah and John and their battle to stop machines from taking over the world. Thus, we get a nice formula for a TV show. The show doesn't have the facilities to provide non-stop action (which was all that we got with Terminator 3), so it must rely on the human moments between the characters.

While the show will obviously miff anyone would loved the third film, the writers of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles have crafted the show as a love letter to The Terminator and Terminator 2. The show builds upon the mythology created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. There are many references to those films and to those involved in the movies as well. (I mean, come on, the cyborg is named Cameron! There's also an appearance by a character named Will Wisher, named after the co-writer of Terminator 2.) Fans of the movies will most likely nod in appreciation at the moments which feel as if they would have been at home in those movies. (The one misstep here is that the "Pilot" feels like a re-telling of Terminator 2 at times.)

While the show relies on those movies for its foundation, it does come into its own. The Sarah Connor here isn't as cold as the one scene in T2 (presumably, not worrying about SkyNet for a few years has allowed her to mellow), and we see her struggling with her duties as both a mother and a protector to John. While nothing major happens in this first season, the series hints that we will see John trying to fit in at school and possibly helping others. There are some interesting twists and turns throughout the season, and when a certain character joins the series halfway through, one must respect the creativity going on behind-the-scenes.

Having said that, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles does have some issues. Was it a good idea to have a teenaged girl as a Terminator? On the one hand, it makes sense that John's protector would be someone who appears to be his age, thus it wouldn't look weird for them to be together. On the other hand, this could all be a ploy to get the fanboys excited about a girl who can kick ass. Lena Headey is solid in her performance as Sarha Connor, but she doesn't bring the ferocity, and let's face it, insanity, that Linda Hamilton brought to the role. And while his role in the show grows over time, it seems very trite to have an FBI agent (Richard T. Jones) pursuing John and Sarah. Don't they have enough about which to worry?

We've seen a definite growth spurt in the realm of sci-fi shows in the past decade and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a nice entry into that mix. It pays homage to a great film series without sullying the Terminator name. In just 9 episodes, the show lays groundwork for some interesting storylines, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season comes with me if it wants to live on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The three-disc set contains all 9 episodes from the show's first season. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfers are enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a fine amount of grain in some shots. There are no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the brightness of the image is always appropriate. The image is somewhat soft at times and the level of detail lacks in some shots. There is some mild video noise at times. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides some very nice stereo and surround effects during the action sequences. The stereo separation here is notably good. The action scenes also provide substantial subwoofer effects, especially explosions.

The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season set contains a handful of extras, spread across the discs. The set contains three AUDIO COMMENTARIES. For "Pilot", we have Josh Friedman, James Middleton, David Nutter, and Summer Glau; On "The Turk", we get Josh Friedman, John Wirth, Lena Headey, and Thomas Dekker (both Disc 1), and "What We Behold" features Josh Friedman, Ian Goldberg, Summer Glau, and Brian Austin Green. These are all pretty good talks, as Friedman often leads the way, discussing the story and the production of the show. We learn about locations and the challenges of making an action movie on a TV budget. Disc 1 offers five DELETED SCENES from "Pilot" and one from "The Turk". The Disc also has three making-of featurettes. However, it's odd that they are Disc 1, as some of them examine episodes which are on the other discs, and therefore, contain spoilers. "Creating the Chronicles: Re-Boot" (17 minutes) features comments from the creators and producers who discuss the origin of the show and their goals for the series. There is then a look at the characters, the special effects, and the stunts. "Creating the Chronicles: Future War" (10 minutes) examines how the special effects and sets for the future were created on a TV show budget. "Creating the Chronicles: Demon Hand" (12 minutes) examines this specific episodes. The filmmakers discuss the fact that the episode made a lot of rerences to Terminator 2, and this was a risky move. The Disc also contains a 4-minute GAG REEL.

Disc 2 has one DELETED SCENE from "Dungeons and Dragons". The Disc offers "Cast Audition Tapes" for Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, and Richard T. Jones. "Summer Glau Dance Rehearsal" (2 minutes) shows the actress performing in a dance studio. Why? We get a "Storyboard Animatic" (3 minute) for a scene from "Pilot". Disc 3 holds both the televised version of "The Demon Hand" and a longer extended cut. There are two DELETED SCENES from "The Demon Hand".

Warner Home Video has also brought Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season to Blu-ray Disc. The episodes are letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc offers a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The image doesn't show any of the softness present on the DVD and the picture has a very nice amount of detail. The colors look very good and the image is never overly bright. The image has great depth and there are some nice landscape shots. The Blu-ray has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 640 kbps, so, this is essentially the same track as that found on the DVD. Still, the track sounds very good, as it provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and the same impressive stereo and surround effects.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long