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Terminator Salvation (2009)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/1/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/27/2009

In my recent review for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete Second Season, I wrote about how the Terminator franchise had suffered over the years, culminating in that weak television show. I also wrote "I've yet to see the recent Terminator Salvation, but with McG at the helm, I don't have high hopes.", and I stand beside that statement. McG's three previous feature films -- Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and We Are Marshall -- had all been disappointments. (Especially We Are Marshall. How did he manage to sap all emotion out of that premise?) So, as you can probably guess, I went into Terminator Salvation with low expectations.

Unlike the other feature films in the Terminator franchise, Terminator Salvation does not take place in the present. The year is 2018, and, as we've seen in the other movies, "Judgment Day" has taken place and the war between the machines and humans is in full-swing. John Connor (Christian Bale) is a high-ranking soldier in the Resistance, a group who fights against SkyNet and the Terminators which it has created. As the story begins, John has lead a team into a SkyNet lair, a mission which ends in disaster. With John, the lone survivor, leaving the scene, a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) emerges from the ruined area. We had previously seen Marcus in a brief scene at the film's opening, where he was on Death Row in 2003 and had donated his body to science. Naked and bewildered, Marcus begins making his way across the desert.

From here, the story goes in two directions. John returns to his base-camp where he confers with his wife, Serena (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his right-hand man, Barnes (Common). He learns that the Resistance has a new weapon which could end the war and he's anxious to use it. He also learns that a SkyNet hit-list has been intercepted and that John is number two on the list. The top spot is held by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who John knows is his father. John decides that he must find Kyle. Meanwhile, Marcus arrives in Los Angeles, which is in ruins. He meets Kyle and a young girl named Star (Jadagrace). They tell the confused man about Judgment Day and the Terminators. The group, hearing a radio broadcast from John Connor, decide to find Resistance HQ. Unbeknownst to anyone, their paths will soon cross as revelations about made about the characters and the future of SkyNet.

Football analysts will tell you that when surrounded by a group of outstanding players, a mediocre quarterback can lead a team to victory. A similar situation occurs with Terminator Salvation. A strong cast and a creative screenplay help to keep McG in the game. Along the way, he doesn't foul things up and is able to come away with a victory. Actually, he seems to be learning about feature-film directing. In Charlie's Angels, there was too much "Hey Mom, look at me!" camerawork and he created the wrong tone in We Are Marshall. Here, McG delivers well-staged action scenes and simply lets the story play out at a natural pace. At no time did I role my eyes and feel that posturing was getting in the way of delivering a solid film.

Back to those key ingredients, the cast definitely give the film a boost. In films such as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Christian Bale has certainly proven that he can be intense, and that perspective brings a lot of the role of John Connor. This is a man who has seen humanity taken to the brink, knowing full-well that he's expected to save it. Bale must be dark, but also show that he truly cares about what he is doing. Relative newcomer Sam Worthington brings a lot to the role of Marcus and on some levels, it's more demanding than that of John Connor, as Marcus goes on a total emotional journey. Anton Yelchin may seem like an odd choice for Kyle Reese (he's going to grow up to be Michael Biehn?), but he's likable in the role.

The thing which impressed me most about Terminator Salvation was the script, which is credited to longtime writing partners John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris. In an interesting move, the story here wisely diverts from the previous three films by setting the action in the future. Gone are the battles in a modern cityscape, having been replaced with treks across a scorched world. However, the film is littered with references to the earlier movies, and fans of the series will do well to pay attention to everything from individual shots to soundtrack choices, as many elements reflect the other movies. Yes, the story is a mixture of other apocalyptic and war films, but the combination works. The script hits the right emotional notes while keeping the action coming.

I must say that I was impressed with Terminator Salvation. What could have been just another stupid, loud summertime sequel (I'm looking at you, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) proved to be a fun action film. There are some huge plotholes here and it's my understanding that the long trailer for the film (which I never saw for some reason) gives away a major plot point, but that doesn't change the fact that Terminator Salvation is a fast-paced, semi-intelligent sci-fi ride which doesn't try to best Terminator or Terminator 2, but simply wants to be an enjoyable companion piece to those classics.

Terminator Salvation can't escape from the Hunter-Killers on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing very little grain and no defects from the source material. This is a dark film, but the image is never overly dark or bright and the action is always visible. The colors, what little that we get to see here, look good. The image has very impressive detail and in key scenes, we can see textures very well. The depth is good as well, making the landscape shots look great. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. I'll be brief: This track is awesome! This film contains some very creative sound effects and they sound great here. The stereo effects are very detailed and show excellent stereo separation. The surround sound effects are nearly constant and really give the movie presence. The movement of sound from the front to rear is great. The subwoofer effects are noteworthy, as key scenes will have your system rocking. Definitely demo disc material.

The extra features in the Terminator Salvation Blu-ray set are found on the Disc which houses the theatrical cut of the film. The Theatrical Cut can be viewed with "Maximum Movie Mode" which is hosted by McG. This offers a host of information from pop-up factoids to picture-in-picture segments. The "Focus Points" of the piece can be viewed individually, and consist of 11 segments which average about 2 1/2 minutes apiece. These are filled with behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the filmmakers. "Reforging the Future" (19 minutes) is a detailed making-of featurette which offers on-set footage and comments from the cast and filmmakers. The piece looks at how Terminator Salvation fits into the movie franchise. From there, we see a look at the film's production. "The Moto-Terminator" (9 minutes) explores the design and creation of the motorcycle with a mind of its own.

Warner Home Video has also brought Terminator Salvation to DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only slight grain at times and no defects from the source material. The picture is very good, but it's not as crisp as the Blu-ray Disc. It's never too dark or bright, and for DVD, it has a nice level of detail. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While not as dynamic as the Blu-ray track, this track delivers excellent stereo, surround and subwoofer effects. The audio effects are properly placed and they truly help the action scenes come to life.

There are no extras on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long