THE TERMINATOR: Blu-Ray (Orion/Hemdale 1984) MGM Home Video
In the years before real-life looming human catastrophes – pandemics, global warming, terrorism, and, ‘end of days’ scenarios took their place as centrally important themes in the North American pop landscape, Hollywood occasionally found it quite up-to-the-minute to ravage theater audiences with 'what if?' projections about futurism run amok, to curse and decimate the human race to near extinction. These would eventually become more the fashion than the norm. But director, James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) remains one of the most soberingly creative. As scripted by Cameron, Gail Anne Hurd and William Wisher Jr. the tale of a post-apocalyptic 2029, where artificial intelligence seeks to obliterate mankind from the earth, in 1984 seemed quaintly compelling, yet totally unrealistic. After all, these were the days before either the 'thinking computer' or the internet had emerged, both technological advancements, since, to have ironically brought us a lot closer to The Terminator's apocalyptic visions of a tomorrow fast approaching. If anything, The Terminator’s message about mankind systematically endeavoring to destroy itself, not only seems to ring with an ominous sincerity for the trajectory of our species, but also portends to an end to life on this planet as we have come to know it and, in hindsight, rather grotesquely, have taken too much for granted.
In the battle for survival, the humans have a small chance at defeating the machines, prompting the latter to send back through time to Los Angeles, circa 1984, a cyborg assassin programmed to kill one, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the as yet unborn future leader of the human resistance. This killer - a terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) will stop at nothing to see that Sarah never realizes her future destiny. All is not lost, however, as the human faction have also mastered a teleportation device to beam back Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), the father of Sarah's, as yet, unborn baby. The Terminator arrives first and sets about assassinating anyone in the L.A. phone directory who has the name, Sarah Connor. Oblivious to the danger she is in, Sarah and her roommate Ginger Ventura (Bess Motta) plan a night out on the town with Ginger's boyfriend, Matt Buchanan (Rick Rossovich) and a blind date for Sarah who never shows up. Unhappy chance for Ginger and Matt, because the Terminator arrives for his next kill at the apartment Ginger shares with Sarah after she has already left.
Meanwhile, Sarah learns of the serial killings of two other women with her name and attempts to warn Ginger by phone. Leaving the safety of the restaurant, Sarah next finds herself being followed down a lonely street by Kyle. Believing he is the serial killer, Sarah ducks into a dance club where the real Terminator is waiting to kill her. Kyle enters. In the hailstorm of gunfire exchanged between him and the Terminator many are wounded. But Kyle rescues Sarah from certain death. After a harrowing car chase, police arrest Sarah and Kyle, taking them to the local precinct where Sarah is informed by Police Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield), Ginger and Matt are dead. Driving a stolen vehicle through the front window of the station, the Terminator proceeds to annihilate the entire police force. Kyle and Sarah narrowly escape and, for the next several days, Kyle reveals to Sarah of her role in preventing the end of mankind. Sarah reluctantly accepts her lot and she and Kyle make love, thus, impregnating her with humanity’s salvation. After several close shaves, the Terminator catches up to Kyle and Sarah inside an abandoned factory. Kyle valiantly attempts to stop the Terminator from murdering Sarah but is killed by the machine instead, leaving Sarah to fend for herself. She succeeds by crushing the skeletal remains of her futurist assassin in a machine press. However, several months later, Sarah is seen pregnant and driving her jeep into a gas stop near the U.S./ Mexican border. The old proprietor of the establishment tells her there is a storm coming - referring to inclement weather on the horizon - but to which, the now world-wise, Sarah soberly declares "I know."
Produced on a shoestring budget for Hemdale and Orion Pictures, The Terminator went on to gross $78 million worldwide and establish both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as forces to be reckoned with in the film industry. Initially, Cameron conceived of the Terminator as a small man who would conspicuously blend into the background. Offering the part first to Lance Henriksen (who would end up playing Police Detective Hal Vukovich instead), Cameron was forced to rethink his casting when his pick for Reese - Arnold Schwarzenegger - expressed his interest in playing the evil cyborg instead. It was a pivotal decision in Schwarzenegger's then precariously-perched movie career, and, Schwarzenegger’s success in the role would ultimately catapult this, as yet relatively unknown hulk of a bodybuilder from Graz, Austria, into movie-land’s latest super-star. Viewed today, The Terminator isn't quite as impressive or apocalyptic as it seemed in 1984; perhaps, partly as advances made in SFX have rendered much of the full-scale and model-work pyrotechnics quaintly surreal and decidedly tame by comparison. Regardless, the movie still has teeth, primarily as Schwarzenegger's steely-eyed methodical menacing remains its biggest asset. This, coupled with the sheer size of the man then, decidedly buff and in prime conditioning, renders Schwarzenegger’s cyborg utterly convincing at a glance.
MGM Home Video's Blu-Ray exhibits an impressive image that, owing to the movie’s budget, generally lacks the overall punch and finesse one generally associates with hi-def mastering. Color fidelity is good, remaining relatively true to the organic film-based look. Flesh tones are more accurately realized, with Schwarzenegger's pasty make-up giving his cyborg skin a slightly artificial sheen that suits the character well. Fine details are occasionally wanting, but in close-up we can actually make out skin pores and hair follicles. Establishing shots are rendered slightly softer with a decided loss in background detail. Overall, the visuals are solid and will not disappoint, even if they never entirely impress, creating that ‘wow’ factor. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital, dated but adequate for this presentation. Extras are direct imports from MGM/Fox’s DVD and include a look back with candid interviews from James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as a peak behind the scenes at Stan Winston's then state of the art effects.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)