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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Terminators Compared ...

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Apr/May 2001, v.32/2

The Terminator cover The Terminator
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn
Terminator 2 cover Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick and Edward Furlong
Movie: A, Picture: A, Sound: A, Extras: A Movie: A, Picture: A-, Sound: A-, Extras: D
In the early 80s a totally unknown would-be director managed to scrape together the money for what film distributor Orion thought would be a cheap and nasty thriller. A thriller it became, but James Cameron also proved himself a master story teller. It was The Terminator that made Cameron's career.

So eagerly did I await the DVD release that I didn't wait. I bought the US version. It's in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, non-anamorphic and NTSC, so the picture quality is meagre. Now a PAL Region 4 version is available from MGM.

With one minor deficiency, this constitutes the definitive version of The Terminator. The picture quality is excellent, with great detail, sharpness and good colour graduations, yet few visible artifacts. So good that the stop animation and miniatures photography is less convincing than on a well-worn video tape. This demonstrates that citing the 'age of the movie' as an excuse for poor picture quality won't stand up any more.

The sound is simply excellent -- too excellent. This constitutes my only criticism of this DVD. The Terminator was made with mono sound (it was low budget, after all). Whoever did the sound on this release (I was unable to find any DVD production credits) has done a brilliant job on the immersive 5.1 channel Dolby Digital sound track (those bullets hitting the back of the car behind you are scary!). But for reasons of purity, I would have liked the original mono soundtrack as well.

The movie is on one DVD. A couple of excellent documentaries are on the second, along with trailers, the original script, still photos and a number of deleted scenes. These complete the movie. Pity they are aren't in it.

Get this classic. You won't see a better version until HD-DVD appears.

Sequels are never as good as the original, so says convention. Terminator 2: Judgment Day provides the convention wrong. Is it better than T1?

Certainly the special effects were more deftly achieved (resulting in two of the movie's four Oscars), but then more money was available and Industrial Light and Magic were engaged to help out. In reality, the reason T2 can seem better than T1 is because of its interplay with its predecessor. The parallels -- Arnie's arrival presaged by swirling trash; Arnie's inimitable way of obtaining apparel -- enhance the surprising role reversal. Linda Hamilton's performance is more mature and consequently also more powerful, and she is ably supported by the young Edward Furlong. Despite being a robot and consequently acting robotically, Arnold manages to exude pathos by the movie's end.

This DVD was mastered at a French facility and defaults to the French language. Since this and the English stereo sound track are encoded in MPEG (not Dolby Digital as indicated on the packaging), watchers may be perturbed by the complete lack of sound. There are few home theatre receivers with MPEG decoders. But this is easily overcome by flicking the Audio key on the remote to the English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track. This uses the higher standard 448kb/s encoding and does a pretty good job, although without quite the flashy use of the surround channels exhibited by T1, and a slightly rougher edge on the treble.

The picture quality is also fine, nearly on a par with T1, but not quite to reference standard. This is perhaps mostly to do with much of the action taking place at night. Of extras, there is but a single theatrical trailer.

Don't judge between T1 and T2. Consider them two episodes of a longer, satisfying story told by a great story-teller.

Aspect: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English, Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s
Subtitles: English, English for the hard of hearing, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, Polish, Greek, Hungarian, Hebrew, Turkish
Features: Two documentaries, Deleted scenes, Stills, Scripts, Trailers
Aspect: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English, Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s; English, MPEG 2.0, approx 150kb/s; French, MPEG 2.0, approx 150kb/s
Subtitles: French, English, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish
Features: Theatrical trailer

© 2001-2005, Stephen Dawson