Cameron’s The Terminator of 1984 was and is a well-made piece of sci-fi trash that bears the ingenuity-on-a-budget scars of most Roger Corman graduates. If it proved a breakthrough for Cameron (who then earned the Aliens gig as a follow-up), it was arguably double that for its monosyllabic center, Arnold Schwarzenegger, then considered near-inconceivable as a bankable action star. (As beloved as 1982’s Conan the Barbarian is today, it was a costly bomb at the time.)
It’s almost as if Schwarzenegger took his time-traveling robo-assassin character’s computer-programmed of insult of “Fuck you, asshole” to heart, setting out to prove studio naysayers wrong. He delivered a performance that played to his strengths — which is to say limitations — by speaking sparingly and carrying a big gun. The result is a contemporary classic, a watershed moment for the genre, and a stratosphere-sending role that will continue to define him well beyond his life.
Their long-awaited reunion in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day was an even greater success commercially and creatively. A true epic with more on the mind than making things go boom (although that’s in surplus), the imperfect movie represents a perfect marriage of commerce and creativity. In other words, the $88 million extra Cameron had to play with this time around was not wasted; one senses every penny on the screen, lest we forget how groundbreaking its effects were. (Remember all the “morphing” sequences it beget?)
Had Cameron merely remade the same story, however, T2 may have looked as astounding, without being astounding. His genius was subverting multiplex expectations by flipping Schwarzenegger from the villain to the hero. Expanding the first film’s mythology, rather than just repeating it as a matter of ceremony, Cameron allowed Linda Hamilton to fight instead of flee, and gave her a worthy opponent in Robert Patrick’s lean, mean T-1000 machine.
Frankly, the franchise should have ended there, but half a billion Benjamins have a way of changing minds — well, except the one belonging to Cameron, who had nothing to do with 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Taking over as director was Jonathan Mostow (Surrogates), the sequel still has Schwarzenegger, yet none of the magic. While by no means incompetent, it’s simply average, like a made-for-cable rip-off.
Speaking of television, Fox’s two-season Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was more fun to watch than T3 or 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Directed by McG (This Means War), that final (so far) sequel is a high-wattage, near-future mess for which even Arnie was absent, too busy governing the state of California. Even with Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises) in the lead, this needless fourth chapter is an utter slog to sit through.
So naturally, the worst film is the one of the bunch that merits its own extra disc of bonus features. Each film carries its own — just housed on the same disc — but note that none of the extras are new to this collection. If you own the individual Blu-rays already, there’s no need to double-dip with this Anthology unless you’re just a die-hard for the die-cut cover. Admittedly, it’s a nifty package. —Rod Lott
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