“In the future, a computer program called Skynet will declare war on the human race. Machines have traveled back in time taking human form to terminate John Connor, the future leader of the resistance; Sarah Connor, John’s mother, teacher, and protector; Cameron, a terminator reprogrammed to defend them at all costs; Derek Reese, John’s uncle and a commanding officer with the resistance. Together they fight to stop Skynet from ever being created. The battle for our tomorrow starts today.”
Well actually, to be perfectly honest, it started back in October of 1984 with the release of James Cameron’s blockbuster Terminator. It was the story of a future Armageddon and a machine sent back in time to make sure it happens by killing the mother of the unborn leader of a future resistance. No one saw the success coming, but come it did. With just over a $6 million budget the film brought in over $38 million in the domestic take. That’s not a lot by today’s mega tent pole release standards, but it was huge in 1984. Add another $40 million in overseas box office, and you get quite a return on that money. And so as inevitable as the film’s prophesized Doomsday, a sequel was unavoidable. The film also made a star of an Austrian born bodybuilder who had only television and one film to his credit by that time. A star and a huge franchise was born. The man behind the film, James Cameron, was just as unknown, having helmed a cheesy Piranha sequel as pretty much his only calling card. Who knew then that Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, and the Terminator universe would all go on to become household names. Cameron would go on to bring us Aliens and Titanic. Arnie would become THE action star of the 90’s and end up, of all places, as the Governor of California. Only in America.
But it didn’t end there. Sequels rarely do as well as the original films. It is even rarer for a sequel to surpass the original, not only in box office, but in quality. Cameron and Arnie would get the band back together in 1991 for T2: Judgment Day. The return might not have been as high percentagewise, but T2 brought in over a half billion dollars on a $100 Million budget. Critics and moviegoers alike considered it far better than the original. The film has since become a science fiction milestone. The f/x were groundbreaking, and Arnie was at his best, this time as a friendly terminator sent back to protect the resistance leader as a child from an even deadlier and more advanced machine.
And while a 3rd film was not considered near as good, the Skynet story wasn’t about to end there. A fourth film has made its way to theaters and takes place in that future devastated world. But the present day world hasn’t been forgotten. Now you have Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Blu-ray.
“The truth? In the near future a computer system called Skynet takes over the world. It sends humanoid machines back in time to eliminate anyone who’s a threat. I have a target list. Your names are on it. A machine is coming to kill you. It found your house in the city, now it’s coming here.”
That Sarah Connor’s one tough cookie, and when she comes to help you out, you’d better listen to what she has to say, particularly the part where she says, “RUN”. The show might be called The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but make no mistake. This isn’t really Sarah’s story. It’s John Connor’s story. British actress Lena Heady drops the accent, which has become a bit of a trend lately, and attempts to fill the combat boots that Linda Hamilton wore in the first two films. Good luck with that, Lena. Actually she’s a solid actress who can pull off the action quite nicely, but she’ll never really be Sarah Connor for me. In my opinion, it was a mistake to attempt to recast the role. I know getting Hamilton was likely out of the question, but another protector would have been wiser. Where the casting does get solid is with the show’s other two leads. Thomas Dekker looks and feels like he could have been John Connor. He’s a tough kid with enough chops to take him places in this crazy acting game. The best piece of this television puzzle however is a jewel, indeed. Summer Glau is best known to science fiction fans as the troubled passenger on Joss Whedon’s Firefly series and Serenity film. I have to admit I was pretty skeptical at first. Glau was such a whiny and annoying character on Firefly. She was hands down my least favorite character. Listening to her ramble was akin to nails on chalkboard. But here she shines as the new terminator sent back in time by John Connor himself to protect his younger self from the onslaught of machines sent to kill him. She wears the perfect blend of kick butt action and the bewilderment of a machine attempting to mimic humanity. The terminator’s name is an homage to James Cameron.
The supporting cast is about as strong as you could hope for here:
James Ellison (Richard T. Jones): Ellison began as an FBI agent trying to track down the Connor clan, usually one step behind the carnage. This season he knows what they’re running from, and he wants to help. What he doesn’t know is that he’s now working for the bad guys. He’s a tough guy, but often the show’s heart and moral center. He’s also most representative of us, thrust into this crazy reality.
Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green): Reese was sent from the future and is one of the future John Connor’s most trusted friends and fighters. His brother Kyle is actually John’s father, also sent from the future to protect Sarah in the first film. He’s the expert on the future, and that means the machines and their technology.
Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson): Yes, that’s the same Shirley Manson from Scotland and lead singer for the band Garbage. She even provides vocals for a soft gospel tune in the season premiere. She’s something akin to Robert Patrick’s T-1000 morphing terminator from the second film. There’s a bit of a rights issue at play here, and certain elements of the films are off limits in this series. The model numbers featured in those films are off limits, so we don’t ever get to hear her model number. She runs a new powerful organization which will give birth to Skynet now. I believe that Cyberdyne is also off limits in the series. The project called Babylon is their attempt to create the artificial intelligence that will eventually become Skynet. Ellison has found himself employed by Weaver, not knowing what she really is.
Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin): John Connor now has a love interest, much to the frustration of Mom and Cameron.
Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen): Also from the future, she has an agenda of her own and is Reese’s love interest.
Cromartie/John Henry (Garret Dillahunt): Honestly, this actor looks a lot like Six Feet Under’s Peter Krause. He’s one of the many terminators sent back to kill John or anyone else Skynet fears. He eventually takes on the personality of the artificial intelligence precursor to Skynet itself.
The season starts with a bang. The first episode runs about 8 minutes of explosions, firefights, and car chases before the first word of dialog for the season is ever spoken. It picks up pretty much the second that the first season ended with an all out battle. Cameron is damaged, and the chip reverts back to its standard terminator mode. That means big trouble for John Connor, because all terminators are loaded with instructions to … well … terminate John Connor. Most of the episodes deal with the Connor team trying to stay one step ahead of Skynet. Machines keep coming from the future, but they’re not all aiming for John. There’s that hit list, and the team has a lot of other innocent people to protect along the way. Often an episode will deal with John’s growing independence as we see that future charismatic person begin to emerge. One of the more interesting themes is an idea that these people and machines that arrive from the future might not even be from the same timelines. The actions of these various characters in the past most certainly effects the future in one way or another, and the series begins to take up that idea. It’s a clever way to cover up all of the inconsistencies not only with the four films, but within the series itself. There’s plenty of action and incredibly ambitious stunts and set pieces. Perhaps, at times, too ambitious.
While the Connors might be able to survive the future Judgment Day, they couldn’t quite escape the ratings war. The series fell dramatically in viewers this second season and goes no further. I have to give props to the production department on this series. The show really had the most cinematic production values I might have seen on any series yet. I’m not just talking special f/x here. The score is huge at times and is ambitious for a television series. I dare anyone to express disappointment in that aspect of the show. What it could not do, however, was compete with the images we all have of that universe. The pacing was incredibly uneven and awkward. There were moments I wasn’t sure an episode would ever get to the point. Those episodes would drag on for what seemed like hours. There were other episodes that were so brilliant that they were over in what feels like a blink of an eye. But you could never count on, from week to week, which show you were going to get. I know the rights issues were a burden as well. Certain aspects of the series were off limits. In the end this inconsistency got the best of the show. This release is absolutely worth your time, but I promise you that it will try your patience as often as it thrills you.
Each episode is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you through a VC-1 codec. The high definition really pays off for a series like this that is rich in effects and battles. It is certainly better than any standard DVD release. Colors pop more. The contrast is near perfect. Still, Warner insists on putting more than the standard four episodes on a disc. That means that while we get a nice high definition image, we don’t get the image we could be getting. It’s rare, I’ll admit, but there were moments of compression artifact marring what were usually solid black levels. Rare? OK. It shouldn’t exist at all on a Blu-ray.
The audio is presented in a disappointing standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It’s likely identical to the DVD release. I’m not sure why there was no uncompressed audio provided, but the series certainly would have benefited from the inclusion. All the same there is a better than average sub response here at times. The score is very percussive, and I find it works about as well here as anywhere else. There is a rather aggressive use of surrounds on rare occasions. I think the sound field really needed to be wider. Still, the clarity and dynamic range is an improvement over other Warner Blu-ray television shows.
There are some select Audio Commentaries.
There are commentaries and deleted scenes on select episodes. The extras appear in something that is not quite high definition but not quite standard either. They use the same VC-1 codec but carry bit rates under 10 mbps, for the most part. The other extras can be found on the following discs:
The Storyboard Process – Cameron Goes Bad: (2:55) Some crew members discuss the importance of storyboards and how they are used. You then get a short scene from the first episode of this season with a side by side comparison to the original storyboard.
Cameron vs. Rosie – Fight Rehearsal: (5:27) Get a glimpse of how a fight scene is choreographed and finally rehearsed. There are also more storyboards to be found here.
Collision With The Future – Deconstructing The Hunter Killer Attack: This is a kind of interactive sequence. Using the color buttons, or just the arrows you can watch a scene while alternating between four states of composition.
The Continuing Chronicles: 8 features can be found under this menu. There is no play all.
Write The Future: (12:34) Go into the writer’s room and see how they break the stories on the show. The writers also talk about the general expanding scope of the second season meaning more locations and ramped up action.
Conceptualization: (8:18) This one looks at the f/x work for the series. There is no question that this show has raised the bar for television special f/x.
Blood and Metal: (7:39) Robb Hall is the show’s make-up f/x guy, and he shows us some of the work done to create the various battle damage on terminators. It’s cool stuff that is also way above the mark usually hit on series television.
Designing Destruction: (7:32) Sets combine with locations combine with green screen to bring about the enormous scope of many of this season’s scenes. This piece deals primarily with set design and production.
Choreographing Chaos: (7:21) Stunt work coordinated with f/x to create the amped up action.
War Stories: (9:15) Cast and crew talk about the challenges and hardships experienced to bring off the season. No one really talks much about this being the end.
Setting The Temp: (13:15) Composer Bear McCreary does an outstanding job of creating a huge score for the show. We get to hear his thoughts on the process. The use of oil drums and hubcaps help give the score a dirty urban feel to it. He explains some string microphone techniques. Finally a lot of time is spent on Shirley Manson’s singing of the gospel tune on the first episode. We are supposed to be seeing the actual recording session, but I can assure you we are not. It is likely a rehearsal or dry run. I’ve spent many hours in a recording studio singing. You simply do not crinkle paper and scribble obviously audible notes while doing a keeper performance. Maybe it was a scratch track.
Mutilations: (9:51) Cast and crew offer up some wrap up tales about the series.
Terminator might have disappeared from our television screens, but it’s not the end of the franchise by any stretch of the imagination. Even though the fourth film was somewhat of a disappointment, more is on the way. There is talk of James Cameron once again getting involved with the franchise. And, unless he wins re-election, Arnie will soon be available to return to the role that broke his career out in a huge way. He told us he’d be back. As for this ambitious project, it was a noble effort no matter what your final thoughts might have been. If you’re a purist who has just decided to stay away, I invite you, I implore you, to reconsider your position. I’ve already acknowledged there are some points that didn’t work for me either. I’m still glad I spent some quality time with the show, however. If nothing else, the show raised the bar significantly in a lot of areas. Hopefully we’ll see the fruits of that effort in future projects. Listening to the cast and crew talk, they still had big plans for this series. Well … “Plans change”.