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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (German Import) (HD DVD)
Kinowelt / 1991 / 137 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: March 20, 2008
List Price: $39.95
Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
This is a review of the German HD DVD release of 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day.' Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our review of Lionsgate's Blu-ray release of 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day.'
Note that this disc is not region-coded and will play in any HD DVD player. For more information about importing HD DVD discs, visit the HD DVD imports thread in our forums area.
Many cite 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' as one of the greatest sequels ever, with even diehard fans of the franchise rating it higher than 1984's cult classic 'The Terminator.' I would never try to persuade them otherwise, but I'm not convinced. 'T2' doesn't work quite as well as the original, if only because the first two 'Terminator' films are really very different from each other. Much like director James Cameron managed to do with 1986's 'Aliens' -- namely take Ridley Scott's dark, more-horror-than-sci-fi opus 'Alien' and transform it into a non-stop action film -- 'T2' doesn't so much replicate the scrappy B-movie thrills of the first 'Terminator' as morph its chintzy charms into a bombastic, special-effects-laden morality play. 'T2' pumps up the best qualities of 'The Terminator' and grafts them onto a family drama while adding fable-like qualities. I still find it all a little bit weird.
I suppose I could recap the story of 'T2' for the three people who have yet to see the film, but then they probably know it already. Let's just say that Cameron wisely doesn't try to revert his main characters -- Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, and of course the Terminator -- back to the state in which we left them at the end of the first film, as most sequels-slash-remakes would. Rather, he turns Sarah into a nutjob who has effectively abandoned her son and turned herself into the martyr to end all martyrs, allowing the story to expand naturally into new directions. Even better, Cameron inverts the Terminator himself -- it is no secret to reveal that the mean ol' Arnie of 'Terminator' is all soft and cuddly in 'T2,' now the protector of the young John Connor (Edward Furlong). So not only does that give 'T2' a great spin on the original, but it allows for the introduction of a brand-new villain, the morphing T-1000 (Robert Patrick, still the best android-creature ever seen on screen).
Let's just say that had Cameron simply restaged the Sarah-Terminator battles from the first film only with more money, we wouldn't still be talking about 'T2' today. Unfortunately, that brings me to my biggest gripe about 'T2' -- which ironically, has cemented its status as such an influential blockbuster. Quite frankly, the film's once-cutting edge CGI effects have quickly become outdated. Even back in 1991, I thought the film's effects coup, the "liquid metal" T-1000, looked lame. I know, I know, it unleashed the monstrosity that is "morphing" unto the world, but even by the rules and structure of the fantasy world Cameron created, the effect feels like a cheat. While in the framework of the film I could believe that a liquid metal Mr. Roboto could goop all around and kill people, I'm still confused as to how his clothes and skin miraculously reappear at a moment's notice. Are they liquid metal, too? And where is his CPU central processing unit located? How are all the individual molecules bound together? And how come whenever the T-1000 gets split apart or blown up, all the pieces can still function? And if the machine is supposed to be liquid metal by Earth standards (this is still, after all, supposed to be a "realistic future"), how does the metal heat itself up and cool itself off so quickly?
Perhaps I'm asking too many questions. Because strip away all the post-apocalyptic talk, all the Sarah-John intra-family melodramatics, and the numerous time-travel plot holes (though to be fair, time travel itself is one big plot hole), and 'T2' still works like gangbusters. It's one great big action spectacle full of explosions, car chases, lots of cyborg fighting and Edward Furlong spouting lines like "Affirmative" in his mini-Keanu Reeves baritone. So what's not to love, even if I miss some of the low-budget charm and inventiveness of the original? And really, can any movie that features a Terminator asking, "Why do you cry?" be all bad?
German distributor Kinowelt is giving 'Terminator 2' the deluxe treatment on HD DVD, dubbing this German import the 'Ultimate HD-Edition.' According to the supplied press materials, the production house behind the disc (Imagion AG) utilized the best sources available to create this 1080p/VC-1 encode, including access to the HD masters used for both Lionsgate's domestic Blu-ray release and Studio Canal's French HD DVD. On top of that, Kinowelt/Imagion present 'T2' on this HD DVD in the director's cut version (which utilizes material from both the theatrical cut and extended version masters) so this is truly a "hodgepodge" of a release. (Note: The disc's menus are confusing -- there is an option on the disc to select the "Director's Cut", implying that not selecting the option would result in playback of the theatrical cut of 'T2." However, as most of descriptive text on the disc is in German, we've since receive confirmation from Kinowelt that the disc in fact only contains the Director's Cut.)
The result is that I slightly preferred the transfer of this 'Ultimate HD-Edition' to the domestic Blu-ray, with the major caveat that the differences are minor enough that few will notice without doing side-by-side comparisons. These differences are also a matter of subjective taste, so some may just as easily disagree with me and prefer the Lionsgate edition. In other words, don't expect any real upgrade with this 'Ultimate HD-Edition' -- it's pretty dang close to the Blu-ray you probably already have.
The source certainly looks like the 'T2' we're already used to. Most aspects of this presentation are just as good as before -- great blacks, clean and consistent contrast (aside from the Linda Hamilton character's post-apocalyptic flashbacks, which are intentionally blown-out). The print is close to pristine, with a few minor specks and dirt that rarely distract. There is still grain visible, and sometimes it can be more distracting than on the standard DVD, simply because HD's finer resolution makes it more apparent.
The main improvement for me with this HD DVD version over the previous Blu-ray are colors. Certainly, they are quite close, but I felt saturation was just a hair superior, with better stability (particularly reds and the intense steel blues) and a smidgen less chroma noise. Conversely, the transfer is a bit brighter, which improves shadow delineation but lessens contrast (again, this is my personal preference for an image with heightened visible textures in darker areas over the increased apparent depth that results from a higher-contrast image). I also thought the VC-1 encode here was superior to the Blu-ray. While this HD DVD is a tad softer, it lessens visible grain, and there are also less motion artifacts.
Ultimately, these differences are small enough that most probably won't even notice them without a side-by-side compare. Also a factor are the calibration differences that may be inherent in one's Blu-ray and HD DVD equipment chain. Given these discrepancies, and my own subjective tastes, I'm giving this 'Ultimate HD-Edition' the same four-star Video rating I gave Lionsgate's domestic Blu-ray edition -- they really are pretty dang close.
Looking back at my original June 2006 review of Lionsgate's 'Terminator 2' domestic Blu-ray, I certainly wouldn't rate the audio score as highly today. It was an era before high-res audio really became the norm, so that disc's plain jane Dolby Digital EX mix still seemed pretty cool. That's certainly not the case anymore, as this DTS-HD High-Resolution 7.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit, offered in both English and German) easily proves -- it's noticeably superior to the Blu-ray by a considerable degree.
'T2' really raised the bar in terms of surround sound when it was first released in 1992 and I can still remember seeing the film in the theater and just being amazed at the sound that was coming out of the speakers all around me. The film's sound design still sounds quite aggressive seventeen years later, with very active use of the rear channels for both loud action as well as minor atmospheric details. This 7.1 mix makes effective use of the rear soundstage, with the added two channels boasting improved transparency and panning over the Dolby EX mix on the Blu-ray. Impact of discrete effects is heightened as well, with improved clarity and better dispersion of atmospheric effects. Bleed of Brad Fiedel's memorable score is also stronger, which further improves the "wall of sound" effect.
Raw dynamics are also better than the Blu-ray. While the source does not sound like it has been given any sort of major restoration, low bass extension is a tad better during many scenes, particularly the extended truck/motorcycle chase after the Terminator first intercepts John Connor, as well as the massive invasion of Cyberdyne that begins the film's last act. High end also had a slightly more robust presence, especially on dialogue (which is also louder in the mix, which for me is an improvement). There are likewise no balance issues, so even at high volumes the DTS-HD mix is superb in its clarity. Kinowelt/Imagion has done a very fine job here.
I could be wrong, but I bet 'Terminator 2' holds the record for the most number of video releases of any title in history. I've lost count of how many times Lionsgate/Artisan/LIVE re-issued the title over the past seventeen years, so by the time we got to the "'Oh, Shit, Not Another Edition!' Edition," it had really reached the point of absurdity.
Now, thanks to Kinowelt/Imagion, we can add the 'Ultimate HD-Edition' to that esteemed list. In their defense, I will say that the company really has rolled out the red carpet for this release and made a valiant attempt to give fans most of what's come before, plus a good deal that's exclusive -- while much of the video material that graced Lionsgate's previous DVD editions at first appears to be missing, in fact Kinowelt has either renamed it or repurposed much of it as HD DVD interactive extras (see the next section). They've even included the audio commentaries from Lionsgate's domestic Blu-ray as well.
Note that the only problem I had with this HD DVD is that all of the descriptive text is in German, so the introductions to most of the features I couldn't actually understand. (However, I'm told by Kinowelt/Imagion that because this disc is web-enabled, there is the possibility that English-language text-based content could be "updated" in the future via a download. We'll see.)
- Audio Commentaries - Two "archival" tracks included here are both very good. Director James Cameron recorded his first-ever audio commentary for the 'T2' "Extreme Edition," along with co-writer William Wysher, and it is a very strong effort indeed. Say what you want about the one-time "King of the World!", but he is a very intelligent, articulate, passionate guy, and along with Wysher he imparts a great deal of detail on all aspects of the film's development, production and release. Definitely a must listen.
The second track is just as good, even if it's just an assemblage of audio interview extracts with a bunch of cast and crew, and the participants do not address directly what is onscreen. However, with 26(!) major players represented -- including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, and most of the main technical team -- how could it not succeed? I really like these compiled, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tracks, because they are so informative and no one person gets to dominate. Plus, this one is very, very well edited by longtime Cameron DVD producer Van Ling. So I'm afraid along with the Cameron and Wysher track, you're going to have to watch 'T2' yet again.
- Departments - Despite the unusual name, these are really extensive video and still galleries with tons of bonus material. Fans of the previous DVD 'Ultimate Edition' will recognize this stuff, so while the interface that presents it is unique to this HD DVD, the content really isn't. What you'll find here are six different areas -- "Marketing," "Planning & Design," "Research & Development," "Construction," "manufacturing" and "Customer Service" -- each with a pop-up interface that includes descriptive text (again, in German only) plus a little window box that shows either the corresponding still or video program. Note that aside from the "Marketing" section (which includes stand-alone, full-screen featurettes and trailers, which I detail separately below), the rest of this stuff is just about all stills. And it's huge -- I counted well over a 1,000 stills in these various sections, which offer detailed images on every aspect of the production, from stunts to make-up to costumes to locations to the CGI. If that isn't enough, you'll find storyboards, as well as the complete shooting script! It's really a treasure trove for any 'T2' fan.'
- Marketing Featurettes (SD, 116 minutes) - Found in the "Departments" section explained above, this is a suite of five promotional featurettes and additional content created for the 'Ultimate Edition' DVD. "The Making of Terminator 2" (30 minutes) and "Terminator 2: More Than Meets the Eye" (26 minutes) are both slick extended commercials (the latter produced for Showtime) that now feel quite dated. "No Fate But What We Make" (28 minutes) is better, as it least includes some newer interviews with Cameron, Wysher and a few other crew (all of the cast, however, only appear via old footage). "T2: On the Set" (8 minutes) is exactly what the name implies -- a montage of behind-the-scenes footage. Finally, "Breaking the Screen Barrier" (23 minutes) is really a featurette on the making of the 'Terminator 2: 3:D' ride at Universal Studios.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 minutes) - Two scenes are included: "T-1000 Searches John's Room" (with optional audio commentary by Cameron and star Robert Patrick) and "The Future Coda" (with optional commentary by Cameron, Stan Winston and Linda Hamilton), which is an alternate ending to the film that previously was only available as an easter egg on the original 'Ultimate Edition' DVD. These two scenes are presented in full 1080p/VC-1 video. Finally, there are even "More Deleted Scenes," which are actually script excerpts, as these scenes were never actually filmed.
- Theatrical Trailers (SD) - Finally, there is a theatrical teaser and two trailers for 'Terminator 2,' plus a promo spot for the 'T2' Special Edition DVD. These are all found in the "Marketing" Department section described above.
- Steelbook Casing - It's worth mentioning that 'T2' comes in a special matte-metallic take on the traditional red keepcase. This is certainly the sturdiest HD DVD package I've ever seen, and it's quite spiffy. Only the lack of a collectible booklet seems like a bit of an oversight, not that I'm complaining...
As if the terrific standard supplements weren't enough, Kinowelt/Imagion has added a wealth of exclusive content, too. This truly is one kick-ass, fully-loaded HD DVD that puts most previous studio efforts to shame. There is also a variety of web-enabled extras that launched on the disc's street date of March 20, 2008 -- and Kinowelt promises even more updates to come. (Alas, much of the text-based material here is in German only, which is a problem! Again however, Kinowelt/Imagion says they may offer an English version in a future download.)
- Inside T2 Mode - The first of three "Special Modes" available on the disc proper. Essentially, this is a picture-in-picture track. Kinowelt/Imagion has repurposed much of the video-based archival interview and making-of material from past DVD versions of 'T2' to create the commentary. Of course, I would have liked something new (as much of this stuff will be quite familiar to diehard fans), but it's still a very nicely done and well-paced track.
- Quiz Mode - More than seventy questions pop-up as text trivia throughout the film. Unfortunately, this one is currently in German only. Kinowelt also says this feature is "updatable," meaning that future questions are planned to be available in download (hopefully with an English option) at a future date.
- Spy Mode - The last mode sounds interesting -- a pop-up trivia track revealing all the bloopers and mistakes throughout 'T2.' Unfortunately, this one is in German only, too.
- Interactive Mode - Only the first of what Kinowelt says will be many future web-enabled additional playback modes. If you're player is connected to the internet, activate the Interactive Mode, and you can access no less than 80 minutes of additional branching content. Similar to a U-Control or "Following the White Rabbit" type of feature, when in this playback mode, an icon will appear at pre-selected intervals during the film. Hit your remote, and you will seamlessly branch to content coming direct from the web. There's even more interviews with the cast and crew of 'T2' and other archival making-of material. Again, nothing specifically new to this release (versus past DVD incarnations), but still pretty cool.
- TuneHD.net - If all of this isn't enough, web-enabled users can also access the www.tunehd.net web destination. After a one-time (free) registration, there are a variety of features currently planned to "expand" the disc even further. Users will be able to add quizzes (to enhance Quiz Mode) and flubs (for Spy Mode), as well as pictures and even their own commentaries. Such homemade goodies can either be uploaded (to share) or downloaded (to view). Pretty crazy!
- Bookmarks - Finally, the disc offers a bookmarking function, so you can save your favorite scenes for instant access even after you eject the disc from your player.
No easter eggs reported for 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day (German Import)' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
I wouldn't rate 'Terminator 2' as highly as the original 'Terminator,' but then there are just as many (if not more) fans of the cyborg saga that would. But no matter -- 'Terminator 2' is a great action flick that's tailor-made for high-def. Kinowelt/Imagion's 'Ultimate HD-Edition' is easily the best version I've seen on disc yet, and tops Lionsgate's Blu-ray version. We get the extended cut of the film of the film, tons of supplemental material, and video and audio that (for me) outranked the domestic version. It's a shame that HD DVD is dead, if only because we won't get great discs like this anymore that boast so many interactive bells and whistles. But if you want to pick up a great last hurrah of an HD DVD disc, 'Terminator 2' is certainly worth considering.
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