Terminator 2: Judgment Day Extreme DVD

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton. Directed by James Cameron. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). THX, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Headphone. Two discs. 152 minutes. 1991. Artisan Home Entertainment 14638. R. $29.98.

Picture *** 1/2
Sound ****
Film ****

My Webster's New World Dictionary defines ultimate as " beyond which it is impossible to go," and extreme as "last, final." How this makes this Extreme DVD re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day semantically superior to the Ultimate version of three years ago is a subject I leave for someone's doctoral thesis. What isn't open to debate is that the new version is better in the ways that count.

If you need a synopsis of T2, you've been spending too much time in the Amazon jungle. In 25 words or less: A good Terminator android that looks a lot like the bad Terminator android in the first Terminator movie—and both look a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger—is sent back in time to protect young John Connor (Edward Furlong), the future savior of humanity, from a new, skinnier, but nastier Bad Terminator (Robert Patrick) sent back in time by the evil machines. Okay, so that's 61 words. You won't have any trouble figuring out the plot by the time the first car—er, truck chase starts.

T2 was a breakthrough in action movies. While credit should also be given to the original Star Wars films and, perhaps, Die Hard for pumping life into the genre, T2 marked the first time we'd seen a seamless combination of live action and computer effects. Since then we've been more numbed than stunned by an endless string of such productions, including numerous Star Treks and Star Wars, sinking ships, energy-sucking computers, dinosaurs run amok, bug-eyed, tentacled space invaders, and Michael Bay. But in 1991, we were mesmerized. T2 still holds up today largely because it combined searing action with characters we cared about.

While it's no stretch to realize that this new DVD version was timed to promote the release of this summer's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, it's still welcome. The first-class sound is pretty much the same as before, with the exception of an extra channel for EX playback. A few audio processors, however, including our (early) Outlaw receiver, won't reproduce the soundtrack without periodic muting, so buyer beware. But the real news is the video. It's said to have been produced from a new hi-def transfer, and it looks it. The earlier version was okay but didn't really live up to its reputation; it had a subtly edgy look to it. That's largely gone here, and while the original Super 35 photography had its limitations—a little soft and grainy compared to the best anamorphically lensed photography—this new transfer looks very, very good.

The set is loaded with special features, including—at last—a commentary from director James Cameron. This is the same extended cut of the film as in the Ultimate set, though you can access the theatrical version (to learn how see DVDeastereggs.com). But the most interesting feature is disc 2's "High Definition" DVD-ROM version of the film, recorded in Microsoft Windows Media 9. As of now, this can be played back only on a specially configured computer. And while some videocards allow you to pass the picture to hi-def consumer displays rather than to a computer screen, it isn't a straightforward operation to get everything up and running properly, without glitches. In the sidebar, ISF head and SGHT video consultant Joel Silver comments on his experiences viewing this "HD" version.

But even in standard definition, this is a must-have release for T2 fans. And next year we'll probably get an Extreme Ultimate release, combining three-hour versions of all three Terminator films in the same boxed set, with six commentaries, 12 "Behind the Scenes" features, and a genuine Terminator microchip. Want to bet against it?—TJN