In 1984 James Cameron gave birth to a cultural icon that has lasted decades. In his dystopian future, the inception of artificial intelligence in the early part of the twentieth century would trigger a nuclear war in 1997. The war between man and machine would progress into the twenty-first century and would all but leave humanity wiped out. The machines are finally losing the war due to a human named John Connor and his band of resistance fighters. The machines, to ensure victory, send a cyborg assassin from the year 2029 to the year 1984. His mission: kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor.
The Terminator is a sci-fi B-movie that was never intended to be much of a blockbuster. Yet, it held the top box office spot for two weeks. Unlike current James Cameron films, this one is relatively short. Yet, like most James Cameron films, this one is a combination of fast-paced action woven with human drama. Sarah Connor is the yet-to-be impregnated mother of the resistance leader John Connor (his initials remind us of a particular first-century resistance leader). Her survival will insure the existence of humanity in the future. In a similar way, the young Mary we find in Luke’s gospel is also one in whom the existence of humanity lives on.
Survival becomes one of the major themes in the Terminator films. In the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800 returns from the future, but this time not to kill, but to protect. Skynet has sent a newer, more improved Terminator, the T1000, made out of a liquid metal. The T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) first finds a thirteen-year-old John Connor and in minutes the action takes off. They rescue Sarah Connor from the mental facility she has been caged in, and set off on a new mission: stop Miles Dyson from creating what will become Skynet. In this film, we get more of the James Cameron we expected. The images are richer and more vivid. It is worth seeking meaning from these images. For example, sprinkled throughout the film is the image of a playground that is soon engulfed in flames. The loss of innocence perhaps? Humanity is headed in a direction that is much darker and more grown up than the humanity it once was.
T2 ends with Judgment Day avoided. John, Sarah, and the T-800 have destroyed the software that would make Skynet possible. Which may surprise us when we receive Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. In this third installment, director Jonathan Mostow continues the epic tale as the T-800 returns (again as Schwarzenegger) to not only save a more grown, yet still immature John Connor, but also his wife-to-be Kate (Claire Danes). This time they have to fight against an ever newer and more highly designed Terminator, the T-X, the first female terminator. The T-X was sent to kill off the resistance leaders. The T-800 was sent to keep John and Kate alive, not by John as in T2, but by Kate.
Though Judgment Day was avoided, a piece of Skynet was preserved by the U.S. government. In a twist of ironic cine-drama, it is Kate’s father who turns Skynet on. The machines rise, taking on a mind of its own. As Kate’s father dies, he tells John and Kate that the server is located in the desert. When they get there, they quickly figure out that it was intended as a safe bunker for government leaders. “Why did he lead us here?” John wonders. “To live,” Kate answers. As they walk around the bunker, it becomes clear to them that Kate’s father was affirming their vocation as leaders of the resistance.
In 2009, Terminator Salvation, became the fourth installment directed by McG. John Connor is seen as a prophet bearing witness to what will come. At the same time, he is seen as a false prophet. Skynet is starting to manufacture the T-800. And we are also introduced to a new character, Marcus. Marcus looks human, acts human, and thinks he is human. But, he is not. He has been designed by Skynet to draw John Connor to it. When Marcus realizes that he is a machine with human parts, he is genuinely upset. John is severely injured by the T-800 and may die. Marcus offers his heart to John so he can live. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he says, “this one is mine.”
The four films have an overarching theme regarding the mystery of humanity. The first few films are concerned with preventing the massive destruction of humanity. It is worth saving, but it takes the machine Marcus to show us what it means to be human: to give is to live.
Each disc in the anthology has its own set of special features that range from deleted scenes to special features. Terminator has seven deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a retrospective documentary, which is the best of the special features. There is, however, no commentary from director James Cameron. T2 includes two audio commentaries, three versions of the film, and behind the scenes videos and galleries, though not particularly exciting. One of the audio commentaries, featuring James Cameron and William Wisher, is informative, entertaining, and compelling.
T3 offers four commentaries, three of them audio and one picture-in-picture. The commentary by director Jonathan Mostow is probably the best of these commentaries. Terminator Salvation includes the Director’s Cut of the film on its second disc. On disc one, the best feature is Maximum Movie Mode, where director McG takes the audience through an interactive and visually inventive behind-the-scenes tour of the film’s production. And all while the movie plays.
Overall, if you are a fan of the Terminator films, this anthology set is for you.
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