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The Terminator: Special Edition

These days, James Cameron is snorted at by the intelligentsia for being a middlebrow technophiliac with a raging ego and a penchant for spending too much money on his films. One hopes that MGM's The Terminator: Special Edition DVD will splash a little cold water on film-snob faces — reminding them that Cameron, particularly in his first few films, was the most exciting sci-fi filmmaker since Young Spielberg mined his obsession with benevolent alien father figures. This extras-packed disc — improving on a movie-only disc put out by Image in 1998 — should also point out to movie buffs that Cameron was able to confidently explore his pet themes (distrust of technology and men sacrificing themselves to empower strong, smart, pissed-off women) even when he had no clout and his budget was something like $1.95. Released in 1984, T1's high-concept pastiche immediately entered the cultural fabric — a why-didn't-someone-make-this-movie-sooner mix of Corman splatter, Harlan Ellison, Japanese technofetishism, urban paranoia and monster movie, relentlessly told. Waitress Sarah Connor (a pre-commando-training Linda Hamilton) finds out she's the Virgin Mary of the secular human race when a "Terminator" cyborg from the future (Arnold Schwartzenegger) travels back in time to kill her. It seems she's destined to give birth to John Connor — leader of the human freedom fighters who defeat an evil machine race in A.D. 2027. She's aided in her fight against the assassin robot by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human who traveled back in time to save her. This isn't particularly subtle stuff (John Connor's initials are, after all, "JC") — but, like Planet of the Apes, you can peel apart The Terminator and find yourself rewarded with several cohesive, fully cooked themes and paradoxes. In 1984, when schlocky, low-budget sci-fi consisted of such silly stuff as Battle Beyond the Stars and The Last Starfighter, The Terminator was practically revolutionary. Here's Cameron's trademark Man-Sacrificing-Himself-to-Empower-A-Woman Theme, smuggled to varying degrees into all his films. Here's a really broad abortion allegory, with a faceless machine state trying to force a woman to "terminate" her pregnancy (a plot in which both pro-life and pro-choice advocates can find thematic succor — maestro!). Here's a Horatio Alger-like tale of self-transformation. Here's the paradox of a man fathering his future leader — the ultimate military service, if you will — and thus creating a self-contained temporal loop that only the five Apes films explored with equal success. Take a step back and behold the paradox of Cameron using every technical trick in the book — a la Lucas and Classic "Trek" — to foster a deep distrust of technocratic society. That said, be ye warned: If you haven't watched T1 since the late-'80s, you may be in for a bit of a shock. The movie itself has become a bit of time travel — thanks to the oh-so-'80s trappings of its fashions and hair (particularly in its infamous "Tech Noir" nightclub sequence, which resembles nothing so much as an episode of "Square Pegs" with squibs). And the movie's admirable lo-fi trappings may disappoint (or even bore) people who consider T2's groundbreaking effects a form of fetish porn. MGM's The Terminator: Special Edition features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a beautifully restored print, and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. Supplements include two "making-of" documentaries, three trailers, two TV spots, seven"Terminated Scenes," five still galleries, Cameron's original treatment, and DVD-ROM "script to screen" features. Keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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