All of us have those few movies we’ve seen that make a lasting, indelible impression on our minds. For me, the first was Star Wars (now with Episode IV—A New Hope added to its title). I saw this when I was seven, and can still clearly remember the massive Star Destroyer flying overhead to start the movie and knowing I was in for something unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Another was The Matrix. I can clearly remember turning to my wife while we were watching the movie and saying, “I have no idea how they are doing any of this! Man, I am loving this movie!” Terminator 2: Judgment Day is another film that sits firmly in that category.
Even more than the original Terminator, T2 was a film that just fired on all cylinders. Here we have Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good guy Terminator we can cheer for, a buffed-out and intense Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor saving humanity from a new threat, and an all new T-1000 liquid-metal terminator (Robert Patrick) that defied any of the special effects technologies my 21-year-old brain could comprehend. I can remember walking out of the theater with my cousin and just dissecting the movie for hours, wondering how they accomplished some of the shots, and planning when we could go see it again.
As I got into the custom installation business years later, T2 was one of those go-to movies for demo fodder for clients wanting to experience home theater. The canal chase and Connor’s escape from the sanitarium are both scenes that pack a ton of action and tension into a short, intense sequence.
Like Star Wars, T2 is one of those films I’ve owned in multiple formats over the years. A VHS tape, then a special-edition widescreen VHS tape, then on LaserDisc, then DVD, then on Blu-ray. But for some reason, I had skipped out on upgrading to the 4K UltraHD version even though it’s priced incredibly low for a 4K title. Yesterday, while browsing at Target with my daughter, I saw T2 sitting there in its 4K slipcover for the just-can’t-refuse price of $7.50, and I decided to snatch it up.
I’m not going to waste any space offering any kind of synopsis for Terminator 2. If you’ve seen it, then you know what the movie is about; if you haven’t, you either have no interest in it, or need to drop everything and go watch it immediately.
This version of T2 is taken from a new writer/director (James Cameron)-approved 4K digital intermediate created in 2017 for the film’s 3D re-release. And bizarrely the film opens with a title card that says, “This 3D version has been produced by Studio Canal,” even though the film on the disc is most definitely not in 3D. While the 4K disc only contains the original 137-minute theatrical version, the Blu-ray included in the 4K set also includes the 153-minute Special Edition and 156-minute Ultimate Cut, along with several special features, featurettes, a making-of documentary, and commentaries.
Now, there has been a fair bit of controversy and angst surrounding the picture quality of this release of T2. In fact, one enthusiast site has a forum dedicated to discussing it that has over 9,000 posts.
The complaints mainly revolve around the somewhat aggressive use of DNR (digital noise reduction) throughout, which has scrubbed the grain from the movie’s original 35mm negative. However, it had been years since I’d sat down to watch the movie from start to finish, and with my brand-new JVC 4K projector, $7.50 seemed like an incredibly reasonable investment in an evening’s entertainment.
What you have here is a T2 that looks a lot like a modern, digitally-captured movie instead of something shot on film. Images are surprisingly clean, sharp, and detailed, with almost no noise. For me, I was mostly pleased with the images; but some purists—as a forum inciting 9,000 comments would attest—are not.
However, like it or lump it, it’s important to remember that this transfer got Cameron’s blessing, so it’s the Terminator 2 he wanted released. And, without a doubt, it’s the best-looking T2 we have.
There are moments when the DNR appears to have been applied a bit too heavily, with the result making some faces appear a bit waxy, smoothed, and overly botoxed. But, remembering that the Terminator is a cyborg, this waxy look didn’t seem especially out of place for me. I was far more aware of the sharp details in closeups, revealing pores, lines, and pockmarks in Hamilton’s face, or the pebbled texture and grain in Arnold’s leather jacket, or every strand of T-1000’s perfectly coiffed ‘do.
While some of the effects scenes don’t hold the same magic they did back in 1991—what was cutting-edge morphing technology almost 30 years ago has been eclipsed many times over since—the film still holds up remarkably well as a whole. The T-1000’s relentless pursuit of John Connor (Edward Furlong) still feels as intense, and unstoppable, as ever, and the enhanced resolution lets you appreciate the makeup work used on Arnold as his increasingly damaged skin gives way to reveal the cyborg beneath.
Black levels also benefit immensely in this new transfer, being deep, inky, dark, and noise-free; and these deep black images benefit the overall look. One thing that seems to frequently show an excessive amount of digital noise in older films is the powdery blue sky in outdoor scenes, and there were only a couple of instances where I noticed some of this noise in the desert as Connor plans to head to Mexico. But even then it were far less noticeable than in other recent 4K transfers such as Karate Kid or Field of Dreams. During the attack on Cyberdyne, there is a lot of smoke and gas that swirls around, and it never exhibited any noise or banding.
Interestingly, one scene of a trailer-mounted AC unit in the desert exhibited a surprising amount of jaggies and moiré as the camera passed; something you almost never see in 4K images any longer.
As much as they used DNR to clean up and modernize the look of T2, I found the restoration to be restrained with the HDR grading and the use of 4K’s wider color gamut. There are scenes, like the opening battle between humans and Terminators, which features a lot of flames, explosions, and laser bolts, or the lightning storm that accompanies a Terminator emerging into our time, that benefit from HDR. Another scene that is also enhanced by HDR is the climactic finale in the steel mill, with dark shadows and glowing red-hot molten metal.
But far more often images seem a bit restrained. Explosions seem to lack detail or the bright intensity that modern movies exhibit, and I would have liked to see the reds pushed more aggressively in explosions and the steel factory. Also, the color grading in some scenes has been pushed towards cooler, steel-blue hues, giving them a sterile aesthetic.
A variety of audio mixes have accompanied T2 releases over the years, and this is definitely a film that seems tailor-made for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround remix. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here, and we are given a DTS-HD Master 5.1 mix that I believe was ported from the previous Blu-ray release. (Interestingly, the German soundtrack included on the disc has a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix, so if you auf Deutsch, you can enjoy that.)
Fortunately, the mix keeps dialogue clear and intelligible throughout, and it upmixes with either Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural to height speakers very nicely. For example, when the T-1000 is attacking the group in the elevator, you can clearly her him slashing from overhead. Later in the film, a helicopter also flies overhead very convincingly. There are lots of scenes with subtle atmospherics, with sounds placed well around the room, putting you in the action. While not an object-based immersive mix that could have made for a truly epic home theater demo, T2’s audio mostly delivers.
I did find bass to be a bit of an uneven bag. Some scenes push the LFE channel, whereas others seem like the sound mixers shied away from the bass volume output. I’d have loved to feel a bit more impact from things like Arnie’s shotgun, or vehicles smashing into each other. Fortunately, bass is loud and deep during all the scenes and moments you’d expect, such as the semi-truck exploding or the Cyberdyne facilities blowing up.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the greatest science-fiction and action films ever made, and it deserves a place in any collection. It’s also shockingly affordable. If you haven’t watched it for a while, the 4K version makes the perfect opportunity to revisit, smoothed out blemishes and all.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.