UHD Blu-ray

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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.

John Sciacca

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.

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel

Marketing-hype phrases like, “From the team that brought you two of the most successful films of all time . . .and, “From the director of Sin City . . .” carry with them a level of expectation that can end up being too much for a film to live up to. This, in part, was the burden that preceded the release of Alita: Battle Angel, and in some ways parallels another film, Mortal Engines.

 

Like Engines, Alita burst onto the cinematic consciousness with an impressive trailer that was full of flash and promise, with incredible detail, effects, and world building. It was also based on a story only familiar to hardcore fans—in this case a 1990 Japanese manga series Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita) by Yukito Kishiro.

 

Alita takes place roughly 550 years in the future, 300 years after a massive interplanetary war known as “The Fall” has devastated much of Earth. While hunting through a scrap yard filled with trash discarded by the last great sky city of Zalem, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the upper half of a large-eyed female cyborg with a fully-functioning human

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brain. He brings her home and gives her a body he originally designed years ago for his deceased daughter.

 

The cyborg (Rosa Salazar), whom Ido names Alita after his daughter, has no memories of her past and spends the film trying to discover who she was (and is), what goes on up in Zalem, and how to survive on the mean streets of Iron City, where Hunter-Warriors, cyborg serial killers, and giant Centurion sentry robots create constant sources of conflict. Along the way, Alita discovers she possesses unique and powerful long-lost fighting skills known as “Panzer Kunst,” as well as an innate ability to play Motorball, a futuristic and far more violent/deadly version of roller derby.

While we typically recommend online versions of films here, especially when downloaded in full resolution from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, this is a case where I’m suggesting you go and purchase the physical 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Why?

 

For one, 20th Century Fox still refuses to provide Kaleidescape with the lossless Dolby Atmos audio mix with its 4K HDR version, leaving you instead with a much less impressive 5.1-channel DTS-HD mix. (I’m hopeful Fox’s recent acquisition by Disney—which does provide Kaleidescape with the best audio elements for all 4K titles—will rectify this going forward.)

 

For two, the 4K Blu-ray version comes in a three-disc set that includes the Blu-ray disc with tons of extras, a digital download code, and a third disc with a 3D version of the film that is an absolute blast to watch, if your system is capable. Alita was shot natively in 3D, and with James Cameron involved—the guy responsible for what is still widely considered the greatest 3D film experience ever with Avatar—this is worth the price of purchase alone. 

 

Alita was shot in ARRIRAW at 3.4K resolution, and while it lists the digital intermediate as “master format,” I’m assuming it was taken from a 2K DI. While the film looks gorgeous, it doesn’t exhibit that ultra-fine level of detail in closeups found in true 4K-sourced films. Another mild disappointment is that while some of the movie was filmed in IMAX for its theatrical release, the home version doesn’t include the IMAX-resolution scenes, which are often some of the finest 4K video available.

 

Those nits aside, Alita frequently fills the screen with eye candy, captivating to look at and behold. Every scene and background bristles with set dressing and design—whether it is machines, buildings, vehicles, or people with a variety of cyborg limbs or appendages, the world of Alita is stunning to see and rich with detail. The film features a fairly drab color palette for many of the daytime outdoor scenes; however, the nighttime scenes exhibit deep, clean black levels, with nice use of HDR highlights in many of the city scenes, with spotlights, signs, and streetlights having extra punch. HDR also benefits the brightly lit interior of the lab of Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) and the Motorball arena.

Alita: Battle Angel

While the film relies heavily on Weta Digital’s computer effects throughout, its greatest effect is Alita, a fully computer-generated character. At first, her significantly oversized eyes and slightly smaller mouth (to reflect her manga origins) make her noticeably different, but the caliber of the CGI work—particularly in her eyes, which are incredibly expressive, emotive and, well, human-looking—is so impressive that you quickly just see Alita as a character. (The only thing that slightly pulled me from my suspension of disbelief was a slight disconnect between Alita’s voice and her mouth. Not that it is out of sync by any means, but just something that my eyes and mind couldn’t fully mesh.)

 

As good as the 4K HDR version looks, there’s a definite extra dimension (pun definitely intended) that comes from watching the 3D version. Instead of going for gimmicky shots that come out of the screen towards the viewer (and which frequently cause headaches and eye strain), Alita uses 3D to deliver an amazing sense of depth and dimension, with many backgrounds appearing to just go on forever. One of my favorite shots is when Alita comes out of the water inside the United Republics of Mars (URM) ship, with the water shimmering and waving all around her with incredible depth. The many computer screens throughout also benefit from the 3D presentation. There are definite benefits and advantages to watching either the 4K HDR or 3D version, and I’d highly suggest enjoying both.

 

One drawback of the 3D version is that it replaces the Dolby Atmos soundtrack for the inferior DTS-HD 7.1-channel mix. While still impressive, it didn’t have the depth and immersion of the Atmos soundtrack.

 

Speaking of the audio, Alita features an active, immersive, reference mix throughout. Whether it is the small, atmospheric background sounds that bring life to scenes, or the big, demo-worthy scenes with their massive audio cues that rip and pound through the room, Alita’s audio mix constantly entertains.

 

The first major audio moment comes at the 11-minute mark when Alita rescues a dog from a walking Centurion. The mech moves over Alita’s (and your) head, with its feet slamming into the ground, producing concussive bass waves. You clearly hear all the whirrs and hums of the mech’s motor servos and hydraulics as it moves around the room, putting you right in the middle of the action. 

 

Other big reference audio moments include Alita’s first fight, in an alley, at the 27-minute mark, the Motorball stadium at 42-minutes, and the fight with Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) inside the Kansas Bar at little more than an hour in. In these big scenes, you are in a hemispherical audio cocoon, with sounds clearly emanating from all points of the room around you, such as Grewishka’s metal claws launching right past your head and his voice mocking Alita from all around.

 

Even non-action scenes are filled with sounds, such as the water dripping all around you inside the URM ship, or the sounds of various machines and computers in Ido’s lab.

 

When you remove the pressure and high expectation that surrounded Alita’s release, in many ways you’re left with exactly the kind of movie that home theater was designed for. It’s big, it’s flashy, it has incredible detail, and it rocks an absolutely reference Dolby Atmos sound mix. Is it a perfect movie? Far from it. But is it a fun movie that will push your display and sound system to their limits, impressing you and your guests in the process? Absolutely.

John Sciacca

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.

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon 3

The Hidden World is the third and final film in the How to Train Your Dragon series. It has been five long years since last we saw Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his beloved dragon Toothless on the big screen. If you followed any of the off-screen drama surrounding The Hidden World, you know that the film’s release was pushed back multiple times—partially due to the financial woes and restructuring of DreamWorks, but also due to script concerns. Apparently it took a few passes to nail the landing, but The Hidden World proved worth the wait.

 

The story takes place one year after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup is the king of Berk, Toothless is the alpha dragon, and together with their merry band of dragon-riding misfits, they are freeing dragons from all sorts of ne’er-do-wells and bringing them home to live safely and peacefully in Berk.

 

Enter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), the ultimate dragon hunter, singlehandedly responsible for the killing of all the Night Furies. All but one, that is—which is something Grimmel intends to rectify. He threatens to destroy everything that Hiccup loves unless Hiccup turns over Toothless, and with his own set of powerful (and powerfully drugged) dragons, he has the means to do it. Hiccup sets off to find the mythical Hidden World, a place where dragons and dragon-loving humans will be forever protected from evil men.

 

Meanwhile, Toothless has found himself a girlfriend . . .  and it’s adorable.

 

After seeing The Hidden World three times in the theater (you can read about that adventure here), I knew one thing for certain: The Ultra HD version would be a sight to behold. And indeed it is. The film’s animation is simply gorgeous, with

exceptional detail, a rich color palette, and a lot of complex interplay between light and shadow. If you’ve got an HDR-capable display, you should absolutely watch this film through a provider that supports HDR playback. I went with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, which offers HDR10 video. The scenes in the hidden world are perfect demo material, both for their HDR and their color. But really the entire movie is stunning, and there are also a number of scenes that will challenge your display’s ability to render deep, dark blacks and fine shadow details.

 

The disc includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that makes good use of the complete channel palette. It’s a well-

balanced presentation with clear dialogue and a lot of music and ambient sounds in the surround channels. It’s not really an Atmos showpiece, however. The film contains several battle sequences that could make aggressive use of the height channels, and a few such moments will catch your ears, but for the most part it’s a fairly conservative mix.

 

The UHD Blu-ray package also includes the Blu-ray disc and a digital copy, plus bonus features like deleted scenes, an alternate opening, some fun featurettes, and a full-length commentary track by writer/director Dean DuBlois, producer Bradford Lewis, and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto.

 

The Hidden World is a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful trilogy that will delight children and reduce grown men to tears. (No, really—I saw this myself in theaters.) If your family loves How to Train Your Dragon as much as mine does, this installment will be spending a lot of time on your TV screen, so it’s worth it to pay more to get the top-shelf UHD presentation.

 

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.