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Warner Home Video presents
Terminator—The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season (2008)

"The war to save mankind begins now!"
- Sarah Connor (Lena Headey)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: August 12, 2008

Stars: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones
Other Stars: Brian Austin Green, Garret Dillahunt, Dean Winters, Sonya Walger, Brendan Hines, Jesse Garcia, Catherine Dent
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sci-fi violence and adult themes)
Run Time: 06h:34m:00s
Release Date: August 19, 2008
UPC: 883929023646
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-B+ B+

DVD Review

When James Cameron created the Terminator story for his low-budget feature film, I doubt he expected it would yield three sequels, vast sums of money, and now, a television serial. In January 2008, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered to critical acclaim and huge ratings. In crafting the Pilot, Josh Friedman faced a major obstacle—the presence of the third movie and its cataclysmic ending. This story deftly avoids that barrier and jumps the main characters into the future in an alternate timeline. Confused? In case this is your first entry into the Terminator universe, I'll now give a basic overview.

This series depicts the lives of Sarah (Lena Headey) and John Connor (Thomas Dekker), heroes who possess knowledge that machines will soon take over the world. These "terminators" have been sent back in time to kill John, who will eventually lead the humans in the fight against the machines. Eliminating him would guarantee the future success of Skynet—the vicious computer system. The turning point will occur on Judgment Day, which the Connors apparently prevented at the end of Terminator 2. This show begins two years after that moment and sends them on the run again, which leads via time travel to the present day. Assisted by the friendly terminator Cameron (Summer Glau), they aim to destroy Skynet to prevent Judgment Day from ever happening. Whew; that was tiring.

I was initially skeptical of this new version and expected a sad imitator of the highly regarded films. From the first few minutes of the Pilot, it's apparent that the complex story rests in capable hands. Instead of choosing the obvious "terminator of the week" option, the writers actually build an ongoing serial that really pays off. This season was shortened to nine episodes because of the writers' strike, but it still packs a hefty punch. There are few missteps during this opening run, which makes us care about the Connors and hope for their success. The premiere sends them on the run from Cromartie, a machine whose sole mission is killing John. In successive episodes, he shifts into the background, but his presence looms over much of the action. The other major figure is Detective Ellison (Richard T. Jones), a religious man whose search for Sarah leads him to discover the incredible truth. His pursuit begins as part of the job and becomes much larger by the season’s end.

An ongoing story involves the search for The Turk—a chess computer that may evolve into Skynet. This device is largely the MacGuffin for Sarah and John to face some difficult choices. Does killing an unknowing contributor to Judgment Day become acceptable if it serves the larger good? Or does it make them no better than the machines? This decision comes to the forefront in Queen’s Gambit, which involves a pivotal chess match between two computers. The winner gets a military contract, which could lead to the ultimate disaster. This episode also marks the appearance of Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green)—a hardened future warrior whose brother Kyle once protected Sarah. He's a well-meaning guy, but is willing to do anything to save the future. In the spellbinding Dungeons & Dragons, we see glimpses of Derek's brutal future experiences that reveal why he's so committed. The conflict between Sarah and Derek over what's acceptable to achieve their mission drives the series' second half. Complicating matters even further is the presence of Cameron, who looks genial on the outside but also kills without remorse.

This ambitious series works mainly due to the talented cast, who bring surprising depth to possibly one-note characters. Lena Headey (300) avoids trying to imitate Linda Hamilton's original Sarah Connor but retains her unending drive to protect her son. Her character’s monologues are often the show's weakest element, but the blame shouldn't reside with Headey. Dekker's (Heroes) extensive television experience pays off in arguably the most difficult role. Unlike Edward Furlong's annoying T2 performance, he plays it straight and makes John likable. Summer Glau previously shined in Firefly and The 4400, and she plays a believable machine. But the absolute revelation is 90210's Brian Austin Green. He shows both Derek's warmth and brutal, steely resolve with grace. It's great news that Green will be joining as a series regular during the second season.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles succeeds because it translates the story from frenetic chase films into something much deeper. The intricate material sometimes veers into hokey territory with its lengthy monologues, but there are no wasted episodes. The Demon Hand exemplifies this balancing act by having Ellison meet Dr. Silberman (Bruce Davison), a notable figure from the films. Both have experienced revelations about the machines, but their reactions vary dramatically. This episode also seamlessly incorporates moments from T2 into the new story. The shortened season culminates with What He Beheld, which contains a stunning showdown involving Cromartie and federal agents. Supported perfectly by Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around, this exciting sequence demonstrates the achievements of this new series. It shatters expectations and has serious potential to shine in the upcoming season.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles uses a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that effectively conveys the more ambitious exterior scenes. Since much of the series occurs indoors, those moments have limited opportunities for visual invention. However, the grain is minimal within the darker interiors. The computer-generated effects also succeed and are surprisingly believable for a television series.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: This release's 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer presents the booming explosions and other action scenes powerfully. The audio depth isn't amazing, but it keeps the pace upbeat and adds to the presentation. Any minor limitations shouldn't hinder your enjoyment while Sarah and John evade the latest villain.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Executive Producer Josh Friedman and Cast/Crew
Packaging: Boxed Set
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag Reel
  2. Cast Audition Tapes
  3. Storyboard Animatic of the School Attack Sequence
  4. Summer Glau Dance Rehearsal
  5. Extended Version of The Demon Hand Episode
Extras Review: Although it's modestly priced, this much-anticipated set delivers some memorable extras, particularly an informative documentary and three commentaries. The menus are easily organized and give several methods to access the bonus features, which is always a plus. I've added my thoughts on each item in the sections below:

Commentaries
Thankfully, this set avoids the trap of many series and actually includes the actors in each discussion. This helps to craft an effective blend of technical details with light-hearted production stories. Executive producer Josh Friedman appears on each track and conveys the overall vision, while other crew members delve into the specific episode. Director David Nutter, executive producer James Middleton and Summer Glau join him for the Pilot conversation, which gives numerous details on both the show's origins and shooting the first episode. Nutter is the most talkative, but all four participants say plenty about their experiences. The Turk's commentary has a lighter tone—mainly because of Thomas Dekker and Lena Heady’s casual demeanors. The young star actually takes charge of the discussion, which is refreshing. Executive producer John Wirth also joins the fray to converse with Friedman and the actors.

The final discussion fittingly covers the finale, What He Beheld, and brings Brian Austin Green and writer Ian Goldberg to the table. Glau also returns with Friedman to speak about this pivotal episode. There is one major technical issue with these tracks that slightly lessens the enjoyment. Although this release provides seven languages for the subtitles, they aren't usable during the commentaries. This is typically the best time to access the text option, so it's a surprise omission.

Creating the Chronicles (38:58)
This three-part documentary is separated into three sections focusing on the show's origins and two key episodes. Re-Boot is the longest entry and gives a solid overview of the series' beginnings. Friedman, Middleton, and others reveal the reasons for moving the timeline and recollect casting the major roles. Visual effects supervisor James Lima offers good material on creating the endoskeleton, and we close with some stunt info. Future War concentrates on the mid-season episode Dungeons and Dragons and the difficulties in depicting the future. Once again, Lima presents some compelling particulars. Finally, The Demon Hand hones in on that tale, which fills in some cracks in the T2 back story. This is an impressive documentary, but I hoped for even more from the last two segments. They easily could have spent more than an hour going over the season’s many interesting elements.

Terminated Scenes (18:28)
A large portion of the deleted scenes (about half of the running time) come from the Pilot, though most only add small bits of plot information. The extended version of the opening dream sequence is even nastier, but the key facets remain in the final product. Other excised moments show Charlie warning John about having feelings for Cameron in Dungeons and Dragons and several longer sequences in The Demon Hand. Those segments appear in the extended version of that episode, which I'll describe soon.

Cast Audition Tapes (11:19)
I usually find this type of supplement nearly unwatchable due to limited production values and dull footage, but this is a rare exception. Headey and Dekker are both convincing and predict their eventual success. But the true gem is watching Richard T. Jones tear up the screen and showcase his rare talents.

Summer Glau Dance Rehearsal (1:41)
This brief segment presents Glau's remarkable grace and fluid motions while preparing for the ballet sequence. Her dancing background makes her a natural for these movements, which energize this engaging footage.

Storyboard Animatic (3:26)
Here's another standard extra that outdoes expectations. The recorded audio for the Pilot's first Cromartie attack plays while we view the sequence's mostly black-and-white drawings. The effect is intriguing and displays some interesting original concepts.

The Demon Hand Extended Edition (51:45)
This longer version of a pivotal late-season episode begins with a short introduction from Wirth, Middleton, and Friedman. The major insertion is a five-minute video monologue from Headey that gives another reason for Sarah Connor's hatred for machines. It recalls Linda Hamilton's psychiatric ward experiences as Connor in T2 and nicely connects to the feature film. The speech is also available as a separate deleted scene. The other significant addition provided separately is a brief moment for Dekker and his chemistry lab partner. A few scenes don't have finished visual and audio effects, but that occurs rarely. The Demon Hand is also available in its originally televised version.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Terminator: The Sarah Conor Chronicles tackles the mine field of converting the extremely popular films' story to television and actually delivers a tight, gripping serial. The first nine episodes deliver sharp, believable drama with engaging characters that don't feel like imitators of established figures. During the second season, the key question is whether the show can truly grow and continue to improve. If that happens, this exciting tale could be around for a long time.

 


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