Release Date(s)2019 (January 28, 2020)
Studio(s)Skydance/Paramount/Fox/Tencent/Lightstorm/TSG (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Directed by Tim Miller (of Deadpool fame), produced by James Cameron, and written by a team of capable scribes that includes David Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, and Dark City), Terminator: Dark Fate opens with a terrific teaser in which—even after everything she’s endured in the first two films—Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is unable to save her son John. Twenty-two years later, in Mexico City, young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) and her brother Diego are hard at work in an auto factory when their father arrives to deliver them lunch. Except this is not their father, but rather a Terminator from the future (played by Gabriel Luna), sent to kill Dani. Before it can do so, a woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) intercedes—violently—in order to save Dani. Grace isn’t a normal woman either, but an explanation as to who or what she is will have to wait until they escape from the Terminator, a so-called “Rev-9” model that’s more deadly than anything we’ve seen before. And by the time a now 60-year-old Sarah Connor shows up to fight it too, it’s clear that most of what we thought we knew about the Terminator mythology has gone out the window.
Here’s the real surprise: For all the controversy surrounding the creative differences between Miller and producer James Cameron (who ultimately had the right of final cut on this film and used it), Terminator: Dark Fate is actually pretty good. The story is compelling and flows logically from the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, including the way it handles the passage of time since that film. The cast is solid across the board. Hamilton and Schwarzenegger refresh their original characters with restraint and complexity. And though we’re not really given enough time to connect with them, Davis and Reyes do a fine job of making you like their characters too. There’s a great opening flashback where we see what happened to Sarah and John (in 1998) to alter the timeline. (It’s so well done, in fact, that you could be forgiven for thinking you were actually watching deleted footage shot for Judgment Day.) And Miller is an eminently capable action director who absolutely delivers the goods here.
The problem, ultimately, is that this is now the fourth attempt to continue or reboot the Terminator franchise for the big screen, after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator: Salvation (2009), and Terminator: Genisys (2015). And I’m not sure that anyone really cares that much anymore. Had this movie come out instead of Salvation or Genisys, maybe things would be different. And the elephant in the room is none of these films can compete with Fox’s short-lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009), which offered a far more compelling character story than all of the above. By the time Dark Fate is over, we’re left almost exactly where we started at the end of Judgment Day—there’s an apocalypse coming, with the same cause and essentially the same threat (just under a different name)—and Sarah Connor now has a new young female protégé in the place of her son. So… that’s kind of progress, I guess?
Terminator: Dark Fate was captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 4.5K) using the Arri Alexa LF camera with Zeiss and Angenieux Optimo anamorphic lenses. Sadly, it was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate only and upsampled for this Ultra HD presentation, then graded for High Dynamic Range—both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available. [Editor’s Note: We have confirmed the 2K DI with VFX artists who worked on the film.] Overall image clarity and detail are terrific regardless thanks to the higher resolution capture, less so obviously in moments with a lot of atmospherics (smoke, cloud, water—as in underwater) but that’s to be expected. Texturing is crisp and well-defined without appearing edgy, colors are rich and nuanced, and the contrast is superb—deep yet detailed blacks abound, with highlights that fall short of being eye-reactive but are still pleasingly bright and natural looking.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in an equally good English Dolby Atmos soundtrack that delivers an expansive soundstage both in width and height. Dialogue clarity is excellent. The low-end foundation is full and muscular. Panning is smooth, with abundant and seemingly effortless movement. There’s a great audio cue at about 27:30 into the film (when Grace is overheating after the battle) where you hear this sharp edgy sound bounce around the listening space—it sort of builds steadily and then sizzles around you. It’s just a subtle thing, but it illustrates the quality of the Atmos mix well. There’s also nice and natural use of the height channels, especially in the film’s aerial and underwater sequences. Additional audio selections include English Audio Description and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, and French.
Paramount’s 4K package includes the UHD disc and a regular Blu-ray that offers the film in 1080p HD, along with a modest slate of extras. These include:
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (6 scenes – 8:54 in all)
- A Legend Reforged (20:11)
- World Builders (32:46)
- Damn Busters: The Final Showdown (8:30)
- VFX Breakdown: The DragonFly (2:33)
The deleted scenes feature extra moments of carnage as the Rev-9 stalks its prey, a few alternate takes, a scene in which Carl’s wife speaks with Sarah (and reveals that she knows what Carl is), and a couple of additional moments of Grace and Dani in the post-apocalyptic future. The film is better for leaving them all on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but it’s nice to see them here. A Legend Reforged is a solid behind-the-scenes look at the production in which all the key participants offer insights on the story. World Builders is a good look at the process of de-aging Hamilton and Schwarzenegger (and recreating young John Connor) for the flashback scene, as well as location shooting, stunt sequences, and what’s obviously been a very thoughtful effort at production design. Damn Busters is just what you expect: a look at the film’s climactic action sequence. And The DragonFly is a nice VFX show reel, highlighting the terrific effects work done for the film’s “future war” sequence. Obviously, the package also includes a Digital copy code on a paper insert.
It’s clear that the bonus content producer here (he or she is unnamed, but Mob Scene is the company) had trusted access to the actors and set, and it makes a real difference. But one or more audio commentaries (with the director, writers, and cast) would really have put this package over the top—and there are none. Except here’s the thing: Paramount has made a few of the extras produced for this title Digital exclusive, including audio commentary by director Tim Miller and editor Julian Clarke, the deleted scenes with commentary by Miller, 3 pre-viz sequences (Factory Fight, Air Battle to Humvee Falling, and Humvee Dam), and 2 more featurettes (Creating a New Threat and Future Tech). And dammit, that’s just irritating. People who purchase the 4K disc are paying a premium price for a premium experience—for that money, they deserve to get everything on the discs.
Ultimately, Terminator: Dark Fate is a 128-minute push of the reset button… a lot of sound and fury signifying a kind of sideways shift of the Terminator canon rather than a real advancement. I can’t help feeling like this franchise needs to move in a genuinely new and unexpected direction for anyone to care from this point on, and Dark Fate’s lackluster box office suggests that audiences feel the same. Still, I certainly enjoyed this film more than I expected to—really more than any other film in this series since Judgment Day. And it looks and sounds great in 4K Ultra HD too. But it’s hard to enthusiastically recommend a UHD package that shunts fully a third of its bonus content to Digital access only. So... recommended mostly for the most diehard fans and everyone else should find a really good sale price.
- Bill Hunt