Terminator 2: Judgment Day Ultra HD Blu-ray review

It's safe to say 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day caused a stir when it landed in cinemas, flaunting a massive budget and groundbreaking CGI. The resulting audience stampede saw it challenge box office records, cement James Cameron's status as Hollywood royalty and have it crowned by some as that rarest of things – a sequel superior to its forebear.

T2 isn't that, though – it lacks the sheer unpolished energy and lean storytelling of Cameron's The Terminator. But it certainly succeeds in being bigger, both in its narrative scope and action sequences.

The movie's real genius lies not in its fluid SFX (although they're impressive), but in its repurposing of its original cast. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is here transformed from poodle-haired sidekick to muscular action heroine, while Arnold Schwarzenegger's switch from baddie to hero is inspired, creating a father figure to dad-less John Connor (Edward Furlong), and a handy weapon to fight the seemingly indestructible T1000.

Two-and-a-half decades since its release, T2 hasn't lost its ability to thrill. The plot still intrigues, the occasional gags still raise a smile and the T1000 still terrifies. At the same time, the fact that it softened its edges to get a ‘15' rating irks, and James Cameron's direction can at times feel oddly passive, despite the destruction happening onscreen.

Picture: Studiocanal's Ultra HD Blu-ray release (as evidenced by a pre-movie line of text) is apparently based upon the new Digital Intermediate struck for its theatrical 3D release earlier this year. And perhaps this explains why the movie doesn't look as enticing in 4K as many fans will hope.

The issue is that grain reduction and digital smoothing has obviously been applied – presumably to enable a more effective 3D presentation – and that, while the 3,840 x 2,160 image appears pleasingly sharp, it's almost superficially so. There are strong edges, but other areas of the picture appear almost CG like in their lack of really fine detail. It's particularly evident in the scene were Schwarzenegger enters the biker bar in Chapter 1, stark naked. His skin appears ultra-smooth, his hair and eyebrows waxy, and the image feels flat.

Previous BD releases for T2 have also suffered from digital cleanup work, so maybe this isn't unexpected, but anyone hoping for a 4K iteration of how this 35mm production will surely have looked in cinemas in 1991 will be disappointed.

HDR grading is subtle, rather than spectacular. Comparisons with the 1080p platter show little overt difference in how bright highlights (often, in this movie, glinting chrome) are handled. More obvious is the switch to a cooler colour palette on the Ultra HD version, which is clearly noticeable in skin tones – Schwarzenegger, Furlong and Hamilton have less of a pinkish hue – and less warmth in the movie's daylight Los Angeles scenes.

This 2.40:1 encode does have its merits. There's a clear uptick in sharpness over the Full HD version, black levels are strong and there's a pleasing sense of contrast. But, overall, this is a disappointing UHD HDR debut for Cameron's much-loved actioner.

N.b. Just before this review went to press for inclusion in HCC #279, Lionsgate announced an indefinite delay to its Ultra HD BD of Terminator 2: Judgment Day in the US. We were subsequently informed that Studiocanal's UK release was being delayed until December 4 - however when we asked whether or not there would be any differences in the retail discs to the ones we were sent for review, we were informed that 'It's literally just a production delay and the discs will be no different to the ones you received'.
Picture rating: 2.5/5

Audio: For its sonic accompaniment, T2 on 4K carries a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (the previous Skynet Edition Blu-ray offered DTS-HD MA 6.1, an earlier outing offered lossy Dolby Digital), and, while not being the Atmos or DTS:X upgrade that some may have craved, it's a solid track, particularly considering the movie's vintage.

There's a skilful balance between Foley effects, Brad Fiedel's lumbering score and dialogue, with a strong LCR spread and effective use of the surrounds. The truck/bike chase sequence (Chapter 3) sounds weighty and large – Arnie's shotgun packs a meaty punch, while screeching metal and rasping engines cut through with clarity.

Note that the German audio is DTS-HD MA 7.1. So if you're bilingual, maybe this is the one for you.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: All extras can be found on the 1080p disc – all you get on the 4K platter are mind-bendingly slow animated menus that delay your enjoyment of the movie. Of the extras, the one that'll most interest T2-hedz is the new 55-min Reprogramming The Terminator documentary, which looks back on the film's conception, production and impact. Packed with talking heads (including Schwarzenegger and Cameron), it's candid in a way that a documentary made 26 years after the fact can be.

The other new bonus bit is a trailer for the 2017 theatrical 3D release. Archival extras are: a Making of... doc from 1993 (4:3 aspect ratio); two deleted scenes (with optional commentary); trailers; and two archival commentary tracks accessible from the setup menu.

The Full HD disc also packs three cuts of the film (Theatrical, Special Edition and Extended Special Edition), via seamless branching.
Extras rating: 3.5/5

We say: T2's super-smooth 4K encode erases its celluloid origins from history. 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Studiocanal, Ultra HD BD & Region B BD, £30

...not something you want to see at the start of a 'flat' 4K Blu-ray presentation.