Featured Blu-ray Review: Digibook Double-Shot: The Terminator and The Usual Suspects

Digibook Double-Shot: The Terminator - Buy from Amazon and The Usual Suspects - Buy from Amazon

This past couple weeks, several Fox films have been released on Blu-ray Digibooks, some of these were making their high definition debut, like The Hustler. Others are double-dips, like The Terminator and The Usual Suspects. So are these latter two worth owning on High Definition? If so, are these latest versions the better deal?

The Movie

The Terminator starts in the distant future of 2029 in a post-apocalyptic world where the robots have risen up and taken over. There's one man leading the human rebellion who could turn the tide and save humanity, John Connor. Unable to defeat the humans in their present, they send a robot assassin into the past, the Terminator, with the goal of killing John Connor's mother, Sarah Connor. The humans get wind of this plan and manage to send a solider of their own into the past, Kyle Reese, with orders to find Sarah Connor first and to protect her at all costs.

Once in the present day in 1984, the Terminator arrives, naked, and promptly runs into a group of punks, killing one and stealing another's clothing. The next day, he kills a gun store clerk and procures all the weaponry he should need. (The plasma rifle was out of stock.) Meanwhile, Kyle's first night in the past is not quite as productive, as he spends most of it on the run from the police, but he too gets some clothing and a gun, plus the addresses to all three Sarah Connors in the phonebook. He has only one real advantage over the Terminator; he knows what Sarah Connor looks like, having seen a picture John Connor had in the future.

Meanwhile, Sarah Connor is going about her daily routine working as a waitress when one of her co-workers see on the news that a Sarah Connor was murdered in her home. And when a second Sarah Connor is murdered that same day, Detective Vukovich and Lieutenant Traxler take notice and shortly afterward Sarah learns she might be a target. Fortunately, Kyle is able find her first; however, finding her and convincing her that there's a time-traveling robot out to get her are two different things.

At the moment, The Terminator has 100% positive reviews, although I'm sure there's some critic out there that will break that streak, it is certainly one of the best sci-fi action movies of all time. The science fiction elements including the time travel, machines rising up against humanity, threat of nuclear war, etc. are all key parts of the story, and not just there as an excuse for action set pieces and special effects. That's not to say there's none of that, but this is an intelligently made action film where you don't have to shut off your brain to enjoy the film. Granted, some of the special effects do look dated, while not all of the time travel aspects work, but the film is nearly as good today as it was more than 25 years ago.

There are two aspects of the movie that simply don't make sense. While it is technically possible for the Terminator to become the source of the technology that will create Skynet in the future, it is not possible for Kyle to be John's father. You can use time travel to compress technological development, but not the biological timeline. The second aspect of the movie that simply doesn't make sense is the hair. 80s hair. There's no explaining it.

The Extras

Sadly, this is just the previous Blu-ray re-released in fancier packaging. This means the only extras on the disc are a 13-minute featurette on the special effects and on the music. It's very in-depth for its running time. There is a 20-minute retrospective, which starts with the original trailer and a short interview clip with James Cameron from 1986 and continues with a conversation with Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron from 1992. It's a bit dated. Finally, there are some deleted scenes. The Digibook contains essays on the movie, the cast, etc., plus some nice images.

As for the technical presentation, it's quite poor for Blu-ray. Granted, the film is closing in on 30 years old, and it cost just $6.5 million when it was first made, but the video is still soft, grainy, and with weak black levels and some flaws in the print. That said, it is a step up from the DVD releases. On the other hand, the audio is good and your surround sound speakers, as well as the bass, will get a work out.

The Verdict

Right now, the Digibook Blu-ray costs $23 on Amazon.com. The previous Blu-ray release for The Terminator costs just $10. If this version had all the extras from the special edition DVD plus maybe a better video transfer, then it would easily be worth that price. But for a simple double-dip with a booklet, it's not.

The Usual Suspects begins on a cargo ship with a confrontation between Dean Keaton and Keyser Söze. It ends poorly for Dean before Keyser destroys the ship and leaves. We learn there were only two survivors, a badly burned Hungarian man taken to the hospital, and a low level con man named Roger "Verbal" Kint. While the Hungarian man is interviewed in the hospital, Verbal is given near-immunity in exchange for his story, which begins six weeks earlier.

At that time a shipment of illegal guns was hijacked and while no one saw who did it, someone heard a voice. Five men were then arrested and brought in for questioning: Spencer McManus, Todd Hockney, Fred Fenster, Dean Keaton, and Verbal Kint. After being interrogating separately, they are put in a holding room together. They quickly figure out the cops have nothing on them, but are perplexed why the police would put five felons together like that. Spencer figures that as long as they are there together, they might as well do a job together. The first job goes off without a hitch, so they decide to pull another. However, this time they meet Kobayashi, who works for Keyser Söze and reveals that his boss has set up everything, including their initial arrest.

And that's really as far as I'm willing to go on the plot. Even that last point I'm a little worried might be going too far. I think it won't be an issue, because not only does this film have one of the best twists of the past couple decades, but also one of the most well-known. Fortunately I can report that even knowing the major twist at the end, and remembering most of the minor ones in-between, this is still a compelling movie to watch. The story is a fantastic Neo-noir heist film, the characters are engaging and the acting is incredible. The first time you see the movie, once you get to the big reveal, you will want to re-watch the movie immediately to see if you can pick up on any clues. For the writer, director, and most of the cast, this film is still either their best film, or in their top three.

The Extras

None. And I don't mean there are no new extras, I mean there are no extras, period. This is just the old featureless Blu-ray in a new case. The case itself does have essays on the movie and its cast, with a few nice pictures, but that's it. This also means it's the old audio and video as well. The good news is that it looked and sounded great, all things considered. The movie cost just $7 million to make back in 1995, so it's not the most visually stunning Blu-ray you will find and there are a couple minor flaws I spotted. That said, it is a serious step above the DVD I own and it's the best it's looked on the home market. The audio is good, but not great. Your surround sound speakers won't get a workout, nor will your bass, but at least the dialogue is clear.

The Verdict

When The Usual Suspects first came out on Blu-ray, it had a $40 list price, which was way too high for a featureless catalogue title. However, now you can grab it on Amazon.com for just $12. The Digibook has a list price of $35, which is still far too high. Even with Amazon's discount, it costs $21, and I can't recommend spending $9 more for the Digibook case, pictures, and essays.


- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2011-05-17