Its sequel, also from director James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a worldwide smash that stood at the forefront of a special effects revolution, but a lot of folks forget the brutal, streamlined efficiency of 1984’s The “Terminator”, which laid all the groundwork for the labyrinthine Skynet conspiracies of a trio of other futuristic-killing-machine flicks as well as assorted media tie-ins and even, eventually, screaming Christian Bale soundboards. The film was part of distributor Sony’s first wave of Blu-ray titles five years ago (and arguably the most preferable, given company like “50 First Dates”, “Hitch” and “xXx”), but gets another pass with this special, limited edition Blu-ray release, in a nice little hardback book.

the terminator

Unlike some of Cameron’s other films, “The Terminator” dates very… well, badly isn’t quite the right word. Heavily, I guess I’d say. Its attitudes, as much as its fashions and hairstyles, mark it as absolutely a relic of the 1980s. The story, though, still works. Borrowing heavily from “The Outer Limits”, as Cameron has acknowledged, the narrative centers around a relentless cyborg killing machine (Schwarzenegger) sent back in time from 2029 to exterminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a Los Angeles waitress whose unborn son will grow up to become humanity’s only hope in a future war against the machines. Out to try to stop him and save Sarah is a freedom fighter, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). The model work isn’t as slick and convincing as any number of latter-era knock-offs, but what’s undeniable and impressive is the ambition and scope of Cameron’s vision, which packs in so much more than one would think possible given the project’s budgetary constraints and sci-fi action genre roots.

Presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer identical to its previous Blu-ray release, this limited edition release comes in a kind of hardback book case, with uncompressed PCM 5.1 and Dolby digital 5.1 audio English language tracks, and a French track in the latter format to boot. Seven varieties of subtitles are included, along with imported special features inclusive of a clutch of seven deleted scenes, a 13-minute featurette spotlighting the visual effects and music work, and a separate 20-minute retrospective that opens with the movie’s original theatrical trailer, and mixes in some vintage interview footage from Cameron and his star. The book itself, meanwhile, includes some trivia, photos and a pair of essays on Cameron and the movie. One imagines there’s an anniversary edition release with more input from Cameron, after he wraps up his “Avatar” sequels, looming somewhere off on the horizon (and maybe even Schwarzenegger too, after he escapes the public’s doghouse), but until then this is a decent holdover Blu-ray release, and certainly an audio-visual upgrade for anyone making the switch from DVD.

Elephant White

Tired of foreign-set travelogues that trade too heavily in murky shades of grey? Then “Elephant White” might be right up your alley. Djimon Hounsou and Kevin Bacon headline director Prachya Pinkaew’s tale of vengeance (with the former taking a producer credit as well), which posits that mercy is for the weak (one of the film’s taglines) and that brawn and gunpowder are the ultimate resolvers of problems. Hounsou stars as Curtie Church, who’s hired to take out a notorious Thai sex-trafficking gang by the father of a girl who was victimized by them. With the help of Jimmy the Brit (Bacon), a ruthless weapons dealer, Church finds the men he’s been hired to kill, but then ends up caught between two rival gangs and the corrupt world that surrounds them. “Elephant White” borrows heavily, and is familiar; like (the far superior) “Man on Fire” or “The Killer”, it presumes to redeem its mercenary anti-hero through an emergent conscience, plus women and kids. Still, Bacon in particular has fun, and fans of Hounsou will be heartened to see him take a more central role than in many of the Hollywood films he’s offered. The movie arrives on Blu-ray in high definition 1080p, with a Dolby TrueHD audio track. A smart phone-enabled scan sticker logo on the front enables would-be brick-and-mortar purchasers to view the trailer prior to buying, but apart from its inclusion with a few other previews (and English SDH and Spanish subtitles), there are no other special features included herein.

Cedar Rapids

“Cedar Rapids”, a comedy of charmingly low stakes from director Miguel Arteta, extends and exploits the put-upon talents of Ed Helms, costar of NBC’s “The Office” and, of course, the “Hangover” movies. Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a naive Midwestern insurance salesman who’s suddenly forced into pinch-hitting for a hotshot colleague, and taking a trip to a professional convention in the “big city” of the movie’s title. Told by his boss (Stephen Root) to explicitly avoid competitor Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), Lippe soon finds himself locked in as Dean’s roommate, and cavorting about with a group that includes Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) and Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), which puts him potentially on the outside looking in when it comes time for his important presentation that will notch his company’s seal-of-approval “diamond rating.”

Movies like this sink or swim based on two things: casting, and believability and freshness of setting. In each of these categores, “Cedar Rapids” scores heartily. The movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel — it’s a simpleton-out-of-water tale with a bunch of the usual temptations and raucous distractions thrown in for color — but it does find some tension in the gulf between pious word and sordid deed, and all of the players (especially Reilly, so funny as the prototypical devil-may-care loose cannon) bring a live-wire, full-bodied investment to the material. It’s also a reminder of Heche’s comedic prowess… and slammin’ body; if ever Courtney Cox she needs a new “Cougar Town” nemesis, it should be her. “Cedar Rapids” comes to DVD with a four-minute gag reel, eight minutes of deleted scenes, and a quartet of short featurettes, including a phony commercial for Lippe’s Brown Star Insurance. The theatrical trailer is also included.

The Explosive Generation

For classic film fans, two more of 20th Century Fox and MGM’s manufactured-on-demand titles include “The Explosive Generation” and “The Captive City”. The former, from 1961, stars William Shatner as a school teacher who asks his teenage students to write essays describing their feelings about sex. Naturally, this doesn’t go over particularly well with the local school board, who decides to suspend him. The students then rally together to defend him. Directed by Buzz Kulik from a script by Joseph Landon, “The Explosive Generation” lacks the sort of honestness or punch to make much of its concept, and doesn’t let Shatner get too weird. It instead coasts along mostly on an expected track. Robert Wise’s 1952 film, “The Captive City”, meanwhile, is much more of a treat, even if its anti-gangland moralizing (driven home in a coda from sitting Senator Estes Kefauver) is too narratively on the nose by today’s standards. John Forsythe’s suitably square-jawed performance as Jim Austin, a crusading small town newspaper editor who butts heads with the local police chief (Ray Teal) and runs into a brick wall of non-answers following the mysterious death of a tipster, captivatingly anchors the whole thing. Lee Garmes’ black-and-white cinematography, meanwhile, is crisp and incisive — a work of beauty. Naturally, each title comes on a DVR in custom-made packaging, but sans any supplemental extras. “The Explosive Generation” is available in full-screen, “The Captive City” in 1.78:1 widescreen.

Written by: Brent Simon

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By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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