Only a couple of mainstream movies are making their way onto video this week, but both should do a fairly good job pleasing their target audiences.
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
The first three “Terminator” movies spend a lot of time describing a future world where humanity is at war with killer machines but, because time travel is central to the plotting, we’re forced to imagine the horrifying struggle. Thanks to “Salvation,” the fight is no longer relegated to imagination.
The film is set in a future version of Earth where John Connor (Christian Bale), the prophesized savior of humanity, is serving in a military resistance against hostile machines that essentially control the planet. Because he has been fighting time-traveling robots since he was a child, John has a pretty good idea where his life is headed and he also knows it’s imperative that he find a man named Kyle Reese so that he can send him back in time with orders to save Sarah Connor (his own mother). Complicating John’s quest are military superiors who want to see things done their way and the appearance of a strange being named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a machine-human hybrid who may or may not be a friend. It sounds complicated, but it will make perfect sense to the Terminator faithful, and that’s who this film was made for.
This is the first Terminator movie by former music video director McG (“Charlie’s Angels,” “We Are Marshall”), and he does a fine job capturing the spirit of the series. His vision of human vs. machine warfare is outstanding and it is especially intriguing to see the addition of several new Terminator robots, including scouts that travel roads like motorcycles and eel-like machines that patrol waterways.
“Terminator Salvation” isn’t as novel as “The Terminator” or as groundbreaking as “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” but it is a solidly made action film that spins a good yarn while building on the already impressive mythology of series. It’s also a considerable upgrade from “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”
The only DVD extra is a digital copy of the film.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Rated PG for mild action and brief language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
“Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” has only one major flaw: It’s not that different from its predecessor.
Although hardly brilliant, the original “Night at the Museum” got points for a clever premise, which saw exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History come to life at night. “Battle of the Smithsonian” is just as well produced and acted as the original, but it never rises above mildly entertaining because there are no surprises.
Most of the players from the original film, including museum security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), are back for round two, but the dynamic has changed because Larry has become a huge success selling wacky inventions on television infomercials. Still, he misses his adventures at the museum, so he returns periodically to visit with the exhibits. Then, due to museum updates, a number of the exhibits are shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., along with the ancient artifact responsible for bringing them to life.
It’s not long before Larry gets a call from the miniature cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson), explaining that exhibits at the Smithsonian are now coming to life and that an evil pharaoh is attacking him and Larry’s other pals. Soon, Larry is at the Smithsonian taking part in another wild adventure that this time involves Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and General George Custer (Bill Hader).
“Battle of the Smithsonian” has great special effects and a strong enough cast to make it work well as mindless entertainment. Sadly, one gets the feeling that it could have been better had director Shawn Levy insisted on a deeper and more original screenplay.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc set containing Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the film. Extra features vary.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“A Christmas Tale” (“Un conte de Noel”): Criterion Collection release of director Arnaud Desplechin’s 2008 film about a dysfunctional family that gathers at Christmas, learning that its matriarch (Catherine Deneuve) needs a bone marrow transplant from a blood relative. Presented in French with English subtitles.
“Paper Heart”: Combination of documentary and traditional storytelling focused on Charlyne Yi’s (“Knocked Up”) travels across America to find the meaning of love. In her search, she meets Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) who challenges her feelings on the subject.
“2 Turntables and a Microphone: The Life and Death of Jam Master Jay”: Documentary about the unsolved murder of hip-hop DJ Jason Mizell, a.k.a. Jam Master Jay. Interviews with 50 Cent, Run-DMC, Russell Simmons and Ja Rule shed light on the DJ’s life.
“The Brooklyn Heist”: Sharing the same hatred for a local pawnshop owner, three teams of amateur criminals arrange to break into her safe and steal her riches. Unbeknownst to each other, they are all planning the heist on the same night. The offbeat feature is directed by Julian M. Kheel.
“Death Warrior”: Mixed Martial Arts experts, including Georges “Rush” St-Pierre (current UFC Welterweight Champion) and Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine (current UFC Light Heavyweight fighter), play combatants who are lured into the dangerous world of underground cage fighting to save the lives of their loved ones.
“Pale Force”: Series of animated shorts about superheroes whose special powers are limited to paleness. Comedians Jim Gaffigan and Conan O’Brien star.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com