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TERMINATOR 3:  RISE OF THE MACHINES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken
Director:  Jonathan Mostow
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  109 Minutes
Release Date:  November 11, 2003

“No…we stopped Judgment Day!”

“You only postponed it.  Judgment Day is inevitable.”

Film **

On one hand, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was one of the most eagerly anticipated sequels of recent memory, returning a major action star to the role he was most well known for.  On the other hand, if you took Terminator 2 at face value, there’s no way that T3 could even exist.

The newest installment in the franchise offers a few kicks, but suffers under the weight of two major flaws:  it sorely misses the guiding hand of James Cameron, and it violates the basic philosophy of the first two movies.  Basically, T3 takes a fatalistic approach and suggests that the events of the future cannot actually be changed.  Which, of course, begs the question of why all the traveling back in time in all three films to try to alter the course of history?

For some twenty years now, the Terminator mythology has pointed toward a future of self-aware computers and a great man vs. machine war that humans eventually win.  The purpose of the movies was to show the machines sending back assassins to eliminate the future resistance leader, John Connor (Nick Stahl in this entry), while the humans in each case sent back a lone warrior to insure that Connor would survive.

As much as I think the filmmakers wanted fans to just sit back and have a good time with this installment, it’s impossible to escape the fact that the philosophy has been altered in such a way that makes the basic premises of all three pictures moot.  Even in T3, agents from both sides in the future are going back to our time to alter events, even though it’s telling us we CAN’T change the future.  Yikes.

At any rate, this picture picks up in real time 12 years after the events of T2.  John Connor is now a young man forever altered by the events of his youth.  Though he and his mother, with the help of a reprogrammed T101 terminator (Schwarzenegger) seemed to have prevented Judgment Day (the day the machines became aware and launched an all out annihilation attempt on humanity), he’s still haunted by nightmares and visions.  He lives alone as a nomad, off the grid, with no address, phone number or anything else…he practically doesn’t exist.

But something is going wrong…once again, the machines of the future have sent back an agent to eliminate him.  This time, it’s the TX (the lovely Kristanna Loken), aka the terminatrix.  Like her T2 predecessor, she is a liquid metal alloy machine, but unlike him, she sports a solid endoskeleton and she’s capable of forming complex weapons (including some sort of energy pulse cannon that obliterates just about anything in its path) and interacting with other machines to control them.

The resistance has sent back yet another reprogrammed T101 to protect not only John Connor, but his future lieutenant Kate Brewster (Claire Danes).  Since we’re now several years past the date of Judgment Day, an explanation is in order, and we get one:  the darkest day in human history was only delayed.  Preventing it is impossible.

Or is it?  The current timeline of events calls for Kate’s father, an air force general, to implement the infamous Skynet computer on the very day this movie takes place.  If they can somehow get to him and stop the launching of the artificially intelligent system, all will be well.  But between them and him stands the TX, and she doesn’t intend to fail in her mission.

I mentioned earlier that the movie misses James Cameron’s touch.  The best action sequences to me aren’t imagined and executed, but rather orchestrated.  Though there are plenty of big bangs for your buck here, it’s all chaos and noise.  There’s no sense that the scenes are building to something or that the intensity is increasing.  Everything is simply all out.  Lulls come because the action runs out, not because we’re being given something to think about or the suspense is building.  There’s plenty of spectacle here, and better effects technology than ever before, but frankly, nothing in the film compared to Cameron’s sequences in T2.

Jonathan Mostow also directed the submarine movie U-571.  He knows how to deliver a big scene with plenty of percussion, but I’m still waiting for him to piece together an action sequence that doesn’t seem so…well, pieced together.

Now that our old friend Arnold has become the Term-eliminator in real life and taken over as governor of California, he says his film career will be put on hold.  T3 leaves room for another installment, but frankly, I don’t know if I even want to see it.  Right now, I think I’d just prefer pretending the story ended with T2 as it should have, while making believe that this movie never happened.

Video ****

Warner’s anamorphic presentation is nothing short of spectacular.  This is an action film that delivers all the goods from a visual standpoint, and everything renders to digital presentation beautifully.  There are lots of daylit scenes and lots of night ones as well…colors, image detail and sharpness never seem compromised.  I noticed no grain or compression evidence; everything seemed smooth sailing from start to finish.

Audio ****

Likewise, the 5.1 audio really rocks with plenty of multi-channel action to keep you in the middle of events.  The rear stage stayed busy during the big sequences, and the subwoofer signal was almost constant from the rumblings of machines, explosions and gunpower.  Dialogue was clean and clear and the mix was extremely dynamic and forceful.  Excellent effort.

Features ****

This two disc set comes fully loaded with extras.  On disc one, you get two solid commentary tracks; one by director Jonathan Mostow alone, who discusses the project development, his ideas, working with the actors, and bits of trivia on the making of the movie.  The second features Mostow with his cast, each recorded separately but edited together smoothly.  Schwarzenegger, Stahl, Danes and Loken all chime in with their thoughts and memories.  This is Claire Danes first DVD commentary, and also probably the best one Arnold has done so far.  I mostly enjoyed Kristanna Loken’s anecdotes, even though she sounded slightly hoarse from her then promotional tour for the film.  The first disc rounds out with trailers for the movie and video game.

Disc Two features everything else, starting with a brief introduction from the governor himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  An HBO documentary follows, plus one of the best deleted scenes I’ve ever viewed (in case you were wondering how the T101 got its look!).  There’s a brief gag reel, an extensive visual effects lab so you can see how the big scenes were created, and even manipulate the effects yourself for both the underwater sequence and the future world of machines.  A Skynet database allows you access to files on the movies’ main characters and mechanized bad guys, while a timeline takes you through all the events.  Rounding out are storyboards and looks at the costumes, toys and video games, plus content for your DVD ROM.

Summary:

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines tries to carve an original niche for itself by going against the basic philosophical thread of the first two movies.  Far from being an intriguing premise, it’s a fatal flaw for which the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as our favorite futuristic cyborg and some over-the-top action sequences can’t compensate.