Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: R (Strong Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Language and Brief Nudity)
Running Time: 109 minutes
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken
Screenplay by: John
Brancato & Michael Ferris
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Studio: Warner Bros.
Retail Price: $29.95
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (33 Scenes)
Released: November 11th, 2003
Like many "Terminator" affecionados, I was met with a strong level of skepticism for the third entry of the series. Being a big fan of James Cameron and hearing that he would not be returning to direct the next installment - or have any involvement whatsoever - did make me have a lot of doubts. Sure sequels happen all the time without some or all of the original talent, but Cameron was integral to "The Terminator" franchise since he co-created it, not to mention co-wrote and directed the first two movies. Without his involvement whatsoever, it's like there is no seal of approval. Yes it's an offical sequel, but it just doesn't feel right.
Of course, most people didn't care as the second sequel in the series took in a decent (but somewhat underwhelming) amount at the box office during the summer of 2003 - I'm sure Arnold's involvement helped lure many back (and I'm sure 25 million dollars lured him back to his most famous role). The film received some generally good reviews too, not to mention some surprising fan reaction as many thought that director Jonathan Mostow did a good job of helming the flick. So what are my thoughts? Let's get to it...
"Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines" picks up about ten years after the events of "T2." Sarah Connor is dead and her son John (Nick Stahl) is on the run, living a mysterious life and not having any true identity. But as it would turn out, Judgement Day wasn't stopped - it was merely postponed. The highly advanced (and female) T-X (Kristanna Loken) is sent by SkyNet to kill a few people, one of them being John Connor and his future wife, a gril from his past who's now a vetenarian, that being Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). With the merciless T-X out for the kill, it's up to another Terminator, the T-101 (Arnold Schwarzanegger) to protect John, Kate and once again stop a war involving machines.
I found the movie starting out decently enough, but soon "Terminator 3" just falls flat. A lot of it seems to be just a retread of the much superior sequel, "T2." I thought "T2" wrapped everything up nicely, but no, leave it to Hollywood to try and mess with closure. I will admit that the premise the movie uses - Judgement Day being postponed - is an interesting way to go for the sequel. But this movie is just mindless and barely adds anything new to the saga of John Connor other than he gets a wife. So once again, the war of the machines is not over and John has to accept his destiny.
What I appreciated about the first two "Terminator" movies is besides the groundbreaking special effects and stunt sequences is that their stories and characters held a lot of weight - Cameron made the films quite even, which is probably why they were so involving and still remain so popular. I personally felt there was a lot at stake in the first two movies and I became drawn to the characters, both good and bad. The characters were interesting, developed nicely and I did really care for them. Here, in the screenplay by John Brancatto and Michael Ferris, all the characters are strictly one-dimensional in a B-movie sense. Kate is the woman who's pissed off but then grows to accept John and her role. Her father is the general type who loves his daughter but he's always busy. John has a heavy past and must continue to accept it. The T-X just wants to kill. The T-101 is just doing his duties and enjoys violence. It's pretty laughable.
"Terminator 3" does have a story but just enough of it so that we should care a little, but the mindless action overwhelms it. Tiny bits of plots more or less are just used to link the action. So if you're looking for a mindless action-adventure flick sprinkled with science-fiction dust, you'll be more than overjoyed with what "Terminator 3" is. If you are that type you'll recognize some of the characters and enjoy some slight nods to "T2," and you'll be more than satisfied (I did enjoy the nods actually - it was a way to help me feel more connected with this entry's part of the whole series). But really this movie brings nothing new as far as ideas or story. It does extend the series out and gives it a new chapter so it does go forward, but again, it's just retread of the second movie in that something must be prevented and John Connor can't die (well, that should be a given).
The dialogue is also B-movie in nature - a lot of it is really corny and also laughable (just hear about poor John whining about the importance of destiny and his life and Kate screaming "BITCH!" a lot). Some scenes are also pretty big rip-offs from the second flick (Arnold's entrance and obtaining clothes, anyone?) and in a half-assed manner, tries to create a relationship between T-101 and John. There was one in the second, but the movie thinks it has a bond between the hero and machine but barely develops it - something that bugged me since I don't think it should have been ignored exactly. There's also a lot of dumb, tounge-in cheek humor that I really didn't find that amusing. Does the humor hurt the movie? Not really. But it usually doesn't work and made it harder for me to take it on a more serious level.
I will give some props to director Jonathan Mostow - this movie definitely is energetic and he paces it well. On a technical level, Mostow is quite outstanding. While I wasn't really a big fan of "U-571," the battle scenes were impressive and he brings those kind of skills here, just on a much bigger scale. Mostow expertly stages some wonderful action sequences that are thrilling, exciting and most importantly, entertaining. The stunts and special effects are probably the best part of the movie, as done by the geniuses at Stan Winston Studios and Industrial Light & Magic. They really are great, and I would even say that the whole big car/truck chase scene rivals "The Matrix Reloaded"'s freeway chase as the best action sequence from the summer of 2003.
But Mostow's vision isn't him trying to emulate Cameron - by no means does "Terminator 3" feel like a Cameron movie or even resemble one. Sure it's technical in nature with the effects, good shots and sharp editing. But where Mostow fails is probably on a more important level than the action: humanity. Mostow makes T3 a very uninvolving experience emotionally. Everything is so one-note about the movie that I really didn't care about the characters or what was going to happen, whereas I felt the opposite in Cameron's "Terminator" films. The tension just wasn't there for me. I know it probably is unfair to compare Mostow to Cameron, but I probably would have enjoyed T3 more if some of the same spirit was there as was in the first two. As it goes though, this movie feels like an assembly line product (like most sequels) and lacks a lot of freshness.
The acting really isn't to fault here and is enjoyable, but it definitely can be hammy (which only adds to the B-movie nature). Yes, it's nice to see Arnold "Governator" Schwarzenegger back as a Terminator, but he really just walks through this movie and is nowhere as interesting as his Terminators in the first two movies. I did enjoy Nick Stahl quite a bit as John Connor a lot, but the character sure has changed. He's a somber, mellow and fearful guy compared to the tough, "let-me-at-em!" kid in the second movie (then again, I'm sure you could argue that a decade and his mother's death would mature and change him). Claire "I-filled-in-at-the-last-minute-and-this-was-my-first-movie-that-made-over-100-million-dollars" Danes does a very nice job as Kate - she's incredibly tough and a fine, strong female character. Danes definitely elevates the role but it's too bad her character is so predictable and cliché-filled. Still, I think Kristanna Loken steals the show. I think it was a good idea to make the evil Terminator a female - and she is quite menacing. You do sense a bit of delight in her and it's definitely a fun performance. In fact, I liked her just as much - maybe even a little more - than Robert Patrick's cold as nails T-1000. Oh, and look for a brief cameo from someone who had a role in the past two films as well...
The end of "Terminator 3" does indeed set up a "Terminator 4." Now that the world's most famous action star (or former famous action star) is now governor of California (AKA cal-ee-for-nyah), it seems doubtful he'll go back to making movies. However, I did read something where the producers said they would be willing to make a "Terminator 4" without Arnold. It could very well happen and maybe it could work. Given how great the first two movies in the series were since they wonderfully combined great action with strong stories, all that I must say is that they should have quit while they were ahead. Still, in Hollywood, making money is more important than that dumb idea.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer for the film is rather exceptional. The flaws are minor: there is some very slightly edge enhancment that I'm sure most viewers won't even pick on, the image is slightly grainy and there's a hint of artifacting here and there. Other than that, this transfer is perfect. Detail is impeccable while black levels are wonderfully solid. The image has a strong amount of depth to it, not to mention color saturation is excellent. The colors are bold and there's a nice variety of them, not to mention they appear quite warm. Fleshtones are also great as are the exterior shots. The source print is also remakrably clean with only a scratch and dirt pieces here and there. This is a nice transfer that should not let down any fans of the movie.
"Terminator 3," of course, is a big-budget action movie so you better expect some great surround use. As expected, the DVD definitely succeeds on this level with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (a French 5.1 track is also included) and does justice to the film's nature. The surrounds are quite overwhelming, but I mean that in the best possible way. Imaging on the track is mesmerizing and you'll definitely feel like you're in the middle of the action - this 5.1 mix is sharp and discrete. Be it the T-X whirring her hands, glass breaking, people being thrown, gunfire, fighting or lots and lots of explosions (just listen to the big car chase scene), this track has it all and does it in overblown fashion. The subwoofer is used quite well and quite often too. Yet within it all, the track is balanced quite well as far as other elements. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear and isn't lost among the events of the movie and the music, be it the few songs or Marco Beltrami's score, comes across through the channels quite well. I'm sure a DTS track would have been amazing, but as it stands, the 5.1 track will make those with home theater systems happy. The DVD also has English closed captioning, French subtitles, English subtitles and Spanish subtitles - just in case you need them.
Once again Warner delivers a two-disc special edition for one of their more popular titles, but sad to say this one walks on the fluffy side. Still, there are some worthwhile supplements here. First up on disc one are two audio commentaries. The Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Mostow, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Claire Danes, Nick Stahl and Kristanna Loken. The track is introduced by Mostow (who also sometimes is joined with Danes) who explains the track is edited and that the commentaries were recorded in separate while they were doing the promotional tour. This track is actually entertaining, interesting and remains pretty screen-specific. Despite Arnold's comments involving breasts that probably won't help his groping allegations, his comments are actually pretty amusing and he touches on aspects of the film that probably really appeal to the typical filmgoer. Stahl is a bit dry but seems to enjoy his experiences on the movie, Loken is really enthusiastic and talks about her origins with the project, her work on the movie and how she prepared while Mostow offers some of his comments and sorta moderates Danes on the track who offers some pretty interesting production anecdotes.
Mostow then goes at alone in his own solo Audio Commentary that is a lot more technical in nature and focues a lot on the story aspects. I actually enjoyed this track a lot, but the first commentary is definitely more for casual fans of the movie. Still, if you're curious about a lot of things and want to cram as much T3 knowledge into your mind as possible, then Mostow's track is recommended too. He comes across as a really friendly guy and cracks some fun little jokes, but his passion is definitely there and he talks non-stop. He offers all sorts of details - big and small - on creating T3. I am pretty sure I enjoyed Mostow's experience making the movie more than his final product. The first disc also has an anamorphic widescreen Theatrical Trailer and a Video Game Trailer (might as well cross-promote).
Starting the second disc off is the unintentionally hilarious Introduction by my friend and yours, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's way too excited during the precious 35 seconds. Then there's the 13 minute "Documentary" (it's amazing how promo fluff gets such a serious title). With behind-the-scenes footage from the set, clips from the movie and interviews with the key cast (those you hear on the commentary), Mostow, producer Andrew G. Ajina and producer Mario F. Kassar, it's really just a fluff-fest as we learn about the film's story and a lot of self-congratulatory remarks. There's nothing new here, and it definitely doesn't deserve the title "documentary."
The Sgt. Candy Scene is a 2 minute bit that seems to be a deleted scene for comedic purposes and maybe add a hint of irony (and is that Arnold really doing a southern accent?). There's also the Terminal Flaws: Gag Reel that lasts three minutes. Set against cheesy "funky" music, it has some moments but really isn't that amusing. The SkyNet Database is a trivia game that gives you character biographies from the movies as well as other information. You can't scroll these by yourself and the computer noises get awfully annoying, but it's worth it to see new actors with their backs turned portray characters from past movies. There's also the Terminator Timeline which traces the history of the saga chronologically via text - good to refresh your memory and put things in perspective.
The T3 Visual Effects Lab is pretty interesting. Mostow introduces the bit in how the special effects come together and we see footage of him and others working as well as other interviewees who aren't idenitfied in the intro, but we get to know them in the featurettes. Oh yeah, Arnold pops in too. So four sequences are broken down: "Crane Chase," "FX Transformation," "Future War" and "Crystal Peak." Mostow and a bunch of the tech guys are interviewed, showing off what they do and how they accomplish the scenes - everything from the concept to putting all the elements together. As you would probably expect, the work is impressive and quite complex. Sadly, this probably will only really appeal to the tech-heads and those interested in how some of the amazing effects work came together and rank as one of the best set of extras on the disc. There's is also the "Visual Effects Lab." Complete with cheesy text introduction, you're pitted to save the world by editing scenes together - either "Robots" or "Underwater Scene." It's not revolutionary at all and is pretty simple. Each short scene gives you three elements and two options for each.
Storyboards is a final film to storyboard comparison of one of the action sequences later in the movie that lasts about four minutes and Dressed To Kill, which lasts a bit over two minutes, has stills, on-the-set footage and has slight comments from Stahl, costume designer April Ferry, Loken, Mostow, Danes and Arnold talking about the clothing. This is pretty pointless. There's also the 6 and-a-half commercial errr featurette about Todd McFarlane making the T3 toys and the process behind it (the toys sure look cool). And to top it all off, we also need a PC Game Trailer (because you need that and the video game version) and then more promo in Making The Video Game. Lasting about 9 minutes, the cast and crew give their thoughts on why making a T3 video game is important and making it free reign, and how the filmmakers and cast are directly involved with the game. I'm sorry, but this is just a commercial... so let me say that I've read a number of reviews and I hear the game really sucks. Are they sure the game wasn't an "afterthought" either? Oh, and DVD-ROM users you get a punch T3-related links to enjoy.
"Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines" does have some redeeming values but in the end, I thought this was a pretty pointless and uninvolving sequel. This installment does have a lot of fans and they should enjoy this DVD. The presentation is top-notch and there are some decent supplements to be had here (once you get past the fluff), and I'm sure movie fans will want to own the entire series. The price is right too, so if you must, enjoy having a little bit more Arnold in your collection. Personally, this movie does nothing for me and would have been better to stop at two and keep some high credibility instead of yet another movie studio cashing in on a ever-popular franchise to make a buck.