**½/**** Image A- Sound A+ Extras B
starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken
screenplay by John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris
directed by Jonathan Mostow
by Walter Chaw Where the first film banked on romantic melancholy, and the second on a literalization of both techno-paranoia and the Oedipal split, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (hereafter T3)--the first in the Terminator trilogy to be directed by someone other than James Cameron (U-571's Jonathan Mostow)--is essentially a mega-budgeted slasher flick rematted as a hero mythology, but without the sociological significance of the genre. What T3 is, at its core, is a post-modern picture with a few agreeable moments of self-knowing humour that devolve into a self-worshipping reverence. With Arnold Schwarzenegger threatening to jettison his foundering movie career (something of a disaster since the last Terminator film) to pursue a terrifying career in politics, the picture plays like an Academy highlight reel, with Arnie delivering three variations of his "I'll be back" as well as a quick "I lied" for the dozen or so people who still remember Commando. T3 never gets more clever than that, really (though a moment where Arnie's killer robot dons a pair of Elton John sunglasses is a classic image only missing a quick refrain of "The Bitch is Back"), and the picture resolves itself as derivative (I should say "slavishly, worshipfully derivative") of the other films in the trilogy while adding a lot of loud "nothing new."
The pleasures of this text reside almost completely in the sensation that we're watching an extremely well-funded kid playing with toy cars in a toy city. An early chase between police cars, fire trucks, an old van, and a giant crane driven by a Barbie doll (a hearse plays a major role later) scream of the sort of invention that springs from a limited roster of toys and a limitless desire for mayhem. Though this action set-piece and a fairly involving fight in a bathroom (see also: True Lies) provide glimpses of the weighted mayhem of the first two films, it's all balanced by terrible dialogue and a laudable but misdirected desire to provide too much backstory. The greatest disappointment of the piece (once the disappointment of it lacking much of the sort of pathos we've come to expect from these films fades, of course) is that T3 botches the design of the T-X (it's more Inspector Gadget than killing machine), then squanders the opportunity to explore, Species-like, the endless possibilities of a remorseless alien "Terminatrix" that happens to look like a Norwegian supermodel.
Like the three previous "think"-busters this summer (X2, The Matrix Reloaded, The Hulk), T3 rides its glimmer of a thought to uneven success, earning credit for its dedication to a sweeping biblical allegory as it manifests in the Christian idea that everything that happens in the Old Testament (as in The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day) points acrobatically to the New Testament. Questions of closed-circuits and destiny (Arnie's exit line, as he suffers the fate of Krull's Cyclops, is a surprisingly haunted, "See you later"--the fact that he keeps running after divesting himself of both of his fuel cells better left unexamined) are addressed with a sort of blundering wit, the wide-eyed pronouncements of John and Kate playing a lot like the high school drama club tackling Chekov. Yet the most poignant moment in a film that tries hard (and in vain) to be really poignant comes inadvertently when the Arnie-bot explains that his is a currently obsolete model: too old, too slow, too stupid. That guerrilla ping of empathy arose for me not for a hunk of metal with an inexplicable accent, but (and mirroring the main conflict of the film in a way) for an aging idol become uncomfortably, and unexpectedly, sentient and self-aware. Originally published: July 2, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Less maddening on a second viewing because one develops a physiological tolerance for pain inflictors, T3 docks on DVD in a 2-disc package that fails to live up to the standards set by deluxe editions of The Terminator and T2, thus mirroring the film's own relationship to its predecessors. We received Warner's widescreen version for review (fullscreen sold separately), and it's probably worth noting that we actually got the set over a week ago but were forced to exchange it when the keepcase revealed twin copies of the first platter inside; since this was a pulled retail item, it might be a good idea to check the contents of your T3 DVD at the point of purchase. As for the program itself, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is presented at 2.35:1 in an attractive yet inconsistent anamorphic transfer: grain is sometimes mismatched from shot-to-shot while shadow detail loses its smudgy quality as the film wears on. On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track leaves a bigger sonic footprint than even The Matrix Reloaded (at least, The Matrix Reloaded DVD, also from Warner); this is the kind of mix that will have the downstairs neighbours shaking ceiling plaster out of their hair afterwards, and best of all, dialogue is not drowned out by the high-decibel soundscape. The demolition derby (chapter 12) is showroom material, but the real aural fireworks occur from chapter 24's "rise of the machines" on.
In addition to the film, Disc 1 contains trailers for Terminator 3 and the "Terminator" video game (the latter on Disc 2, too) plus two feature-length commentaries, one a pastiche featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger (quick to discuss breasts and rhyme off his bodybuilding accomplishments), Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken (also obsessed with physicality but not to Schwarzenegger's libidinous degree), and, recorded together, Claire Danes (subtly and good-naturedly poking fun at her role) and Jonathan Mostow, the other a solo effort in which Mostow often falls back on repeating things he said with Danes in the room. After an optional 33s video introduction from Schwarzenegger ("I hope you enjoy this DVD...I'll be back"), Disc 2 proceeds with a vacuous "Documentary" (13 mins.) about the production and more. "Sgt. Candy Scene" finds Schwarzenegger affecting a Mississippi Delta accent as Terminator prototype "Chief Master Sergeant William Candy" in a Skynet instructional video wisely removed from T3 (it's simply ridiculous beyond words), while "Terminal Flaws: Gag Reel" (3 mins.) is never funny, save for Schwarzenegger answering one of John Connor's many been-there/done-that questions with "'Cause you're John Connor, duh!" in valleyspeak.
The "T3 Visual Effects Lab" includes a 3-minute intro wherein we learn that Stan Winston and ILM (headed up in this instance by Pablo Helman) were in charge of sleight-of-hand. Although many of the film's illusions are jaw-droppingly magnificent, one is left in the dark by in-depth featurettes on the hocus pocus of the "Crane Chase" (8 mins.), "TX Transformation" (8 mins.), "Future War" (9 mins.), and "Crystal Peak" (9 mins.) sequences as to why the F/X wizards were unable to convincingly integrate background plates into set-ups no more involved than the Terminator and John cruising along a deserted stretch of highway. A "Create Your Own Visual Effects" workshop can lead to strangely hilarious results as you composite various unrendered elements culled from the "Future War" tableau. "Skynet Database" is a trivia game that rewards with animated, interactive dossiers, of which Sarah Connor's is conspicuously absent of Linda Hamilton footage; also interactive is a "Terminator Timeline" that shifts the events of T2 to 1995. A 4-minute "Storyboards" montage for the climax, a dispensable ode to the costumes (the 2-minute "Dressed to Kill"), a hilarious and endearing interview with toymaker and staunch defender of geek habit Todd McFarlane (7 mins.), and a making-of for the video game (9 mins.) round out the second, uneven platter. Originally published: October 29, 2003.
109 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; 2 DVD-9s; Region One; Warner