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Terminator 3: Rise of
the Machines

This feels somewhat less like Terminator 3 than, say, Terminator 2.5. If T2 felt a tad similar to the original Terminator, then T3 will feel like déjà vu all over again once more. Still, in many ways T2 cried out for a sequel, mostly in the sense that it was, despite being a fantastic action flick and a true effects showcase of its day, something of a logical nightmare. So does this newest installment do anything in the way of reconciling the paradoxical meanderings created by the first two flicks? I shall be charitable and say that yes, it does fix one of them, sort of, after a fashion. In most other respects it simply throws napalm on the fire and sits back to enjoy the smell.

When you have a budget of several godzillion bucks and are paying lots of people to make a huge, rousing romp of a film, it would seem that it wouldn't cost that much more to pay some guy to go and watch the first two films and make sure that there aren't any yawning logic holes looming within your script. Or if you wish to save the dough, just log onto someone's Terminator fan site, which will probably discuss all matters continuity-related in a greater depth than you ever cared to hear. In this way, you might avoid such problems as the fact that in order for John Connor to have been thirteen years old at the time of T2 (which he claims during voice-over, though he was originally said to be ten in that film,) his mother, who was twenty-nine at that time, would've had to be around fifteen in the first film. One, serious creepage in light of her relationship with Reese, and two, she was obviously older than that. These are just goddamn numbers. They can be changed without changing the story at all. How hard is it to get these simple-ass things right? T2 was already mucking with the continuity by sending back an all-metal creature after all that folderol about only being able to send living tissue (and there's some realistic science,) plus the fact that the famous "quote" about how "there's no fate but what we make for ourselves" didn't even appear in the first film. And now we must wonder how this TX came into being, since supposedly Skynet was all but destroyed when the first terminator returned. If the T-1000 was an advanced prototype at that point, what was the TX, some ultra-uber-prototype? Really, at some point someone should've just asked John Connor how many terminators attacked him in his youth, and sent that info back with one of--what? I've not really said anything about this film yet? Oh, yeah. Sorry.

If you're in the mood for big blow-uppy action, then this film is just fine. The new evil terminator is realized through a nice and effective combination of practical and CG effects, and is ultimately altogether more believable in concept than T2's silver silly-putty gob of oozing death. It's a girl this time, because girls are all the rage these days and are becoming quite popular in films aimed at men, but the good terminator is old Arnie again, right off the line of mass-produced, identical-looking infiltrator units designed to blend seamlessly into a crowd by the fact of their utter unrecognizability. Skynet is down but not out (the reason why only being explained in the film's one deleted scene, which, at about a minute long, clearly would've sent audiences running for the bathroom before the credits rolled had it been left in place), and the T-800 must shelter John Connor and his future wife and second-in-command from Judgement Day, which seems to have only been delayed. It's somewhat of a return to the bleaker, more pessimistic outlook of the original Terminator, though without its strung-out, paranoid sense of menace. Arnold's terminator persona has become too much of a cartoonish figure since the original to take the subsequent installments quite as seriously as we could take the first outing, which, despite its low budget and simple story, was a very good action thriller. Of course, the actual action scenes in this newest film are by far the most elaborate yet in a Terminator film, with much ado about crashing, squashing, and immolating. But in the end, the whole thing seems less of a film unto itself and more a set-up for Terminator 4. Personally, I'm of the mind that one could've taken this and the previous script and combined them to make T2, and made T3 the whole "future war" story, which frankly is what I've been wanting from a Terminator sequel all along anyway.

James Cameron didn't direct this installment, which means that it's far less blue, and the actors probably weren't yelled at as much. He also isn't credited for story or screenplay either, which in turn means that there's a bit less character development here; Cameron tends to try and imbue his characters with slightly more humanity than the typical action-film stock characters, though he's inarguably clumsy at it at times, as well. Still, nothing in the two existing sequels can match Michael Biehn's pitch-perfect "I'm a man who hasn't slept more than five consecutive minutes in my entire life" performance from the original. While fun, T3 seems bogged down at times with too much Terminator baggage: Arnold's laconic quipping, an apparent need to show how the newly-arrived terminators acquire their clothing, a pretty silly cameo from Earl Boen as Dr. Silberman, and the fact that it's a third story about hero/villain pairs of time travelers (weren't the resistance supposed to blow up the time machine after sending Reese?) But if it's light on the characters, it's also light on the clunky sentimentality, and Arnold's T-800 does get one genuinely good ironic line near the end. We can't really moan too much if a film about time-warping killer robots isn't up there with Citizen Kane, Rear Window, or Repo Man. You know what you're getting into before you go in.

Now that Arnold has officially retired from his film career to become the latest Republican actor elected governor of California (do people never learn?) we must assume that, if there is to be a fourth film in the series, it will be up to Stan Winston Studios to create a fully animatronic unit that can act at least as well as Schwartzenegger. I have faith in them.

-review by Matt Murray

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