TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES - DVD review

...entertaining for the moment, exciting, even exhilarating in parts, but ultimately it's an empty exercise in fuss and bother that leaves one strangely dissatisfied.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio
 
Eddie
Feng

"I'm back." --Big Arn, "T3"

The Film According to Little John:
Yes, Arnold always said he'd be back. Obviously, he meant it. The question was, could he pull it off? I mean, could Schwarzenegger return at the age of fifty-five as the muscular futuristic cyborg after a layoff of almost a dozen years? I'm happy to say yes, he does pull it off, his physique looking a little less muscle-bound and a little more human now but still as chiseled as ever, and, even more happily, his character every bit the dogged machine it always was.

Apparently, the intensive exercise he went through to put himself back into shape for the role paid off, and because his face is either that of a machine, anyway, or heavily made up, the years hardly show. The movie may not be quite up to the standards of its predecessors, but at least its star is up to par.

Appropriate to the sequel to a pair of the most celebrated action movies ever made, Warner Bros. have accorded 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" a two-disc, special-edition DVD set. Although much of the extra material is standard filler, it makes a good thing a little better and gives the whole package an air of distinction. I wish the good thing itself, the movie, had been a little better, but we get what we get.

The things that set the first two "Terminator" movies apart from the rest of the action crowd were originality and spirit in the first instance, and heart in the second. Schwarzenegger made the career choices of a lifetime (screen career, apart from his political career) by accepting the role of a villain in the first film, and then by coming back in a sympathetic tearjerker role in the second. The oddball father-son relationship between his T-800 protector and the adolescent John Connor made for terrific screen chemistry. This new "Terminator," unfortunately, has none of the best qualities of its precursors. It is no longer original or innovative; its spirit is largely consumed by chases; and its heart is almost entirely gone. Does that make it bad movie? Not on your life. It's just not as good as the first two.

You'll remember from the previous episodes of this continuously circular saga that in the near future Earth had been taken over by machines of our own making, and because they were being harassed by a pesky bunch of resistance fighters led by one John Connor, they decided to send a robot back in time to eliminate Connor before he was born. Neither of the tries was successful, and in this third attempt on his life the machines have designed an even more potent weapon, a Terminatrix, or T-X, in the form of a shapely female. Just why she needs to look like a beautiful young woman is really not so relevant to the plot as it is to good, old-fashioned sex appeal. You'll recall, for instance, that nobody, human or machine, can go through the time portal with clothes on. This new Ms. T-X (Kristanna Loken) is about the only thing different in the new movie, but you'll not hear a complaint from me about watching another rerun. Besides being easy on the eyes, Ms. T-X has an all-new arsenal of gadgets and weaponry, plus she's "faster, more powerful, and more intelligent" than any previous model. She is designed to terminate not only people but other Terminators. She's "an anti-Terminator Terminator."

Anyway, it's ten years down the road from "T2," and John Connor (Nick Stahl) is now in his early twenties. His mother has died and he's hiding out, worried that the future will find him. It does, as Ms. T-X comes through the portal looking for him and for everybody who ever had anything to do with him. While the T-X goes on a rampage killing everyone in sight, John runs into an old school friend, Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), an assistant veterinarian who gets roped into the story. Then Arnold shows up as the obsolete T-800 protector, and the rest of the picture is a seemingly endless succession of chases and fights.

The movie may have little originality left, but it does have some nifty stunts. The action is relentless, as are the two robots, with Arnold's job mainly to deadpan some succinct and often cute comments like "I want your clothes," "I'll drive," "You need a new vehicle," and "Talk to the hand."

"T3" is rated R like the rest of its kin, so expect some gory scenes, but there is not the excessive profanity that one found in "T2." Also expect much noise, destruction, and explosions, yet thanks to director Jonathan Mostow (who replaces James Cameron) it's all so well paced it never becomes breathless. Finally, expect even better special effects than before (computer graphics having come a long since the pioneering days of "T2"), better and more elaborate set designs, and a more open-ended and thought-provoking finish. Indeed, the finish is one of the best parts of the show.

As the prologue puts it, "The battle has just begun." The question is, with Arnold as the new governor of California, for how long will the battle be put on hold? Or will the unthinkable happen and the films go on without him? As the old serials used to say, "To be continued...."

The Film According to Big Eddie:
It may seem odd to describe a "Terminator" movie as minimalist, but "T3" is an exercise in minimalism--seemingly in spite of its $170 million budget and its filled-to-the-brim-with-destruction action sequences. Dialogue is sparse and consists mostly of one-liners. However, most of what is said is also important and worth noting. The film offers other paradoxical elements that make it more interesting than it might seem on paper. For example, the single-mindedness of the Terminators is both awe-inspiring (talk about dedication!) and boringly reductionistic. Also, for a "big" movie, it's relatively short, clocking in at about 105 minutes.

How could "T3" be only 105 minutes when "T2" ran for more than two and a half hours? Well, the makers of "T3" could've chosen any story in the world to present as a motion picture sequel to James Cameron's "T1" and "T2". They chose to make what is essentially one long chase sequence that takes place during the course of less than twenty-four hours. The Skynet-sent T-X/The Terminatrix (Kristanna Loken) and the Resistance-sent T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrive in Los Angeles the night before the new Judgment Day date (after the original 29 August 1997 date was postponed by the events detailed in "T2"). Like its other paradoxes, the film's form is two things at once--in this case, its greatest strength and its worst weakness.

"T3" is the closest thing that I've seen to a perpetual motion machine when it comes to the movies. The incredibly powerful Terminators give the Energizer Bunny a run for its money when it comes to going and going and going. Audiences are left to their own devices when it comes to trying to catch a breath.

In "T3", another T-800 is sent from the future to the present in order to protect John Conner (Nick Stahl) from assassination by a Skynet operative. The T-800 is also programmed to protect Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), a veterinarian who becomes a key figure in the future human Resistance. Basically, from the time that John Conner, Kate Brewster, the T-800, and the T-X meet, the film becomes one extended fight. You thought that "Black Hawk Down" was a gruelingly brutal sit? Well, now you'll have to deal with "T3", which arguably has more mayhem in less time than "Black Hawk Down". The action set pieces are astonishing in their total disregard for anything--just about everything that you see on the screen is totaled.

It wouldn't be accurate to write that nothing really happens in "T3" despite its adherence to car chases, foot chases, and explosions. Still, watching the film isn't mentally taxing, though it is physically challenging. Halfway through the movie, I started developing a headache, and I still have it while writing this review.

There are two other major weaknesses that make "T3" a disappointment. The first thing that you notice about "T3" is that several sequences quote the first two movies as if the filmmakers are desperate to earn audiences' recognition that this indeed is a legitimate sequel to James Cameron's vision. Schwarzenegger's entrance in "T3" is basically a parody of his entrance in "T2". The first long car chase sequence in "T3" is basically the first long car chase sequence in "T2" done with two big trucks instead of one. The scene with Schwarzenegger dealing with a bunch of cops in "T3" is a lift from the mini-gun scene in "T2"--right down to the T-800's zero percent human casualty assessment. Even the final showdown between the two Terminators involves the kind of resolution that the T-800 used in "T2". (Don't worry--I haven't given away the ending, for there's more to the "T3" finale than just two Terminators fighting each other.) The other fault is the lack of the "Terminator" music theme composed by Brad Fiedel. Marco Beltrami's score is an indistinct muddle, and the few times that it played the "RE-MI-FA" notes, it sounded like a half-hearted attempt to "re-imagine" Fiedel's compositions. "T3" demonstrates that you don't need James Cameron to be directing to make a "Terminator" sequel, but why didn't the filmmakers use Fiedel's "Terminator" theme during the movie instead of only over the closing credits?

I give "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" a "7" on DVD Town's "10" scale for Film Value. It's not anywhere near as good as "The Terminator" or "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", but it's a vivid way of experiencing punishing, clumsy violence being perpetrated by two entities that don't tire.

We now return you to John for the remainder of the program.

Video:
Since everything else about the film is as expected, so is the picture quality, which is uniformly good. The anamorphic widescreen size measures a ratio of approximately 2.13:1 across a normal television, and it projects an image that is clear, clean, and red-blooded. Colors are realistically natural, bright when necessary, subdued when required. Definition is OK, although not perfect, with a very slightly gritty look and minor blur evident upon close inspection. Grain and moiré effects are almost entirely absent. It's an excellent transfer, probably as good as what most people saw in their local cineplex.

Audio:
The sonics are the kind guaranteed to impress the neighbors, even if you've got a really big yard. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is extremely dynamic, and I mean extremely so, featuring a lease-breaking bass response if you live in an apartment. The surround effects are on a par with the best action movies around, meaning you're enveloped in the sounds of explosions front, back, and sides, with bullets, bombs, cars, glass, airplanes, and helicopters flying by in all directions. If there's anything in the house this soundtrack won't rattle, I don't know what it is. Yet it isn't the kind of sound you have to keep adjusting for dialogue because the speech comes off distinctly at normal volume, as do the sonic effects. It's fun stuff, and if it isn't very subtle, neither is the movie.

Extras:
Disc one in the two-disc set contains the widescreen presentation of the movie with its DD 5.1 soundtrack, plus two separate audio commentaries. The first commentary is with director Jonathan Mostow and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, and Kristanna Loken, and the second commentary is with director Jonathan Mostow alone. In addition, there is a widescreen theatrical trailer; a "T3" video-game preview; thirty-three scene selections; English and French spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Disc two contains the bulk of the bonus features, none of which I found particularly interesting. They begin with a brief introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger, followed by a silly bit of footage called the "Sgt. Candy Scene" that is, thankfully, not found in the film. Think of Arnold with a hick hillbilly accent. After that is an HBO First Look: "The Making of Terminator 3," lasting about thirteen minutes. Next is a gag reel, "Terminal Flaws," that lasts about three minutes. Then there's the most fascinating part of the extras, the "Visual Effects Lab," where we look at a series of six short featurettes on various stunts and graphics in the film, including one segment that allows the user to build the visual effects for two different scenes by choosing among a variety of options. "Skynet Database" provides information on the movie's personnel, weaponry, and vehicles. "Dressed to Kill" gives us info on costume design. About four minutes worth of storyboards-to-film comparisons come next, followed by a "Terminator Timeline" that puts the ideas of the three movies in chronological sequence, and "Toys in Action," a six-minute chapter on T3 action figures. Lastly, there are DVD-ROM links to the "T3" Web site, a "T3" game trailer, and an eight-minute promo on "The Making of the Video Game." A slim-line case and booklet insert complete the package.

Parting Thoughts:
"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is fun while you're watching it, but unlike the first two films in the series, it's not the kind of action movie you may want to watch again soon. The characters are too flat and colorless and the plot is too predictable to make it worth one's additional time. As I said in the beginning, it hasn't the heart or soul of its illustrious progenitors, just a string of endless fights and chases, which, no matter how well executed, cannot sustain much repeat viewing. "T3" is entertaining for the moment, exciting, even exhilarating in parts, but ultimately it's an empty exercise in fuss and bother that leaves one strangely dissatisfied.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
10
Extras
6
Film Value
7