Time and success
have a way of building expectations when it comes to great sci-fi film sequels.
If the original Terminator didn’t excite you, then you’re probably not a
sci-fi fan. If the excellently done sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, didn’t
thrill you, then check your pulse. The shockwaves from the Terminator movie
series remain strong approximately 20 years after detonation. The wait hasn’t
been easy for fans. Somewhere amid the speculations, the worries, and the
heartless game of musical directors' chairs, there at long last emerges Terminator
3: Rise of the Machines.
Email Emory Rowland
Skynet, the computerized nemesis of the human race, is again sending a cybernetic
organism back in time to terminate people. Their machine-dominated world
did not become a reality. The “judgment day” alluded to in the past is not
averted, but simply delayed by good old-fashioned human resourcefulness.
This time the target is not merely John Connor, future resistance leader,
or even his mother, Sarah, who survived the last two attempts. Those who
associate with Connor in his youth, his potential “lieutenants” in the future
resistance, must be terminated by Skynet’s emotionless killing machine, the
feminine Terminator called the “Terminatrix,” played by Kristanna Loken.
The more advanced “T-X” sports shape-shifting technology, an onboard weapons
suite, and a feminine flair to help her accomplish her objectives. Cyborgs
have always had a penchant for stylish leather. Terminator 3: Rise of the
Machines retains the important symbology of the past films. Does it have
the substance of its predecessors?
James Cameron’s conspicuous exit, a suspicious new director, and a few missing
big names like Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong have led some to contend
that the film was doomed to rest with Alien 3 and Rambo III in the crowded
movie trilogy graveyard. The obvious and insanely mountainous problem of
succeeding director James Cameron, creator of the treasured first two films,
was given to Jonathan Mostow, whose most notable work is U-571. But Mostow
has some dependable assets to work with, namely a titanic budget of $170
million, proven special effects conjurer Stan Winston, and, of course, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who assumes the familiar robotic role of protector as in
Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In the end, newcomers Nick Stahl and Claire Danes
delivered substantial value as well.
Actor Nick Stahl fills the lonely shoes of John Connor, who has reached his
twenties and lives a life disconnected from society, still haunted by a lingering
fear of judgment day. He doubts his mother’s maxim, “There is no fate but
what we make.” He never discovers the who's or why's of judgment, as did
such classical witnesses of judgment as Adam and Eve, Noah, and Lot. He knows
only that it must occur and its instruments are Skynet-controlled machines.
The prophets of history have been serious and sad individuals like John Connor,
sometimes doubting, sometimes running, but ultimately warning of impending
judgment that may be delayed, only not avoided. But who's or why's don’t
matter so much because the film doesn’t target the brain or heart, but a
bit lower toward the adrenal glands. And that suits many action fans just
All three Terminator films have in common the theme that something stronger
and more powerful than the protagonist has been sent from the future to kill
him. Amid fear of an evil machinocracy, a guardian angel figure materializes
to intercept the threat. In Terminator 3, Schwarzenegger, as the reprogrammed
Terminator T-850, defends the hero and heroine as their superhuman bodyguard.
“My mission is to protect you,” he declares. At times, he looks like a magic
genie as he is ordered around by Connor and Kate Brewster, his future wife,
played by Claire Danes. Indeed, the sense of these two coming to grips with
their unlikely fate as they head toward a Logan’s Run-like postapocalyptic
salvation nabs at the heart as the film flirts with greatness.
Very soon into the film, the chase begins transporting you to the familiar
Terminator milieu, where a steady tempo of speed and demolition continues
until the end. The first big action scene raises the bar for Hollywood vehicle
chases through the ceiling. Connor escapes from the T-X in a frail animal
clinic truck, soon discovering Brewster locked in the back and not very happy
with the situation. As they argue back and forth, the T-X pursues them in
a large heavy crane truck with more wheels than can be counted. Police and
fire vehicles remotely controlled by her also tag along. Finally, the Terminator
T-850 commandeers a motorcycle and chases the convoy, soon catching up, and,
of course, ending up on the hook of the crane truck being swung around by
the T-X. Vehicles fly through the air and crash everywhere as the T-850 stubbornly
holds onto the crane hook, slicing through actual buildings.
Of the many Hollywood car chases, none--not even those of the revered The
Matrix--approach the strength and fun of this one. This is not to suggest
that any of the action scenes following the crane truck chase were bad. In
fact, several were quite good, like the bathroom brawl where the Terminators
throw each other through walls. But any action coming after this cannot help
but have an anticlimactic effect following such world-shattering intensity.
With that scene, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines became in the most literal
sense possible, a blockbuster.
Schwarzenegger is 55, about the same age as Rodney Dangerfield when he shot
Las Vegas Undercover. You won’t see a lot of close-ups, but you see enough
to assure you that he’s really going to stand out in the AARP meetings in
a few years. He hasn’t added much to the frigid but benevolent robot role
explored in Terminator 2, besides some very well done uninflected one liners.
But, did the role really need anything more? As the T-850, Schwarzenegger
faithfully executes the anticipated mannerisms, but with upgraded programming,
such as “psychological subroutines.” Only Yul Brenner in Westworld and Brent
Spiner in Star Trek: The Next Generation surpass Schwarzenegger’s subtle
imitation of the mechanical.
One important scene has the T-850 struggling to carry out orders from two
separate contradictory programs. One command is to kill John Connor and Kate
Brewster, the other is to protect them. You can’t help but think of an android
that violates one of Asimov’s three principles of robotics getting confused
and having to shut down as a consequence. Of course, in the end, the T-850
manages to do the right thing.
If you’re suspicious of attractive young models as actresses, relax. Kristanna
Loken is not afraid to risk breaking a nail or anything on the set. She carries
herself well as the T-X villain, just as you would expect a mean and beautiful
female machine to comport itself. She’s a great admirer of Robert Patrick’s
work in Terminator 2 and put a lot of effort into fulfilling the role of
Terminatrix. In addition to weapons training, she studied miming techniques
and an Israeli martial art called "Krav Maga" in preparation for the role.
Nick Stahl plays the adult John Connor as the likable loner who narrates
his sadness, at times reminding one of Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese in The
Terminator. You get the impression that Connor might have lived an ordinary
life if he weren’t cursed with the knowledge of Judgment Day. He who
increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Claire Danes’ portrayal of Kate Brewster is the biggest surprise. She shows
strong emotion and is convincing as the distressed damsel who turns angry
vigilante. Kate Brewster is one of the few characters who showed strong growth.
Stan Winston’s résumé includes work on the previous Terminator
films, as well as special effects credits with Aliens, Artificial Intelligence:
AI, and Jurassic Park III. It is at times difficult to judge the special
effects because of the inability to distinguish which frames are CGI and
which are stunts. It seems that a blending of effects and stunts occurs in
such cases as destructive fights and the big crashes that Terminators nonchalantly
dust off and walk out of. The limited future war scenes could not have looked
Certainly the shape-shifting of the T-X’s chrome endoskeleton serves as an
example to appraise Winston’s work. Many have said that the Terminator 2
effects were superior to those of Terminator 3. It does seem that less attention
is given to the shape-shifting effect in Terminator 3. This makes sense given
the effect is not an integral component of the T3 story. The actual endoskeletal
material that liquefies comes out shiny and silverish, with the reflective
quality of discount supermarket aluminum foil and the texture of dollar store
thermometer mercury. Regardless of whether you think the T-X effects are
better or worse in T3, it seems that at least some consistency was lost.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to give Winston an overall grade lower than a B plus.
I’m the T-D0F1. I’m from the future. My mission is to destroy T3, the mother of T4.
In the midst of the chase, John Connor and Kate Brewster make discoveries.
The Skynet defense system headed by Kate’s father, Robert Brewster, is about
to take control of the nation’s military and civilian computer networks.
They must save him from termination by the T-X and save the world from judgment
in the form of nuclear war, which comes in about three hours. After this,
they’ll simply go their own ways, avoiding their marriage arranged by fate.
But their plan fails. The T-X pursues as they try to escape the fires of
judgment day. Soon begins the showdown that all action films have had since
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Mostow has injected a lot of the same spirit from previous Terminator films
into Terminator 3, cleverly causing you to undergo a bit of what weightlifters
call “muscle memory.” Although wildly entertaining and pleasantly reminiscent
of past films, Terminator 3 as a whole did not resonate like the first two
films. That’s not to say it didn’t achieve greatness, just not the type of
greatness Cameron achieved in the good old days. The key change from Cameron
to Mostow proved too dissonant for some fans. Cameronistas resent Mostow’s
style as action over substance. Reading their remarks on the movie forums
would have one believe the film represents more of a lowering of humans than
rising of machines. T3 is not T2. Mostow is not Cameron. Let James Cameron
be James Cameron, or at least Jim Cameron, and let everyone else be themselves.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had to hold its ground and simply not
be bad. It held. It did more than that. It succeeded. Humor, action, and
preservation of the Terminator motifs give the film life. The word “terminated”
will continue to live as a great movie euphemism. Whether or not the Terminator
series will rise again, only time will tell.
Emory Rowland is a creator of Clickfire.com, a free resource website empowering webmasters with viewpoints, tools and content.
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