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Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris, and Tedi Sarafian
Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines
Principal Cast
Arnold Schwarzenegger -- Terminator
Nick Stahl -- John Connor
Claire Danes -- Kate Brewster
Kristanna Loken -- T-X
David Andrews -- Robert Brewster
Mark Famiglietti -- Scott Petersen
Earl Boen -- Dr. Peter Silberman
Moira Harris -- Betsy
Chopper Bernet -- Chief Engineer
Chris Lawford -- Brewster's Aide
Carolyn Hennesy -- Rich Woman
Jay Acovone -- Cop - Westside Street
Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

James Cameron once half-jokingly called his Terminator 2: Judgement Day the most violent film ever made about world peace. If you consider the deeply felt bonds between Sarah Connor, her son John and the T-101, you could also call T2 one of the most "family-oriented" of action movies. Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines doesn't have the same sense of humanity, but it sure pours on the action, and it even has undercurrents of melancholy that might put you in mind of the first Terminator.

The story is a retread of T2, except this time Arnold's T-101 has been sent back in time to protect the adult John Connor and Kate Brewster (a young woman who will be important to the future resistance) from the T-X, an "anti-Terminator Terminator." The T-X is a sort of combination of previous designs: it has the ability to morph its outward appearance, while underneath it keeps a wide variety of changeable mechanical implements -- mostly deadly weapons. This film sets the stakes early and then just goes to it, smashing things and blowing them up with the joy of a bad seed. To the problem of how to construct a sequel that, according to the previous film's logic, just shouldn't be (if you'll remember, Sarah Connor and the last T-101 already destroyed the means the machines had for taking over), Jonathan Mostow (U-571) applies some wand-waving exposition about inescapable fate and how some things were just meant to happen. As the action set pieces fly by -- and they are amazing sequences, especially a fight inside of a restroom and a chase with a giant crane -- T3 embodies the Lacanian theory of film, par excellence: the images pass with such compelling power that you never notice the occasional gaps in logic that might threaten their plausibility.

But this movie's saving grace is its surprising, and welcome, sense of humor. It's been a long time since Schwarzenegger laughed at himself as he does here. Some moments are almost too ironically self-referential for their own good -- such as Arnold staggering along while shouting, "I am a machine!" -- but there's a snarky clowning in many of the visual quotes. For instance, Schwarzenegger's naked entrance is based on the biker bar fight from T2, but this time it's a low-brow strip club on Ladies' Night, and Arnold is the focus of appreciative attention. The entrance of the T-X, featuring former model Kristanna Loken walking unclothed down a street in Beverly Hills, is a sly counterpart.

Mostow has borrowed several ideas from the previous movies, but does it in a respectful way that makes you think he actually relished the idea of getting this assignment. There's another hidden cache of military-grade hardware, but in a place that I won't reveal for fear of spoiling it. And a certain minor character reappears. And so on. T3 has the enthusiasm of fan fiction, but actually film-making skill, and it doesn't worry about being original. And neither should you. Really, how much mileage can you expect to get out of the idea of our heroes being chased by Terminator after Terminator? This movie is very stylish. The design of the T-X is for a sleek, sexy, sporty model, meant to draw appreciative stares and radiate a sinister cool. Loken pours all her concentration into the role, but she doesn't generate the kind of menace Robert Patrick had as the T-1000. Nonetheless, she's one of the best non-CGI special effects in the whole show. For a quick laugh, look for the moment in one fight scene where she checks herself out in a passing mirror while on her way to stomp her opponent some more.

The cinematography is remarkably bright and heavy with color, which is a different palette from Cameron's striking variations on steel grey and matte black. Even those scenes shot in complete darkness have vibrant colors. The T-101 at one point calls itself an outdated model, and when compared to the red-leather terminatrix, desert yellows and fire-orange expositions, it certainly seems to be coming from another movie.

The SFX are convincing and superior. They were handled by the same team that did the previous movies, Stan Winston and ILM, with some help from smaller effects companies such as Giant Killer Robots, which worked on The Matrix Reloaded. They can't be faulted for such faux pas as the oddly selective magnetic field (you'll know when it happens). They didn't write this thing. But they make it come alive.

As a matter of fact, the script is paced remarkably well. The set pieces are involving, not exhausting, and show real wit. Exposition is handled by having Arnold speak most of it, since he's playing a robot anyway.

It isn't as poignant as T2 or even T1, but with recognizable human characters amidst the robotic mayhem, T3 ultimately achieves the same dolorous tone. Suffice to say the ending shuts the door on almost everything that came before, while showing the way to a new series of sequels, which will undoubtedly be produced post-haste. Rise of the machines, indeed.

Copyright © 2003 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years before joining the college book trade. He lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.

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