Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
May 1, 2002
After the phenomenal success of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), a sequel was inevitable. However, due to complicated legal wranglings, another film was a long time coming. James Cameron passed on it and there were concerns that Arnold was too old to reprise his most famous role. However, Jonathan Mostow stepped up to the plate and took over the directing reigns while Arnold whipped himself back into shape and together they defied expectations by producing another movie of everyone’s favourite cybernetic organism.
After the events depicted in T2, Sarah Connor has died of leukemia, forcing her son, John (Stahl), to go underground. He keeps a low profile, working odd jobs and living like a hobo. As a result, when the machines in the future send back another Terminator, they are unable to target him so they go after all of his lieutenants in the hopes of crippling his army-to-be. This new Terminator, the T-X (Loken), takes the form of a beautiful model but with an assortment of deadly weapons. Not only is she comprised of liquid metal that allows her to morph into anyone (just like the Terminator in T2) but she can also control other machines remotely.
The good guys in the future capture one of the old school Terminators (Arnold, natch) and send him back to stop the T-X from altering the future. The rest of the film plays out in the familiar cat and mouse game that fans know and love from the previous Terminator films as our heroes evade the deadly Terminator until they can figure out a way to stop it.
Mostow wisely doesn’t try to mess with the formula. He delivers a solid B-movie with A-movie production values. He trims any excess fat and produces a lean, stripped-down action film that doesn’t work so well if you stop and try to figure out the narrative logic, but works best if one just lets go and enjoys the ride. There are some impressive action set pieces in this movie, including a fantastic chase sequence involving a huge crane truck, several police and emergency vehicles, and a beat-up pick-up truck that has to be seen to be believed.
The thing that holds this film together is Nick Stahl’s performance. Known primarily for doing smaller features (In The Bedroom) and edgier material (Bully), it is jarring, at first, to see him in a big budget action film. However, he brings a grounded realism to the film with his performance. He portrays John as a tired drifter who has been looking over his shoulder his whole life. He has been living his life on the fringes and Stahl does an excellent job conveying this kind of world-weariness. He keeps us interested in-between chase sequences.
Sadly, Claire Danes isn’t so fortunate. She too is known for doing smaller, independent films (Polish Wedding), so her appearance in this film is rather baffling. She is given little to do but scream in fear most of the time.
Arnold is, well, he’s Arnold doing what he does best: playing a cold, emotionless machine. There’s something reassuring about seeing him donning the old leather jacket and shades one more time. After a string of flawed action films (End of Days, Collateral Damage), it’s nice to see him on familiar ground. Apparently audiences thought so too—the film did very well at the box office.
While not as jam-packed with extras as the T2 DVD set, the T3 one boasts a pretty decent collection of its own. On the first disc there are two optional audio commentaries. Mostow introduces the first one, which features all the major actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes (with Mostow), and Kristanna Loken. Arnold talks about what brought him back to the franchise and the pressure to be in as good shape as he was in the previous Terminator films. Stahl comments on the process that he underwent in order to get into character. Loken talks about the extensive training she did to get ready for her very physically demanding role. And finally, Danes comments on the pressure of inhabiting a role on a film in which she joined at the last possible minute. It’s a very informative track on which all the participants speak very eloquently—although, Arnold goes on a bit too long about himself which comes across as a bit vain.
The second audio commentary is Mostow flying solo. He talks about making the movie and how this was the first one that he didn’t originate himself. He also comments on the challenge of re-vitalizing the franchise and living up to their legacy. He also dishes anecdotes about working on a big production with a limited amount of time. He comes across as a very personable fellow and his track is well worth a listen.
Also included on this disc are a theatrical trailer and one for the video game.
Arnold introduces the second disc which contains the rest of the supplemental material. A rather superficial Making Of documentary, “Inside Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” is overloaded with clips from the movie with a few talking head clips of Mostow and the cast throughout. Anybody looking for a more in-depth look behind-the-scenes should really check out the audio commentaries.
The “Sgt. Candy Scene” is a funny fake ad for the automated robots that terrorize the characters at the climax of the film and also uses Arnold to comedic effect (and also hints at the origins of his Terminator character!).
“Terminal Flaws: Gag Reel” is an uneven collection of bloopers and flubbed line readings from the cast.
The “T3 Visual Effects Lab” is a collection of featurettes that examine how certain special effects heavy sequences, like the crane chase and T-X effects, were achieved. There is even an option that allows the viewer to apply visual effects to a couple of scenes. However, there aren’t many options and it’s hard to see the difference between the limited selection that is given. Nice idea but it needed a bit more variety, like the editing-a-scene option on the Die Hard DVD set.
The “Skynet Database” is a collection of biographies for all the major characters—both human and machine—in the film.
The “Terminator Timeline” provides a blow-by-blow description of what happened in the past two Terminator films for the one or two of you out there who haven’t seen them.
There is also a storyboard comparison featurette that looks at a scene in the film with the corresponding boards simultaneously.
“Dressed to Kill” is a brief look at the costumes that were created for the characters in the movie.
A surprisingly entertaining featurette, entitled “Toys in Action,” takes a look at the action figures created for the movie. Todd McFarlane and his company made the figures and he hosts this segment. What makes this featurette work so well is McFarlane’s natural enthusiasm and his approach to how the toys are created, which is: as a fan what would he want the action figure to look like?
Rounding out the disc is a trailer for the video game and a corresponding Making Of featurette.
The fact that Terminator 3 didn’t turn out to be a total train wreck of a movie is a testimony to the directorial abilities of Jonathan Mostow who holds the whole movie together with a no-nonsense, workman-like approach not unlike John Frankenheimer. It’s an entertaining ride that doesn’t try to alter the formula that has proved successful twice already.