"I'm an obsolete design."
As we last left things, young John Connor and his mother Sarah had successfully stopped Judgment Day, the predestined nuclear holocaust in which intelligent machines would exterminate most of the human species. "The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves", was the mantra Sarah instilled in her son. We pick up more than a decade later and are told that Sarah died of cancer, having lived just long enough to see that Judgment Day didn't happen. John (currently played by Nick Stahl of Carnivale) now lives a vagabond existence, trying to stay off the grid just in case his mother was wrong. Sure enough, one quiet night in Los Angeles a ball of energy materializes on Rodeo Drive, signaling the arrival of something from the future, and hey it's a sexy girl this time! Later, a second time portal delivers a familiar Austrian bodybuilder. Following the same formula that worked for T2, the first robot (a T-X model "Terminatrix") has been sent to hunt and assassinate John, while the second (our pal Arnie) was reprogrammed by the human resistance of the future to protect him. Much shooting, explosions, and metal-on-metal robotic destruction ensues.
Let's be very clear about this; T3 is not the masterpiece or classic that both of the previous Terminator films were. It's an unapologetic recycling of the second movie with just enough new elements and twists thrown in to keep things fresh. The gimmick of a female Terminator sounds pretty corny but actress Kristanna Loken sells it, playing the role with a perfect blend of sex appeal and robotic menace. Her cyborg villain really doesn't bring anything innovative to the series that Robert Patrick's T-1000 hadn't accomplished the last time, but she establishes herself as an effective threat for Schwarzenegger's outdated T-800 model early on and provides sufficient motivation to propel the plot along. The movie also uses her to set up an interesting feminine dynamic. Loken fills the void of the tough female warrior role left by Linda Hamilton, which is positioned against Claire Danes as a new character in effectively the same position that Hamilton's was in the first Terminator.
Where Mostow and his screenwriters show their daring is their attempt to reverse the main themes of the second film. T2 ended on a note of hope, telling us that man sets his own destiny and won't be ruled by fate. T3 takes a much bleaker approach, insisting that Judgment Day can be postponed but not avoided. John's future is inevitable, and nothing he does can change it. That was a pretty ballsy decision that some fans objected to, but the movie works hard to convince us of its necessity.
Schwarzenegger is in great shape for 56 years-old, and I'll be damned if he doesn't look exactly the same in this movie as he did 12 years earlier. Mostow's direction is slick and efficient. His action scenes don't have the beauty and elegance of Cameron's, a trait sorely missed, but he does a perfectly fine job of wrangling the various stunts, explosions, and visual effects into a coherent and exciting package. Nothing here tops anything in the second film the way that T2 took the first Terminator to its next logical level, but in many ways it doesn't seem like it was meant to. While T2 was a hugely ambitious project, epic in scope and with the length to match, Mostow keeps T3's running time under 2 hours and structures it as a concise, unpretentious sci-fi action picture.
Sure, there are things to quibble about. The movie has several significant plot holes and violations of the franchise's established rules. The T-X robot has complex moving parts and chemicals, which the first movie explicitly told us couldn't be transported in the time portal. She also has the ability to infect other machines with a computer virus, and uses this to control a number of vehicles at once during the movie's biggest chase scene. Yet, logically, this just doesn't make any sense. Although contemporary cars use computers in their engines, driving them remains a manual mechanical process. The car's computer can't push down the gas pedal or steer. There's also a scene at the end involving an electro-magnet that only attracts certain metallic objects but not others at the convenience of the plot. Things like these are the result of sloppy screenwriting and could have easily been avoided with some extra polish.
Even so, Rise of the Machines works more often than it doesn't, which few would have expected. The movie isn't in quite the same league as its predecessors, but despite everything working against it makes for a surprisingly worthy sequel.
The HD DVD:
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The video transfer looks terrific. Aside from the curious presence of some speckles isolated to the end credits, the source elements are otherwise spotless (as they should be with a recent movie). I saw no edge enhancement ringing or other digital artifacts. The minor amount of visible film grain is well compressed and never looks noisy.
Some viewers may be disappointed that the picture is slightly soft, but that seems consistent with the film's intended photographic style. Even if it's not razor sharp like some movies on the High-Def format, the T3 transfer has a very good sense of texture and detail, evident for example in the clarity of skin pores on the actors' faces. The picture has great colors and rich black levels with plenty of shadow detail, lending the image depth and a rich, film-like appearance. At its best, the disc makes you feel like you could walk up to the screen and just step into the movie.
The Terminator 3 HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The photo images used in this article were taken from the DVD edition for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to demonstrate HD DVD picture quality.
I'm sure no one will be surprised to learn that Terminator 3 has a hyper-aggressive sound mix featuring tons of directional surround activity and gloriously deep, hammering bass. We should expect nothing less from a recent mega-budget sci-fi movie. Sound effects are all crisply recorded and cleanly reproduced. Dialogue and music are also well integrated into the mix, rarely drowned out by the cacophony of the action scenes. The overall fidelity is fine, though a truly lossless track might have offered just a bit better clarity.
Subs & Dubs:
New to the HD DVD are: