Case Number 10136

TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // 2003 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // October 9th, 2006

The Charge

The machines will rise.

Opening Statement

It took nineteen years and a change in creative forces, but that whole deal about not being able to wear clothes in the time displacement field finally paid off.

Facts of the Case

Ten years have passed since Sarah and John Connor, with a little help from another T-101, prevented Judgment Day from coming to pass. Leukemia has since claimed Sarah's life, and the now twentysomething John (Nick Stahl, Bookies) has become a recluse, moving from meaningless job to meaningless job, using alcohol as a means of escaping the possible destiny that still haunts his dreams. After crashing his motorcycle, John breaks into a veterinary hospital in hopes of finding some antibiotics and painkillers. He is discovered by Kate Brewster (Claire Danes, Shopgirl), the vet's assistant, who remembers John from junior high. Their little reunion is soon interrupted by the arrival of the T-X (Kristanna Loken, Bloodrayne), a state-of-the-future-art Terminator equipped with nanotechnology and programmed to kill both John and Kate. Things just wouldn't be the same without a protector for John, so yet another T-101 arrives to momentarily save the day. John, Kate and the T-101 quickly get the hell out of Dodge, the T-X in hot pursuit.

The Evidence

I'm going to say the same thing every fan of this movie says: it's not as good as the first two, but it's still a damn fine action flick. No, it's not as fresh or surprising as the original film (sorry, Harlan), or as technically innovative as the first sequel, but it is a solid, entertaining piece of work. It attempts to be nothing more than a thrill ride, and it succeeds quite nicely.

Back when this project was first announced, much was made of the fact that James Cameron wouldn't be helming the movie. Fanboys were up in the air over the fact that the franchise's creator (sorry, Harlan) was being replaced by a player to be named later. Never mind that Cameron had started his directorial career with a sequel (Piranha II: The Spawning), or had worked in somebody else's sandbox twice since (Aliens and Rambo: First Blood Part II); this simply wasn't going to wash. And what about those rumors that wrestler Chyna would be playing the villain? Or the reports that the script was being written by the same guy who wrote Tank Girl? Or the plan to film two sequels back-to-back (the second of which would have likely chronicled part of the future war)? Sounded like a recipe for disaster. And the bad buzz didn't abate when it was finally announced that Jonathan Mostow would be taking over the director's chair. Sure, he had made one pretty good thriller (Breakdown), but he had recently squandered some of his potential on a clichéd, historically dubious action flick (U-571). I have to admit even I was a bit skeptical, and I always try to reserve judgment until I've actually seen the final product. I had enjoyed Mostow's first movie, but his second had left me wanting (this despite the fact Jon Bon Jovi gets knocked into the sweet hereafter by a flying hatch), and several people who saw the movie during its opening weekend told me not to waste my money, so I went in with lowered expectations. I came out having had a damn good time.

As I mentioned above, T3 is a thrill ride, pure and simple. It only takes about fifteen or twenty minutes for the movie to kick into overdrive, and after that it never stops moving. The last eighty minutes are an endless series of action set pieces, and while they don't break any new ground, they do succeed in delivering the goods. (For my money, the crane/Toyota/fire engine/police car chase contains the most gleefully wanton destruction of property since Michael Bay wreaked havoc on the streets of San Francisco in The Rock.) The cemetery shootout is well staged (no surprise, considering how much it borrows from the Cyberdyne shootout in the second flick), and the penultimate scene serves up mindless fun. The movie is no classic, but it's not the series-killing turkey a lot of people were predicting (or hoping for).

I think most of the kudos for the movie's success should go to Mostow. He essentially came aboard as a hired gun, and he could have simply cashed his check and not really put in that much effort. After all, it's doubtful he would have taken most of the blame had the movie bombed. But he's the guy who suggested they hold off on making the fourth film and simply concentrate on this one, and he was responsible for bringing in The Game scribes John Brancato and Michael Ferris to completely overhaul Tedi Sarafian's script. In Mostow's hands, the movie went from being a potential Jaws 2 to being...well, I don't have an example, but I think you know what I mean. Mostow's never going to enter the pantheon of action directors whose work is instantly recognizable, but he's definitely a guy who knows how to craft a slick, professional movie. Now all he has to do is wait for Richard Donner to retire.

Two more things before we move on: Am I the only person who wonders why Skynet doesn't just send a Terminator further back in time and take out Sarah Connor's ancestors? Just send one back to the 1800s and rub out her great-grandparents. I can't imagine anyone taking down a Terminator with a damn flintlock. And to our beloved California readers -- please don't reelect Arnold. I'd like to see another Terminator flick (not to mention that little barbarian movie John Milius has been cooking up) before I die.

From a technical standpoint, this HD-DVD is an absolute knockout, good enough to make your friends jealous (trust me). The transfer is absolutely perfect. The transfer on the standard disc was outstanding, although I do remember noticing a bit of haze and grain in a few shots. This release erases those problems, while at the same time providing vastly improved detail and color saturation. In fact, it can be a little too good at times; some of the effects work now looks less than stellar (most notably the matte shot of the T-X standing in the room with the older Terminator prototypes). The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is just as impressive. Whether delivering the expected bombast or the occasional quieter moment, it never falters. Dialogue is always crystal clear, and I do believe this is the deepest bass my subwoofers have ever encountered.

With two exceptions, the extras on this release have been ported over from the original disc. You get a good commentary from Mostow, and an even better one on which the director -- through the magic of editing -- is joined by Schwarzenegger, Stahl, Danes, and Loken. There's also a brief intro from Arnie, the infamous "Sgt. Candy" deleted scene, a gag reel, a storyboard gallery, the theatrical trailer, a fluffy HBO documentary, featurettes on the costumes, the video game tie-in, and McFarlane Toys' action figure line. New to this release are Warner's In-Movie Experience and a third commentary track. The In-Movie Experience is a picture-in-picture commentary track featuring new insights from director Mostow spliced together with archival interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and storyboards. It's a nice feature, although by this point Mostow is starting to run out of things to say. The new commentary is easily the best bonus feature on the disc; joining Mostow -- again through the magic of editing -- are cinematographer Don Burgess, production designer Jeff Mann, and writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Brancato and Ferris dominate the track, discussing how they sweated over every detail of the story, had fun subverting the expectations raised by the ending of the second movie, and tried to straighten out the confusion over John Connor's age (didn't work). What you won't find from the previous release is the visual effects featurette, although much of that material has been integrated into the In-Movie Experience.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As much as I enjoy the movie, a few things bother me. Up until the final act, Danes is given little to do except whine and scream, and when her character does finally evolve, it seems to come out of nowhere, leading me to wonder if the plan to shoot two films originally had the character growing over a longer arc. There are times when Arnold appears to have his mind on other things, as if he's already working on his campaign platform. The attempts to craft a new catchphrase for Arnold seem a bit desperate (the writers agree with me on this one). I'm still not completely sold on Stahl (apparently Edward Furlong was too busy liberating landlocked lobsters to reprise the role), although I do find myself warming up to him the more I watch the movie. Brad Fiedel's excellent music is sorely missed. And I'm still not sure how the T-X is able to mimic Kate. I don't remember seeing it ever "sample" her. (After giving this some thought, I came up with a possible solution, but I can't phrase it delicately enough to print it here.)

Closing Statement

Read just like every other positive review you've read, didn't it?

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2006 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 100
Audio: 100
Extras: 85
Acting: 80
Story: 80
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* In-Movie Experience
* Arnold Schwarzenegger Intro
* Three Commentary Tracks
* HBO First Look Documentary
* Deleted Scene
* Gag Reel
* Dressed to Kill Featurette
* Storyboard Gallery
* Toys in Action Featurette
* Video Game Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0181852/combined

* Official Site
http://www.terminator3.com/

* Original Terminator 3 Review
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/terminator3.php