Wednesday, August 13, 2003

At last, my long-awaited and widely demanded (OK, so again one person asked for my opinion...) review of The Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

First of all, if you, like me, have been asking what the hell has the once beautiful and magnificent Claire Danes been doing the last few years, now you have your answer: Getting old. (I say this never even having watched "My So-Called Life.") Hey, it happens to the best of us. Fortunately she's reminiscent enough of the 17-year-old from Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet that she's still a pleasure to watch, although it seems she's maybe not the greatest actress the world has ever known.

(Though maybe the script had something to do with that. This ain't exactly Shakespeare. I wonder if Claire Danes had any misgivings about the token "Die, you bitch!" line she was forced to utter, tossed out to the Terminatrix as she's melting on top of a giant magnet, which by the way as far as I can tell appears in the film with no explanation whatsoever. Fact I see it right now: Bunch of weenie studio execs are reviewing the script in a conference room, and one says, "Are you seriously telling me that we're casting an ice-cold blonde as the new Terminator but we haven't even included a single 'Die you bitch'? Can't have it. Make a note to slip that in there, Harry.")

That said, I thought it was great that Claire Danes's fiancee was named "Scott" in the movie. Not so great that he buys it pretty early on. (What did you expect? His name is Scott! Have you ever seen a bad-ass movie character named Scott? Have you ever met any bad-ass named Scott? Didn't think so. That reminds me of a cartoon my 11th-grade German teacher brought into class one day, just for me. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden standing under the Tree of Knowledge. The snake watches on, anticipating.... Eve's about to take a bite, when up from behind a bush, a guy pops up with a big huge pepper mill and says, "Freshly ground pepper?" Caption: "Adam and Eve and Scott.")

Um, anyway... The movie. Walk, don't run. But see it. It's probably more culturally important to familiarize yourself with the Terminator world at this point than it is to remember anything from pre-Episode IV Star Wars.

I think we're supposed to think it's significant that the Terminator comes back to the present by jumping out of a disco ball setting a bunch of desert shrubs on fire. I can't explain the symbolism of the disco ball, but the burning bush is easy enough: "And the angel of the LORD appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed," sayeth Exodus.

In that regard, perhaps the biggest conceptual flaw in the film is one that couldn't have been avoided, at least not during the writing of the current script. According to the original 1984 movie (the Terminator series probably sets the record for longest time between sequels, both in real time and movie time) a nuclear holocaust takes place in 1997. Some not-very-forward-thinking producer is kicking himself for that right now, because it meant that a rather sloppy plot device had to be inserted in the third film, whereby Judgment Day had somehow been postponed, but not avoided, due to whatever it was that good old Linda Hamilton pulled off 12 years ago in T2. But if it can be postponed, why can't it be avoided? Who's calling the shots here, anyway? The postponement of judgment day is pure distraction from the main thematic issue of T3, which is essentially the same as in most Greek tragedies and the myths of the earliest civilizations: that humans are creatures of destiny, cursed with free will but unable to alter their fates, which are determined by the gods. (That said, this movie world is clearly not 100% pre-determined. What fun would that be?) In T2, Arnold played a sort of Uber-Freudian Oedipal father figure. In this one, he's not just the protector of John Connor, but a messenger of God.

Now that's we've got that tedious stuff out of the way, I have to say the movie was hilarious. Not as in chuckling-at-the-bad-script hilarious, but actually cracking-up-over-the-one-liners hilarious. Also, has anybody noticed the action movie genre's convergence with slapstick? The part where Arnie's hanging for his dear cyborg "life" from the hook and ladder truck, and then he smashed into the fire engine going the other direction? That was hilarious! And right out of the Three Stooges. Or at least Buster Keaton. Arnold is truly a comic -- OK, I hesitate to say "genius" -- a good comic actor, let's leave it at that. This movie made me want to rent Kindergarten Cop.

If you're too lazy to see T3, you can catch all the best one-liners here, but I'm afraid they don't stand up very well on the page.

Plots holes and I-just-didn't-buy-it department: How did Claire Danes's dad, having just been riddled with bullets, so quickly come to the conclusion that nothing could be done to stop the nuclear holocaust and he therefore had to tell his daughter an eleborate lie in his dying breath to save her life so she could go on to lead the human resistance? (That the Good Terminator had the smarts to play along with this fib I can buy, but it wasn't he who came up with the bogus story about Skynet's core. It was the dad. This is a script problem that should have been fixed.) What was that huge electromagnetic field doing there and how did John Connor know to turn it on?

This reviewer has something to add to the list:

If the machines come to power by obliterating the world with nuclear weapons, wouldn't they'd be vanquishing much of the own circuitry, energy and computer connectivity needed for them to exist and replicate themselves? Look, why not simply place the humans in slime pods, give them "virtual" lives to make them think they're alive, and just feed off the energy they produce? Wouldn't that be a better solution for everyone involved, machine and man?
Finally, I was about to ask why the Good Terminator's last words to John Connor were "We'll meet again." How?! He goes on to blow himself to smithereens along with the Bad Terminatrix! Then I realized: This isn't simply a cheap way to leave the path open to an implausible sequel. In fact, this is the exact same machine that goes on to kill (and has already killed) John Connor. Creepy.

I also have a hard time figuring out why the ending, which was supposed to be a shocker, seemed so flat and hurried. On that note, this film was a comedy, but a pretty dark one, at least by the standards of most Hollywood features. Not many films end with.... Oh, sorry. Don't want to spoil it for you (although I think I already did).


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