Skip to main content

She's an anti-Terminator Terminator?

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
(2003)

(SPOILERS) A Terminator 3 was as inevitable as Arnold’s waning career. He was never going to stick to his pledge not to do a third without James Cameron (who had already made one too many, even if the second cemented his bankability and gave him a lavish box of effects tricks to play with).  The ‘90s saw a steady downward career trend, not reversed by a second of the decade’s collaborations with Cameron and being sent to da coola in the debacle that was Batman and Robin. By the time Rise of the Machines arrived, Arnie was barely scraping by on the strength of international receipts. He needed its success; it at least allowed him to go off governating with a modicum of credibility. Which is about the amount of credibility Rise of the Machines possesses.


If T2 isn’t all its reputation cracks it up to be, it’s a masterpiece next to its 12-years-later very belated sequel. Which is a shame, as T3 has a few good ideas going for it, ones that are significantly more daring than what was, for Cameron, becoming a laboured family action movie ethic (the cosy T2 unit coming after the cosy Aliens one) and a willingness to pull his punches and opt for a saveable future and a good guy cyborg.  T3 is credited to John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian. Assembled credits include Tank Girl, The Game, The Net, Surrogates and (!) Catwoman, as well as Terminator Salvation.


Not the most auspicious of résumés, then. However, the last of those pictures is important as, whether or not you care for Ts 3 and 4 very much, it ‘s certainly the case that they are tentatively willing to grapple with the ramifications of all this meddling with timelines, and what must be going on with Skynet. Indeed, while the execution of T3 is frequently barely more than passable, some of the actual plot elements are rather good.


Sending a Terminator back with a mission to take out John Connor’s lieutenants if it can’t achieve the main target is pretty damn sensible, and shows the writers have at least tried to think about the nuts and bolts of this future scenario, aside from a shot of an old John giving orders in a broken landscape. Likewise, even if its stodgily delivered, pairing up John with someone involved in the US military, and therefore giving him connections with which to broker a resistance, combats the rather miraculous notion of him just rising from the ashes.


It’s also an interesting development, if one borne from the necessity of the 1997 judgement date passing by, to have the T2 timetable shifted; Cyberdyne are no longer the initiators of Judgement Day. And yet, it turns out to be inevitable. The scenes at the Air Force base provide a needed balance to the hows and whys, and the trap of the computer virus that causes the military to activate Skynet is quite nifty, even if the realisation doesn’t have the same power (existing on the Internet is a rather anticlimactic sign of desperation in the science fiction genre).


The fatalistic aspect (although how the Terminator knows this – “You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable” – is questionable, unless it has crunched some algorithms and come up with a probability) of the picture sees it veering towards another great franchise downer, and least on paper: Alien 3. Sarah Connor has died of leukaemia off screen, while John has become a waster/drifter. The Terminator that comes back to save him killed him in the future. Then whole thing ends with the nukes going off. It’s a blast!


And yet the entire exercise is all but still born. One is tempted to place this entirely at Jonathan Mostow’s feet (he brought in pals Ferris and Brancato to revise Sarafian’s script; he later directed their so-so Surrogates). Six years earlier Mostow delivered a first rate little B-thriller called Breakdown. Then he moved up a notch budget-wise to U-571. It was still in the thriller genre (a fairly middling one that attracted attention mainly for playing fast and loose with history), so the action was germane to what he knew. There was nothing that really announced him as the perfect guy to fill Cameron’s shoes. Perhaps he came cheap, even if the movie itself didn’t (Carolco’s Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna bought the rights for C2, which has since dissolved and been reborn as… Carolco?!) We’ve seen this sort of thing elsewhere, with unsuitable directors thrown at something just to get it moving (Die Hard 5).


Cinematographer Don Burgess has worked on a number of movies that look great (notably his pairings with Robert Zemeckis and the first Spider-Man), but the look of T3 reminds me more of the horribly lit later John Carpenter movies courtesy of Gary Kibbe. There’s no atmosphere in the visuals. Nor is there tension in the editing. It’s not as if Mostow is incompetent with his staging – the geography is all pretty clear – but everything is so slow and flat. There’s no energy, and Marco Beltrami’s score is barely even present.


The road chase early on is logistically crazier than anything in T2, with its crane truck, fire truck and assorted vehicular carnage, but it never becomes thrilling. Combined with design work that is on the cheesy side (the drone planes, the coffin Arnie carries on one shoulder, the “Terminatrix”’s hand/gun; basically the ray gun that was mocked in the first movie) and a raft of tone-deaf elements (the humour, the gore, the special effects), the only mesmerising aspect on show is how aesthetically challenged the picture is.


Cameron flirted with self-parodic moments in T2, but they’re nothing to what we get here. Arnie really isn’t much cop in this, although for a 55-year old he’s in fairly extraordinary shape. His line deliveries are frequently too emotive, and he seems willing to go for full send-up without understanding the line he’s crossing. 


The first 20 minutes seem more focussed on getting our Terminators outfits than advancing the plot. So Arnie visits a strip club and gets some silly shades. Kristanna Loken’s T-X meanwhile augments her breasts (but not her career). Arnie gets an occasional gem (“Your levity is good. It relieves tension and the fear of death”, “Relax!”) but mostly has to settle for desperate crap like “Talk to the hand”, “She’ll be back” and “I’m back”. 


What might have been a great scene – Arnie taken over by the T-X – is borderline risible as performed by Arnie trying to resist while throwing his targets about rather than snapping their spines.


I quite liked Earl Boen’s return as Dr Silverman, as by that point in the show it’s clear it’s never going to become a wild thrill ride. He drifts off into a reverie of how trauma can damage one’s memory before legging it when Arnie appears in his line of sight. It’s more down to Boen that it’s funny that the staging, however.


There’s nothing wrong with Loken per se, but she’s a female Terminator purely because they haven’t done that yet, and she’s part T-800 part T-1000 purely because they have no ideas at all about how to give the villain special new skills.  Apart from taking control of other machines, which is much better on paper than in practice. Also, it’s clear that the carefully conceived physicality of Patrick’s T-1000 has not been applied to this new model.


As noted, her initially going round killing teenagers is a decent enough idea, but it lacks any real tension or horror. Added to that, the CGI used to render the T-X is pretty lousy. There’s also some weird gore – I have no idea how her putting her arm through a cop’s chest from a back of the car gets a 12 certificate. The Terminator on Terminator fighting is far from enthralling, and occasionally funny for all the wrong reasons; Loken picking up Arnie by the crotch and hurling him about just looks silly, not dramatic.


What of Nick Stahl as John Connor? Stahl’s a good actor, as he showed in the too short-lived Carnivale at about the same time. But he’s all wrong as a future resistance leader; that future dream sequence (why have one Terminator when you can have 30?) isn’t fooling anyone. One thing Salvation did right was cast Christian Bale (until he started talking, at any rate). It needed someone who could be believably desperate and ruthless. And no, he can’t sell the “Terminatrix” line, but who could?


Danes fares little better, but I did find myself perversely entertained by her clichéd cluelessness in response to the sci-fi world revealed to her. The introduction of Kate Brewster to the mythology can get a free pass because the timeline has changed, but drawing attention to the coincidences doesn’t always make them any easier to swallow (John kissed her the day before he first met Arnie? He just happened to be in her vet’s on the night the T-X comes to kill her).  Her dialogue is frequently unintentionally funny too (“Die you bitch!”)


I hadn’t seen Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines since taking its cinema release, so to a certain extent it felt fairly fresh. Just not in a good way. This and Salvation took on something of the rod for their own backs of the original Planet of the Apes series, filling in the narrative gaps. Occasionally such an approach can work, but it tends to be struggling against rote joining the dots if there aren’t genuinely surprising or original individual story beats in the mix. The decimation of the final scene of T3 achieves that, but the rest of the picture is stillborn.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.