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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/27/03

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Special Edition - 2003 (2003) - Warner Bros.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - Special Edition Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C+

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
109 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 54:54 in chapter 18), keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Jonathan Mostow), audio commentary (with Mostow and actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken), theatrical trailer (16x9), video game trailer (4x3), DVD-ROM weblinks, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (33 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - Supplemental Material
Single-sided, single-layered, all featurettes 4x3, video introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger (30 secs), Inside Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines featurette (13 mins), Sgt. Candy deleted scene (2 mins), Terminal Flaws gag reel (3 mins), 5 visual effects featurettes including Introduction (2 mins), Crane Chase (8 mins), TX Transformation (8 mins), Future War (9 mins) and Crystal Peak (9 mins), interactive visual effects lab (allows you to change the look of two effects shots), SkyNet character database, interactive timeline, storyboards video (4 mins), Dressed to Kill featurette (2 mins), Toys in Action featurette (7 mins), videogame trailer, videogame "making of" featurette (9 mins), DVD-ROM weblinks, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, program access, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: French, Closed Captioned

He said he'd be back, and here he is... only a decade late. Soon to be California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the title character in Jonathan Mostow's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Yes, you read that right... Jonathan Mostow (of U-571 fame), not James Cameron (who originally created the characters and the story). Surprise.

T3 takes place in the present day. Twelve years have passed since the last film, and young John Connor has grown into a man (he's also grown a new face, courtesy of actor Nick Stahl, who replaces Edward Furlong for reasons unexplained). John's lived the last decade unplugged from what we'd consider a normal life. He spends his time waiting for the other shoe to drop, with no home, no cell phone, no e-mail address, no credit cards... in short, with no record of his existence. Of course, this being a Terminator film, the other shoe does indeed drop. Their last two temporal assassination attempts having failed, it seems the Machines have decided that the third time's a charm. Once again, they've sent back their most advanced killing machine, the ultra-sexy TX (Kristanna Loken), to take out not only Connor, but also his future lieutenants in the Resistance. Naturally, the good guys in the future have sent back another Schwarzenegger model protector for John. You can probably guess what happens next.

I'll say it right now, this franchise desperately misses James Cameron's touch. Surprisingly, though, his absence isn't felt so much behind the camera. Back-up QB Mostow has done a credible job of filling those shoes in terms of pace and visual style. The real problem here is the story. T3 feels like little more than a paint-by-numbers carbon copy of the first two films. There is absolutely no heart in this film, and very little that's genuinely new. It's an exercise in mechanically predictable storytelling. The Evil Terminator comes back naked, steals some clothes and a set of wheels and starts killing in an effort to find John Connor. The Good Terminator comes back naked, has a funny scene in which he steels clothes almost exactly identical to what he's worn in the last two films, and arrives just in time to save John's bacon. Numerous explosive and high-speed vehicle chases ensue, in which a clueless new character (played by a largely wasted Claire Danes) gets caught up in things with our heroes so as to provide sufficient screaming. All of this leads to an ending which, while cool in look and tone, completely invalidates the entire dramatic thrust of the last two films. Read the title of this film again and tell me where the mystery is.

There are so many plot problems here. Why would John stay in Los Angeles if he's trying to hide from the Machines? Why not, say... hide out in Seattle, or London, or some ubiquitous Smallville somewhere? Why do the Machines keep coming to the present day to kill John? They've obviously had a tough go of it here so far, so why not go back to the 1800s and kill his great great grandfather in the Old West, where they'd have nothing but horses and six-guns to contend with? Why does every T-800 model have to find the same leather jacket and shades? Wouldn't he do just as well walking the streets in a business suit, carrying a briefcase full of guns? In short, why not play with the conventions of this franchise a little bit, to make it interesting? Ooohh... a female Terminator. How long did it take the writers to come up with that? There's only one genuine surprise in T3, and it doesn't really even come into play in this film - it's just sort of dropped out there for you to chew on. T3 feels like it was made simply to set up another sequel. That's a shame.

DVD-wise, T3 at least delivers most of the audio/visual bang fans have come to expect. The film looks very good in its anamorphic widescreen presentation on this disc. Contrast is solid with deep and detailed blacks. Colors are accurate if sometimes muted. There's only light print grain and compression artifacting is rarely visible. The overall image is crisp and detailed without looking edgy or processed. This is another great transfer by the folks at Warner.

The audio is also good, if not as impressive. Make no mistake, this is a solid 5.1 track. The front soundstage is big and wide, there's plenty of directional panning and atmospheric fill, and your subwoofer fills in the low end nicely. That said, nothing about this track is going to blow you away. It's good, and represents the movie experience nicely, but it's not going to win any awards.

Also unlikely to make a showing at awards time are the extras on this 2-disc set. As was the case with their recent Matrix: Reloaded DVD, Warner has checked in again with a batch of supplements that are way too glossy, almost completely lacking in depth and tend to cross-promote film tie-ins too much.

Starting with Disc One, there are a pair of audio commentary tracks available. One features the director by himself, and the other features the director and all the leading actors in the film, including Arnold himself. Mostow's solo track is the best of the two, as the actors tend to be very superficial in their comments. All of the actors were recorded separately and edited together for this track, which is a shame (but probably unavoidable given scheduling issues). Of the actors, only Schwarzenegger is really fun to listen to, just because he's... you know... Schwarzenegger. Nick Stahl has a couple of interesting things to say about his character, but Danes and Loken are too new to the commentary process to really say much that you haven't heard a million times before. Also on Disc One are a pair of trailers, one for the film itself (which is anamorphic) and one for the tie-in videogame (which is not).

Disc Two includes the majority of the extras, but these amount to little more than a scattering of EPK style featurettes (all of them 4x3). There's a very brief introduction by Arnold to the DVD, and an HBO: First Look "documentary" (Inside Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) which clocks in at a whopping 13 minutes. Next up is a really terrible deleted scene from the film, which explains why all the T-800 model Terminators look like Schwarzenegger (or should I say, Sgt. Candy?). This is an embarrassingly silly scene, that was wisely cut from the film. Fans will either get a laugh out of it... or cringe. You get a largely unfunny gag reel and a series of featurettes that cover the making of the major effects sequences from the film. These effects pieces are definitely the best thing about the disc. Moving on, there's an interactive "visual effects lab" that lets you change various elements in two different shots from the film (it's only cool for about 5 minutes). There's also an interactive character databases and a timeline of events, neither of which has much depth. Then you get an all too brief storyboard video clip, and a couple featurettes that look at the making of the McFarlane action figures for this film as well as the videogame. Closing things out is yet another videogame trailer and a series of PC DVD-ROM weblinks that (as we're told on the disc) take you to such wondrous online destinations as the T3 Store. Joy.

Terminator 3 really isn't a terrible film, it's just terribly average. All of its problems lie in a script that's seriously lacking in effort and imagination (much like the extras on this DVD). Instead of breaking new ground, this film strives simply to cover already well-trod territory. It does that quite well, thanks to deft direction by Mostow. Unfortunately, T3 falls far short of being a great entry in this series, and what little momentum it's managed to give this franchise has been wasted, now that Arnold is busy being the Governator. It could be quite a while before T4 graces the big screen. I'm not sure that isn't a good thing.

Bill Hunt
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