July 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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"She'll be back."

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Warner Bros. Premiere: 07/02/03
Review by Alex Lightman
110 mins Rating: R

Official Website: www.terminator3.com

Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Writing: James Cameron (characters) & Gale Anne Hurd (characters)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger …. Terminator / Nick Stahl …. John Connor / Claire Danes …. Kate Brewster / Kristanna Loken …. T-X David Andrews (I) …. Robert Brewster / Mark Famiglietti …. Scott Petersen / Earl Boen …. Dr. Peter Silberman / Moira Harris …. Betsy / Chopper Bernet …. Chief Engineer / Christopher Lawford …. Brewster's Aide (as Chris Lawford)

T3 Film Review: T3: Rise of the Machines
Are we building Skynet: How Close is Judgement Day?
Is Resistance Futile? We interview Wearable Computing Guru: Thad Starner.

When I was in Army ROTC at MIT I went to a weekend training the first month of my freshman year. Along with a thousand other people I learned to shoot machine guns, throw grenades, and clean everything. At the end, a general stood before us and said, “Who is our emerging leader?” I yelled, “I am!” and was put in charge. That’s the climax of Terminator 3. John Connor becomes the leader of the humans when someone asks him who the leader is. The prophecy, as related in Terminator 1 and T2, is fulfilled, making T3 seem as much like a prequel (a la Star Wars I and II) as a sequel – and a very good one!

T3 is more funny, more action packed, and more inventive than T1 or T2. Perhaps my audience was in a good mood, but we all laughed at least twenty times, mostly at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lines as the T101. There were a delightful number of gags that played on the audience’s expectation of repetition. In T2 Arnold goes naked into a honky tonk, scanning the patrons with his augmented reality system until he fights tough guys to get clothes that his software told him would fit. In T3 Arnold (as a different Terminator, one with a shocking twist of a back story!) also goes to a bar, but this time it’s ladies night, so everyone he scans doesn’t match (INAPPROPRIATE overlaid on a fat lady’s bra got a laugh burst)…until he sees a gay stripper on stage. Arnold tries to get him to speed up his stripping, and gets a great outfit with a black leather jacket – and sunglasses shaped like Elton John’s stars. There are four other sunglass jokes, all delightful. A sexually ambiguous, diversity-friendly Terminator… a play for the Northern California vote?

The T3 action sequences achieve the impossible: the movie reinvents and reinvigorates both the car chase and the one-on-one fight to the death. The T-X, a female “Anti-Terminator Terminator” in the words of John Connor, is supposed to be stronger, faster, and smarter than the nostalgia inducing T-101, but they come across as evenly matched, other than two eXtra powers. The T-X can use the new all-purpose science fiction novum “nanotechnology” (first use in a movie: Russell Crowe as “nanotech android” in Virtuosity), extruding a neon needle finger to prick steering columns and make a vehicle remotely operable. Apparently the ‘bots even create nanocameras, since these vehicles can do skilled driving even out of sight of the T-X. At one point, the T-X has a flock of autonomous vehicles, and the crane seen on the previews, vs. Arnold on a motorcycle. Our jaws were on the floor, stuck there for ten of the most enjoyable minutes in cinema. Bravo!

The semi-climactic fight scene was astonishing, and will inspire millions of kids to petition to get degrees in ‘robotic warfighting’. These robots – sorry, Arnold, “Cybernetic organisms” as he corrects John Connor – are amazingly creative, beating the cybersh*t out of each other with compressed gas cylinders, doors, guns, plasma cannons, flamethrowers, cars, trucks, helicopters, toilets, even the proverbial sink. The WWE take note: fans will soon be demanding cyborgs, to allow combatants to take a licking and keep on ticking. Fights between men and women are all too rare, so enjoy this one.

T3 does have flaws, but don’t let them throw you. First, the heroes don’t in fact, save the world, which is nuked into a wasteland. We knew this was coming, but the chirpy voice over that says, in effect, “Hey, whatever; it was inevitable. As long as we two live, it’s cool” is a sickening message, given that so many of the forces that could make the T3 future happen (see Sidebar) are accelerating. Second, John Connor isn’t very heroic. Hell, Claire Danes looks like Arnold in comparison by the end. Third, there is that expository dialogue. “Let us get out of here, so that we may survive through the inevitable difficulties before we eventually achieve our bittersweet triumph”. OK, they don’t say this, but it’s from this school of thinking a few times. Fourth and last, there is no excuse for the silly computer descriptions and the reason for Skynet becoming self-aware: Claire Dane’s father is told to use Skynet as a virus debugging program that happens to be able to launch all nuclear missiles. Hey, for a few thousand out of the $150 or so million you could have hired Ray Kurzweil, Bill Joy, or Vernor Vinge to give you a plausible emergent AI cause here, comparable in quality to the very funny one liners that will probably give Arnold Schwarzenegger the governorship of California. The AI scenario is at the level of War Games’ Whopper, which was cute but not especially believable then, and hasn't improved with time.

T3’s flaws are more than made up for by the early delights of the T-X, whose bare buttocks and pneumatically inflatable breasts allow for the momentary soft porn that appeals to T3’s mass audiences. Prediction: the actress who played the T-X will appear in the top ten of the “sexiest women in Sci Fi”, in a men’s magazine that will then be banned by Wal-Mart, and be the most downloaded nude on the Internet. If she’s never been photographed nude before, dozens of teenagers with Photoshop are upgrading her design specs as this is typed to correct this oversight. Terminatrix (my spell checker insists I chose Terminator or Dominatrix), mixing sex, intelligence, and danger, is a concept to die for. And we will. Resistance (to the drive for sexbots) is futile.

In the end, T3: Rise Of The Machines is a movie of historical importance, one that will be referred to thousands of times by historians for millennia to come (whether they will be human or cybernetic historians is a different story) for three reasons:
1. T3 will create the fulfillment of the prophecy that Arnold Schwarzenegger will become governor of California, a story that has been going around for at least 20 years.
2. T3 can be a self-preventing prophecy, like 1984 by George Orwell (whose 100th anniversary was on June 25, 2003), but it won’t be. We will create intelligent machines that will end up competing with humans, despite the movie.
3. T3 will be the start of what will become one of the most successful movie series ever. As the Dark Horse comics show, there are many Terminator storylines left. And the last words in T3’s omnipresent voiceovers are to the effect that the war with the machines has just begun.

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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