Before he was the governor of California, he was just Arnold Schwarzenegger, one-time Mr. Olympia turned world-famous action superstar. And his greatest role arguably came as 'The Terminator,' in James Cameron's tech-noir of the same name. Playing a cyborg intent on starting/preventing mass nuclear annihilation, The Terminator was the perfect fit for Schwarzenegger's decidedly unique persona: big, intimidating and monosyllabic. Yet the Terminator was also a character of limited potential; that Cameron was able to pull off 1991's 'Terminator 2' as successfully as he did is a rarity in sequel-dom, a follow-up that successfully expanded the original's universe, characters and themes and managed to cap off the series on a high note.
So it was with a bit of dread that I greeted the news of 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,' which was brought to the screen in 2003, almost twenty years after the original film. Though Cameron wisely dropped out, Schwarzenegger and company appeared intent on tarnishing what was once a shiny endoskeleton with a pretty transparent attempt to wring yet more profits out of a washed-up old franchise.
Unfortunately, watching 'Rise of the Machines' didn't change my mind. Even checking it out again for this new HD DVD release, I still feel it is rather uninspired, pastiche sequel-making. It recycles scenes, situations and themes from its predecessors, and doesn't really introduce any new themes. And except for Schwarzenegger, all of the other major roles have been recast, which gives it the feel of a Universal theme-park ride.
That 'T3' has almost become camp is clear from the opening scenes. In true Terminator fashion, we meet the two cyborgs who will again wage war over the future of mankind. Kristanna Loken is the T-X, another new-model endoskeleton-thing who can shoot lasers out of her hand and artificially pump up her breasts courtesy of liquid metal. And Arnold is back as the same old T-Whatever, a rusty relic of armageddon complete with wrinkles and a few extra ounces of flab. When Schwarzenegger makes his big entrance at an all-male strip club -- a reworking of the classic barroom scene that opens T2 -- it comes off as half-funny, half-sad. Has a once-great sci-fi icon really de-morphed into his own in-joke?
I think what I longed for the most in 'Terminator 3' is a clear
theme. This might be the most expensive Hollywood movie to ever end on such
a downer. The original film's simple, linear narrative and clearly defined rules
of time travel (however much they required a suspension of disbelief) are now
long gone, replaced by so many narrative U-turns that it is hard to care anymore
about the whole "the only fate is that which we make for ourselves"
thing and all the other metaphysical mumbo jumbo. I remember being uplifted
in the first two by the idea that -- no matter how seemingly insignificant and
small -- even one person can affect the course of history. All of that is washed
away in 'Terminator 3' in one big atomic explosion. We learn that everything
Sarah Connor did -- and by extension, all of humankind -- is futile. Judgment
Day was always inevitable, which rewires 'Terminator 2' into an emotional cul-de-sac.
Why make a third movie that has no thematic point, other than to set up another
sequel? The idealism of the first two films has been replaced by irony, cynicism
Yet as sorta-depressing as 'T3' can be on the level of its recycled narrative, it is so overinflated and desperate to please that it just may be the most expensive B-movie ever made. Which makes it somewhat enjoyable in its own clunky way. Director Jonathan Mostow, taking over for Cameron, goes full-tilt in staging his over-the-top action set pieces. The fabulous truck chase through the streets of San Francisco, which closes the first act, is as slick, exciting and well-executed an action spectacle as you are likely to see. And the climatic dueling terminators bathroom brawl is a real corker, even if it is a bit disturbing watching Arnie kick the shit out of a girl (albeit one made of molten metal).
That none of this mass destruction really serves any purpose in the narrative is, at this point, inconsequential. It is all chase and payoff -- 'Terminator 3' has no reason to exist other than because they wanted to make another sequel, so it is our sheer familiarity with the Cameron-directed epics that fuels any enjoyment we get out 'Rise of the Machines. It only thrills us, makes us laugh or packs emotional resonance -- let alone makes any sense -- because we are still so in love with the first two movies that we'll take anything we're given. 'T3' is its own artificial, collective memory bank of a movie.
In an odd twist that only happens in Hollywood, the complete 'Terminator' series has made its way to the next-gen formats via three different studios and two different formats. It's too bad the first two flicks are only available on Blu-ray, and now 'Terminator 3' solely on HD DVD. I'm sure someday soon Warner will issue 'Terminator 3' on Blu-ray, and perhaps Lionsgate will throw HD DVD fans a bone and unleash 'Terminator 2.' But as for Sony/MGM giving us the first 'Terminator' on HD DVD, it would seem doubtful. Nevertheless, for the dual format early adapters out there, you can click the following linked titles to read our reviews of the Blu-ray releases of 'The Terminator' and 'Terminator 2.'
As for this release on HD DVD, 'T3' gets the usual 1080p/VC-1 treatment, and it is a very good transfer. The film already looked quite spiffy on standard-def when it was first released on disc in 2003, and judging by a quick comparison between the two, it doesn't look like Warner has struck a new master for this one. But that's not a bad thing. The print is in great shape, with no visible blemishes, speckles or other anomalies to report. Blacks are perfect, and contrast natural and consistent. Color reproduction is quite nice, with a rich palette of hues that appear stable and free of noise. However, due to some uses of filtering (such as during the truck chase, which is supposed to take place at dawn but was clearly shot during the day) fleshtones sometimes render a bit on the red side, though this appears intentional. As far as detail, daylight scenes are usually excellent, with that impressive sense of three-dimensionality that I've come to love about high-def.
Tht said I wasn't entirely sold on this transfer in every respect. I found that some of the darker scenes suffered a tad in the shadow delineation department, and colors can look ever-so-slightly pumped up. For example, the scene where Catherine Brewster (Claire Danes) first meets John Connor (Nick Stahl) in the veterinarian office was somewhat dark, with the sharp contrast and processed colors obscuring detail ever-so-slightly. Certainly, this is a pretty minor quibble -- the transfer does exhibit great depth throughout -- but it keeps 'T3' from being the absolute best I've seen on HD DVD. Also note that 'T3' was shot using the Super35 process, which allows for greater flexibility in aspect ratio when it comes to transferring a film to home video, but the trade-off is that the photographic processes required tend to make grain a bit more apparent. As such, there is thin, slight veneer of visible film grain throughout 'T3,' particularly in the darker scenes. Again, this is entirely appropriate to the intended style of the film, but it's there if you look for it.
Let's face it: the main reason anyone goes to see a film like 'Terminator 3' is to see tons of shit get blown up real good, and we want it all in roof-raising, get-your-rocks-off surround sound. So it's unfortunate that for 'Terminator 3's maiden HD DVD voyage, Warner didn't sport for a full-blown Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. As is, though, the 640kbps, Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround included here is pretty dang good in its own right.
Technically, the sound design of 'T3' is tremendous, as you would expect. Surrounds are consistently engaged and often create a complete 360-degree soundfield, especially during the action sequences. Imaging across all channels is near-transparent, and excellent use is made of discrete effects, including dialogue. Marco Beltrami's score is the only disappointment -- it is not integrated strongly enough into the mix and lacks the industrial sturm and drang of Brad Fiedel's compositions in the first two. Dynamic range is also excellent, with a very spacious midrange, clean highs and very, very powerful low bass. The .1 LFE really gets a workout on all of this mass destruction, so this one will move the furniture around if you crank it up. Which of course you must do -- or the Terminator will come to your house himself.
After countless DVD editions of the first two 'Terminator' flicks, Warner Home Video shocked the world by releasing only one -- one! -- two-disc special edition of 'T3' back in 2003. Really, isn't that sacrilege? Imagine the possibilities: 'Terminator 3: The Gubernatorial Edition?' The 'Tricked-Out Election Edition?' Or how about, 'T3 1/2: California Total Recall?' Until then, and despite the copious amount of bulletpoints on the back of the box, all of the extras remain a rather fluffy lot, with too little meat but a heaping helping of cheese.
First up are no less than three audio commentaries: a solo track with director Jonathan Mostow, a second track with Mostow and cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Claire Danes, Nick Stahl and Kristanna Loken, and a third (which did not appear on the standard-def DVD release) with Mostow again, joined by screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, director of photography Don Burgess and production designer Jeff Mann. Mostow introduces both "group" tracks, which are an amalgam of the actors and crew, all recorded in different cities and edited together. I actually quite like these patchwork commentaries, because they are usually stuffed with information and don't suffer from long gaps of silence. In any case, the cast track is the highlight, as all are much more honest and forthright than they are on the dull video extras. It is positively surreal to hear Governor Schwarzenegger talk like the billionaire action star he once was, although his initial, endless ramblings about his naked body are positively creepy. Danes and Stahl also have a sense of humor about tackling such a huge project and what they, at the time, thought it might do to their careers. And Loken may have had the toughest job of all, making a leather-clad female terminator believable. She handles it all with aplomb and is very engaging throughout. So much so that, by the time we get to the other two tracks, they can't help but seem dull by comparison. There is a considerable amount of repetition them, though Mostow certainly delves into all of the nuts and bolts production details that are completely lacking in the cast commentary. Of course, just how many commentaries you can take for one movie is up to you, but kudos to Warner for resurrecting the extra commentary that I guess would have been lost forever if it hadn't been for HD DVD.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of the video-based extras are too slick and fluffy, and powered by a relentless techno underscore that quicly grows tiresome. After a dull "Introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger" that contains no surprises, we get an "HBO First Look" special that runs 24 minutes. It is your typical breathless pre-release extended commercial. We don't learn anything we didn't already know after watching the flick, and typical of most on-set interviews, Mostow, Schwarzenegger, Stahl and Danes can't reveal too much about the plot, so are forced to spout the typical, "It's gonna be great!" comments.
Next up are a variety of little vignettes. The 3-minute "Sgt. Candy Scene"
is an oddity -- a deleted comedy movie-within-a-movie scene that, frankly, made
no sense to me. "Storyboards" is a 4-minute montage of the film's
climatic Terminator vs. Terminator duel. The entire sequence is shown as a side-by-side
comparison between the storyboards and the final finished film, with soundtrack.
"Dressed to Kill" runs only 2 minutes and offers a breezy look at
how to costume a Terminator, and what to wear if you are being chased by one.
Finally, "Toys in Action" pays a visit with artist Todd McFarlane
and takes a look at all the various Terminator-inspired toys that have come
out in recent years. Running 8 minutes, this feels more like a commercial than
a true featurette.
Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer in widescreen and 480p video, plus two shameless promos for the 'T3' videogame, including a teaser and "making of" extended commercial.
Note that in an unusual occurrence for HD DVD, Warner has dropped the best making-of feature from the previous standard-def release, the 32-minute "T3 Visual Effects Lab." It broke down five key sequences in the film, and was by far the most insightful bit of supplementary material on the standard DVD release. However, all of this material appears to have been integrated into the HD-exclusive "In-Movie Experience" noted below, so I can't say there is much to get up in arms about.
Surprise, surprise, I can't say I enjoyed 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' as much as the first two 'Terminator' flicks. However, it is big, loud and full of action, and I was never less than entertained. As an HD DVD release, this is another winner from Warner. A very good transfer, a great soundtrack and a fancy new In-Movie Experience feature make for an all-around worthwhile purchase. Though I would have liked a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack -- really, what movie deserves one more than 'T3?' -- this is still an HD DVD upgrade that makes sense.