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TERMINATOR 3 is a damn good film, borders on being something better than that and depending on how it holds up on multiple viewings and what they do with the ends they leave, if they do anything of all… it might become great.

It might have been my marginal expectations, my memories of walking into 3rd chapters of series like RETURN OF THE JEDI, SEARCH FOR SPOCK, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, ALIEN 3, GODFATHER 3, LETHAL WEAPON 3, RAMBO 3 and BEVERLY HILLS COP 3… Those experiences can only be explained by the look on Stephen Rea’s face in THE CRYING GAME, when he too didn’t get what he expected.

In recent memory, only ROCKY III achieved debatable greatness, debatable… because some feel it is a cartoon… For me, Goddamn, I saw that film 20 times on first run in the theaters. EYE OF THE TIGER became an anthem and Mr. T became a nightmare ID monster. The death of Mickey, the transformation of the Apollo / Rocky dynamic and the fights… The fights became things of superhuman glory. Ok, must stop writing about ROCKY III, cuz I could talk about it for about 3000 words. With the exception of TARZAN ESCAPES, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, it’s my favorite third film in a trilogy.

The production of TERMINATOR 3 has been filled with word of disaster, premonitions of doom, feelings of dread. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film of this size have more negativity coming to me from sources within the Distribution company declaring the film to be beyond terrible… only to see a complete reversal from advance reviews. That just doesn’t happen. I’ve had sources inside studios say a movie is golden, and have it be a dud, but never masses of negativity, followed by cheering adoring reviews. Turns out the word was coming out of frustration due to being kept out of the loop. It seems impossible to imagine, but T3 is essentially a gigantic independent film. Almost all the financing from overseas. And Mostow had complete control and didn’t cherish showing everybody what he was up to. He had secrets he wanted preserved. Damn good ones. Ones you should be worried about having spoiled for you, so if I may… I suggest steering clear of reviews, talkbacks and chat rooms till you see the film for yourself. You don’t want the secrets spoiled.

Suffice to say, this film has the balls that none of the other big summer films have had in years, if ever.

How does it compare with the first two TERMINATOR films… I’ll do a quick breakdown for you folks.

1. Action -- On par, if not better. There has never been a Terminator film on this sort of scale. The action is hugely entertaining.

2. Characters -- Fully in third place. There are no characters on par with the work of Linda Hamilton or the coming of age of Edward Furlong or the determined sadness of Michael Biehn. Claire Danes is the best here, but her character just isn’t as strong as those others. Nick Stahl is complicated, but ultimately not as interesting… the great transformation was 10 more minutes of film away. I wanted to see those 10 minutes, unfortunately, we don’t get that.

3. Score – Greatest complaint. I’m not a Marco Beltrami fan. I’m not sure if Brad Fiedel didn’t do this out of fealty to Cameron, or if Mostow just prefers Beltrami, but not having him score, would be like not having Arnold in the film. I have always felt that Fiedel and Linda Hamilton were the soul of this series. Marco does what he does best, he creates a score that seems to not exist, a completely unobtrusive score that doesn’t weigh on the film… however, I could feel Fiedel missing.

4. Cinematography – Very nice, but the texture, framing and lighting of TERMINATOR 2 is a modern marvel. This has the look of a modern Action film, far less painterly. Far less classic. Far less beautiful. T2 was shot with an artist’s eye. T3 is shot aggressively as if the next shot was always more important than the one we were currently looking at.

5. Visual Effects – There’s a great deal of invisible perfect FX work in this film. Brutally realized and just an absolute delight to behold. There are sequences that you’ll just begin to nervously giggle by their intensity. Well, that’s how I manifested it, you might rip the arm off your seat, bruise the bicep of the fella next to ya or drop a load in your drawers… I don’t know, but if you can watch the chase scene in this…. Or the T-101 vs T-X fight in the johns and then think for a half a second that there is a chase scene or fight scene in MATRIX RELOADED worthy of even being a pimple on the ass of these… Then by golly, happy living on the funny farm. Just jaw droppingly wonderful.

6. Story -- Far better than I was expecting. Much better than the script I had read. Does it work within the existing Terminator storylines? Well, if you subscribe to the “butterfly effect” concept of time travel alteration as it is tied to a pre-ordained destiny… Yes. There is a fatalistic eventuality here that I love. When you think about “NO FATE BUT WHAT WE MAKE FOR OURSELVES” that was first put forth by John Connor to Kyle Reese to tell Sarah Connor in the first film, you have to realize… that isn’t a hard-lined fact of time travel reality… that is essentially the hope of the future. That we can alter the despair of the future by the choices we make today. John Connor believes “NO FATE BUT WHAT WE MAKE,” because… well that’s what the machines believe… that is why they sent the Terminators back to kill him, why they built a time machine… It was all done with the idea of changing the future. HOWEVER, the big question that we have always had about TIME TRAVEL is “Can You Change The Future or is it Set?” Ultimately, this is the big theme of this film. That’s a great theme to have, one that the first two TERMINATOR films were always avoiding, yet… think about it. The machines were never able to kill Connor (Sarah or John) – meaning, they were never able to really change that future eventuality that he would knock off SKYNET and lead the human revolt… Against all odds, he always survived. The Story of T3 is absolutely one that is worthy of being told.

OK – Now to get into more specific issues with the film.

John Connor as played by Nick Stahl

Remember how Sarah Connor was a complete and total wimp in the first TERMINATOR and came out to be a hardlined asskicker in T2? Remember in T2, how John Connor was a namby pamby brat boy that was touchy feely and didn’t want the Terminator killing people? Well, what’s happened to John Connor in the 12 years since we last saw him?

First, the date he’s known as Judgment Day, the day the machines took over and the bombs fell out of the sky and the human race was nearly eradicated. That day that he’s been raised his entire life being told was coming at this time on this day… That underlying feeling of doom he had as he looked at every mall, every city he ever lived in. That feeling that made him believe the world he lived in was an eventual crematorium. That day came and went without so much as a firecracker going off.

What do you do next?

So does this mean it isn’t going to happen? Does it mean he isn’t going to be a “great military leader”? That suddenly his life is like every body else’s? OR – could the machines have sent another Terminator to kill him, and that while he stopped Judgment Day from happening, the machines would have sent another back to get him, before that big time wave of change swept the nightmare away? So he lives with no connections, no bank statements, living odd jobs here and there. He can’t confide in anyone anymore, how would they believe some kid? He has no proof, there is no proof. It didn’t happen. With his mother dead, he has no support system. It is now 6 years past August 29th, 1997… the day 3 billion human lives were snuffed out. He’s fallen into a pattern, not unlike a lot of Vietnam Vets that didn’t want to remember what they went through… what they saw. He’s taken up drinking. He doesn’t form friendships, can’t risk anyone getting close to him.

Then, one night he crashes his bike to avoid hitting a deer on a road out in the middle of nowhere. He breaks into an animal clinic for some pain killers and suddenly… Suddenly, it is all back on.

Nick Stahl plays John Connor as a burnt out man that had given up on who he was supposed to be. Everything he ever believed in didn’t happen. He’s a burnt out early twenties alcoholic… he’s not the future of humanity. Who would follow him? THEN BAM! Here it is… Destiny… Your future coming to put you back on track, finding you and saying… Here it comes John, and the entire time he believes he can avoid it. He doesn’t want it. His only thought through this film is to stop Judgment Day, not survive it. He doesn’t want to be that Leader, if he’s that leader, that means 3 BILLION HUMANS ARE DEAD. He doesn’t want to lead a boy scout troop much less the surviving remnants of mankind.

For John Connor, Judgment Day can be stopped. The future can be changed. He’s done it before, he can do it again. Give the world back it’s rainbows and happy moments. Give it its forests and parks and future. But is that what John Connor can do? Can John Connor save the future or just lead it? And if he’s supposed to lead it, how the hell is he gonna do that?

That’s what I love about this movie. You find out. I just wish, that we had 10 more minutes of the film, picking up exactly where we were… I wanted to hear and see what happened in those next 10 minutes with John Connor. Those 10 minutes, that next 3 hours, 2 weeks, 10 years… This is where he finds his destiny. Where eventuality comes for him.

How are the Terminators in this film? They’re fine. Arnie is perfect, as great as he’s always been in this role. In fact he’s so damn perfect for this film that as you watch it, its like a big removal of all the shit he’s been stuck in for the past several years. I suppose it is odd that a man be born to play a machine… I suppose you’d have to ask Brent Spiner what he thinks of that, but Arnold’s TERMINATOR is as iconic as any role that any actor has ever played. Just one of those things that was simply meant to be. Honestly, I can’t say enough times how great it is seeing him in this movie. I swear to god, if Harrison Ford can step into Indiana Jones’ boots and be as perfect as Arnie is here… the feeling of good will that’ll spill out of me in the theater will just be tremendous. Same with Stallone. There’s something about those 80’s guys that makes me just root for them and cheer when they get it right. When you see Arnold arrive in his Time sphere thing… and you see that 1980’s Arnold physique stand up… It is as if for just that moment, if you can imagine… nothing has changed in twenty years. Everything is as it was. And as it should be. As for Terminator Barbie… She’s nothing but bad. Bad News, Bad Ass and Bad for the entire human race. Oh and she’s real easy on the eyes.

This TERMINATOR film is lean, too lean. It needed to be fleshed out a bit here and there. My wanting that extra 10 minutes, I really want that sequence. Earlier in the film, I really want more character development between John and Kate Brewster – or between Kate and her father.

The film works so much better than I was expecting, but I still wanted more. That’s probably a good thing. If you think about how the film ends, there’s a certain beauty to it, to the conversations you can have, to what it all means, to what John has to do next.

I had one friend that loves the first two Terminator films just hate John Connor and this story. He hated the dialogue, who John Connor had become since the last film. Why couldn’t he just accept his destiny, why is he fighting it? Why is he such a coward about it all?

For me, it is as clear as anything would ever be. At one point in the back of the truck as John and Kate are talking, and she doesn’t understand anything that is going on. He tells her to imagine that you know you have this destiny, this great thing you’re supposed to do, maybe the greatest thing that anyone anywhere has ever done, only the worst thing ever has to happen first… She doesn’t understand at the time what he’s talking about, but we do. At this point, he’s a Junior High School drop out. He doesn’t know history, military theory… He knows how to field strip a weapon, how to do everything in the Anarchist Cookbook… but he hasn’t been able to go to schools and get the information he is supposed to have. Not yet anyways.

I think some people are going to dismiss this film as being just a stupid action science fiction film with amazing set pieces. Actually, I believe it is damn smart. Really damn smart. Maybe at some future point I’ll go into everything I believe is about to happen, it’s all speculation of course… actually, it isn’t. Given where John is at the end of this film. It makes perfect sense. What is where he is? Who was supposed to be there? What is happening? It is beautifully horrible. And I like it. I like it a whole lot.

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