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Fire Walk With Me: Arnold survives the flames in 'T3.'


Without its original creator's hand, the new 'Terminator' is a lifeless sequel

By Steve Palopoli

I'M FACED with a Terminator-type paradox: If I warn you what a mediocre experience you're going to have watching Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, you might not go, which means you'll never have the mediocre experience I warned you about in the first place. Personally, I'm a huge fan of both of the first films, and I had to see this sequel even though, deep in my heart, I knew it could only disappoint. After all, T2 was about as close to perfection as I think a sequel can possibly get: it stayed true to what made the first film great, while pushing the expansive mythology of the series to an epic level. More importantly, it outperformed the first film not just with expensive effects and blockbuster thrill rides but with intelligence and wit.

Say what you will about James Cameron being a total ass, but he is the finest crafter of movie action in the last two decades, who brings a real passion to his work, even if his heavy messages sometimes get a little cheesy. So the first and most serious problem with T3 is that Cameron was not involved. Instead, it was directed by B-movie specialist Jonathan Mostow, who clearly is a fan of the series himself, as he makes every attempt to play up its crowd-pleasing strengths, stay true to the central concepts and build on the mythology. But Cameron's gift for cinematic action has been replaced by a sad lack of vision, and though the filmmakers try to throw money at it to make the problem go away, T3 comes off as merely the biggest-budgeted made-for-TV movie ever. Perfectly fine high-impact action scenes appear to have been deliberately blurred, almost as if no one had any faith that they could measure up to the second film's operatic sequences.

The new Terminator (Kristanna Loken), meanwhile, is ungodly boring. She does have the ability to control several vehicles at once, which makes a couple of the bigger scenes look like Tonka truck nightmares. But she isn't nearly as cool as the T-1000, and she mostly does stuff we've seen before.

On the other hand, the script is actually surprisingly good, with plenty of funny stuff to take advantage of that uniquely Terminator comic timing, and some good twists. T3 is mostly a chase film, but it does find time to get its time-travel paradoxes on and also to return to the series' primary question of destiny vs. decision.

How it chooses to resolve the latter, however, is my primary--though admittedly far more abstract--problem with this film. I don't want to spoil the actual story, so I'll just say that, on a philosophical level, I loathed the way T3 abandons the never-say-die, antiwar-at-all-costs principles of its predecessors. Instead, it goes for a George Bush-type message: Buckle down and accept what the government/military-industrial complex/Republican first-strike policy makers have ordained for you, and you shall embrace your destiny. Oh yeah, and don't forget: global nuclear war is survivable--if you're a real hero. So stop worrying already! And don't forget to vote Schwarzenegger!

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (R; 109 min.), directed by Jonathan Mostow, written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and Tedi Sarafian, photographed by Don Burgess and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kristanna Loken, plays valleywide.

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From the July 3-9, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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