"Terminator 3" is - in my opinion - quite a different film from the prior entries in the series. The first two films, helmed by director James Cameron, were dark, weighty and ambitious mixtures of sci-fi, drama and action that offered character moments and pauses in-between the action. Although Cameron has never been the strongest with dialogue, he's remarkable at just about everything else he puts his mind to (when discussing his "Abyss" in a making of documentary, I believe he said something along the lines of, "If I couldn't make '2001' underwater, I wasn't going to make the movie.")
This picture, done without Cameron's involvement apparently, is helmed by director Jonathan Mostow, who has made a name for himself with the cult hit "Breakdown" and the underrated "U-571". "T3" is noticably a bit more "popcorn" a film than the prior ones, but if it is, it's certainly a very above-average "popcorn" flick, with a decent story, some good chacter moments and - surprisingly - quite a bit more humor than the prior films. There's also a much shorter running time (this one clocks in at about 105 minutes, but feels like less), although given the fact that everything's really been set up in the first two films, that's not much of a concern.
This time around, John Connor (Nick Stahl, replacing a reportedly troubled Edward Furlong) is living alone around LA, moving from place to place and trying to keep his identity a secret. Elsewhere, a T-X (Kristianna Loken) has appeared in a department store window in LA. Arnold, er, T-101, has also been sent back in the future. Once again, there's one looking to destroy Connor (known as the future leader in the battle against the machines, if you haven't seen the first two films) and one sent back to protect him.
There's little time before the chase begins. After an accident on his bike, John seeks shelter and medicine in an animal shelter, which is where a former classmate, Kate (Claire Danes) works. She catches him, throws him in a cage and...that's when both Terminators show up. Dragged along for the ride - but for a reason I won't give away - Kate, John and the T-101 head for the hills, trying once again - this time with much slimmer odds - to stop a nuclear catastrophe.
And the ending, well...the ending will be seen as a fitting way to end the movie by some and a complete letdown for others. I'm sure debates will be heard by everyone exiting the theater.
"T3", reportedly done on a budget of $150m, is a smartly done effects picture. The film uses a mixture of practical and digital effects (a crane chase through the streets of LA is pretty spectacular), which is more effective and involving than just pure digital (at least I think). All of the digital effects are well-done and pretty seamless. There's also less in the way of cutting than most films - Mostow and his editors allow sequences to run their course smoothly. Reliable cinematographer (and frequent collaborator of director Robert Zemeckis) Don Burgess offers clean, well-composed views of the action. Burgess, while a great talent, has never seemed to be much for flashy camera movement, and that actually works well here.
The performances are generally quite good. Arnold seems a bit more comfortable in the role and the instances where he's funny without trying/meaning to be are occasionally pretty hilarious. Stahl provides a good, straightforward performance that's involving without being showy. Danes, whose involvement in an action film raised questions (not that's she's a bad actress, but just given her career history, it seemed like an unexpected choice), actually is a surprisingly good fit. Although her character's involvement in scenes may just not have been set up as well, Loken's T-X doesn't manage to be as intimidating or scary as Robert Patrick's T-1000 in "T2".
Aspects of the film could have been improved. Although very tight - which is pleasing in this age of films that could often stand to be tighter - the film could have added a few minutes beyond its 105 to expand upon some of the themes and events. There's a few too many scenes where I wanted to yell at the characters to, I don't know, run, maybe? Brad Fiedel's musical score should have returned for the whole film. While enjoyable, much of the movie starts to feel like a set-up for the fourth picture.
Overall, I found this to simply be an enjoyable, technically very well made actioner. Those expecting "Terminator 2" will likely be disappointed; the film lacks the impact of Cameron's feature. But, on its own terms, I found it entertaining.
VIDEO: Although it couldn't hope to rival the experience I had of seeing the film in DLP projection on a giant screen, this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on the DVD edition is still awfully good. The latest in a series of visually strong DVD efforts from Warner Brothers ("In Laws", "Matrix: Reloaded"), "T3" looks superb throughout, with sharpness and detail that are consistently impressive, even in the darker scenes.
The print used looked largely excellent; although slight, inconsistent grain is apparent, there are no scratches or other debris visible. Some tiny, trace amounts of compression artifacts were also noticed, but hardly noticable. Edge enhancement was not spotted. Colors were generally natural and appeared accurately rendered, with nice saturation and no issues. While not quite as extraordinary as the transfer of "Matrix: Reloaded", this is still certainly another wonderful effort.
SOUND: "T3" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (DTS would have been nice, but hey) on this DVD edition from Warner Brothers. While I still don't think anything has ever quite rivaled the sonic assault that "T3" director Jonathan Mostow's "U-571" did, this is still a very fine "action movie" soundtrack. Surrounds kick in heavily during the action scenes (especially in the final quarter), with plenty of sound effects that open the action scenes further into the room. There isn't much in the way of subtle ambience, but...well, this isn't exactly a subtle movie, either. Powerful bass underlines several of the action sequences, as well.
Commentaries: Director Jonathan Mostow has his own commentary track, but also joins in on another track with stars Clare Daines, Kristiana Loken, Nick Stahl and none other than Arnold. Mostow introduces the actor's commentary and explains that the actors were recorded separately during the film's worldwide promotional tour. Arnold is hilarious in his sort of goofy, say-whatever-he's-thinking way, while Stahl, Loken and Danes provide enjoyable insights into their characters and working in a film that's so entirely different than anything they've experienced. Mostow's own commentary is informative, as although he does repeat himself here against some of the comments on the other track, he does present some interesting stories about the production and trying to take over the franchise and do so in a way that would hopefully satisfy fans.
Also on Disc 1: The film's theatrical trailer and the videogame trailer.
Deleted Scene: One of the first options on the second disc is a deleted scene that's so painfully unfunny that I'm unsure of whether or not it should have been part of the gag reel. Yet, it appears to be a real scene and so, wow...just thankful it's not included in the film itself.
Documentary: 13 minutes of pure promotion. Nothing to be seen here, folks. Move on.
Gag Reel: A few minutes of bloopers. There's some gems here, but it's all backed by an annoying song.
Visual FX Lab: This is a very enjoyable set of mini-featurettes that take viewers step-by-step through the process of creating four major sequences. Aside from the informative featurettes, there's also a visual effects lab, where viewers can make minor changes to how effects elements look in some different scenes. There's no major alterations to be made here, but what you can do works pretty well.
Also: Short featurettes on the toys, the making of the video game and costume design; text notes, timeline and storyboards.
Final Thoughts: I didn't care for "T3" quite as much the second time around, but I still found it to be an entertaining big-budget actioner. Warner Brothers has provided a fine DVD edition, with excellent audio/video, but a mixed bag of supplements - some good, some that are simply fluff. Still, recommended.
The Film ***