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. "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"

Once again, the Terminator series proves its superior worth over competing action concepts with its emphasis on the human element and a higher level of story consistency. There's also something inherently appealing about the clashing interests of an aging protective robot from the future and the latest, indestructible model out to terminate the good guys -- us!

Immediately, one more closely identifies with this setup than with the mysterious, barely explainable binary world of "The Matrix" or with the alienated and endangered Mutants in "Xmen" or the wistful scientist with a genetic problem in "The Hulk".

The world that T3 (a resurrection of a T-800 model) visits with his time machine is roughly today's. John Connor (Nick Stahl) is on the run in order to be untrackable after learning, (in 1991's "T2: Judgment Day") that, in the future, after a cataclysmic world-destroying Judgement Day, he is destined to become the chosen leader of the human survivors. He (and we) also learned that the futuristic machines have been sent out by the rulers of the planet in 2029 to reshape their future by changing the past. That means terminating John and all who would follow him.

Failing in their prior attempt, a new assassin arrives to complete the job, with a list of unsuspecting people to wipe out. This is the virtually indestructible T-X machine which has chosen to emulate one of the dummies in the display window of the swank Rodeo Road store in which it arrives in the space-time machine. It therefore looks a whole lot like a classy blond (Kristanna Loken), hot enough to freeze a room and disarm the suspicious. Good ploy for the most advanced robot yet. The first demonstration of how she operates comes in the viciously heartless way she acquires her wardrobe, wheels, and police-issue weapon.

As she (just too gorgeous to think of as an "it") proceeds to run her program with a series of mob style executions, her nemesis, older model robot T3 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives on a remote hill, rusty and tarnished, naked to the skin, buff to the point of competition-winning muscle (with those massive pecs).

In a visit to a male dance club, he displays the outright self assertion of a programmed machine, not possessed of the subtle ways and mores of polite human society. Here he acquires his wardrobe, and sets out in the pursuit of John Connor and his future mate Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) in order to carry out his mission of protection.

This soon leads to a hook up between Connor, Brewster and T3. The coincidental factors in the meet are soon put to rest with the battering T3 takes in his clash with T-X as he attempts to protect his charges against her persistent fury. Before long, we are treated to a stunt chase whose originality gives the freeway scene in "The Matrix Reloaded" a run for its money. Controlling what is touted as the largest truck-borne crane in America (per Arnold himself on Jay Leno) T-X attempts to demolish T3, wiping out everything in her path: cars, lampposts, street lights, and, in a tour de force, the crane arm decimation of a hi-tech building. A weighty pat on the back for this bit of stunt-action demolition-derby one-upmanship.

If all this makes an impression, the underlying factor is the way the machine relates to the humans. First, it's a protector. Who can't relate to that? We love this guy. Then, there's his self-effacing quality. One of the film's most distinguishing moments comes during a getaway run in Brewster's truck. T3 at the wheel, he evokes what human empathy he can muster in explaining to Connor and Brewster the dangers that lie ahead. "I'm an obsolete design," he states dispassionately, informs them of T-X's advanced capabilities and why, in a matchup, he's likely to be destroyed. "It's more intelligent," he adds.

The true intelligence, as well as the canny creative wisdom, is the filmmakers' at the heart of the T series. It's no accident that the protector cyborg, despite prodigious capabilities, is not up to spec. T2 came up against a different set of superiorities in the relentless shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick) coming after Connor in the previous installment (remember those scattered liquefied drops of metal reforming themselves?).

The people behind this franchise have a better understanding of what it takes to make us identify with the vulnerability of man and machine -- even after a silence of 10 years.

One essential is Schwarzenegger himself. Politics aside, there's a consistency to his output, as though he exerts a storytelling influence on whomever it is he's working with (admittedly with a few recent disappointments, like "End of Days" and "The Sixth Day"). To this date, one of my favorite movies, in the futuristic action vein, is "Total Recall." Ever the vulnerable man, never the superman, Mr. S seems to be as director-proof as his characters prove ultimately to be villain-proof. And, here, as T3, he looks as good as ever, all 55 years of him. It would be an inestimable loss to action cinema if he chooses to give it all up for a career in California politics, as he threatens to do.

"Terminator 3" is paced well, blending the elements without a sense of narrative slowdown and with an appropriate balance of the themes. The battle between the T machines becoming a war between sexes is not lost as a fine stylistic choice, making visual fun out of big Arnold seemingly taking such disastrous wallops from so fine a femme as T-X appears to be. The lady is cold, alluring, and ruinous, with never a hair out of place or makeup smudged. Much praise to this New York model turned actress for her radiant mechanistic portrayal. As for acting prowess, she keeps us ever in mind of her character's underlying chip-driven machinery.

Nick Stahl does a pro job of taking over the part from Edward Furlong with necessary strengths and weaknesses to make him identifiable and sympathetic as the one who preserves our future. Claire Danes is a lovely choice for his future mate, and nicely fills the emotional element lost by the absence of Connor's mother.

Under Jonathan Mostow's direction, Don Burgess' cinematography is always up to the mark; Neil Travis and Nicolas De Toth's editing equally seamless. Mostow picks up the reins from concept creator James Cameron and shows Hollywood how to do a sequel that preserves the qualities of its predecessors.

The boldly supportive score is by Italian born Marco Beltrami ("Blade 2"), using 96 musicians and a 30-voice choir. (Track listing below).

I surely can't anticipate how all these futuristic action spectaculars are going to stack up at the boxoffice, but in terms of what's deserving of appreciation, I give T3 my maximum nod, with Spiderman in close pursuit. For me, it's the human element winning out over pure action dynamics.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


The DVD The Soundtrack album

TRACKS:
1. A Day In the Life (3:41)
2. Hooked On Multiphonics (1:48)
3. Blonde Behind The Wheel (2:08)
4. JC Theme (3:35)
5. Starting T1 (1:51)
6. Hearse Rent A Car (1:49)
7. TX's Hot Tail (3:40)
8. Graveyard Shootout (1:32)
9. More Deep Thoughts (:59)
10. Dual Terminator (:51)
11. Kicked In The Can (2:03)
12. Magnetic Personality (4:36)
13. Termina-Tricks (2:13)
14. Flying Lessons (:57)
15. What Do You Want On Your Tombstone? (1:20)
16. Terminator Tangle (3:21)
17. Radio (2:21)
18. T3 (3:15)
19. The Terminator from the Motion Picture "The Terminator," Composed by Brad Fiedel (2:17)

BONUS TRACKS:
20. Open To Me* Performed by Dillon Dixon (3:48)
21. I Told You** Performed by Mia Julia (3:12)


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
I think this review will be on the mark!
                                                            ~~ Mark G

- - - - - -
Very well written
I'll recommend this reviewer
Rating: 7
Thanks alot for your great review. I really think it's gonna be awesome but have some doubts due to skepticism and Roger Ebert's review. Thanks alot for instilling much more confidence in me. Your the man!
                                                            ~~ Carlos D

- - - - - -
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Rating: 10
Great review and spot on Kristanna Loken's a star!!!!!!!
                                                            ~~ Miles L

- - - - - -
Very well written
This review will influence me to get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer
great review man.its probably the best action movie I have seen in like all my life
                                                            ~~ pt

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"You're getting sleepy..."
Ultrafuturistic T-X versus a worn T-800
(Kristanna Loken and Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Out-classed by a superior design. Yeah!

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