Terminator 3: Rise of the MachinesOverview -
Arnold Schwarzenegger puts on his trademark shades and leather jacket to return as a time-traveling T-101 Terminator in this smash hit directed by Jonathan Mostow. He's back to protect future Earth Resistance leader John Connor (Nick Stahl)...and an unwary veterinarian (Claire Danes) who's stunned to learn her destiny is linked with Connor. An awesome new foe is programmed to terminate them - a state-of-the-art T-X (Kristanna Loken) who's smarter and stronger than a T-101. With dazzling effects, bravura thrills and a story that boldly spins into the unexpected, this is an event spectacle to see and see again.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
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, while managing 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 sat this one 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. 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 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 (requiring however much suspension of disbelief) are now long gone, replaced by so many narrative U-turns that it’s 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. Watching the first two, I remember being uplifted 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 and excess.
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 crap 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.
'Terminator 3' first hit high-def back in 2006 as an HD DVD-only release. Although this new Blu-ray does not use the exact same encode (Warner appears to have re-encoded for the BD-50, as the bitrates between the two discs are different), the basic specs remain the same. This is still a VC-1 transfer, accurately framed at the film's 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and Warner has also confirmed that it used the same master as the HD DVD.
Unfortunately, marring this Blu-ray release is one serious glitch. Due to an encoding error, the disc pumps out 1080i video, not the 1080p indicated on the packaging. Although Warner has suggested that it will eventually correct the problem on future pressings and offer a disc exchange program for those who’ve already bought the disc, this still leaves potential customers in a quandary -- do you buy 'T3' now out of impatience, or wait for the corrected version?
Of course, purist that I am, I'd say wait. But I’ll add that this does make an interesting test case for gauging the difference between a 1080i and 1080p video output using the same source material (albeit on two different high-def formats). Comparing this disc with its HD DVD counterpart, it was clear that, when viewed in its raw 1080i state, jaggies and other motion artifacts were clearly apparent on the Blu-ray. However, once upconverted (either through a Blu-ray player and/or an HD monitor) the truth is that the final on-screen image shows little discernible difference between the two high-def versions of 'T3.' (Sorry, flame me.)
1080i issue aside, all other aspects of this Blu-ray transfer are identical to the previously released HD DVD edition. (Note that I'm still lowering the Video rating for the Blu-ray due to the 1080i issue, but will re-adjust once Warner officially re-presses the disc.)
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 appears 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 perhaps this is 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.
Unfortunately, I wasn't entirely sold on every aspect of this transfer. I found some of the darker scenes suffered a tad in the shadow delineation department, and colors did 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 some detail. Also, '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 with the trade-off that grain tends to be a bit more apparent. As such, there is a 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 is there if you look for it.
Let's face it: the main reason any self-respecting home theater fan will pick up ‘Terminator 3' on Blu-ray is to hear stuff blow up good and real loud. It's a darn shame Warner didn't go for a PCM or Dolby TrueHD track for this release. Granted, the previous HD DVD was Dolby Digital-Plus only, but why deny Blu-ray fans better audio just because the HD DVD wasn't up to snuff? In any case, the Blu-ray gets an equivalent Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, at the same bitrate of 640kbps.
Make no mistake, the sound design for 'T3' is tremendous. 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 into the mix strongly enough and lacks the industrial sturm and drang of Brad Fiedel's compositions in the first two films. Dynamic range is excellent, with a very spacious midrange, clean highs and powerful bass. The .1 LFE really gets a workout with the mass destruction -- this one will really move the furniture around if you crank it up. Still, as good as the track sounds, it's hard to imagine it wouldn't sound even better in full high-res audio.
Mirroring the previous HD DVD and standard-def DVD releases of 'Terminator 3,' Warner has ported over the same basic package of extras for the Blu-ray. It's not a bad assortment (particularly the copious number of commentaries), but it’s starting to feel a bit dated.
- Audio Commentaries - A whopping three are included: 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 like these patchwork commentaries, since they’re usually stuffed with information and don't suffer from long gaps of silence. In any case, the cast track is the highlight, as they’re all much more forthright than they are on the dull video extras. It is positively surreal to hear Governor Schwarzenegger talk like the action star he once was -- although his initial, endless ramblings about his naked body are somewhat creepy. Danes and Stahl also have a sense of humor about tackling such a huge project and what they thought it might do to their careers at the time. Loken may have had the toughest job of all, making a leather-clad female terminator believable, but she handles it all with aplomb and is very engaging throughout. In fact, the cast track is so good 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 in 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 sit through for one movie is up to you, but kudos to Warner nonetheless.
- TV Special: "HBO First Look" (SD, 24 minutes) - Your standard pre-release 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, except for making the typical, "It's gonna be great!" comments.
- Featurette: "Dressed to Kill" (SD, 3 minutes) - A breezy look at how to costume a Terminator, and what to wear if you’re being chased by one. Fun, but too short.
- Featurette: "Toys in Action" (SD, 8 minutes) - This vignette pays a visit to artist Todd McFarlane and all his various Terminator-inspired toys that have come out over the years. Again, this one’s a bit short, and feels more like a commercial than a true featurette.
- Storyboards (SD, 4 minutes) - A 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, complete with soundtrack.
- "Sgt. Candy Scene" (SD, 3 minutes) - This is a total oddity -- a deleted comedy movie-within-a-movie scene that, frankly, made no sense to me.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD) - Rounding it all out is the film's original theatrical trailer, which like all the rest of the extras is in 480p/MPEG-2 video only.
I can't say I enjoyed 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' as much as the first two 'Terminator' flicks, but it’s so big, loud, and full of action that at least I was never bored. Hitting stores fifteen months after the HD DVD version, this Blu-ray release delivers a strong transfer, solid audio options and a nice package of extras. Plus, 'T3' has the distinction of being Warner's first Blu-ray title with a PIP track (even if it isn't true Profile 1.1), and it works great. True videophiles may want to hold out for a re-pressed version that presents the flick in its full 1080p glory, but as is, this one’s likely to please most action fans.
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