Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Terminator 3

~Spoiler Free, assuming you've seen the trailor and Terminator 2~

There are a lot of movies that are generally good but are ruined by their endings.

Terminator 3 is not one of these. It is, in fact, the exact opposite- a generally mediocre film (albeit with superb, cutting edge special effects) which is made great by its ending.

I was very, very afraid when I went to go see this movie. I didn't see how it could possibly live up to Terminator 2, which I consider to be a true action/scifi masterpiece.

Terminator 2 was as damn near perfect as an action movie can get. Great plot, great dialogue, great characters, great acting (an unfeeling robot is, after all, the ideal role for Arnold), great action sequences, and great special effects, all rolled together with a damn good orchestral soundtrack and an ending that conveys hope in the face of fear that still makes my spine tingle.

Why would someone fuck with that and make a third installment that couldn't possibly live up to its predecessor?

My fear grew much worse when I realized, during the credits, that James Cameron -- writer and director of the original Terminator and writer, director, and producer of T2-- apparently had no role whatsoever in T3. This was a Bad Sign.

Fortunately, my fear was unwarranted, and this is definitely a movie I would recommend to people who like this sort of thing (although not the squeemish, due to one particularly memorable scene).

As today is the first day of general release for the film, I will include no spoilers, but rather a rundown of the important aspects of the movie:

Overall plot - Feels somewhat stale- "Oh no, SkyNet has sent an evil robot into the past to eliminate John Conner! Again! And the Resistance was able to send back a lone protector to defend him! Again!" Seriously, if I'm ever in charge of sending an assembly-line robot back in time to defend the leader of my people from a super-robot that's trying to kill him, I'm sending back a hundred Arnolds, so they can all gang up on the super robot, straight up Agent Smith style.

Also, the film is not divided up into several acts; you know, lulls in the tension so everyone can get up to speed on what's going on, and rest up into between battles. Consequently, the movie seems like it moves along unrealistically quickly. "Oh, we have to go here? Okay. Oh, we have to go there? Okay. Oh, we have to go there? Okay."

The ending, however, as I've said, makes up for it, in spades. It was not what I expected, at all.

Characters/Acting- First thing's first. I want to sleep with the lady Terminator. She can kill me afterwards, I'm cool with that. But man, whoever that girl is, she is extremely hot.

But that doesn't mean she made a great Terminator. Oh, she was all right, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that she was an actress trying really hard to act cold and tough. As far as scary goes, she doesn't hold a candle to the T-1000 from T2 which, as played by Robert Patrick, was frightening because of how human he acted when he needed to, and how smoothly that transitioned to robotic indifference when the need for pretenses was over.

The kid who played John Conner annoyed me for most of the movie. It was only at the very end that he started doing a decent job. However, I don't think the actor can really be blamed- he wasn't working with a really great script.

Claire Danes: she's still attractive, she's still a good actress, and she makes some truly bad lines come off not nearly as poorly as they could have. Props to her.

And, of course, Arnold: the more human they try to make his character, the worse he does. Fortunately, there wasn't much emotional conflict for him in this movie, and when there was, it only lasted for a minute or two.

Dialogue - The making and the breaking of all movies. No one notices average dialogue, good dialogue cannot usually salvage a bad movie, and bad dialogue makes a good movie excruciating.

With that in mind, we here at VVH judge the dialogue to be: Average, with a few bad lines to spice things up. The references to the first two movies were a nice try, but fell flat and ended up temporarily "breaking the spell," which is a bad thing.

Special effects - Damn.

The effects definitely did not disappoint. While none of them had the jaw drop factor of the Hundred Agent Smiths scene in Matrix Reloaded, this movie finally perfected several common movie effects that, until now, have always looked fake. no matter what movie they were in.

For instance, when a rocket-propelled grnade hits the Terminatrix, it really looks like it hits her, as opposed to an editing room parlor trick. And when she and Arnold start throwing each other around, it has a speed and violence that look damn convincing. For the first time, when Arnold tossed her through a large tombstone, it didn't look like the tombstone was a breakaway prop- it had a look and feel that really made you believe that a pair of thousand pound robots were tossing each other through solid rock.

This is one of the key areas of computer generated effects, and one that, until now, hasn't been particularly satisfying: the interaction between live actors and CGI objects. We are coming damn close to the point at which it is impossible to tell at which point in a particular shot the actual actor and the prop are replaced by computer generated images that then do whatever it is that happens, and then when they switch back to the actual actor and the prop.

So. The bottom line is, go see this movie. It's worth it.

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