"The Terminator" (1984) is fondly remembered for its innovators: Director James Cameron and his penchant for stories of technology wiping out humans; Arnold Schwarzenegger and his mastery of the one-liner; Michael Biehn, before his career went the way of made-for-cable movies ...
But perhaps the least imitated element of "The Terminator" is Brad Fiedel's score, which masterfully blended the 1980s with the 2030s to create an ominous nightmare pulse for Cameron's edge-of-the-apocalypse world. Aside from the derivative score for "Commando" (1985), there's nothing like the "Terminator" music, which is why it's so disappointing to discover that Marco Beltrami has completely scrapped Fiedel's work in exchange for a disposable action score on "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."
Aside from the music, director Jonathan Mostow ("Breakdown," "U-571") brings back most of the elements we love about Cameron's franchise -- chases, laughs, brawls, quotable robot dialogue, headache-inducing time travel conundrums and, of course, amusing scenes of naked cyborgs stealing people's clothes.
The first image of the original film was a battlefield littered with skulls being crushed by renegade machines. In "T3," we are closer than ever to seeing that future realized.
As in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), one good and one bad Terminator are sent back in time (to the present day) to duke it out over key figures in the human resistance -- in this case, John Connor (Nick Stahl) and Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Kristanna Loken's hot-off-the-assembly-line T-X is a worthy heir to Robert Patrick's T-1000; Schwarzenegger is at the top of his game, giving a wonderfully expressionless performance; and Stahl and Danes add spice as young people struggling with the knowledge that they will be heroes in the future, but only if they fail to save the world in the present.
Title: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"
Playing at: Movies 10 at Westgate
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes
Written by: John Brancato and Michael Ferris
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris don't explain why only one of each kind of Terminator is sent back. There's no discernible reason why there aren't dozens of cybernetic organisms sprouting from blue electric bubbles all over the city.
For a while, "T3" struggles to find a story, and we start to understand why Cameron felt the whole tale had been told in the first two pictures. "T3" just riffs on "T2's" human-robot banter and attempts to lock up the MTV Movie Award for Best Action Sequence.
Today's audiences are too spoiled to be wowed by action sequences the way we were when "T2" came out 12 years ago. But darn it if "T3" doesn't try, with a remarkably destructive first act salvo of a crane truck bowling over half of Los Angeles, followed later by the T-800 and T-X using each others' faces to redecorate a restroom.
Schwarzenegger's one-liners consistently hit the bull's-eye. There are few greater summer joys than watching the T-800 use cold logic in response to John's and Kate's fear and exasperation. Kate tells the Terminator to drop dead. He responds, "I cannot comply," with a delivery drier than the Mexican desert that the characters are constantly fleeing into.
"T3" doesn't have an emotional moment to match Reese's death in "T1" or the T-800 lowering himself into a pit of molten metal in "T2" (the most powerful scene of Ahnuld's career). Still, by the time the credits roll (and we finally, too late, hear Fiedel's score), "T3" has weighed in as a film that respects Cameron's themes and style, and also advances the saga with a new (albeit inevitable) plot development that will likely set the stage for "Terminator 4."
He'll be back, and that's a good thing. I just hope they bring the theme music back next time.