Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Movie Reviews


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Eight Years Ago The Machines Who Rule The Future Sent An Unstoppable Terminator To Assassinate The Young John Connor. They Failed. In 2003 The Machines Will Try Again

Directed by Johnathan Mostow

The Basic Plot

After defeating Cyberdyne and eliminating the threat of Skynet and Judgement day in 1995, John Connor (Nick Stahl) still fears the threat of Judgement Day. Now in his early 20s is living "off the grid" to avoid being detected, John suddenly finds himself the target of a new advanced T-X (Kristanna Loken). John is aided by Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) who's own connection to the future resistance makes her a target.

A new T-800 terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent from the future to protect John and do battle with the T-X.

The Analysis

As a summer action movie Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines manages to live up to its hype. Chocked full of over the top action sequences and some spectacular computer generated special effects it ultimately succeeds in its excess. While I was surprised it was better than I expected, I found that the film lacked many elements that made the first two installments so enjoyable to watch.

The absence of Brad Fiedel's haunting musical score and Terminator theme weakened the impact of the film for me. Perhaps Fiedel's music was another victim of the bankruptcy of Carolco Pictures that delayed the development of T3 for more than a decade. (For a detailed history of T3's rocky road see this Huston Chronicle news article.)

Surprisingly its not James Cameron's directing that's missed most in T3, but rather his guiding hand in the writing and script. Whereas Cameron was directly involved in the story and script of the first two movies, his absence in the third leaves the film feeling like some fan fiction written about the main characters with out any emotional insight into them. The film does pause long enough to parody previous Terminator references with a knowing wink to the audience, but thankfully avoids becoming to cute for its own sake.

One of the difficulties I had with T3 was its slightly skewed timeline. The first film is clearly set in 1984 and the second in 1995. We also know from both Terminator 1 & 2 that Judgement Day was set in August 1997. In Terminator 3 while no specific date is given for the action we are told by John at one point that its been 10 years since the last Terminator came for him suggesting that the current film is set in 2005. Matters are further complicated when reference is made to John's foster parents being killed while John was 13 yrs old in Grade 8, suggesting he's about 23 or 24 in the current film.

Contradicting all of this is the marketing campaign for the film which states:

Eight Years Ago The Machines Who Rule The Future Sent An Unstoppable Terminator To Assassinate The Young John Connor. They Failed. In 2003 The Machines Will Try Again.

Let's see that's 2003 less 8 years equals 1995. While the fudging of John's age and timeline have little if any impact on the film, its disappointing that a film about time travel manages to screw up its own timeline.

While the ending of T3 manages to avoid the expected cliche Hollywood ending, I somehow wonder if it wouldn't have been the preferred one.

Here are some of the questions I had leaving the film:
[Warning: May Contain Spoiler Info]

  • How did the T-800 know about Sarah Connor's will?
  • How did the T-800 know where to show up at the beginning of the film?
  • Where are the people that own the motorhome that John, Kate and the Terminator borrow?
  • Is the original Terminator at T-800 or T-101?
  • Is it just me or are the prototype T1's the bastard love child of The Robot from 1998's Lost in Space and Johnny Five from Short Circuit?
      +     =  

Review Posted: 2002-10-20
Review Updated: 2003-07-07

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