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July 05, 2003

Moviegoing: "Terminator 3"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --

Sorry to report that I found "Terminator 3" super-skippable. I'd been looking forward to it. The buzz was bad, which I found cheering. I mean, it wasn't directed by James Cameron, so how can it be any good? This kind of insider-wannabe leaping-to-conclusions makes me give a been-there/done-that, older-and-wiser chuckle of immense self-satisfaction. And, anyway, I gave up on Cameron long ago -- loved the original "Terminator," have found everything he's done since overblown and ego-oppressed. Meanwhile, I'm a fan of his replacement, Jonathan Mostow. In his two movies, "U-571" and the beyond-fabulous "Breakdown," Mostow combined brains, skill, a sense of perspective, and a respect for B-movie traditions and pleasures. Go go go.

So I was betting that the movie would be a surprise wow. I lose. It's OK, I guess, but I found it a snore -- a likable but largely unsuccessful attempt to balance cosmic cyberextravaganza with human-scale, scrappy heart. A couple of stirring moments, some decent spoofy jokes, a lack of obsessiveness about attaining cyberperfection that I approve of ... Wake me when it's over.

What I enjoyed most was the new evil-Terminator figure, which this time around takes the form of a sleek, blonde Gen-Y careerist/killing-machine type, played by an actress named Kristanna Loken. (Even the actress's name makes me giggle happily.) Think Charlize Theron on a really bad, someone's-going-to-pay PMS day. Loken and Mostow did a lot of work synching up her body rhythms -- her walk, her eye-focus -- with the way the evil robots move, and her swiveling, "I smell a victim" physical attack is hilarious -- sexy and even a little scary.

The best action scene in the movie for my money was an over-the-top mano-a-mano between Ahnuld and the Terminatrix which seems intended to remind you of the kinds of scraps you witness at work -- specifically the ones between the older but still potent male exec determined that this fight shouldn't be his last, and the savagely self-interested, new-and-improved young gal who's one day, inevitably, going to supplant him. But most of the rest of the action stuff was just noise.

A few of my usual scatterbrained, half-baked musings/reflections/whatevers:

* I went whole hog and saw the film digitally projected. Ka-boom! The flawlessness of the image crossed with the you're-inside-the-speakers, thunder-and-lightning sound system is ideal for this kind of theme-park movie: Go, submit, get nuked. I can't imagine why the studios and theater chains would wait a second longer to convert wholesale. I do, of course: it's the question of who's going to pay. But for the kind of movie the corporations are peddling, the technology is already perfection -- super-ultra-mega-HDTV, basically. I know I can be perverse and reactionary, but as I sat there both wowed and bored, I found myself nostalgic for the "flaws" of celluloid and longing for a modest, dialogue-first-then-the-effects set of speakers. And thinking, You know, it's the difference between a buffed-and-Photoshopped, no-personality, poppin'-out-at-you virtual actress and one who has some flesh, soul and character you can sink into. But why do we have to choose?

* I wonder if it can semi-legitimately be argued that all pop culture is turning into rap music -- ie., digitized effects set to a techno-funk beat. A quick thoughtscan suggests that it can. It seems to me to hold true for run-of-the-mill magazines and movies, anyway. Thoughts here? Like it or not, I'm sure I'll be getting back to you with more on this theme...

* As I was submitting to the usual pre-movie rituals -- ticketbuying, mingling in the lobby with my fellow slob Americans, smelling the concessions, avoiding the videogames, enduring the slideshows, and watching the trailers for movies I'd never consider seeing -- I found myself wondering for about the millionth time: Has this pre-feature routine been specifically, consciously designed to stamp out all IQ points and sensitivity -- to transform audiences into idiot consumers of junkfood entertainment? Or has it simply evolved into such a thing?



posted by Michael at July 5, 2003


I'm pretty sure that at least half the time people go to the movies because they can't think of anything else to do and they don't care much what they see.

You'll be glad to know that 28 Days Later is cheap-looking. I'm not sure what it really cost, but except for a few shots, it's very early Corman. The lighting is softer, and none of the set peices wobble. Otherwise, looks super cheap.

Posted by: j.c. on July 6, 2003 4:04 AM


Re Terminator 3. After having seen it in a last minute change of plans, I would say that there was nothing wrong with the movie that a better script wouldn't have solved. They had the necessary financial resources, the director seems fairly competent, the actors were up to the challenge, and they even had Ahnuld. It was just that the producers didn't understand what made the first Terminator better than the second--to wit, that it was a cleverly reflexive, very logically worked out, time travel story. To the best of my knowledge, this sort of looping in on itself circular causality story derives from the science fiction novellas and short stories of Robert Heinlein, which James Cameron, whatever his other defects as a movie maker, had clearly read and studied when he wrote the first script. He couldn't quite work up such a finely honed plot the second time around, and this time the screenwriters have completely caved in to intellectual sloppiness. Statements in T3 like "you didn't stop Judgment Day, you just postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable," are gibberish in the context established by the first movie, in which casuality is the whole freaking point.

Along the same lines, the choice to cast Kristanna Loken was an odd one. If you check out pictures of this young woman on the web, she generally is presented as ethereal or even waif-like. I think she did a completely honest and workmanlike job in the flick, but it was obviously an uphill battle to make such a slight young thing seem ominous. And the intellectual and emotional challenge of standing up to an overwhelming threat is the whole point of the series; hence one more reason for its slackness this time around.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 6, 2003 5:02 PM

The Terminatrix didn't work for you? She sure did for me, but I do have a weakness for the "killer blonde" movie archetype. Matching the original "Terminator" script would be a tough one -- I'd argue that it's one of the very best of semi-recent Hwood scripts -- but they certainly could have done better. My major quarrel is with the idea of making Arnold the good guy. Has that bugged you at all in the sequels? I couldn't believe my eyes during "T2": how can they be so stupid as to forget that part of what people loved about "T1" was that Arnold played a terrifying robot, and the casting was perfect? I suspect it's partly Arnold's fault -- he probably wants to be liked, and play the good guy, though I know nothing about what went on behind-the-scenes. Still, what a dumb move. Arnold's such a Teutonic, wooden hulk that he's an easy one to be scared of and to laugh at, but a hard one to feel for and cheer.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2003 10:56 AM

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