Making the Grades
After more than a decade, "He's back." And if you have children, you probably should care.
I admit to not being a Terminator junkie. In an attempt to "cram" for this review of the third movie in the series, I searched the video rental shops for a copy of the original and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The popularity of these movies left me able to only get my hands on the latter, which I finished watching just hours before my screening of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
For those as unfamiliar with Terminatorology as I was, I'll attempt to share my limited knowledge: In 1997 an automated system called Sky-Net takes over the US military's operations, and plans to destroy the Earth. Besides deploying nuclear weapons, the computerized force also unleashes self-directing killing machines called Terminators, the first model being numerated T-1.
After most of the human race is annihilated, the robots evolve and hunt what few people are left. But the tenacity of the human spirit is rekindled by a resistance leader named John Conner. Fortunately time travel exists in the near future and (from my understanding) the machines decide to fix this glitch by sending a terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) into the past to kill Conner's mother prior to his birth. Unfortunately for them, the mission fails.
At some point, the T-101 (or T-800 -- even hardcore Terminator fans seem to quote two different models for Arnie's character) is reprogrammed by the Resistance to be sent back in time to protect Connor. Thus, in the second movie Schwarzenegger is the good guy who is defending the teenaged Connor against the would-be assassin (and technologically superior) T-1000.
Now in T3, the most famous screen robot of all time will rise again to shield a young adult Connor (Nick Stahl) from an even more powerful machine -- not an easy task considering the last outing ended in a tightly wrapped package with no easy-to-pull sequel strings.
But amazingly this team of writers manages to compress enough backstory and open a few loopholes to allow a reasonably logical explanation for the destructive android's third outing. From a purely entertainment perspective, this latest Terminator is nearly as compelling as the second movie, and boasts one of the most destructive road-mayhem sequences I've seen in recent memory.
The mixture of peril and humor (usually generated from Schwarzenegger's deadpan delivery), combined with a relevant science fiction plot explains the enormous appeal of this series. But like its predecessors, this R-rated movie also packs the explosive combo of kid-appeal and high-octane violence -- a chemical formula that should give parents a clear answer to the question of, "Should I take the kids?"
Like The Matrix, I am shocked at how many eight-year-olds can identify with Schwarzenegger's character because they have seen the movies. I'm even more disappointed in other media aimed at children (for instance, the educational Magic School Bus) using Terminator spoofs. Through the eyes of a child (like the ten-year-old sitting next to me at the promotional screening), The Terminator's heroics may provide justification for resolving conflicts with violence.
Quoting T3 producer Mario F. Kassar: "The Terminator is not bound by any moral inhibitions If he needs a car, he gets in the car, he rips out the cables and he takes it. The freedom of that is exhilarating, and people can live vicariously through the Terminator, fantasizing about what it would be like if they didn't have to live by the laws and moral codes that restrict our behavior."
Somehow I think there are better things for that boy next to me to be dreaming about.