With Terminator Salvation just a week away from its theatrical release, now is the perfect time to take a look back at the second sequel to the series everyone had thought finished the moment Arnie sank into the white-hot embrace of the molten forge in T2: Judgment Day. Widely dismissed as a thinly veiled stunt to further Schwarzenegger’s political aspirations and a film that no one really wanted, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a patchy affair that some would say is a massive disservice to the other two (far superior) movies that preceded it.
If however, you’re among the few that aren’t as precious in preserving the hallowed memory of the first two classic Terminator films, then Terminator 3 is a perfectly fine, watchable action flick, even if it does serve in resurrecting a story that by all accounts had already been resolutely concluded. So, Rise of the Machines unceremoniously picks up a decade after the events of the previous movie with John Connor living life as a drifter, on the road, nicking pills from veterinarians and generally floating around ‘off the grid’ where Skynet can’t track him. With Nick Stahl (who incidentally, we think looks more like a young Kyle Rees) filling in the Connor role in Ed Furlong’s absence, we see the return of Arnie’s iconic Terminator, albeit as a slightly different model. This one ostensibly looks a bit older and appears to express a little more emotion than his predecessors, or is it just Schwarzenegger forgetting the good work he did with his performance in the first two movies?
Whatever the case, he’s a damn sight better than the T-X that Skynet send to prevent him from protecting Connor, played by Kristanna Loken who attempts to mimic Robert Patrick’s fantastic performance as the liquid metal T-1000 with little head tilts here and there. Not only is her performance inferior to Patrick’s, but so is the model of Terminator she plays – a hybrid of the standard endoskeleton enveloped in a liquid metal skin that grants weaknesses that the T-1000 never had. There are a lot of elements such as this in Terminator 3 that don’t really make a whole lot of sense, which are glossed over with a quick line of exposition before moving onto the next action sequence.
Rise of the Machines’ appeal lies primarily in its bombastic set pieces, which are memorable simply for the sheer amount of wanton destruction that ensues when they happen. The scene where Arnie hangs from the arm of a mobile crane while the T-X recklessly drives, tearing through parked cars and buildings is one such action-packed highlight, with huge explosions, twisted metal and shattered glass filling the screen and looking especially awesome in high-definition. This serves as the main reason to purchase the Blu-ray version of the movie if you don’t already own it on DVD. The sound is crisp and clear, with explosions rumbling the bass enough to substantially raise the ire of your downstairs neighbours if you’re living in a flat. When the smashing and crashing winds down for a bit of dialogue however, the volume suddenly plummets, which means you’ll need to keep your finger on the volume dial to adjust the sound if you care enough to want to hear what’s being said.
Action sequences aside, the movie’s only saving grace is the powerful image presented at the ending, which is worth seeing if you haven’t already and are intending to watch Terminator Salvation at the cinema. You might want to set aside your reservations, bite the bullet and see Rise of the Machines just so you’re set up for the sequel, although there is the nagging feeling that Salvation might not even acknowledge Terminator 3 at all since there’s no real need to.
Moving on to the technical stuff - picture-wise, this is as clean and defined a transfer as you’d hope, although this added clarity does expose a great deal of the aging CGI, which looks decidedly ropey by today’s standards when scrutinised in HD. Still, if you’re willing to suspend disbelief long enough to accept that a Terminator would ever say ‘talk to the hand’, then a bit of obvious CG isn’t going to stretch that disbelief any further.
Best of all about this UK Blu-ray release though, is its fixing of the US disc’s encoding, which advertised 1080p on the case but only managed 1080i. This disc outputs the movie in full glorious 1080p; so there’s thankfully no need to worry about a repeat of the US video encode issue.
As far as special features are concerned, all of the usual fare is catered for with a brace of audio commentaries from cast and crew, a deleted scene, an outtake reel, a handful of featurettes including a documentary and the usual array of BD Live gubbins. Quite why there’s a making of documentary focusing on the reprehensible PS2 videogame tie-in that came out six years ago included on the disc however, is anyone’s guess. You’ll want to steer well clear of this promo-fluff piece unless you’d like to laugh your head off at the cast members, director and producers all singing the praises of the godawful videogame. Even the late, great Stan Winston has his say on the videogame – suffice to say that no one is safe from the embarrassment of endorsing such a rubbish product.
Boasting a crystal clear picture and sound that offers deep, booming bass, Rise of the Machines is a fantastic HD transfer. The film itself might not be much cop when compared to its predecessors, but judged alone, it’s a reasonably enjoyable, if largely throwaway slice of overblown action fare.