Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Released in 2003, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines lacks the solemnity of its immediate prequel, almost certainly due to the absence of James Cameron, director of the first two films. Coming twelve years after the smart and tightly paced Terminator 2: Judgment Day, T3 is a clunky action adventure picture which, like most modern sequels, worships at the altar of familiarity and attempts to remake certain sequences from its predecessors. Thus, the stakes are ostensibly higher, the body count is increased, and the villain's powers far greater.

Cameron dismissed this sequel upon its arrival in theatres. This was perhaps disingenuous of him, since his first major success as a director was making a sequel to another director's sci-fi action film. (Cameron took Ridley Scott's psychological suspense thriller Alien and produced its action-packed adventure sequel, Aliens.) Directed by Jonathan Mostow, with a script by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, the film's biggest sin, though, is not its new director but its many internal inconsistencies in the theory of time travel which governs the narrative.

In the film, viewers meet an older John Connor (played by then-child actor Edward Furlong in T2 by Edward Furlong, but now by Nick Stahl, later of HBO's "Carnivale"), yet the reintroduction of the machines from the future into his life is largely derivative of T2. Just as before, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives from the future, as does a newer-model liquid metal Terminator. This time, the new Terminator comes in the form of the T-X, played by the beautiful but untalented Kristanna Loken (several years before her stint on Showtime's "The L Word" and Sci Fi's unwatchable "Painkiller Jane"). Again, just as before, the T-800 is sent back to protect, while the T-X shares the same mission as T2's more advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick): kill John Connor at any cost so as to prevent him from leading a future rebellion against Skynet's machine army. (The T-X is also programmed to terminate other young adults who are to become Connor's underlings in the future war .). Again, just as before, a chase ensures, during which the newer model pursues its victims in a large truck while the beleaguered T-800 follows and fights from a motorcycle. Sound familiar?

In his original review, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott summed up the film as follows:
For all the hype and the inevitable (and most likely short-term) box office bonanza, ''Terminator 3'' is essentially a B movie, content to be loud, dumb and obvious, and to leave the Great Ideas to bona fide public intellectuals like Keanu Reeves and the Hulk. Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose main contribution to American culture has been inspiring wicked parodies on ''Saturday Night Live'' and ''The Simpsons,'' acts (if you can call it that) with his usual leaden whimsy, manifesting the gift for uttering hard-to-forget, meaningless catchphrases that is most likely the wellspring of his blossoming reported desire to seek elective office in California.
Particularly irksome is the cameo of Earl Boen, who played a Dr. Silberman, a psychologist, in T1 who, by the first sequel, would become the sinister Ratchedesque chief of the mental institution in which Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was confined. Boen's appearance is played for light self-referential comedy, the last refuge of a tired sequel's screenwriter.

By the film's end, Connor realizes that despite the world's apparent rescue from Judgment Day which came in T2, he is fated after all to survive an apocalypse and lead the fight against the machines, who were only delayed by the events in the last film. In sum, the film eschews the proper tone of a film about the quest to prevent a near-certain dystopian future, despite the fact that T2 maintained that feel with ease and aplomb.

The great internal inconsistency of T3 is its message on the concept of fate. Time travel films boil down to a single question: Are the time travelers from the future fulfilling their destiny to bring about the present from which they came, or are they interlopers in the past whose very addition into the time stream risks altering the future? In 1991's T2, viewers are led to believe that Skynet - the vast evil machine conspiracy - assumes control of the world's computers and mostly eradicates humanity sometime in 1997. The T-1000 is sent back in time by the machines to kill future resistance leader John Conner, and while the T-800 is sent back to protect him. Nevertheless, it is the future Terminator technology that allows Cyberdyne, a technology company in 1991, to develop what would become Skynet, thereby bringing about the very Judgment Day they were sent back in time to forestall. The grim future never would have - or could have - occurred but for the Terminators traveling backward in time. Thus, by doing so, the machines from the future are merely playing their assigned role by fate.

The characters in T3, particularly the T-800, acknowledge that Judgment Day had been postponed, perhaps averted altogether. Obviously, since T3 is set in 2003 and Judgment Day did not occur as allegedly fated in 1997, the future appears to be unwritten and can be changed by meddlers from another time. But since it was the very presence of the Terminators in the past which caused the events which would lead to Judgment Day, the film contradicts itself by suggesting that the time travelers from the future can prevent - or even just postpone - the only future which would have allowed them to be sent back to the past.

There were similar observation upon the release of T2. On November 12, 1991, Jesper Petersen, cross posting in the rec.arts.sf.movies and rec.arts.sf.science Usenet newsgroups, identified - correctly - the theory of time travel should have dictated the events of T2:
In the end of T2, we are supposed to believe that the future has changed, that there will never be a Sky-Net, and that everything has a happy ending. I say no. I think, that Sarah's idea about 'No Fate', that nothing is pre-determined is wrong.

If the terminator succeeds in preventing John Connor from being born, there will never be any time travelling, hence the need in the future for sending back Terminators will not exist.

This will eliminate the possibility for Sky-Net to be build [sic], because all the basic work for Sky-Net, was based on the first Terminator.

My idea is this: The future is set. There's no way to alter it. By trying to change the past, you only secure the future. You cannot change the past, by travelling back in time, simply because the future has already happened.

The idea is proven by the fact, that it was the first attempt to change the past, that actually became the basis for Sky-Net (the remaining chip). So by trying to change the past, people trying to do so, only secure it.
On July 25, 1991, Brad Templeton, cross-posting in both the rec.arts.movies and rec.arts.sf-lovers Usenet newsgroups, identified the different theories of consistent time travel:
There are two primary schools of consistent time travel. In consistent time travel, when everything settles down, there are no discontinuities, except for the exit and entry paths of time travel itself.

Note that all methods of time travel, except the deterministic style, involve at least two time dimensions. Normal time, as experienced by us, and t', the dimension in which time travel takes place. Ie. there was a t' before you went back in time and changed reality and a t' after you did this.

Some of the consistent theories:

a) Deterministic -- all follows a set plan. You went back in time and you always did and always will. While back in time (or in the present) you follow the path of destiny, it can't be changed. In theory a discontinuity is consistent with this time of time travel, but then you have an inconsistent universe.

b) Change your own past, change your present (with possible delay)

b1) If you make a change that causes a discontinuity/paradox, you vanish and your travel is undone, or you simply can't make such changes (fate conspires to stop you)

b2) You can make such changes (such as killing your grandpa) but they take a while to be propagated forward, so you have a chance to undo them. If you don't, poof.

b3) You can make such changes, erasing the world you came from, but you continue to exist because you're back in time. I consider this an inconsistent scheme because it leaves you there as a causeless discontinuity.

c) Change the past, create an alternate time-track

You don't change the world you came from, you create another one, possibly barring you from returning to your original, possibly not. Both (or many) continue on. In one SF story, you created an alternate world for yourself only by going back in time, the rest of the universe ticked on. (The protagonist faded away to a ghost)

d) Cause and effect abandoned

This is inconsistent TT. There's a lot of it, although much of the classic TT, such as "by his boot straps" is actually deterministic TT.

...

Terminator 2 is of type B3, an inconsistent type. Skynet created itself, a Skynet created Terminator helped destroy Cyberdyne.

(Emphasis added).

Templeton, by the way, is known for founding ClariNet Communications Corp., starting the newsgroup rec.humor.funny, and suing Janet Reno over the Communications Decency Act. In 1992, he wrote "No Award," a short story featuring his own personal theory of consistent time travel (to which he alluded in an unquoted portion of the above 1991 Usenet post).

T3's film's climax, as well as a subplot involving John Connor's relationship with veterinarian Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), suggests that fate cannot be overcome and the inevitable can be delayed but not defeated. But it can't be both ways: either the future is unwritten or it is not. Future history merely being postponed is a weak middle ground. Accordingly, the film remains not just a mediocre action flick but also inconsistent in its theory of time travel.

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