The year T3 came out, 2003, was a defining year in my life, and I saw and loved this in the theater while my own edition of a similar mythic arc was happening; if you make the The Kristina Lokken T-model my ex-wife and re-cast Arnold's part with Lisa in Girl, Interrupted, suddenly it's 2003: Erich Re-takes Manhattan. If your life isn't as damaged by cyborgs from the future as mine you can surely appreciate these ten other reasons:
1. Clare Danes
What's an actress of her caliber doing here? How did we get so lucky? Angela Chase... "Go... now," whispered as she races to class, visions of Jordan Catalano slouching through her deep dark red-hair. Now she's a put-together veterinarian with a petit-bourgeois fiancee who's the kind of guy who willingly goes to Bed, Bath and Beyond to make out a bridal registry. She has her doubts about him but her Skynet-building absentee Air Force officer dad who's never around is sure his little girl is smart enough to make the right decision. Naturally she looks at mangy mutt John Connor with a mix of horror and concern upon learning she's supposed to marry him instead, in da futuah... but most wondrously, she also kicks his ass after she catches him robbing her tranq stash ("I use those to neuter dogs!" she says, her voice warbling with concern, disgust, and unconscious gonzo admiration.)
2. Nick Stahl as John Connor
Say what you will, Stahl is awesome. He was great in Bully and brings a real sweaty bewilderment to John Connor, and why not? This time Connor's a junky! If he doesn't end up shaking with withdrawal later on it's only because of all the adrenalin pumping through him. I don't think he falls asleep in the entire film, it all practically unfolds in real time. Hard to believe they didn't want him back as Connor for Salvation but maybe that was the trouble: he was too busy acting and feeling and making the pain and reality of the situation felt (according to Wiki, perhaps they didn't ask him back because he had a drug problem of his own). His reaction to Arnold, his boyhood buddy, is like a hurt kid: "You don't remember me?" That Stahl had to be hurt later by not being asked back makes me want to side with Skynet as far as human extermination. Just because he has that weird lip and those huge, desperate eyes and junky pallor you think he made Connor suddenly sketchy?
3. Kristina Lokken, Airbrushed
The idea of having the hot but vaguely blank Lokken kind of CGI fake tan airbrushed to look halfway to CGI is a genius post-modern touch. And I'll tell you what else is a great touch...
AND FROM HERE ON IN SPOILER ALERT... I'm writing this mainly for people who've seen the movie already, so see it and don't ruin it for yourself, then come back and let me assure you of the awesomeness that was there. (PS - as always, enter with a nice buzz and low expectations.)
I have dreams about how cool that bomb shelter place is... all those old Kubrick-esque couches and command centers, the mod chandelier, the paperback novel NASA mural, the presidential TV podium with camera, the DR. NO-style super villain command center-hewn rock walls, so much like my dream space, linked to my buddy Max's old Princeton basement, where I once drunkenly stepped on and broke Chan of the Blues Traveler's guitar neck, and Max and I would pound shots, sing and record Blind Blake songs, and round out the night watching WC Fields with one eye shut until suddenly it was the following afternoon. In my dreams Max's basement merges with the Terminator 3 presidential bomb shelter. I like it there, a kind of free relapse where I don't need to worry about running out of bourbon or where I'm sleeping, I don't even mind the vague smell of mold and dog hair.
All I'd need to make T3's bomb shelter my own is a place to set up my old VHS player and my WC Fields and 1950s giant bug films, some guitars (so we could jam on the emergency broadcast presidential podium network) and be assured there's a huge bourbon stash to relapse like Jack Torrance with (since it was made when Nixon was in office, I'm presuming there is, though the drugs may have expired by 30 odd years or so) and I'm set to lead the human uprising and send my own future dad back in time.
5. Arnold's final catch phrase to Connor: "See you later"
(he says that since in the future he kills him) almost makes up for lame quips and catch phrase reduxes, the bows to juvenile audience member demands that he recall the past films by saying "I'm back" and fussing over which sunglasses to wear. The whole bit with the coffin connects to this future death in subconscious metaphorical overdrift, suggesting Connor is already dead and now on some weird journey through the circles of Hell, which he is.
6. The sense of mounting dread as doomsday approaches.
For the last two films, plus most of this one, we've seen terminators coming back from the future warning us about Skynet... now, finally the future is "all used up" like Hank Quinlan's, and Skynet is about to go live and that's all she wrote and as time progresses the climaxes speed up rather than slowing down, and the effect is as similar in a way to only two films I've seen since: The Black Swan and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It feels like the present and the future are truly connecting, the Moebius strip is truly turning. It all of a sudden it gets really real, like the sinking feeling you have when your dad comes home, or on a Sunday night before the first day of school, or, 'gulp', 2012... suddenly it's almost here, then it's here, then it's begun. No amount of slamming on the breaks or reloading guns in the back seat, or converting to electric cars can stop it.
The big cut between Connor and company deciding to go see her dad, and then catching said dad right as he is almost immediately shot by Lokken in disguise right when we were dreading another long scene of breaking into a military base is the second best flash forward cut since Kong went from Skull Island to NYC.
8. Giant crane truck chase!
Love those crunching, buckling windshields! The score isn't perfect but it's a damn sight better than something by say, John Williams. It doesn't telegraph everything, and a lot of long sequences go by without any music at all. At least let's put it this way, I don't remember it, and in film scores that should be a compliment.
They don't even have time to look at each other as they assume the myth they were born to emody. Suddenly available to them is something that no one involved in the sprawling mess of our global village ever gets: they can no sooner reject each other than Adam and Eve, or Robinson and Friday. The whole movie and labor of technicians and good terminators vs. bad has led them to this moment. Hand in hand they enter the realm in which there are no days, no sun, no dark, no ghosts nor weird kid with a talking finger and Big Wheel (yet). In a very primordial way, theirs is the only perfect freedom... long as there's bourbon.
If it wasn't forced to compare with the awesome first two Terminators and was instead a John Carpenter film, and he had excised some of the more embarrassing Arnold one-liners, T3 would be recognized as a whole different classic in its own right. But if you love Arnold then you love his dumb one-liners so why front? I know he didn't direct it, but John Carpenter rules!