Terminator 3: Schwarzenegger’s Comeback

“I am an obsolete design,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-101 says with what could be described as metallic melancholy in his new movie Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Hearing this line makes you wonder if the actor had himself in mind as much as the character he plays in the third, eagerly-awaited installment of the Terminator franchise that began twenty years ago.

After all, it is not easy being a viable action movie star at 55 in a cruel industry whose audiences, especially action fans, get younger and younger. It also doesn’t help that most of Schwarzenegger’s recent efforts (Collateral Damage, The 6th Day, End of Days) have not performed well at the box-office, which is the bottom line in Hollywood and the ultimate test of stardom.

Several risks were taken by waiting over a decade since the second chapter, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, came out in 1991 and proved to be a commercial bonanza. The first two chapters of one of Hollywood’s most innovative and celebrated franchises were written and directed by James Cameron (“King of the World”–remember his Oscar speech for Titanic). With the 1991 blockbuster sequel, Cameron redefined the sci-fi-action genre and catapulted its leading man to one of the most renowned and beloved characters in modern cinema.

“No matter where I go in the world,” Schwarzenegger says, “no matter what movie I have promoted over the past twelve years, people always ask me, ‘When are you going to do another Terminator You’ve got to do another Terminator! Please, Arnold, do another Terminator soon.

“The Terminator has become a classic icon,” observes producer Mario F. Kassar. “The character has this quality about him that makes you want to see him again and again. You want him to win. You want him to survive.”

Indeed, many directors were hesitant to take the high-profile assignment, fearing not only disappointing the public’s expectations, but also knowing that the new movie will serve as a crucial test Schwarzenegger’s clout. The job was finally given to director Jonathan Mostow, who built a name for himself in the action genre with Breakdown and U-571.

“The Terminator is perhaps the most famous character in the history of motion pictures,” says Mostow. “Arnold’s characterization and the look of the Terminator are so iconic–the black leather jacket, the boots, the sunglasses. I don’t know of any other movie character that you can go anywhere in the world and ask somebody, ‘What’s this character’s wardrobe’ People Can’t tell you, but they know the Terminator’s.”

Embraced by audiences worldwide, the Terminator franchise grossed over a staggering $550 million in theatrical box-office receipts. It then became a global phenomenon on VHS and DVD formats, and has even inspired attractions at Universal Studios’ theme parks in Hollywood, Florida, and Japan.

“What’s terrific about Arnold is that he has celebrated the success and the appeal of the character with the same enthusiasm that the audience has,” Mostow says. For the star, “the honor and pleasure” to be involved in this series is that “the story is universal and can be understood by anyone, no matter what nation or cultural background you’re from.”

Schwarzenegger is quick to emphasize the importance of technology for the success of the franchise: “With the way technology has been advancing over the past few years, every person in the world understands now the fear that one day machines will take over, the reality that the machines will be smarter, stronger, and ultimately replace human beings.”

While the story contains humor and irony, it certainly captures the rising and alarming phobias about technology. In the new film, a decade has passed since John Connor (played in 1991 by Edward Furlong and now by Nick Stahl of In the Bedroom’s fame) helped prevent Judgment Day–the day Skynet’s highly developed network of machines was fated to destroy all of mankind. Skynet failed twice to kill Connor and wage war on humanity. Now 22, Connor lives ‘off the grid”–no home, no credit cards, no phone, and no job. There’s no record of his existence and seemingly no way he can be traced by Skynet.

That is, until out of the shadows of the future steps the T-X (Kristina Loken), Skynet’s most sophisticated cyborg killing machine yet. Sent back through time to complete the job left unfinished by her predecessor, this machine is as relentless as her human guise is beautiful. T-X is exponentially more powerful, dangerous, and destructive than every Terminator before her.

In an effort to appeal to new–and female–moviegoers, this time around, Connor is not the only target on Skynet’s hit list. An unsuspecting veterinarian named Kate (played by Claire Danes) will see her distant past and promising present dollide with an unimaginable future–but only if she can elude the unassailable
T-X.

When Connor and Kate realize that Judgment Day is rocketing toward them–with only three hours until the end of the world–their only hope for survival is a replica of cyborg Terminator (Schwarzenegger), Connor’s mysterious–and now obsolete–former assassin. Joining forces, they must triumph over the technologically superior T-X and forestall the looming threat of Judgment Day.

Schwarzenegger believes that the Terminator’s premise, in which artificially intelligent machines become self-aware and wage war on humanity, is more relevant and provocative to audiences today than ever before. He explains: “We’re all depending more and more on computers, from running our electricity to running our automobiles. The more we entrust machines to do everything, the greater chance we take as humans of losing control. What happens if the machines start thinking What happens if they turn on us.” For Schwarzenegger, “this scenario, combined with people’s fascination with the concepts of time travel and altering the future, is truly frightening and at the same time endlessly entertaining.”

Equally compelling to audiences, says the action hero, is the Terminator’s status as a cinematic anti-hero, one who “is not bound by any moral inhibitions.” If he needs a car, he gets into the closest car around, rips out the cable and just take it. “That kind of freedom is exhilarating for moviegoers, who 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 the possibilities of human behavior.”

Schwarzenegger looked forward to the challenge of reprising his larger-than-life role, but the story of his twelve-year-journey from T2 to T3 is almost as epic as the film series itself. It’s also a classic behind-the-scenes Hollywood saga.

After splitting ways professionally in the 1980s, producers Kassar and Vajna renewed the partnership that had scored them astronomical box-office numbers with such hits as the Rambo film series (starring Sylvester Stallone) and Total Recall, which teamed successfully Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, just before she became a sex symbol in Basic Instinct. The producers purchased 50% of the rights to the Terminator franchise from Carolco Pictures, and secured the remaining 50% of the rights from T2 producer Gale Anne Hurd. When they found out that the rights for T3 were still available, they felt it was their obligation to do so.

A key component in bringing T3 to the screen, and the producers’ most difficult decision, was finding the right director who would maintain the integrity of the franchise, while adding an electrifying new chapter to the series’ mythology. Impressed by Mostow’s skillful direction of the taut action thrillers Breakdown and U-571, the producers were convinced that he was the perfect man for the job. As Kassar explains: “Mostow is very good with story, and he proved to be such a fan of the Terminator films, that we trusted he would take the characters to the next logical level.”

The director and star bonded from their very first meeting. Recalls Schwarzenegger: “Mostow is very capable of overseeing every aspect of filmmaking, from the visual effects and the story to the big stunts. He is also good at pulling the best performances out of every member of the cast. He’s not intimidated to say, ‘Whoa, whoa, hold it. Let’s do it again, because you can do it better than that.”

Sounds like a mutual adoration society Perhaps. But the director reaffirms his star’s feelings: “I knew from my first meeting with Arnold that creatively we saw eye-to-eye on where this movie needs to go. Arnold was enthusiastic about how I wanted to execute the technical aspects of the film, which are quite complicated, and more importantly, where I wanted to take the saga and its characters, both old and new ones.”

At the movie’s premiere, Schwarzenegger predicted “when people walk out of the theater after seeing Terminator 3, they’re not only going to say, ‘the visual effects were mind-blowing,’ or ‘the action is extraordinary.’ They’re also going to say, ‘This story was told in the most amazing way, and it’s emotional and dramatic.'”

Will there be Terminator 4, and how long will the audience have to wait for the next episode At this point, Schwarzenegger will not commit. He knows that the large-budget picture needs to outperform or at least match T2 at the box-office, which is likely to happen.

But there’s another scenario, equally exciting–and not as futuristic as T3’s plot. Over the past few months, rumors have been circulating in Hollywood that the star, who is in the dangerous age of 55, is considering seriously a political career–like running for Governor of California.

If that happens, Schwarzenegger will not be the first actor to change uniforms smoothly, from glitzy Hollywood to glitzy politics. Following in the footsteps of another Republican actor, Ronald Reagan, the star knows that Hollywood and politics mix like rum and coke. Indeed, at the Westwood premiere of T3, he was very pleased when the crowds yell, “Vote Arnold for Governor!

Walking down the aisle, shaking hands with celebs, Schwarzenegger knows how to play the media and his fans. After all, he’s married to Maria Shriver, the glamorous TV journalist who’s John F. Kennedy’s niece. And he has been doing it for three decades, first as a world-renowned body-builder, then as movie star, and most recently, as chairman of former President George Bush’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports.

The star’s devotees clapped and whistled before granting Schwarzenegger a standing ovation. His broad smile suggested that anything is possible in America for an immigrant body-builder from Austria, who began his career as Junior Mr. Europe, Mr. World, a five-time Mr. Universe, and seven-time Mr. Olympia. (This phase of Arnold’s life is revealed in the amusing 1977 documentary, Pumping Iron).

Speculating about the prospects of T4, producer Kassar had a most pragmatic idea: “If Arnold runs for office, I’ll urge him to have a clause that he can still make the movie outside of politics.”

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