Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: The Only Science Fiction Comedy-Drama?

Recently watching this 2003 film for the first time, I made an odd comparison, not with T3’s Thousand Clownstwo predecessors but with the 1965 film A Thousand Clowns. What could these two seemingly disparate movies have in common? One is of the Science Fiction genre, the other of the Comedy genre. But not quite. Both share membership in a small but venerable cinematic subgenre: Comedy-Drama.

Besides A Thousand Clowns, typical examples of successful Comedy-Drama are Soldier in the Rain (1963), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963), Dear Heart (1964), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The World of Henry Orient (1964), A Fine Madness (1966), The Graduate (1967), and Popi (1969). The 1960s seem in retrospect a Comedy-Drama heyday, its end perhaps forecast by 1970’s The Landlord, which concluded with a potentially grim future for its protagonist. A number of more recent films should be designated Comedy-Drama, but studios seem shy of labeling Drama films that possess even a modicum of humor.   Dramas aren’t perceived as having as much sales potential. BrazilThus The Family Stone and Bridesmaids are advertised as pure, rollicking comedies.

Comedy-Drama is hard to balance but Terminator 3 executes this task, juxtaposing the humorous episodes and lines with the jitters felt by the human characters facing an impending apocalypse. T3 may be the only sci-fi movie to claim membership in this subgenre. It is not strictly black (Dr. Strangelove), satirical (Brazil) or camp (Barbarella).

The first two Terminator films are famous for pithy one-liners uttered with stone-faced aplomb by Arnold Schwarzenegger (“I’ll be back,” “Hasta la vista, baby.”) and with fervor by Linda Hamilton (best not Terminator3repeated here).   T3 features variations on these: Schwarzenegger’s “She’ll be back” referring to his female nemesis thrown down an elevator shaft and “Talk to the hand” when a convenience store clerk asks payment for the snacks this mysterious man in black has been stuffing into his basket, and Claire Danes channeling Hamilton with a less nasty “You are terminated!” The film also has several laugh-out loud sequences. These include the T-101 rejecting a male stripper’s macho man shades and later acquiring his iconic black ones off a store rack, emerging from a mausoleum holding aloft a coffin in his left arm while blowing apart police cars with his super machine gun with his right, driving a hearse underneath a truck and slicing off its roof, and in a restroom fracas with the T-X (Kristanna Loken) smashing a urinal over her back and dunking her head in a toilet. Also riotous is Danes bouncing around in the back of her animal clinic vehicle during a gasp-inducing van/mobile crane/motorcycle chase and her expression of incredulity when Nick Stahl tells her that their driver is not a lunatic but a robot from the future.

By Kim

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