Like STAR TREK fans, TERMINATOR fans are a loyal bunch. Mess with their franchise at your own peril. For those who can keep up with the franchise’s time-twisting storyline, more power to you. I got the gist of it, but outside of Sam Worthington’s affecting performance as the new “human” Terminator, I didn’t find much to enjoy in TERMINATOR SALVATION. My blood raced more from the decibel level than from anything actually happening onscreen.
Bringing Danny Elfman onboard should have pleased film score fans. But many of the same issues fired at the Michael Giacchino’s new STAR TREK score have also been leveled at Elfman, in that Elfman’s music doesn’t sound like a TERMINATOR score.
The film music landscape has changed greatly in the 25 years since the first TERMINATOR in 1984. Brad Fiedel’s classic metallic, synth-driven sound from the first two TERMINATOR scores would sound incredibly outdated for the new TERMINATOR film. (Film score fans generally dismiss Marco Beltrami’s TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES score.) While Fiedel’s music may fill you with nostalgia, Elfman’s score, as expected from this A-list composer, is a far richer beast.
Elfman retains the metallic sound and synthesizers to convey the bleak, post-apocalyptic world in which machines rule. But these are filtered through Elfman’s unique orchestral sensibilities to create a score that thrums and pounds with far more excitement than it generates in the film.
With the humans at war with the machines, the score takes on a more militaristic feel than other scores in the franchise. The main theme is a heroic 6-note motif for the trombones and French horns.
Elfman’s is a master of rhythm and his trademark noodling motifs churn their way under the surface of the score, adding tension and movement to a film that desperately needs it. The strings playing col legno (on the wooden part of their bows) add a dry, ratchety sound for the metallic skeletons of the machines.
Elfman takes a breather from the general energy of the score and creates a more humanistic element with quiet, guitar-laden cues like “Broadcast” and “Farewell.”
If a film’s success relies on the sound editors and mixers, then TERMINATOR SALVATION is the picture for you. The sound is amplified to an ear-bleeding degree during much of the film and unfortunately Elfman’s score adds to the general cacophany, often with detrimental results to the music. The score is best experienced on its own.