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Terminator Salvation by Danny Elfman

Terminator Salvation

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Terminator Salvation (Soundtrack) by Danny Elfman

Terminator Salvation
Composed by Danny Elfman
Warner Reprise Records (2009)

Rating: 7/10

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“Even if you believe the film is "that bad," there remains one saving grace and that is DANNY ELFMAN's score. Besides the stunning visuals and action, we have some interestingly new musical groundwork laid by Elfman that should service the franchise well in the movies that are sure to follow.”

One Saving Grace
Review by Christopher Coleman

One of the longest running franchises in Hollywood has been that of TERMINATOR. Who would have guessed that 25 years after the small-budgeted, 1984-film, that there would be such a thriving franchise; one that has (like any good, modern-day, franchise must) moved into the parallel realms of the comics, novels, television and video games. As the storyline starts to catch up with itself (ah the perils of time-travel plots), we now, under the unlikely guidance of director McG, move into the full-on, post-apocalyptic part of the Terminator-saga. Now played by box-office-mega-star, Christian Bale, John Connor is starting to move into his role as leader of the human-resistance against the dreaded machines. As we learned at the conclusion of TERMINATOR: RISE OF THE MACHINES, our heroes were not able to avoid "Judgment Day" afterall.

TERMINATOR SALVATION drops us into the future with Connor, a handful of resistance fighters, and some pretty-cool terminators we've never seen the likes of before. The dominant machines and scrappy humans are now at full-scale war, doing battle in the wasteland that once was our fair, semi-green world. TERMINATOR SALVATION not only focuses on the emerging-leader, John Connor, but moreso, tells the story of Marcus Wright, a unique machine/man, hybrid-terminator with his own compelling journey.  Marcus' journey eventually leads him to the Resistance, Kyle Reese, and John Connor.

The critical response has been fairly hard on the film, but I had little trouble enjoying this ironically redemptive tale along with a screening audience, just a few days prior to the official release date. TERMINATOR SALVATION is not without it's flaws (some of them major), but from one who would not likely be counted among the "hard core" fans, McG and company actually made this an enjoyable couple of hours. In between the few moments of exposition or character development director, McG, does deliver a handful of solid action sequences all set in the appropriate dingy, bleakness of a post-nuclear-holocaust California. The film certainly succeeds as an action-flick, but lost is some of the weight of the first two Terminator films. Watching the film, I had little time or resource left to dwell on the plot and time-line issues that have since come to plague my appreciation of the film.  Oddly enough, one of the bigger difficulties I suffered during the screening was my attempt to tune into what composer DANNY ELFMAN was doing with his score.

Other than the opening title sequence, there was no clear quote of Brad Fiedel's iconic Terminator-percussion riff, nor one of his original Terminator melody. This lone appearance of the percussive-motif is certainly a memorable one at the beginning of the film; both meeting the audiences' expectations while simultaneously raising them for what lay ahead. Sadly, in the film, Elfman's score disappears into the fracas of wild action and heavy sound design. Truth be told, I was much more engaged (and impressed) by the metallic-guttural voicings of the T-600's and harvest-machines than I was with any of the least while watching the film. So, to better appreciate Danny Elfman's contribution, it is necessary to fire up Warner/Reprise's release of the official TERMINATOR SALVATION soundtrack.

Without being transfixed upon the relentless (and noisy) race of machines, we are free to dive headlong into DANNY ELFMAN's bold and brash new score. His music, like the film, is at least mindful of the franchise's rich past; bringing some important elements forward. Other than the aforementioned moment, he resists the temptation of directly quoting the past. Instead he rebuilds the Terminator-palette with electronic elements that pay homage to BRAD FIEDEL, but do not carry the dated the sound of 80s (or even 90s) synthesizers. Elfman's mix of the synthesized with the natural further underlines one of the film's important ideas - personified in Marcus Wright. While such a blend is quite common these days, successfully adding new layers to iconic properties like Terminator, demands a sensitive touch; one that Elfman exhibits.  The resulting score is one of DANNY ELFMAN's richest and satisfying scores of this genre in recent years.

Elfman takes the next step from where MARCO BELTRAMI left off in RISE OF THE MACHINES. While remaining faithful to Fiedel's original theme, Beltrami threaded in much stronger acoustic symphonic elements. This next step finds Elfman continuing that blend of electronic and acoustic, but diverging from Fiedel's original themes altogether. In representing the world and activities of the machines, we hear deep, dark, heavy electronics combined with forceful percussion along with a myriad of brightly disturbing metallic strikes (see "Opening" [1], "The Harvester Returns" [4]). In many of the film's most intense action sequences, we find this already gripping combination augmented by powerful brass accents, and wood slaps (see "Hydrobot Attack" [8], "Final Confrontation" [13]). Those familiar with his work for SPIDER-MAN, PLANET OF THE APES or WANTED will notice that he works in his trademark sound; particularly in regards to his use of percussion and strings.

In at least one way, Elfman does follow Fiedel's lead and that is in terms of a title theme. Both themes are, at the core, represented by a 6-note rising/falling motif. While Fiedel's motif could be described as colder, determined and militaristic, Elfman's is warmer, softer and emotional. Interestingly, this motif is attached to the hybrid-terminator, Marcus, rather than John Connor; indicating just which character may be the true central figure of this movie. It is boldly introduced in the first track "Opening" (1) on brass, but we find this title theme, or at least small segments of it, all throughout the soundtrack. Later, we hear it performed softly on guitar in "Fireside" (5) and piano "Salvation" (14). Of course, John Connor is given his own theme as well. The core element of the theme being 8 heroic notes. Again, Elfman establishes this idea right away in the opening track and goes on to make adequate use of it through the balance of the score. Perhaps the most compelling performance of Connor's theme is found in "Broadcast" (3), where it is heard first on French horn and then on strings. These two tent-pole themes weave their way through the soundtrack, but make a final, emotional reconnection in "Salvation" (14).

Reprise Records' release contains just about 45 minutes of original score, plus one rock track. Wisely added to the end of the release is Alice in Chains' "Rooster" (15); a song that nicely captures the plight of both John Connor and Marcus Wright and also fits into the musical flow of this soundtrack. Take heart those of you who were disappointed with this film. TERMINATOR SALVATION may not have been all it could have been, but it isn't as bad as many are saying. Even if you believe the film is "that bad," there remains one saving grace and that is DANNY ELFMAN's score. Besides the stunning visuals and action, we have some interestingly new musical groundwork laid by Elfman that should service the franchise well in the movies that are sure to follow.

Rating: 7/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Opening 6:01  ****
2 All is Lost 2:45  ***
3 Broadcast 3:19  ****
4 The Harvester Returns 2:45  ***
5 Fireside 1:31  ****
6 No Plan 1:43  ****
7 Reveal/The Escape 7:44  ****
8 Hydrobot Attack 1:49  ****
9 Farewell 1:40  ****
10 Marcus Enters Skynet 3:23  ****
11 A Solution 1:44  ***
12 Serena 2:28  ***
13 Final Confrontation 4:14  ****
14 Salvation 3:56  ****
15 Rooster 6:14  ***
  Total Running Time (approx) 50 minutes  





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