July 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Terminator 3:   Rise of the Machines
Music composed by Marco Beltrami
Conducted by Pete Anthony and the composer
  Performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony / Hollywood Film Chorale
  Available on Varèse Sarabande VSD: 6481  
Running time: 51.32
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US


Welcome to Marco Beltrami's Terminator 3, subject to all sorts of advance detrimental commentary based upon reports that Brad Fidel's original Terminator theme was not to be used for Rise of the Machines. Well I have as yet no idea of how well this music will work in the finished film (or indeed how well that film itself will work, though reports from across the water, and even from James Cameron himself, are very positive), but as an album Beltrami's work provides an infinitely more satisfying listening experience than did Fidel's. Which is not to say that it is a better score - that can only be judged by how effective it is in the movie. That said, Beltrami, previously best known for the Scream trilogy, has achieved far more than ever could have been expected with his score for 96 piece orchestra and choir.

Lest by endorsing Beltrami anyone might think I don't regard Fidel's original achievements highly, or that I simply don't know what I'm talking about, I'll note first that I saw The Terminator the day it opened in England in early 1985, and it immediately went into my list of favourite films of the year. I saw Aliens (1986) the week it opened and decided James Cameron was a genius of popular film. I missed the initial very short run of The Abyss (1989) due to a disabling injury, but saw the Special Edition (1992) twice on the big screen and decided it was a masterpiece. Before that I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) four times and concluded it was one of the best science fiction films ever, and the best action movie since Aliens (1986) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Only Face/Off (1997) and Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) have rivalled it as an action movie since. My opinion remains that the only way Terminator 2 could be improved (short of reshooting it in 70mm) would be by removing all the humour, and by adding some orchestral warmth to the more human moments of the score.

The Terminator had an all electronic score due to budgetary limitations, the entire movie being made for less than $6.5 million. The $102 million Terminator 2 could have had any orchestra in the world, but James Cameron and Brad Fidel decided to stay with electronics, though rather more cold digital/sample-based electronics than the analogue synths used for The Terminator. While the score proved effective and has grown on me over the years as I have seen the film several more times, I still believe that in certain moments the addition of real orchestral instruments would have increased the emotional impact of an already very powerful film. In particular, I would have loved to have heard a fully orchestral version of Fidel's wonderfully fatalistic and spine-chilling main theme over the main or end titles. It would certainly have been preferable to "Guns and Roses" irrelevant caterwauling.

As they say in the movie, there's no fate but what we make, and 12 years on Cameron has jumped ship for bigger things - refusing to work as a film-maker for hire on the property he created - and out of loyalty virtually everyone who worked with him on the first two films has refused to have anything to do with the second sequel. Not an auspicious start, which combined with the fact that virtually all films with the number 3 in their title prove to be a massive disappointment, and the prospects looked dim indeed. The Terminator films are (or were) Sarah Connor's story, as told by James Cameron (they are not about a production line of machines played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), and without actress Linda Hamilton or writer-director Cameron a valid continuation of a story already seemingly permanently resolved at the end of the second film looked impossible. News that Jonathan Mostow, director of the appalling U-571, had been hired to helm Terminator 3, made matters look even worse. Meanwhile Mostow's track record, he also made Breakdown (1997), has at best shown a director capable of solid mid-budget action-suspense, with nothing to hint that he might deliver groundbreaking epics on Cameron's scale.

But then Mostow did have Basil Poledoris score Breakdown, and hire Richard Marvin deliver a large-scale, if highly derivative score for U-571, so he did appear to be a man who, more than most young Hollywood blockbuster directors, appreciated the value of a strong film score. Even if in the case of the latter film, he proved incapable of obtaining the goods from his composer. All of which brings us to T3, the album.

It runs 52 minutes, of which 45 are score, followed by two songs. The score combines orchestra with 13 piece percussion section and 30 voice choir with electronics. Despite reports to the contrary, various motifs and samples from the previous scores are woven into the fabric of Beltrami's work, though he has with great skill made them entirely his own. Fidel's T2 landmark score essentially pre-dated / invented instrumental dance-techno in all its cold-hearted mechanicality, a form which with its incessant beat and lack of humanity has since driven us almost as close to machine-made insanity as Sarah Connor once came herself. It worked very well indeed in T2, and in its stripped down simplicity and stark sound pallet was a challenging nightmare on disc. It did its job so well it rendered everything which it inspired redundant, though David Arnold worked its approach effectively into the bedrock of his James Bond scores, and Don Davis did interesting things earlier this summer combining post-T2 electronic beats with a full orchestra for The Matrix Reloaded. Which leaves us with Mostow and Beltrami's dilemma: to slavishly copy Fidel, or to make the score, and film, their own. Happily they have taken the latter course, and the result is a thrilling delight.

Here at last is all the rhythm of the most involving parts of Fidel's Terminator music, but taken to a whole new level of musical complexity, real percussionists replacing samples with dazzling virtuosity. Combined with this is true human warmth, not least in Beltrami's new theme for John Connor, which perfectly compliments Fidel's original Terminator theme. Both are powerfully emotional creations, and Beltrami's piece sits right beside Fidel's, fitting perfectly. It's a striking achievement. Meanwhile the orchestral version of Fidel's Terminator theme sends exhilarating shivers down the spine when it finally arrives with its anthemic soaring strings. The only thing wrong with it is that its too short, and presumably that's to make room for the two songs with which it has to share the end title.

John Connor's theme is given a stirring statement in track four ("JC Theme"), and a movingly elegiac treatment in "Radio", as well as in "T3", over a mutated version of the original Terminator pounding beat. Most of the rest of the score is consumed with superbly crafted action suspense music which is the finest so far this summer, and certainly leaves The Matrix Reloaded album trailing in its wake. Besides the action, and the wonderfully well integrated rhythmic writing, there is an emotional impact, a sense of scale, and a vision of grandeur rare in modern film music. It is a score to be savoured, to play loud and often. Not just for the thrilling dynamics and melodrama of "Hearse rent A Car", or the blistering "Graveyard Shootout" and "Kicked in the Can", which both pay due homage to Fidel's original scores, or for the slow-burning majesty of "A Day in the Life", the energising "Terminator Tangle" and fatalistically magnificent "T3", but for a score which puts the craft, drama and sophistication back into blockbuster soundtracks. Here huge orchestral scale meets modern rhythmic dynamism and elegant electronic texturing to glorious effect. Above all, this is exciting, very exciting.

Which brings me to the songs. "Open to Me", performed by Dillon Dixon is composed by Beltrami and incorporates his "T3" theme. It is several cuts above the average modern movie song. Likewise "I Told You" by Mia Julia has a fragile quality which is most affecting.

The best new action score since John Williams' Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones last summer.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

Glen Aitken adds:-

The "Terminator" returns to cinemas this summer after a twelve year hiatus in this, a brisk third instalment with a new director at the helm. It seems appropriate then that a new composer assumes the musical reigns under the auspices of a new regime; Marco Beltrami.

It would be inappropriate to comment in great detail on the wave of mixed, and musically illiterate critical press that Beltramiís score has endured. It would be constructive to say, though, that such misjudgement overlooks the fact that both franchise composers have handled their musical approaches to their projects with great maturity. No single score is the just equal of another, in so much as each demonstrates how familiarity need not breed contempt in the musical underscore of a successful series. This by virtue of the fact that the contrasting subject matter of each film seemingly dictates a new aesthetic landscape that seeks resolution before thematic material, whether cursory or otherwise, can be established.

Beltramiís score to Rise of the Machines appears to perform an admirable job serving an independent film that critically demands a dissimilar soundfield to that of the previous films. Whereas Fiedelís industrialised, sterile technique empathised with a seemingly unstoppable cyborg menace, Beltramiís progressive, less-motivic, gothic tendencies underpin the futility facing Nick Stahlís John Connor and mankind, albeit with a more expansive use of tonal colour. Throughout the album, Beltramiís defined, no longer emergent, style can be heard (drawing obvious comparisons with his work for director Guilliermo del Toro), more so in the discís highly-charged action cues (such as the highly-contrapuntal, aurally satisfying "Blonde Behind the Wheel"), rather than in more intimate moments such as "Radio" Ė an elegiac, string-heavy cue that acknowledges a minor debt to Frank Bridge, but which avoids becoming asinine. The score benefits, then, from Beltrami demonstrating a personal style that is not yet well-worn, allowing its freshness to have more of an impact.

I have few open reservations about the construction of this score, none of which stem from the choice of composer. Indeed, whilst the change in an overall tonal characteristic is appropriate, I hope that any continuation of the franchise helps permit greater experimentation with the rhythmic ostinati underpinning the machines, or defines a new musical direction for them. To that end, then, I hope that Marco Beltramiís sample library receives a "weapons upgrade" worthy of Schwarzeneggerís cinematic alter-ego, if box office receipts help greenlight a fourth Terminator movie. Furthermore, I am also concerned by a number of erroneous performances that would normally remain largely trivial in conversation were they not so blatant, such is the case with the out-of-time percussion entries at the opening of "T3".

Rise of the Machines is more of soliloquy on tragedy than a full blown exposition on the subject of manís war of attrition against Skynetís sentient monsters. Beltramiís score accurately handles the subject matter and certainly doesnít work against itself on CD (the running length is pitched just right). It should, hopefully, appeal to a wider audience and mark the start, perhaps, of another lasting director-composer relationship.

Glen Aikten

*** 3

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