Reviews - Terminator Salvation

Review by Bluntinstrument

THE FILM: It's directed by McG. This means that no matter how much colour they bleach out of the visuals, no matter the weight of 'mythology', no matter how much tension the first two films created, no matter how much the prestige the series retains for pushing the boundaries spectacular special effects, this is first and foremost a big-bangs B-movie actioner, with by-numbers script and uninspired direction to match. McG goes full throttle with knock-about violence, big explosions and men who never cry, and in the meantime loses the impact the opening films created simply through the seemingly very real fear they enduced in characters escaping the unstoppable. The science is below the pity of the meanest sci-fi nerd, you never get inside the head of the main character, and all is rounded off by a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot Skynet monologue that completely trashes its reputation as intelligent. Helena Bonham Carter and Anton Yelchin outshine the others by simply being inspired casting and chosing to act their way out of their script nightmare. But there are Terminators (albeit not as many as you'd expect), and just occasionally they do seem unstoppable. Noone suffers from radiation fallout; Christian Bale gives a one-note performance and needs sedation (and throat pastels); Sam Worthington needs to work out how to act fear. The plot is extremely derivative, not just of other Terminator films but of a huge number of other sci-fi films from Alien to Transformers. The best that can be said is that it is loud, and moves fast, and might satiusfy until the next Michael Bay offering turns up to show just how much bang you should get for your buck.

THE MUSIC IN FILM: Elfman's score - not just submerged but drowned, strangled and disembowed by ridiculously amped sound effects - attempts to match the mindless but harmless brutality of the film whilst pumping its veins with some grim emotion. He heads straight for war film territory and delivers a score where the strings and percussion present most of the vicious aspect, woodwind are ignored, leaving brass to imbue a solemn chorale-like nobility the film neither deserves nor utilises. Perhaps my viewing at a cinema that favours volume over sound quality placed me at a disadvantage, but Elfman's talent was wasted...

THE MUSIC ON CD: ... And we know this because the 40 minute soundtrack CD delivers an accomplished score. Elfman has removed all sense of wonder, all choruses, all hint of the fantastic which so often colours and defines his music, and focuses his attention on a few rock solid themes and accompanying the action with the kind of viciousness and dissonance he occasionally reached in Planet of the Apes and Spider-man II. This is leavened, however, by his following these scenes with a steadier, less interrupted pulse, which makes the violence of the foreground texture less jarring. He includes some percussion (no doubt much of it midi) from the former and synth from the latter (much of this sounds like manipulated bass guitar samples; and there's a piano and mad harpist in the mix somewhere), but the core soundworld is brass and strings, mirroring the determined but colourless heroism attempted on-screen. For gentler, more intimate touches, he reaches for acoustic guitar - again, a simple angle which is also both masculine and of limited colour. The music on disc makes only the very subtlest of allusions to Fiedel's music - the obvious (and very unsubtle) quotations in the film are not present, and although they do help to anchor it to the canon, they lie poorly against Elfman's music.
Verdict: A strong and accessible score on disc which is outmatched by the film's mix, heavy-handed direction and predictable plot. His music must have bled through to give it some pacing, but its effect is almost entirely subliminal. They could have looped the tired 'Rooster' song for all the audience knew.
Score rating: * * *
CD release rating: * * *
N.B. It is easy to see how Elfman's differing approach is appropriate. Beltrami's style typically juxtaposes horror (not needed) with tender emotional themes (very much eschewed by one-dimensional characters); Fiedel's scoring for Terminator 2 is actually quite a texturally simple score, and its main highlight, the "fog horn" T-1000 motif, would have had no place in the gung-ho carnage of T4. The score for the first Terminator movie is for the most part simply and cruelly dated.

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