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TERMINATOR: DARK FATE – Tom Holkenborg

November 8, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been a somewhat depressing experience to watch the once brilliant and groundbreaking Terminator franchise descend into one of the most risible series of films in Hollywood’s recent history but, unfortunately, that’s what has happened. In the aftermath of Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991, there was a 12-year gap before Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines appeared in 2003, during which time creator James Cameron went off and began prepping Avatar and its 282 sequels, leaving directorial duties in the hands of Jonathan Mostow. Terminator Salvation came and went in 2009 amid Christian Bale’s on-set meltdown, and Terminator Genisys opened in 2015 with the hope that Emilia Clarke could transfer her Daenerys Targaryan Game of Thrones fan base to the big screen as a new version of Sarah Connor. Spoiler: she couldn’t. The only constant through all this has been the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but as is often the case in this situation, his original terrifying performance as the ultimate unstoppable killing machine eventually morphed into something approaching self-parody, especially when you consider that the Governator was 68 years old when Genisys came out and was barely able to walk without limping, let alone do any stunts.

In an effort to right the ship, the new film Terminator: Dark Fate ignores everything that occurred in Terminator 3, Salvation, and Genisys, and is a direct sequel to T2. James Cameron is back as screenwriter and producer, while Deadpool’s Tim Miller takes over the directorial reins. Also back, after a 28-year-hiatus, is Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner, reprising the most iconic role of her career. The film is set 25 years after the events of T2, with the apocalyptic judgment day having been averted by Sarah Connor and her son John. The story now focuses on the life of Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a completely ordinary young woman living in contemporary Mexico City. Dani is attacked at her workplace by the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), an advanced Terminator sent back in time to eliminate her; she is saved by Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an augmented human soldier also sent back in time to protect her. As Dani and Grace flee for their lives they are joined by a much older Sarah Connor (Hamilton) – who now spends her years seeking out rogue Terminators – and as they try to understand why Dani is so important, they find themselves having to work with an unlikely ally: a T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger), different from but identical to the one that Sarah killed all those years ago, and who harbors a hidden secret.

Terminator: Dark Fate is the third best Terminator film in the franchise, but that’s not much considering just how horrible everything after T2 became. The presence of Hamilton and Schwarzenegger in the cast is a boon, although Hamilton does appear to have spent the intervening quarter century smoking hundreds of packs of Marlboros while simultaneously getting herself ripped and shredded, and I’m not 100% on board with the character development of the T-800, which I won’t spoil here. Gabriel Luna is a forgettable villain, and Dani is essentially a surrogate for Edward Furlong’s John Connor, and has the same character arc, which is a somewhat disappointing development considering the endless possibilities the film presented. The film’s Mexican setting offers some different cultural viewpoints, and gives the screenwriters a chance to make some pertinent comments about illegal immigration and the issues surrounding that hot button topic, but overall these get lost amid an endless barrage of action which at times gets a little too ridiculous and suffers from some unexpectedly stodgy special effects work.

Musically, the Terminator franchise has always been Brad Fiedel’s baby. Although the three films that followed T2 were scored by different composers – Marco Beltrami on Terminator 3, Danny Elfman on Salvation, Lorne Balfe on Genisys – it has always been Fiedel’s iconic theme that has defined the franchise’s sound, and those later scores were always at their best when doing interesting new things with Fiedel’s famous march, peculiar time signature and all. Dark Fate sees a fifth composer tackling the series in the shape of Dutchman Tom Holkenborg, again using his real name here as opposed to his Junkie XL moniker. I have been quite enthused with the positive strides Holkenborg has been making with his music of late – both Mortal Engines and Alita: Battle Angel were genuinely good scores – so I was hopeful that Dark Fate would continue the trend. Alas, the score has much more in common with the banging and thumping from the likes of Tomb Raider and Divergent than his more sophisticated writing of late. To quote that great philosopher and poet Paula Abdul: two steps forward, two steps back.

There are precisely two good things about Terminator: Dark Fate. The first is the brand new theme for the character of Dani, for whom Holkenborg wrote a set of soulful, melancholy pieces prominently featuring a Spanish guitar, as both a nod to her Latina heritage, and as a way of recognizing her more thoughtful and emotional approach to the situation in which she finds herself. Cues like “My Name is Dani,” the final moments of “Terminator,” and parts of “Coyote” are notable in this regard, and offer an unexpected amount of warmth amid the industrial coldness and overwhelming metallic cacophony elsewhere.

The second good thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is the respect Holkenborg pays to Brad Fiedel and that iconic theme from 1984. Holkenborg’s thought process was to try to update what Fiedel did so that it would sound like it was written for and performed by synthesizers from the 2010s , and as such the statements of the theme in this score have a more richer, almost organic electronic sound; I realize this sounds like a contradiction in terms because those two things appear to be opposites of each other, but you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. He uses the theme to represent both Terminators: the big staccato 5-note rhythm is used as a leitmotif for the looming presence of the Rev-9, and you can hear it prominently in cues like the opening track “Terminated,” “REV-9,” and briefly in the otherwise nightmarish “Enter Sarah”. Cleverly, Holkenborg also blends this pounding pulse with a variation on the slurred electronic motif for Robert Patrick’s T-1000 from Terminator 2, along with a heavy metallic element that resulted from Holkenborg going to town on an anvil, a washing machine, and various other kitchen and laundry appliances, and recording the results.

Conversely, the more melodic part of Fiedel’s theme (the love theme for Sarah and Reece in the original score) tends to be used here as a motif for Schwarzenegger’s T-800 robot-with-a-soul, and in cues like “You Saved Me” the emotion of the piece as it relates to that character works well. There are also a couple of moments, towards the end of “C5” and in “Screaming Turbines,” where the first three notes of the theme are used as a brief heroic fanfare, which is very well done. I also like how Holkenborg uses the endlessly menacing metallic clank that followed Schwarzenegger around in the original movie to underscore the first appearance of his character on-screen here in “Terminator.” Dani’s protector, the enhanced super-soldier, gets her own piece of music in the eponymous “Grace,” but it is little more than a series of sparse textures for keyboards, piano, and quivering strings, that unfortunately does little to illustrate who this character is, where she comes from, or what she has been through.

The rest of the score is very much rooted in the aggressive, dissonant orchestral-electronic hybrid scoring that dominated much of Holkenborg’s early work in the genre, including things like Mad Max: Fury Road, Deadpool, and the additional music he wrote for Hans Zimmer on things like Batman v Superman. This is the side of Holkenborg’s musical personality I dislike the most; the overriding thought behind it seems to be nothing more complicated than ‘drown the thing in drums,’ and it’s frustrating seeing him regressing back to that style because scores like Mortal Engines and Alita, as well as The Dark Tower, prove that he is capable of more. As it stands, cues like “Iron Spike,” the ironically-titled “Drones Coming,” “C5,” and “Screaming Turbines” thump and pound relentlessly, an endless cacophony of percussion slams, grinding electronics, and basic orchestral ideas that eschew almost all melodic content in favor of basic string ostinato rhythms and blasting brass chords. Once in a while an interesting texture will peek through and provide a brief glimpse of what the score could be – the alarm sound in “The Wall” which mimics the irritating shriek of a security breach, or the fantastic but sadly brief brass idea that appears in “HUMV,” for example – but for the most part it’s just angry, noisy, messy, and chaotic.

But then, suddenly, after all that, in the final three cues Holkenborg really comes alive and shows what he can do. This sequence contains the finest music in the entire score, with the 8-minute “For John” standing head and shoulders above everything else on offer. After an introspective opening that offers some further explorations of Grace’s material and the Rev-9 material, it explodes into full-throated near-religioso glory when the choir comes in at around the 2:50 mark, quickly establishing itself as the emotional high point of the score. The rest of the cue offers a number of bold, exciting orchestral ideas that retain the predominantly rhythmic core but somehow feel instrumentally richer and more expansive in their dramatic weight. The emotional statement of the Terminator main theme that begins around 5:30 is filled with nostalgic pathos. After the brief, sensitive “Epilogue” the conclusive “Dark Fate” is a final set of variations on Fiedel’s Terminator theme, which features more anvils, more tom-toms, more guitars, and is harsher and more aggressive at the outset. However, as it progresses it turns into a florid, unexpectedly sensual variation on the Terminator theme for Spanish classical guitars that is as unexpected as it is impressive, and builds to a superb finale.

These final three cues utterly rescue the entire score, and go a long way to leaving the listener with a generally positive impression of the work as a whole. But – again – these final cues are based mostly on Brad Fiedel’s iconic theme, and as such it is probably not a fair reflection on Holkenborg’s overall contribution to judge it solely on his excellent arrangement of someone else’s 35-year-old work. With the exception of the lovely acoustic guitar writing for Dani, most of Holkenborg’s action music treads a fine line, sometimes coming across as competent but workmanlike, but much too often being overly-raucous, overly-belligerent, and overly-irritating. Absent of Fiedel’s theme, this would be a score I would avoid like the plague, but Holkenborg’s contemporary updating of the piece, and its clever interpolation into the body of the score, allows me to give it a hesitant recommendation. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the last time we hear him tackling this material, because the film’s poor box office performance has resulted in Skydance shelving ideas for future installments. Arnold Schwarzenegger has lived up to his word in every Terminator film since he first uttered his immortal line in 1984 but, at last, it looks like he won’t be back after all.

Buy the Terminator: Dark Fate soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Terminated (1:28)
  • My Name Is Dani (3:39)
  • REV 9 (3:10)
  • Iron Spike (2:52)
  • Enter Sarah (1:00)
  • Grace (4:25)
  • Drones Coming (1:46)
  • The Wall (4:12)
  • Terminator (2:57)
  • Coyote (2:18)
  • The Picture on the Fridge (0:42)
  • C5 (4:11)
  • HUMV (1:59)
  • You Saved Me (5:42)
  • Screaming Turbines (4:13)
  • For John (7:59)
  • Epilogue (1:10)
  • Dark Fate (4:20)

Running Time: 58 minutes 03 seconds

Paramount Music (2019)

Music composed by Tom Holkenborg. Conducted by Conrad Pope. Orchestrations by Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek, Henri Wilkinson, Sean Barratt and Benjamin Hoff. Additional music by Antonio di Iorio. . Original Terminator themes by Brad Fiedel. Recorded and mixed by Chris Fogel. Edited by Michael Bauer. Album produced by Tom Holkenborg.

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