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TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY – Brad Fiedel

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

James Cameron’s sci-fi masterpiece The Terminator became something of a cult classic following its release in 1984. It made a movie star out of its leading actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and left fans desperate to know more about this world of unstoppable time-travelling killer robots and their human interactions, to the extent that a sequel was inevitable. Terminator 2: Judgement Day picks up the story several years later, but things have not turned out well for the original film’s protagonist, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who is now incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane, where doctors refuse to believe her apocalyptic predictions. Her teenage son John (Edward Furlong) is delinquent on the streets of Los Angeles, bouncing around between foster homes, while the tech company Cyberdyne is secretly continuing tests on the remains of the original Terminator from the first film. Things go from bad to worse for Sarah when a massively upgraded liquid metal terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), is sent back in time from the future to finish the job the original robot could not, and kill John; the T-1000 is a technological marvel that can shape-shift, repair its own wounds, and convincingly blend in with humans. In response, the leaders of the human resistance send back a T-101 Terminator (Schwarzenegger), physically identical to the original film’s unstoppable killer, but this time re-programmed to protect John from harm.

Terminator 2 was a massive hit, banking more than $500 million at the US box office, and launching a media franchise that has since extended to four more films, a popular live-action TV series, and much more besides. The film also raised the bar for cinema visual effects and CGI technology, and eventually went on to win four technical Academy Awards. In terms of it’s score, Cameron chose to reunite with the composer of the original Terminator film, Brad Fiedel, after dallying with James Horner on Aliens and Alan Silvestri on The Abyss. Fiedel was still very much in demand for major Hollywood films at the time, having scored popular titles such as Fright Night, The Big Easy, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Accused, and Blue Steel in the years since The Terminator. Despite all this other work, however, Fiedel’s iconic main Terminator theme – a repeated six-note motif which plays against an oddly-metered incessant metallic percussion ostinato and a heartbeat-like pulse – was still his most significant contribution to film music, and of course it returns prominently in the sequel score.

What’s interesting about Terminator 2, however, is that for the most part Fiedel’s score is even harsher and more intense than the original. The original Terminator score tempered the relentless metallic tones of the music for the T-101 with warmer, more appealing, even occasionally romantic music to represent the relationship between Sarah and Michael Biehn’s character Reese, who would ultimately become John’s father. Considering that Terminator 2 explores these inter-connected relationships even more – between John and Sarah, between John and the T-101 as a sort of surrogate father – while also tackling weighty philosophical ideas regarding destiny, free will, and the end of the world, it’s surprising and maybe even a little disappointing that Fiedel never really explores this in his music. The melodic part of the Terminator theme is almost entirely absent from the underscore itself, which instead concentrates on action, horror, and representations of the looming threat of the T-1000. This results in a score which is certainly propulsive and effective at conveying the high stakes of the narrative, but is curiously devoid of a human touch.

As was the case with the original score, Fiedel’s music for Terminator 2 is almost entirely synthesized, with the only natural sound coming from a soft acoustic guitar heard during the scenes of down time in the Mexican desert. The original Terminator score was extremely complicated and progressive for its time, making use of a vast array of different synthesizers, drum machines, and sampled sounds, all individually programmed and layered using 1984 technology. Synth music technology had improved exponentially by 1991, but Fiedel’s score still has that home-made rough-and-ready feel, a world away from the slickness of Hans Zimmer and his then-contemporaries. It’s possible that this was done for reasons of consistency rather than budget, and to maintain the aural tone from the first film, but by doing so it also exposes some technical limitations in terms of the actual sound of the synths themselves, which sounded dated even by early 90s standards, and as such may alienate some listeners.

In addition to the main theme, the only really prominent new identity in Terminator 2 is the one for the T-1000. Fiedel scores the character with a cacophony of screeching and scraping sound effects which have the texture of metal on metal, and constantly move around in a manner similar to the liquid metal morphing of the T-1000’s exoskeleton. There’s no specific theme for John, no specific theme for Cyberdyne Systems or its ill-fated CEO Miles Dyson; everything else is action and droning suspense based on ideas drawn from the Terminator theme and the T-1000 theme.

The “Main Title (Terminator 2 Theme)” is an excellent reprise of the iconic main theme, and opens the album well, but things quickly change with the first of several slightly disappointing action sequences, “Sarah on the Run”. The action music from the first film had a chaotic, slightly panicked sound to it, capturing the naivety of Sarah as she learns of the Terminator’s existence and has to continually flee for her life. The Sarah in T2, however, is an experienced fighter, and as such her action scenes this time around have a taut, hardened, almost militaristic edge conveyed with clattering percussive ideas and harsh, shrill blasts from sampled pan pipes. It captures the new edge to her character, but unfortunately it makes for less interesting music.

Other cues focusing on Sarah don’t fare much better either. For example, “Sarah’s Dream (Nuclear Nightmare)” is another cacophony of sound and noise which features perhaps the most unfortunate sampled synth choir ever committed to the score of a multi-million dollar movie. Similarly the “Desert Suite,” which underscores Sarah’s sojourn in Sonora after escaping from the asylum, as well as the first tentative bonding scenes between John and T-101, is underwhelming – it’s little more than a series of soft electronic drones and little acoustic guitar riffs, occasionally enlivened by some references to the heartbeat motif from the main theme.

The introduction of the nightmarish, shrieking T-1000 motif in “Escape from the Hospital – and T-1000” is highly effective, overwhelming both listener and viewer with intensity and volume, leaving you with no doubts that this is a formidable foe. However, when this idea is stretched to more than 4½ minutes, as it is here, by the end of the cue you’re begging for respite from the aural onslaught. Both the Terminator theme and the T-1000 motif are prominent in the five cues that underscore the subsequent attack on the Cyberdyne building, from “Our Gang Goes to Cyberdyne” through to “I’ll Be Back,” all of which reverberates with rhythmic action, metallic percussion, and relentless staccato synth pulses.

“Trust Me” introduces an interesting variation on the Terminator rhythm which is built around an intense four note percussion pattern that moves between a sampled drum and a sampled anvil, with a faux heroic brass motif that seems to be a variation on the Terminator melody. As the score develops this idea establishes itself as a sort-of motif for the ‘good Terminator’ concept, especially in terms of how this character relates to Sarah, who can never quite get over the fact that her one-time assassin may now be her savior. This idea recurs several times later, embedded in the action music, receiving a notably prominent statement in “Cameron’s Inferno”. Elsewhere, “John & Dyson Into Vault” has a light sense of optimistic heroism, and is clearly a precursor to the music Fiedel would later write for True Lies in 1994, while “I’ll Be Back” has a chaotic finale featuring a wild sampled trumpet.

Subsequent cues in which the Terminator motif and the T-1000 sounds are prominent include “Helicopter Chase,” “Tanker Chase,” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby (T-1000 Freezes),” all of which again feature Fiedel’s wildly aggressive rhythmic action style. “Tanker Chase” has an especially rampant, furious finale, while “Hasta La Vista, Baby (T-1000 Freezes)” includes some unusual twinkling ideas that represent the moment where the shapeshifting terminator freezes in liquid nitrogen; the deconstructed version of the Terminator melody that follows it initially has a palpable sense of relief, until it all goes wrong in the heat of the steel mill.

“Cameron’s Inferno” revisits the sampled choir sound from earlier in the score, pairing it with a number of apocalyptic chord progressions and a variation on the aforementioned ‘good Terminator’ motif. I understand why the choir is synthetic – these are two cyborgs fighting each other, after all, not actual humans – but the samples Fiedel uses to capture this idea sound *so* fake that it takes me out of the moment every time. The same thing happens later in “Terminator Revives,” where the intense, near-heroic statement of the Terminator theme, complete with faux choir, completely undermines the emotion of the moment, as the almost crippled T-101 dramatically comes back to life to save Sarah and John one last time.

“T-1000 Terminated” sees Fiedel engaging in the cacophonous destruction of his T-1000 ideas, complete with choir and throbbing sampled brass, anguished, harsh, and dissonant, as the seemingly indestructible cyborg dissolves for good in a vat of molten steel. The score’s finale, “It’s Over (Good-Bye),” underscores the genuinely emotional and now-iconic moment where the T-101 realizes that the only way for John to truly be safe is for every trace of the Terminators to be destroyed – including himself. As the Terminator lowers himself slowly into the same pool of molten metal, Fiedel offers a solemn final statement of the main Terminator theme, replete with timpani rolls and those familiar metallic pulses, but again the weirdly poor quality of the samples stand out as a detriment. In context the moment still works, thanks to the unexpectedly moving performances of Schwarzenegger and Furlong, but with that music it’s a close run thing. Hasta la vista, baby!

The score for Terminator 2 was originally released by Varese Sarabande in 1991, but it quickly went out of print. Due to the popularity of the franchise as a whole the score has been re-released twice since then; by Silva Screen in 2010, and by Universal Music in 2017. Each of the three albums features identical content, but I’m using the artwork and credits from the Varese release as it was the first one.

In the end, I’m a little torn about how to sum up the score for Terminator 2. On the one hand, Brad Fiedel’s adherence to the sound and texture of the franchise is admirable, and the new material for the T-1000 is certainly memorable and fits the concept of the character well. On the other hand, one can’t help but feel that there were a number of missed opportunities here. The lack of any real emotional connective musical tissue between Sarah, John, and the T-101 is disappointing, as is the somewhat predictable nature of some of the action material. Finally – and perhaps worst of all – the score’s apparent use of dated equipment, especially the synth choir and the synth brass, makes the score come dangerously close to undermining itself, with its tinny sound making what should have been emotional and epic seem, at times, weak. On the original Terminator score, when Fiedel was flying by the seat of his pants, doing everything in his garage with no money, the end result was near-miraculous. On Terminator 2, when he’s got a cut of the movie’s $102 million budget to work with, you should really expect more. Casual fans of the franchise will absolutely love it, but anyone looking for a score with perhaps a little more meat on its exoskeleton… well, let’s just say you might not be back that often after all.

Buy the Terminator 2 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (Terminator 2 Theme) (1:56)
  • Sarah on the Run (2:31)
  • Escape from the Hospital – and T-1000 (4:34)
  • Desert Suite (3:25)
  • Sarah’s Dream (Nuclear Nightmare) (1:49)
  • Attack on Dyson (Sarah’s Solution) (4:07)
  • Our Gang Goes to Cyberdyne (3:11)
  • Trust Me (1:38)
  • John & Dyson Into Vault (0:41)
  • SWAT Team Attacks (3:22)
  • I’ll Be Back (3:58)
  • Helicopter Chase (2:27)
  • Tanker Chase (1:42)
  • Hasta La Vista, Baby (T-1000 Freezes) (3:02)
  • Into the Steel Mill (1:25)
  • Cameron’s Inferno (2:37)
  • Terminator Impaled (2:05)
  • Terminator Revives (2:14)
  • T-1000 Terminated (1:41)
  • It’s Over (Good-Bye) (4:36)

Running Time: 53 minutes 20 seconds.

Varese Sarabande VSD-5335 (1991)

Music composed and performed by Brad Fiedel. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by Allan k. Rosen. Album produced by Brad Fiedel.

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