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Soundtrack review: The terminator (the definitive edition) – Brad Fiedel (1984, 1995)

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Soundtrack review: The terminator (the definitive edition) – Brad Fiedel (1984, 1995)


80s weekend begins with the birth of a legend; a character that created an entire universe, a marvelous and premonitory story about men and machines: The Terminator. And a main theme so pulsating, so haunting and so right for this character that it still echoes inside me 30 years since it was composed. For me at least, it’s in the top 10 themes ever written, right up there with the Star Wars theme, the Superman theme or the Raiders March from Indiana Jones. Brad Fiedel played with his synthesizer and came up with a simple, pounding and thrilling rhythm that is still as unforgiving today as it was back then. I love this theme even more than I love “The imperial march”, Darth Vader’s theme. “Theme from The Terminator” takes a hammer and beats it. I feel this cue as perpetual pistons pounding and pounding without rest, decisive and leaving no room for reaction. It’s a very simple track, but I can’t feel that when I hear it, because it’s so haunting, because it sounds like the steps of an iron giant. Those steps are so heavy that they will echo long after the giant will be gone.
This movie comes from some of my earliest memories. I was too young to be allowed to watch it when it came out, but I stumbled upon some scenes from the end and they impressed me. The eye surgery that The Terminator performs on himself in a dirty bathroom, or the way parts of his metal skeleton where still coming after Sarah Connor even when he was being destroyed stayed with me until I was able to see the entire movie.
The Terminator score is as stripped and metallic as the character; it’s one of the rare cases where the score blends perfectly with the character and movie it was written for. It’s cold, scary and unforgiving, devoid of feelings most of the time, but extremely effective. When I listen to this score I am thrown back in that grey and heavy world from which it feels like there’s no escape. The simple and pounding notes follow me everywhere, relentlessly, and they give me the most uneasy feeling. This is not a score that I can just play as background music. It strips everything around me down to the bare and hopeless. This is why this score is still a very enjoyable listen. It makes me feel like the terminator is coming for me, I get much immersed in it, it becomes like a dream I’m having trouble waking up from. “Future flashback / Terminator infiltration” is a beautiful nightmare that slowly covers me and clings to me like metal spider webs, a terrible vision of doom that makes me yearn for something warm and tender. I get that with a track that is haunting, beautiful, intimate, but, in a way, still hopeless…The metal gets hot for a few minutes and in that desperate world, two souls find a way to connect and rebel against the cruel destiny. “Conversation by the window / Love scene”, a soft piano version of the main theme which plays over the scene where John Connor is conceived, is the highlight of the score for me. It’s color in a dark grey universe; it’s a seed of hope. I love this track!
“Reese’s Death/Terminator Sits Up/”You’re Terminated!”” is a cue that can sit proudly with the scariest horror tracks of them all. This is the scene that kept haunting me when I was a child, and the music fits it perfectly.
And immediately after it, comes the final cue of the score, a beautiful melody that starts with the simplest of piano notes and develops into another softer, tender variation of the main theme, one where The Terminator and his killing ways are no more.  “Sarah’s destiny / The coming storm” ends this first chapter in the saga and promises a new one….
My ratings:
Cue score: 81 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 36 / 72
Album excellence: 50%
Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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