07/02/2003 9:30p ET
Dw Dunphy - Reviewer
Sometimes I think film composers have the hardest job in music. Their music seldom can be its own entity; instead it must rise, fall, sweeten, darken or scare according to what the accompanying movie dictates. So it’s tough to consider a CD of a motion picture score as an ordinary listen, handicapped as it is. It’s like staring at a Polaroid of an orchestra, trying to imagine what they’re playing.
Consider also the task set before composer Marco Beltrami. With Terminator 3 being his highest profiled assignment to date, he comes onto a project that has a massive following and almost none of the principal creators. He is expected to make his own music but is in the shadow of an almost iconic signature, as recognizable as the two-note strings of the “Jaws” theme, that “buh-dum, buh-dum, buh-dum, buh-dum”, sometimes considered the metallic heartbeat of the metal monster in the form of a man. The catch: write identifiable themes that recall the feeling of, but aren’t, the Terminator Theme. Yeah. Easy.
The most jarring part about the score is just how different it is from the previous two. The first Terminator had a ridiculously small scoring budget, leaving Fiedel to hand-sync keyboards to get whatever he needed into James Cameron’s “down and dirty sci-fi picture”. He had an upgrade on T2: Judgment Day, but even with a wider palate, bigger budget and touches of orchestral backup the sound was mainly that unearthly, inhuman synthesizer and that heavy, foreboding “buh-dum, buh-dum, buh-dum, buh-dum”. Cameron has no involvement with T3, not as director, writer, producer, consultant or remotely attached bean counter. Producers Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna and the one man in America who really wanted to see a T3, Arnold Schwarzenegger, run this latest show. Apparently, it was decided that the mainly synth approach wasn’t “big” enough so the decision to go orchestral came down.
I must say that Beltrami has produced a fairly confident series of cues and themes here, his instrumentation allowing for sequenced synths here and there to recall the almost entirely keyboard based scores by Fiedel. He has a strong feel for the genre blending of classical scoring and midi-based modernism, much like Hans Zimmer and Jerry Goldsmith before him. This comes through very clearly in John Connor’s theme, appropriately titled “JC Theme” with an assured orchestral build. You can hear the steel-jawed march of a Danny Elfman approach in there too. Beltrami is also giving the listener a bit of a wink when he subtly paraphrases Holst’s “Mars The Bringer of War” in “Terminator Tangle”.
And while I could appreciate this music as is, I still wanted to hear that beat, that dread sound and thought that, in the back of my mind, it might be cool to hear a fully orchestrated version of the original “Terminator Theme”. I was pleasantly surprised at the opening of track 18, the official “T3” theme as it did in fact play with the beat. It wasn’t the real deal but it was close enough. Ah, but there is one thing I continually forget about movies featuring Ah-Nold. No matter what it may be, or how low the lowest common denominator may go, he gives the people what they want. Beltrami turns in a fine orchestral tweaking of Brad Fiedel’s theme on track 19. Great. Excellent. End it there.
Immediately following is two of what everyone has come to expect from modern film scores: the obligatory pop songs. “I Told You”, written and performed by Mia Julia is a harmless trifle, another contender in the pop diva category, sneaking onto the credits. Fine. But “Open To Me”, music by Beltrami, lyrics written and sung by Dillon Dixon is ear-bleedingly insipid. It’s the kind of stuff you hear filtering in and out of a Baywatch episode, pop clichés about being tuff and standing strong strung together like a necklace made out of gallstones. America rid itself of the music of Survivor a long time ago. We don’t want Son of Survivor! Please, just shut it off!
In the final analysis, Marco Beltrami’s score is better than I expected and is a good listen despite the baggage it must carry. It does have a bit of a memento feel to it, something to recall the movie by, rather than being able to stand alone like Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings” scores or the best of John Williams. He shows great promise and certainly has his best work ahead of him, so long as he keeps the focus on the movie and not on how to squeeze a track onto the next “NOW” compilation. Fans of the movie, as well as committed film-music devotees should find it interesting.
Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
Rise of the Machines
Released: June 24, 2003
Hollywood Symphony Studio:
* Composed by Brad Fiedel