Reviewing an original movie score is a strangely challenging task. On one hand, do you look at the score in terms of its interplay with the film, of how it aids and abets the characters and action within? Or rather, is the score to be considered a work in and of itself, much like a self-sufficient piece of music that holds its own? I honestly don’t know the answer to those questions and am instead going to look at both sides of the coin.
Danny Elfman is the mastermind behind the score to the latest edition to the Terminator series and as any movie buff knows, he’s no newcomer to the soundtrack scene. Elfman, aside from his start with Oingo Boingo, has scored a number of hit films and television series. Films like Tim Burton’s Batman, Beetlejuice, and more recently, the Spiderman franchise have all benefited greatly from Elfman’s skilled hands and have brought to life some truly compelling pieces of art that truly do stand alone as well as invigorate the films they accompany.
So how does Elfman’s soundtrack weigh in against these hefty accomplishments? As a score within the film, solidly. Elfman’s orchestrations fit the film well, bringing a near mechanical vibe to much of the film which keenly accents the elements of the machines within the movie. Much of this lends itself to a subtle coldness almost within the score, but again this only serves to highlight elements onscreen. A few more organic touches come via strings and some gentle piano that offer up some humanity but they’re sadly a bit few and far between. But, it’s a bleak film in some respects so that’s to be expected.
So as an accompaniment to one of 2009’s summer popcorn flicks, Elfman’s orchestrations are solid. The problem arises when you separate the music from its context. Removed from the film, the music suffers due to the very points that make it strong in context. As a standalone piece, one would expect the music to be moving and emotional. Unfortunately, Elfman’s score fails on this level. While a few tracks such as “The Harvester Returns” engage a solid pace with insistent strings and big horns, they just don’t break through. And the more organic pieces simply fall flat against their metallic counterparts.
As a whole and given it’s original purpose, Danny Elfman’s compositions for Terminator Salvation work. Within the movie, the music does what a score is supposed to do; it serves to highlight and accent the action onscreen. Off-screen, however, is another story. Fanboys may want the score to simply round out their collection but those looking for a more engaging listen would be well served to check out some of the artist’s more interesting work.