Music for the Apocalypse #31: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Theme), by Brad Fiedel

by Apocalypse Womble

Please go view the original footage here - it’s just too awesome, but they don’t allow embedding with that video, so I used the above.

Anyway, this may be the very greatest music ever to have been written for the apocalypse. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is my very favourite film, and this music is a significant part of the rich tapestry that forms one of the most evocative apocalypse movies ever to have been created.

It is, simply put, a masterpiece. It starts out with the distinctive drums. Big and martial and regular, and combined with the visual on a slow zoom in, first to the fire of apocalypse itself, and then to the name of the film, rendered in cold steal – the approach of war, the approach of the end. And that drum beat combining with the harsh metallic clang that forms the palpable presence of a Terminator within the theme – its regular beat underscores the martial human drums with something more relentless. We hear the measured pace of a killing machine in that sound, recalling the terminator’s relentless pursuit of Sarah Connor from the first movie, as well as Kyle Reese’s relentless, beat-driven warning:

It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

 Yet, even as these beats tell us of the approaching war, of the terminators, of Judgement Day, this incredible, melancholy swell of hope rolls out along with the fire. Because this is not just about the killer robots that are coming to get you, it is also about John Connor – the boy Skynet is trying to kill, the boy who may one day be the man who will be our hope, who will form a rallying point for the resistance. And more than that, because in this film the question is also raised of stopping the war before it even begins – of defying Skynet and avoiding that bleak future altogether.

This whole film is written on the edge of a knife – on the edge of night – on the edge of possibility. The main lighting state is one of eternal sunset, echoing and reinforcing these two notes in the theme: of the hope and fear that an unfated life, a self-directed life, may take. A life of responsibilities – those of the whole world, in the case of John Connor, and the woman whose responsibility is to raise him and hone him into the weapon he must be; and also for Miles Dyson, too, who must face his own responsibility in helping to create that terrible future. The weight of responsibility is there in those heavy beats as well, and in the minor notes of the (synthesised?) strings that form the hopeful swell and fall back down into sad, laden, low notes again.

This film is called ‘Judgement Day’ and so it opens with the judgement itself – the flames of thermonuclear war – and in the slow-motion pan over burning play equipment the weight of responsibility could not be more palpable. It also puts up front the relationship that is at the centre of this movie: that of a mother to her child, and that same mother to all other children. She is haunted by visions of children who ‘look like burnt paper’ as they are torn apart by the coming apocalypse. As a mother herself, the vision is unbearable, and yet to stop it she has robbed her own son of a true childhood, burdening him with truths few adults could sanely believe. The music combines with these images of burnt innocence to form our opening impression of both a great and terrible moment approaching – a tipping point, where the world will be lost, or saved – and the terror and wonder that must face the people at the centre of that storm.

So, yeah, I think it’s pretty good. If ever I’m travelling down a black-top highway towards the unknown, this is the music I want playing.

The Terminator 2 soundtrack is available from Amazon.

 - Apocalypse Womble out.

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