Musings About Music In Film

Sequencing: The Terminator (1984)

Terminator04 It's over. The area is in flames, fragments of exploded truck strewn everywhere. The heroine and the hero embrace in relief, ecstatic that their love will now survive their fate. Suddenly they catch sight of shifting metal and see a nightmarish vision rise before them. The hunt is still on - and the hunter will absolutely not stop until Sarah Connor is dead.

One of the most iconic images in a movie full of iconic images is the scene of the Terminator endoskeleton rising from the flames in a violent act of mechanical rebirth. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese look on in terror as their adversary comes back in tried and tested slasher killer style - the film may be seen as science fiction but the scene is straight out of the horror playbook: think Michael Myers sitting up in the background while Laurie Strode recovers in the fore in Halloween. The Terminator is now in its pure robot form, shorn of its imitiative skin. Death via a hyper-alloy combat chassis.

In the opening of the scene, Brad Fiedel uses an organic sounding synth string effect in the background as Sarah wanders the street looking for Kyle, the descent in scale mimicking her steadying heartbeat. As she finds him, bloodied and bruised and surprisingly alive, we get an emotional rendition of the main theme, again very much a sense of relief but also emphasising the romance between them (the main theme is actually a love theme, a contrast to the thudding metallic percussion and repeated ostinato of the title character). "We did it Kyle," she says, "we got it!" But they didn't.

As the metal begins to move and a figure rises, we see Kyle's face of amazement and panic, as if to say "oh god, not again", together with Sarah's shocked screaming. The shot of the Terminator rising from the fire is composed brilliantly, with the huddled figures of Sarah and Kyle in the foreground, surrounded by fire.

And with the rise of the endoskeleton, Fiedel brings in big broad metallic strokes with reverb that sounds like a robotic choir. It's a real "we're fucked" moment, the relentless programmed notes underlining the unstoppable challenge the pair have ahead of them. What's great is the way Fiedel sets up the scene to barely give the audience a breather. The one little bit of relief comes with the love theme, which acts as a signifier to the end of the ordeal, but it's violently interrupted by the music of the Terminator once again. Couple that nightmarish score with the image of the endoskeleton's silhuoutte against a backdrop of fire, and you have a scene equally powerful musically as well as visually. He'll be back indeed. -CB