The score for Terminator: Dark Fate is basically Tom Holkenborg in his action element with Brad Fiedel’s iconic theme, and so naturally it is absolutely fantastic.
When Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a Junkie XL) was announced as composer for the new Terminator movie, I was absolutely thrilled. Having previously listened to and highly enjoyed his action-heavy works for The Dark Tower, Mortal Engines and Alita: Battle Angel I was pretty well convinced that he was the right composer for the job. Holkenborg seems to be at his best with dark action score rich with thematic material, which makes him (in my mind, anyway) a damned good fit for scoring a Terminator movie. Having now listened to his Dark Fate score more than a few times, I can safely say that he was most definitely the right choice.
The score begins with Terminated, and pretty much right off the bat you can tell two things about the album; the first being that it’s most definitely composed by Junkie XL (as his signature loud and imposing scoring style didn’t hesitate to appear), and the second that it absolutely belongs in a Terminator movie, as before long the now practically iconic Brad Fiedel Terminator theme drums arrive – this time in a loud, dramatic and purely orchestral manner. While is also a slight synth backdrop to the music here, it’s clear straight away that we’re not getting the Fiedel-style electronics for this score, which is admittedly a bit of a shame, but then again – the orchestra here sounds fantastic.
My Name Is Dani then softens the score up a bit, introducing these Mexican-style guitars to establish a much lighter mood before then moving into one of the new themes for the movie. Well, actually it’s a bit of a mishmash motif, as the opening notes of it are from Fiedel’s original Terminator theme, and after that the music then heads in a completely different direction. Considering that Dark Fate‘s Dani is supposed to be rather John Connor-like, this theme actually makes a lot of sense – it brings the original motif in initially to make the Terminator connection before then moving off into a new style for the new protagonist. And speaking of character motifs, in the next track we have rather intriguingly a theme that isn’t actually a theme (at least in the traditional sense) to represent Dark Fate‘s villain; REV 9. Rising and repeating synth notes in combination with distorted electronics form the baseline, as the composer has opted here to not actually use a recognisable motif, instead utilising sheer atmosphere to establish this dark, foreboding and rather menacing score for the new Terminator’s theme.
Rapid percussion then opens subsequent cue Iron Spike, with the rising villainous synths from the previous track returning within a few seconds to strike fear into the heart of the listener. Frantic electronics rise and fall in the background, with Holkenborg’s signature-sounding dramatic brass then making a short appearance towards the end before the cue then draws to a rapid close. Enter Sarah then picks up where it left off, throwing the loud percussion right back into the mix before injecting the iconic Fiedel-style Terminator drums for a few sadly brief seconds before (much like the last track) then briskly finishing up just shy of the sixty second mark. Grace then slows things down again, with the composer once again utilising atmosphere over motif to represent Mackenzie Davis’ new character. Slow and rather solemn strings take the spotlight for much of the track, with some fast-paced percussion coming in briefly at about the two minute mark before the pensiveness and slow pace then returns to finish up the cue. Overall it’s a rather melancholic theme for the character, and in terms of grabbing my attention it doesn’t quite work as well as REV-9, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pretty enjoyable track.
Frantic action cue The Wall is really interesting, as Holkenborg intriguingly adds an alarm sound effect to accompany his standard dramatic brass and percussion throughout the cue. Adding sound effects to score is usually something that’s frowned upon by soundtrack enthusiasts such as myself, but I have to say that here it actually works quite well, as it adds another level of tension of top of the already heart-racing orchestra. Deep and sinister electronics then open next track Terminator, with slow strings slowly rising in the background until the mood switches into melancholy, accompanied by solemn, quiet vocals and some almost imperceptible brass. The signature Junkie XL action style then returns in full force with C5, where fast-paced strings and towering brass go hand-in-hand with the rising synth REV-9 theme to overall create a particularly intense four minute action setpiece.
You Saved Me returns to the rather melancholic tonal territory of previous tracks, though this time in a far sadder manner with slow, sweeping strings and drawn out brass notes. The cue begins with said strings, gradually building up both in intensity and volume over much of its five minute runtime, and slowly adding more instrumentation and emphasizing the brass until the cue’s particularly poignant and climactic final few seconds. Dark electronics then open Screaming Turbines, with imposing percussion assembling in the background alongside REV-9‘s rising synths until we are then treated to a triumphant yet sadly brief rendition of Fiedel’s Terminator theme. Horror-like strings and the REV-9 theme take over the remaining minutes of the track, with the action then continuing through into the eight-minute action extravaganza For John. Strings-based buildup occurs for the first few minutes before the traditional Junkie XL percussion then arrives with loud, almost heroic-sounding brass. Towards the end of the cue things then slow down for a particularly solemn strings-based rendition of the Terminator theme, one that’s (intriguingly) very reminiscent of Brad Fiedel’s It’s Over track from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The mournful strings then continue through into the opening few seconds of Epilogue, with a rather hopeful Terminator theme then arriving on brass to cheer things up a bit, becoming louder and more dramatic until the sombre tone pretty much disappears entirely in favour of the epic Terminator score we’ve been waiting for – at which point the track then ends. Not to worry though as the composer has us covered with Dark Fate, the final track, end credits suite and standout cue of the album. As you’ve probably already guessed, it is of course Tom Holkenborg’s thankfully rather lengthy take on Fiedel’s Terminator theme. The previously introduced Mexican-style guitars get meshed with loud, powerful brass and heroic percussion for four minutes of incredibly epic score, and to say this track put a smile on my face would be an absolute understatement.
Overall, Tom Holkenborg’s score for Terminator: Dark Fate is absolutely superb. He’s always rather been in his element with dark and dramatic action music, and so he feels right at home as a composer here. Said cues here are of his typical loud and thrilling style, and hearing Fiedel’s Terminator theme alongside them at various intervals just makes them even better (see For John). The softer side of the score is also pretty good, with cues like My Name Is Dani and You Saved Me being great examples of how Holkenborg isn’t just good at composing fast-paced orchestra. Perhaps my only complaint is that I feel the score could actually have done with a couple more action cues, along with a few more appearances of the original Terminator theme as well as the composer’s new Dark Fate motifs.
Other than being a little thematically underutilised though Holkenborg’s efforts here form an excellent score, and one I find well worthy of the Terminator franchise.
Standout Cue: 18. Dark Fate