The opening titles to James Cameron’s The Terminator are preceded by a prologue with opening text that outlines the nucleus of what is at stake in the film ahead. Over a cold, blue grey desolate future battleground, sleek automated machines, in the air and, on the ground, grinding human skulls into the dust, sweep remorselessly across the screen, hunting the last remaining human resistance. These Hunter Killers (HK’s) are shot from below, emphasising the perspective of the hunted against seemingly impossible opposition. The year is 2029 AD, the place, Los Angeles…
Brad Fiedel’s menacing low hum background score builds into the iconic theme tune, as the synopsis fades, and the lettering of the title and credits begins to sweep back and forth across the frame, too big to be made out fully at first. Their size filling the frame suggests that the might of the machines is all pervasive. Also, the sweeping motion and cross-cutting, further suggest the singular, methodical and remorseless nature of their programming – to destroy all human life that stands in their way. This idea will be reinforced by the Terminator’s mission in our present, to kill Sarah Connor, the imminent mother of future resistance leader John Connor, in a “retroactive abortion.”
Composer Brad Fiedel was at one time a keyboard player for the pop duo Hall & Oates. His scores for the first two Terminator films are his crowning achievement. To create the iconic “clank” over the relentless percussive thump, Fiedel recorded an unconventional sound effect, the hitting of a microphone with a cast iron skillet, to achieve that rhythmic tone. “I had the film throbbing inside me at a gut level – da-da-dum-da-dum. I don’t know where that came from. That was the way my solar plexus felt about the Terminator.” When Cameron heard the demo, he immediately declared, “That’s the movie.”
What is also so pleasing about the main theme is how simply it can become a bittersweet love theme for Sarah and Kyle, played on piano during their love scene. A quite detailed analysis of not only the theme but Fiedel’s entire score can be found here.