Terminator Genisys starts out with faces you may not know, but names Terminator fans will recognize: Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney) and John Connor (now played by Jason Clarke) are in the middle of the course altering Resistance constantly referenced throughout the previous Terminator movies. Thanks to these previous movies, John has knowledge that has helped him thwart the machines and it looks like he is now (finally) leading the Resistance to success.
But before the machines fall, a 1980s styled T-800 Terminator travels back in time to where The Terminator first began. This is where the timeline of the former movies and Genisys starts to get confusing and Genisys essentially re-writes things, giving a nod to the past while moving the story into a slightly new future.
Thanks to this timeline overlap, audiences get to see Arnold Schwarzenegger fight his past self and it results in one of the film’s best action scenes of new literally meeting old. We laugh when we see the beefy, perfectly coifed 1984 Schwarzenegger, but this scene would have gotten some added bravado had Brad Fiedel’s synth laden theme from The Terminator played over his arrival.
Genisys composer Lorne Balfe, explains, “Even though it is part of a successful franchise, we still wanted to create an original score that paid homage to Brad Fiedel’s famous themes, but also created a new sound for the new story.”
Alan Taylor, Genisys’s director, gives subtle nods to the 1980s with the older computers and technology Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke) and “Pops” (Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed T-800 with heart) are using to try and create their own time machine. But the film also gives some very obvious nods to The Terminator’s past thanks to the appearance from Schwarzenegger’s original T-800, the shape shifting police men with silver spears for arms, Terminators emerging from flames, Sarah saying, “Get in if you want to live,” even the photo of 1980s Sarah and her bandana – they all make appearances here. But where is the sound of the 1980s? Where is that unmistakable synth beat?
Considering the myriad of other on-the-nose acknowledgements to the original film, it seems only natural that the 1980s synth that drove The Terminator would be featured as well, even if it would keep Genisys’ score from being wholly original. Synth was a staple of the 1980s so it was more a choice of the times than solely creative, but it never worked better than in a film about technology and machines.
Balfe’s score is much more modern with big orchestration and driving percussion that sounds like it could play just as well in one of the Fast and the Furious films, and for the second half of the film that puts Kyle and Sarah in 2017 this version works. But the first half of the film is primarily set in 1984 where we see multiple images and moments that made The Terminator so iconic, but we do not hear it.
As i09’s Germain Lussier noted after seeing the film:
I saw Terminator Genisys tonight too. I admire it for really, really trying to make something of the franchise but I just never cared.
— Germain Lussier (@GermainLussier) June 26, 2015
The Terminator is a film with a fan base that deserves more than a few affirmations, which essentially unravel everything we know about this story. Yes – in doing so it makes Genisys work as a stand alone film, and one that new fans can find and grasp on to, but this is not a franchise just starting out – it is one that helped define the 1980s and The Terminator director James Cameron’s career.
Balfe notes, “We wanted to create a hybrid score that contains so many different elements, including massive action cues, a lot of emotion and personal tones to convey both the progression of the character development and the deep relationship between Sarah Connor and the Terminator.” And Balfe succeeds in doing so, but in a film that takes the time to revisit 1984 and so many moments from The Terminator, it is hard not to miss that classic ’80s synth which would have helped add some fun and camp to the overall film.
The heart of both The Terminator and Genisys is Sarah Connor who is a complex combination of grit and raw emotion. But the lack of consistently quieter moments to help develop (or remind audience’s of) Sarah’s vulnerability in Genisys end up softening her overall impact of the film, instead of increasing it.
Sarah has developed an incredibly close relationship with “Pops,” but it is difficult for the true extent of that relationship to take hold when the music has to contend with these moments being featured in scenes with someone potentially falling to their death or getting ripped apart. Sarah is supposed to fall in love with Kyle, and the two have a lengthy discussion about why this can or cannot happen between all the mayhem, but this scene would have played better had Taylor allowed his characters to show their feelings, instead of telling us about them (as well as giving Balfe the chance to slow things down to fully accommodate these more emotional moments).
Genisys takes audiences on a ride with enough twists and turns to give you whiplash and Balfe keeps pace with the narrative thanks to a score that keeps the action ever moving forward, but after a while the race against this ever changing time line starts to feel more exhausting than exhilarating. The stakes are high in both The Terminator and Genisys, but Genisys comes across a bit too serious while The Terminator’s synth driven action felt a bit more amusing.
Terminator Genisys may pay homage to The Terminator, but it does not quite sound like it and because it lacks some key elements from the original score, the overall impact of Genisys falls a bit flat and makes it hard to care about this new timeline (or the new faces on it).