Latest reviews of new albums:
Terminator: Dark Fate
  • Composed by Tom Holkenborg
  • Paramount / 58m

Long after all other life on earth has been extinguished, I suspect come summertime there will be a new Rambo movie (“definitely the last one” says Stallone) followed a few weeks later by a new Terminator movie (it is already impossible to tell whether Schwarzenegger is still a real person or not, so come a few decades’ time I suspect nobody will be able to tell). The great news for the two already-geriatric action heroes is that there won’t be anyone left to tell them how terrible the movies are. Terminator: Dark Fate seems to have been better-received than the last few entries in the series, but so too generally is news that you’ve contracted a venereal disease.

The music this time is very much worthy of the clap clinic and is provided by Tom Holkenborg. He finally wrote a score I thought wasn’t awful earlier in the year with Alita: Battle Angel (also produced by James Cameron… people wondering who’s going to score the Avatar sequels, prepare yourselves…) and Terminator: Dark Fate actually isn’t entirely awful either. Holkenborg pays appropriate respect to Brad Fiedel’s classic theme and some of its appearances are impressive, especially in the finale. His new Latin theme for the character of Dani is also very nice – and in “My Name Is Dani” when it’s first heard, there’s a very brief moment where the original Terminator theme is blended subtly into it on guitar which I really like. Aside from this, there’s a load of very loud action with Holkenborg’s trademark shit load of drumming – some people like it, I guess. I don’t. But I do like – as in actively like, not just “not hate” – the last three cues here. “For John” in particular is wonderful, with a genuine dramatic sweep to it that does suggest Alita may not have been a fluke. Do the last 13 minutes make the album worth buying? Probably not, but they’re worth streaming.

Rating: **

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  1. Peter (Reply) on Tuesday 12 November, 2019 at 23:04

    James, how do you pick what to review? I mean, you obviously dislike most of Holkenborg’s and Balfe’s work. This year had numerous interesting soundtracks like Endgame, Dumbo, Spider-Man: Far From Home, right now Ford v Ferrari that would be probably more to your liking.

    So why continually choose to review composers you dislike? What draws you to it? Do these reviews get more views? Or is it something else? Thanks.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 13 November, 2019 at 21:41

      Well to be honest there are various factors. I do much prefer writing about things I like but am also conscious that it’s pretty pointless to have a review site that only gives positive reviews. I actually get a lot of feedback these days that I’m too positive about everything.

      To be honest I didn’t think there was anything interesting enough about Dumbo that I could write about. I would have reviewed Endgame had it not been such a long album (which makes it much harder to review, the time investment is too much compared with the time available for writing), it’s one of my favourite scores of the year. I still hope to do that one before long. And Spider-Man, which I also liked.

      I know I don’t write as much as I used to but I still hope to have a somewhat balanced selection of things to review so it’s not too predictable.

      It’s a fascinating question. Thank you.

      • BMO (Reply) on Monday 18 November, 2019 at 11:06

        Honestly, I would actually like it if there was a site dedicated exclusively to positive reviews – if only because online arts commentary is so dominated by negativity (and there are so many online media outlets devoted exclusively to negative reviews) that a site dedicated to positivity would seem like a much needed breath of fresh air.

        I find it incredible that anyone would complain about you being “too positive” – so many of your reviews (even the positive ones) are burdened with comments moaning about how modern film music, on average, isn’t as mind-blowingly brilliant as the soundtracks that were made in the glory days of your youth… these sentiments have become something of a tired, predictable cliched element of your reviews.

        Just generally, it seems that the further something is removed from the traditional orchestral model of film scoring, the less likely you are to appreciate it… and the less substantial your review is likely to be, since your knowledge of more traditional orchestral techniques is impressive and your knowledge of pop/rock/electronica is rather less deep

        Honestly, I think it would be best if you just stuck to reviewing orchestral scores – that’s what you’re good at and that’s the genre that you have a personal affinity for.

        And please, drop the “angry old man ranting at what the kids are doing these days” schtick… this routine may have been funny once, but it has become tiresome through constant repetition.

        • James Southall on Monday 18 November, 2019 at 21:52

          Ah… thanks for the pep talk!

          (Seriously, thanks for the feedback.)

  2. whyaduck (Reply) on Tuesday 26 November, 2019 at 22:25

    James, I’ve been reading your site for years, always with pleasure, even when I disagree. I’ve also used it in the past to scroll through all the reviews , looking for 5 star soundtracks to obtain, sometimes by composers I didn’t know much about.

    I don’t agree that your reviews are too negative these days. I confess I’m much more of a Goldsmith, Barry fan and so my tastes for the outstanding probably align more with yours. So I can see why the generally lesser amount of great scores inevitably brings more negative reviews. I certainly don’t agree you simply recycle the so-called’ angry old man schtick”.

    But frankly, what if you do? Not everyone who drops by the site will read every review, so it’s a point worth repeating when a score is a thundering pile of shite and can’t hold a candle to some classic composers on their worst day. Why not send someone new to film score listening looking for great scores of the past? Let them decide for themselves whether Hans Zimmer is better than Jerry Goldsmith or Marco Beltrami than John Barry or Bernard Herrmann.

    There are a number of composers working today whose work I enjoy, including Beltrami, Zimmer, Brian Tyler, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman (though the last 2 are slipping into Silver Age status these days I guess).

    The joy of film music, like any genre (except rap and country & western of course; they are simply unlovable) is that there is something for everyone.

    The site is self-confessedly and unashamedly one very knowledgable person’s opinions of film music. Of course you have some biases but you also acknowledge them. Many reviewers don’t.

    So keep up the great work and rant on, my man!

    • DiscHoarder6598 (Reply) on Sunday 15 December, 2019 at 03:31

      I’ve also been following Southall’s reviews for over a decade, and I’m starting to notice the lazy repetition of his angry old man ranting against modern trends routine. Though I don’t think it’s an illegitimate point of view, I do think Southall has exhausted whatever comic appeal it used to have. It’s got to the point where it seems like he’s recycling stock phrases and writing to fill out a template, instead of coming up with wholly original reviews. What gets to me is the hypocrisy inherent in this. Southall complains about the repetition of tired motifs and composing within a limited template, but his reviews these days suffer from much the same narrow vision and lack of imagination. I thought it somewhat fitting that Southall has lavished such attention on James Horner in recent years, given Horner’s tendency to recycle and fall back on simplistically structured motifs with some frequency.