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So I'm flipping channels and find The Terminator on AMC. And it was just starting! It's been a while since I've seen it in its entirety, so I decided to give it my full attention.

The thing that strikes me immediately: Sound design with a purpose. This is a soundtrack that tells a story right from the first scene. It is not sound for the sake of sound, but rather with the intent of immersing you in a time and place, specifially Los Angeles, circa 1984. The trash truck's groans and squeals, all air pistons and clanging forks. Wonderful.

The fights, gun shots, and gun foley are incredibly powerful and beautifully detailed. The shootout in Tech-Noir, the attack on the police station: Brutal. Unforgiving. Uncensored.

The smashes, crashes and general mayhem are expertly executed. The car chase through the garages and underpasses: Exciting and clean. This track is really a study in how the right sound can make the scene; you can tell that the redundant layering of elements (as many editors/designers work today) is very much absent here. Each sound is proudly presented and put right out front to affect the viewer and keep the story moving.

Does it sound dated? Well, some parts of it do. But be forgiving, this film was released in 1984! And for the number of sounds that sound a bit lo-fi, there are double that number that sound crisp and full of life, ie. the automatic weapons, the terminator vision fx. (I wonder, though, how much of the sound I heard was a product of the restoration that was completed by the folks at Skywalker Sound?) If anyone out there was involved in the making of this track or know someone who was, would you please enlighten us with stories?

Of course, having a director, producer and picture editor that nurture and demand this level of prowess is critical. Too many middling, timid filmmakers have caved in on boldly-presented sound, and it's rare for a film's visual style to be so excellent as to be able to support such a track.

David Campling, the supervising sound editor credited on IMDB, deserves a huge round of applause for his attention to detail. If you haven't seen this movie in a long time, I encourage you to watch it soon!

  • Great commentary. Next time I watch a movie at home, I'll pick that one. Thanks Jay! – Andrew Spitz Aug 18 '10 at 13:50
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    Nice post Jay, I hope these become a habit. – Steve Urban Aug 18 '10 at 15:04
  • I'm adding it my Netflix cue now, thanks Jay. I've been re-watching a lot of films that I haven't seen in years to pay more attention to sound design. It's like I've never watched them before! – Dan2997 Aug 18 '10 at 23:29
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In response to @Ryan's question/answer:

"Terminator" was most likely cut on mag film, before the days when multitrack tape was in fashion in LA post-production sound facilities. If you're not familiar with mag, it is film stock that is used exclusively for sound purposes, and comes in either 16mm or 35mm, full-coat or striped. It has perforations along the edge (4 perforations equalling 1 second) which are threaded around the sprockets of the machine (think Moviola or Magnatech dubbers), By unthreading and physically moving the film forward or backward the desired number of perfs, you effectively offset your track.

Cutting on mag predates my time in the industry and, as such, I may be misinformed on some of this. So, calling all you veterans out there, please chime and and correct my mistakes! (For the bettering of the group, of course!)

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  • @Jay Thanks, Jay! That is smart - and you get a quarter-frame accuracy!!! – Utopia Aug 19 '10 at 16:40
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Extending Chuck and Ryan's little conversation from the other day:

Knowing that you worked on Terminator: Salvation, I was wondering if you could elaborate on what (if anything) goes into retaining a feel across a series. Were there discussions with the director, or specific attention within sound editorial to making sure that the new translated to the same world as the original? Were elements pulled off the mags of the original to be incorporated into the new soundtrack? Or are the time lines so removed, both in the story and in production, that you just want to tip your hat to it without actually using the exact same elements?

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    @Steve, our experience on T4 was one of breaking new ground while being mindful of all that came before. McG did have discussions with the sound crew about how important the Terminator films were to him and that his film was scripted, designed and filmed to fit into that universe. As we went through the sound design process we seized whatever opportunities we could to pay homage to the earlier films when it made sense with the story, although our film was really in a whole different reality than T1-3. Thanks for asking! – Jay Jennings Aug 19 '10 at 5:51
  • @Jay I agree. It was in a future and not many parts of the first 3 took place in that time period so I doubt anyone would recall the sound palette from the small snippets of the future from the earlier one. +1 for those cool mechanical oscillator things you guys found that the guy talks about in the soundworks profile - sounded great. And the motorcycles sounded great, too. Were you on that recording day too? – Utopia Aug 19 '10 at 16:43
  • I apologize if I went off-topic a bit there... – Utopia Aug 19 '10 at 16:44

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