Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Return of Film Music

By Tony Buchsbaum

I was afraid film scores were dying. Movie after movie, I craved robust, thoughtful, melodic scores—and instead ended up with blood pouring from my ears. Even old standbys, the James Bond film scores, have under-delivered. The series' current composer, David Arnold, who held such promise early on, now creates scores that are utterly forgettable, devoid of any real coherence, save for the occasional melodic tease or muscular chase set-piece. Even if they work in the film—and I'm not at all sure they do—they certainly don't work as independent listening experiences. And say what you will, I like to listen to film scores afterward.

So when I heard that Hans Zimmer was composing the score for the new Angels & Demons movie, I tried to temper my anticipation. He did a pretty great job with his work on The Da Vinci Code, and I was, to be frank, afraid he'd muck this up but good, or simply retread his old work to the point of being, well, pointless.

But all my fears were for naught. Zimmer's score for Angels & Demons is nothing short of brilliant. It builds on the melodies he introduced in his Da Vinci Code score, bringing them a new sense of foreboding, a fresh humanity, and a manic propulsion. It's a combination I just adore.

The CD's opening track, titled "160 BPM," starts the experience off with a bang, forcing you to hold on for dear life. This piece for orchestra and choir is like the bastard child of "Tubular Bells," used to such great effect in The Exorcist. But there's far more color here, and a fearlessness that brings the music to life. Zimmer—with stunning confidence—juxtaposes unrelenting power with memorable melody in a perfect six minutes. As excited as I was to see the film, this managed to up my excitement into the stratosphere.

From here, Zimmer upgrades his themes from Da Vinci, layering on new ideas and weaving things together in beautiful ways. What I call his realization theme, heard so beautifully when Robert Langdon assembles the symbological pieces of the puzzle, is given exquisite new life here, especially in the last track, titled "503." At a point in history when film composing seems to be little more than an afterthought, here is a score than wakes the whole room up again. This is film music that does what it's supposed to do: It both grounds and enhances the film...and makes for a fantastic listen on its own.

I hope Angels & Demons is only the start of a summer bursting with great film music—and that when the chill of fall comes, the art isn't just alive again, but truly thriving.

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