Composer: Brian Tyler
Label: Varese Sarabande / Lion’s Gate Records
Suggested Retail Price: $13.99
Though he’s earned genre street cred with his creepily creative scores for the likes of BUBBA HO-TEP, FRAILTY and CHILDREN OF DUNE, it’s been raw action riffs that have sped Brian Tyler up the Hollywood ladder with the speed of a Ferrari on Nox. Hitting the big time in style when he replaced Jerry Goldsmith on TIMELINE, Tyler delivered a bombastically melodic score that the Maestro would probably have dug. Since then, Tyler’s talent for bringing contemporary samples and rock beats into that old symphonic warhorse has made him shine in such aggressive scores as TOKYO DRIFT, WAR, PAPARAZZI, AVP2 and RAMBO. Now for two films that have no shortage of foot chases, property destruction and gunplay, Tyler demonstrates the Ying and Yang of how to play action with EAGLE EYE possessing enough frenzy to keel over Jason Bourne, and BANGKOK DANGEROUS intercutting its rhythmic bloodletting with peaceful melodic Zen. You could almost snatch a grasshopper from Tyler’s hand while listening to it, if a techno-orchestral gun wasn’t already occupying his palm.
That weapon is going off full force in EAGLE EYE, a score with almost zero down time, which makes for a listen that’s as exciting as it is exhausting at over 70 minutes. Tyler unleashes action run after action run, the wind-up to the electro-symphonic frenzies often going on for six minutes at a pop. Yet it’s Tyler’s talent for The Big Theme that prevents this from turning into a fiery morass of notes. EAGLE EYE is that rare combo of excitement and melody, as Tyler weaves and ducks through the musical pursuits, getting juice from every nook and cranny of his military brass, hot strings and raging percussion. For a movie that’s a wonderfully goofy riff on WAR GAMES, Tyler’s score has the same edge-of-doom grandeur that composer Arthur Rubinstein gave to that John Badham classic- that is if Rubinstein’s music had about twenty times as many notes.
The antecedents of pop action are all over the place in EAGLE EYE, from the dissonant brass of MATRIX to the non-stop rhythm of BOURNE. But Tyler’s talent is to take what’s worked and make it his own crazy beast. If you somehow feel that the BOURNE scores were more of the same, then EAGLE EYE is the “old school” antidote, keeping a constant thematic track through its explosions, with a symphonic sound that’s definitely on top. And it’s that old school, yet groovy quality that might make EAGLE EYE just as popular as BOURNE when filmmakers are looking for their next big action score to temp with.
While EAGLE EYE takes inspiration from top of the chart action soundtracks, the spirit of Jerry Goldsmith is very much alive here. The ghost of Vejur from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is very much alive here, especially as this super villain’s sci-fi grandeur is communicated with a similarly eerie use of strings and piano. And when the action cools down for a precious few seconds here and there, Tyler shows off his ability for sad, sympathetic writing, the kind of stuff that makes the heroes into believable, human figures as they’re buffeted about by the big-ass music.
If the cool insanity of EAGLE EYE sends you into cardiac arrest, a far more mellow, if no less muscular Tyler score can be found in BANGKOK DANGEROUS. But that’s to be given, as this is a far less “showy” action movie (if no less a nifty one), with Nicolas Cage’s assassin spending as much time mooning over a deaf pharmacist as he does killing people. Tyler comes up with one of his most beautiful themes in BANGKOK, its piano and strings echoing the sad loneliness of its ennui-ridden killer, and the lethal state of grace he dwells in.
Quite a bit of time in BANGKOK is spent in this thematic company, and it casts a hypnotic lull that makes the score’s more aggressive moments all the more powerful. Tyler’s musical spirituality echo the kind of ethereal reverence that western composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer have paid to the Orient in such scores as MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and THE LAST SAMURAI. When it comes to taking care of business, Tyler’s action grooves are somewhere between Massive Attack techno-orchestra and the 80’s synth vibes of kickass martial arts scores like RAPID FIRE and SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO, a retro vibe that’s a fun punch to the head.
But whatever tone he’s after, Tyler is sure to seamlessly mix his riffs with enticing musical exotica, strings and samples combining with ethnic gamelans and drums, a miasma of place and danger that you can hear with the tangibility of a street market. His DANGEROUS is the musical equivalent of a stranger in a strange land, discovering itself while at the same time coming to a kick ass realization of its destiny, action that delivers the goods in a botched assassination and the payback-getting stalk n’ shoot which usually climaxes pictures of this sort. The fact that BANGCOCK arrives at that destination more subtly than you’d expect is one of the many entrancing surprises here.
From the scream of EAGLE EYE to the whispers of BANGKOK DANGEROUS, Brian Tyler is at the top of his action game, pumping the adrenalin like few of the young Turks who are re-defining the sound of Hollywood mayhem. And while Tyler can certainly do more than kick it for a car crash, his success at scores like these are sure to make his non-genre pit stops less frequent. For there’s always another hyper-cut chase around the corner that’s begging Tyler’s talent, a way of always holding onto thematic melody even as he’s outrunning the next explosion.