Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams / Fall on Your Sword
Labels: Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Milan
Suggested Retail Prices: $14.23 / $11.90
Grades: B+ / A
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One of those scores whose effectiveness tends to get trampled by sound effects’ thundering hooves, let alone laser blasts, COWBOYS AND ALIENS finds way greener pastures as its own listen. But then, Harry Gregson-Williams likely reckoned what he was in for given a title like this, let alone from pumping up the rhythmic danger of such audio-filled action spectaculars like WOLVERINE, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and PRINCE OF PERSIA. A top wrangler of the orchestra / rock / sample style that his mentor Hans Zimmer turned into the summer soundtrack rage, Williams delivers what could be called an understated score as far as these kind of things go. And that’s right in line with the brooding, if not sometimes downrightly grim tone that director Jon Favreau invests this otherwise entertaining film with. It’s a determination not to play into any jokiness the title might suggest, while trying to have some fun with it at the same time. And darned if Harry Gregson-Williams is going to be smirking behind his movie baron’s back, let alone on a score which is all about musical archetypes instead of in-jokes.
When Favreau previewed a scene from COWBOYS at last year’s San Diego Comicon, the first alien attack was impressively tracked with Jerry Goldsmith music, the emphasis far more on the fear of these unfathomable, unwelcome visitors than playing any “action” music as such. While it’s cool to think what Goldsmith would have done for this picture if he were still around, it’s pretty much inconceivable that Hollywood would allow a solidly traditional orchestral approach. But given the musical fusion direction that COWBOYS was destined to go in, Harry Gregson-Williams has done a good job at capturing that intent, let alone rustling up the usual western suspects with thematic grit. Our hero enters with a rousing motif for electric guitar, orchestra and clip-clop percussion, yet with an eeriness that tells us something is off indeed. The destroyed town’s posse rides out for some green-blooded payback with a gallant, galloping symphony that’s also driven by a rhythmic rock-based approach. Where these two sonic layers might have been pure anachronism thirty years ago, they’re especially seamless here thanks to Williams’ long-acquired finesse at blending musical tradition and the once-shock of the new.
While COWBOYS is anything but a period score, The Duke’s noble spirit, not mention Clint’s hardcase vibrancy, hold their heads high. But if COWBOYS hearkens back to any vigilante that Williams has meted out vengeance for, then it’s likely Logan from WOLVERINE. Beating a guy’s head to a pulp for starters (and doing worse to a-hole aliens later), Williams gives Daniel Craig’s Man With No Identity a feeling of military force and psychological anguish, an approach that gives the score an overall solemn, even meditative feel for all of its excitement. Even darker is the truly terrifying, visceral effects and metallic banging for the toad-like fiends (with one particular nerve-jumping bit right at home on Jerry’s ALIEN range). Mysterious voices complement the frightening mystery of these “demons,” making the musical odds all the more fearsome for humans who won’t have the word “aliens” in their vocabulary for quite a while. Yet there’s some nice bits of twinkling guitars and hummingbird flutes to give COWBOYS its odd bits of unfulfilled romance and male bonding before our villains’ sinister music arrives to get things back on the popcorn path.
COWBOYS AND ALIENS solidly delivers pretty much everything you’d expect, and want from a score with that moniker, combining sci-fi weirdness, sagebrush do-gooding and propulsive action music du jour into a listen that goes down smooth, right to the final shot of a lone guitar gunslinger heading into the horizon. There might not be a new musical sheriff in this town in either of the two titular approaches, but Harry Gregson Williams shoots mighty straight with both of them,
Nothing says “sci fi” like the bleeping weirdness of electronics, whether it’s Louis and Bebe Baron’s bizarre, futuristic frequencies in FORBIDDEN PLANET, the pulsing, eerie sterility that Gil Melle brought to THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, or the sinister, metallically grinding synths that Brad Fiedel constructed THE TERMINATOR’s killer robot with. But now with the dance vibes of rave and hip-hop finding their way into film scoring, courtesy of such performers-turned-composers as B.T. (GO) and The Chemical Brothers (HANNA), let alone Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Oscar win for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, electro sci-fi scoring has somehow become a warmer, more energetic place, if no less eerier and artificial. A great, energetic case in point was how Daft Punk turned the cold game grid of TRON LEGACY into a giant day-glo after-hours club, their catchy beats the real ecstasy on hand in a musical world that was unmistakably created, and populated by fantastical machines.
You’d think that Daft was spinning at the End of Line Club again whilst listening to ANOTHER EARTH, except here it’s Fall On Your Sword that captures that techno genie sound in a bottle. But even if there’s nothing as remotely exciting as a light cycle chase on this EARTH, the tell-tale rave energy delivers while bringing on an entirely different, organically intimate scope- something that’s right in tune with this metaphysical, kitchen-sink sci-fi indie that spends way too much time cleaning the kitchen sink. It’s truly in this entrancing score by the Brooklyn-based team of Will Bates and Phil Mossman that the big counter-earth ideas that ANOTHER EARTH maddeningly flirts with do the dirty deed,
The ever-growing mirror orb of ANOTHER EARTH is introduced through a near Casio sound, which is quickly joined by other old school state-of-the-art keyboards to create a cool, catchy retro groove theme. But Sword steadily reveals their work’s surreal, poignant quality, again apropos for a morose heroine whose life (and many others) is screwed by a quick glance to the sky. Synths seamlessly, and hauntingly merge with the more down to earth elements of a piano and violin. Their themes are caught between solo mourning and an ironic waltz as chattering percussion, sampled voices and alt. pop rhythms threaten to launch into some unheard Eurythmics song. Sword’s eclectic, and constantly intriguing musical vision is caught between the dream of the stars and the gravity of the Earth- work that’s as futuristically offbeat as it is tangibly emotional, even moving in a way that something purely composed of wires and circuit breakers couldn’t be.
With ANOTHER EARTH, Fall On Your Sword makes us hear the bigger cosmic mysteries the film itself neglects to indulge in, all as heard through a haunted, human perspective. Better yet, you still get the electro-groove ear candy that’s been the stuff of space travel since United Planets’ Cruiser C57-D touched down on Altair IV. Here, it’s the score that truly takes off towards tender imagination.