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In the Heart of the Sea
  • Composed by Roque Baños
  • WaterTower Records / 2015 / 72m

Based on the true story that inspired Moby Dick, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy as the crew of a whaling boat who encounter one who decides to fight back.  The film has received a mixed response and has been a box office disaster.  Howard used to work with a variety of composers but in recent years has built up a strong relationship with Hans Zimmer, who scored his previous five dramatic films, so it was a surprise to see the name of the talented Spanish composer Roque Baños announced for this one (whether it was part of a deal to get a Spanish tax break – the film was partially filmed in the country’s Canary Islands – I don’t know).  It wasn’t entirely a promising-seeming move that the composer shifted himself to Zimmer’s Remote Control studio to work on the score – the danger seemed to be that he would dilute his own strong style and try to write a blockbuster score in the style of Zimmer instead.  Sadly, that’s what he did, and large parts of the score sound like they could have been written by one of Zimmer’s numerous, lesser, associates; not entirely unlike the situation with the composer’s countrymen Alberto Iglesias’s Exodus: Gods and Kings and Fernando Velázquez’s Hercules, in fact, but this score is even more starved of its composer’s personality than either of them.

With entirely generic modern action music, the orchestra buried behind the standard ubiquitous synth percussion, rather overcooked dramatic swells that occur so often they lose impact, the score is largely without nuance or seemingly any particular regard to the specifics of the film.  Much of it could be from any generic modern thriller or tv series.  The tragedy of this is that Baños is an exceptionally talented composer and on the one hand I can’t believe he would have written this music by his own choice; but this is odd, because Ron Howard has never seemed to have any problem with his composers writing expressive music full of their own personality in the past, whether Zimmer, James Horner or whoever.  Having said that – this is a long album and there are certainly some good moments, many of them in the final third.  The middle of “The Attack” features some rollicking action music (shame about the beginning and end); “Abandon Ship” is clearly modelled on “Chevaliers de Sangreal” but it would have had real impact had there not been so many “THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!” cues throughout the preceding hour or so.  The best music is in “Homecoming”, a truly beautiful melody emerging after two and a half minutes on solo voice, then taken up by the strings; the melody is explored further in the subsequent “The Story is Told” which develops a gorgeous Morricone-type swell from the strings.  It’s exquisitely done and inevitably makes one wish such finesse had been applied to the rest of the score.  This is a long album and had it been more restricted it would have been a much more solid package, but it’s really a shame that the quality that does shine through in the end couldn’t have been more widespread.  It’s back to business as usual for Howard as Zimmer returns for his next movie; let’s hope it’s back to business as usual for Baños too and next time he gets to work on such a high-profile film, he is able to actually be Roque Baños.

Rating: ** 1/2

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  1. Ian Smith on Saturday 16 January, 2016 at 21:54

    I’m currently reading the book upon which this film was based. How on earth does someone make a bad film about such compelling material? Shameful. The score seems typical of this misguided, dysfunctional project. Such a pity. The book and real events deserved better.

  2. André on Tuesday 19 January, 2016 at 18:49

    I saw the movie and with the pictures the score works good. The movie is for me the best movie with classic ships since Master And Commander. Roque Banos has done a better work than Christopher Gorden for Master And Commander. But I agree, that the music could be better. That was alos the case with Christopher Gorden for master And Commander although Gorden did a fantastic outer sea score for the two part television version of Moby Dick with Patrick Stewart.
    It´s now again a missed opportunty to write a great sea – score like Christopher Gordons Moby Dick or John Debneys masterpiece Cutthroat Island. In a whole Banos s work is for me more a 3 and a half score.
    Sailing ships and great movie music would be in these years a wonder. Sadly!

  3. Kalman on Monday 1 February, 2016 at 19:16

    It’s probably my luck that I hadn’t heard anything from Banos before this score so I can’t compare it to his other scores or his usual style. But I must tell you I love this score! It seems James and I heard two different albums. For me this is one of the best of 2015! Melodic, exciting, and it’s one of those rare score albums where the 70+ minutes length doesn’t seem too long at all. 4 and a half stars!

  4. Michael on Monday 8 February, 2016 at 16:35

    “the orchestra buried behind the standard ubiquitous synth percussion”. Baños said that the full score is organic, excluding the use of modified whale sounds, which he used them as notes. All the synths you hear in the score are natural sounds. Sorry James, but you need to discern. In your review for Exodus, you complained about the same in Exodus, which it was as far of a typical RC score as anyone could be able to do so.