- Composed by Jed Kurzel
- Decca / 2016 / 66m
The latest attempt to make a decent film from a video game adaptation comes in Assassin’s Creed, based on the incredibly successful series of games which sees the player thrust into important historical events, in this case the Spanish Inquisition. Directed by Justin Kurzel, the film has a surprisingly good cast led by Michael Fassbender but looks set to be considered alongside all other films based on video games, which is to say not very good. Still, it probably won’t stop it being successful.
The game series has an impressive musical legacy, begun by Jesper Kyd and continued by the likes of Brian Tyler, Chris Tilton and most recently Austin Wintory. The film is scored by the director’s brother Jed Kurzel, known primarily in his native Australia as a singer-songwriter but he has moved into film music in recent times, attracting some attention last year with his score for his brother’s Macbeth adaptation. This is a different kettle of fish though, a big Hollywood movie with all the pressures that brings.
I haven’t heard any of Kurzel’s previous film music so I went into this not knowing what to expect, but it turns out that actually I’ve heard it all before. There’s a vaguely Middle Eastern sound to the first half of the opening cue “Young Cal” (John Powell’s got a lot to answer for) but soon the track descends into percussion-heavy action music which could be by anyone and from any film. Given the film is directed by his brother I would have thought Kurzel would have had fairly free reign (I may of course be wrong) so it seems likely that it was very much his choice to do it this way, which is even more disappointing.
A hint of emotion comes in “Abstergo Rooftop” but it really is only a hint, a sense of longing in the long melody line, but again it sounds rather generic. It doesn’t last, either, because we’re back to anonymous suspense music straight away. The choppy string ostinato in “The Animus” could again be from anything – at least the strained melody which appears on top of it attempts to inject some drama. I can’t stand the horrible electronics in “First Regression” (memories of Junkie XL, never a good thing) but the action which develops as the piece gets going is functional enough, pushing the buttons that need pushing.
And so it goes on. I know how pretentious I sound when I get up on my high horse and I know I’m not the one putting my body on the line and trying to make the music work, but really, what’s the point of this music? It’s got no personality, it’s got nothing that attempts to capture a sense of time and space, there’s no attempt to make a sound world for Assassin’s Creed to distinguish it from anything else (this could be music from a political thriller, a futuristic sci-fi, a courtroom drama – ironically about the last thing you’d think of would be that it’s from an historical action film) – so why bother going to all the expense of commissioning an original score at all? If you want something that sounds like everything else, why not just licence something else?
If it were just dumb action music for an hour, that would be something, but it’s not really even that – much of it is surprisingly restrained, lengthy periods of suspense in which very little happens punctuating the higher-octane material. It’s not like it’s actively horrible (though parts of it are), it’s just not really much of anything. The only partial redemption comes from the rarely-heard string theme expressed most fully in “Columbus”, which actually has a bit of drama in it. As I write this, Kurzel’s just been announced as the composer of Alien: Covenant, presumably off the back of this score – so clearly important people get something from it that I can’t. Maybe you’ll be lucky and do the same, but there’s nothing here for me.