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Assassin’s Creed
  • 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.

Jed Kurzel

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.

Rating: * | |

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  1. Conor (Reply) on Tuesday 27 December, 2016 at 14:36

    Wondering if HGW and Ridley had a falling out on Alien: Covenant. We’ll never know of course.

  2. tiago (Reply) on Tuesday 27 December, 2016 at 15:52

    I imagine it was Michael Fassbender, star of both Assassin’s Creed and Alien Covenant, that introduced Kurzel to Scott. And Scott’s a director who loves to try new composers on his films: Marc Streitenfeld on “A Good Year”, Daniel Pemberton on “The Counselor”, and now this.

    I was disappointed too, Harry Gregson-Williams was supposed to score Covenant, and his work for Ridley Scott movies, like Kingdom of Heaven and The Martian, are among his very best. And I’m not encouraged on Kurzel either. But, who knows…

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  4. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Thursday 29 December, 2016 at 11:01

    What is wrong with these wannabe composers?…do they never bother to research the events that led (in this case) to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, and then use those elements to structure an exciting period score? I was hoping to hear ethnic period instruments &Gregorian chants, for instance, transformed into a menacing lethal phantasmagoria of evil to underscore that torturous historical event. JED KURZELL, it’s time you acquainted yourself with the music of A-Listed film composers [from the 1940s to the present day] so that they hopefully inspire your music to be a creative asset to your brother’s future movies, and those of other producers & directors. You’ve apparently been approached to tackle a SciFi movie – PLEASE don’t just regurgitate your ‘Assassin’s Creed’ score…Before writing a single note of music, listen to how GOLDSMITH, HORNER, GOLDENTHALL and others approached SciFi scoring …Assimilate, and, hopefully, write a score that allows James to up your STAR Rating to respectable 3*s.

  5. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Tuesday 10 January, 2017 at 00:08

    I saw this sepia-tinted movie, and had to endure droning horns accompanied by, what can only be described as, a swarm of very angry, buzzing American killer bees vying with the noisiest percussion the speakers could tolerate. An orchestra is credited, but the pro-tools mechanism succeeded in overwhelming the natural sound of that orchestra with a machine-created substitute. The plot involved the search by the Inquisition for the Apple of Biblical Eden…the apple that was eaten by Eve and Adam, and associated with Mankind’s free will and subsequent violence. The Assassins’ task is to retrieve and return the Apple to the Muslim Sultan, from whom it was stolen. This storyline emerges in flashbacks, orchestrated by contemporary Templars and their Time-Machine. Underscoring all of this could have been a score of amazing orchestral colours and textures and thematic structures, instead…. lots of LOUD NOISE.

  6. Timothy (Reply) on Tuesday 10 January, 2017 at 16:42

    I just really didn’t understand why they didn’t pull the music from the games. I mean, Ubisoft made this movie themselves. They could do whatever they wanted. And they chose to not take the sound that all of their fans are familiar with.

  7. Ghostof82 (Reply) on Tuesday 17 January, 2017 at 22:42

    Its just the same as directors and producers and actors who phone-in performances leaning on their natural charisma infront of the camera- composers don’t do their research other than playback old scores by other (better) composers or go the Media Ventures muzak route.

    Quite depressing, the state of film music these days.There ARE great scores but very few, and most of them are on tv (Penny Dreadful, Outlander, BSG etc).