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  • Composed by Ilan Eshkeri
  • MovieScore Media MMS-10009 / 2010 / 45:09

What have the Romans ever done for us?  I’m not quite old enough to remember the time they conquered Britain (it was the 2nd century, after all) bringing us roads and aqueducts and the like – how dare they!  The building of aqueducts does not feature heavily in Centurion, about that invasion, though I’m sure there’s a big-budget blockbuster just waiting to be made on the subject.  The music was composed by up-and-coming British composer Ilan Eshkeri, whose best-known scores beforehand were Stardust and The Young Victoria.  It’s this one which really ought to propel him to a lot more people’s attention – a very fine action score full of good ideas and moments of surprising deftness.

That said, my reaction to reading the composer in the liner notes saying that the score is the result of a lot of research of ancient Scottish music reminds me a little of Miklós Rózsa secreting himself away for months on end researching ancient music and ending up writing a score which sounded exactly the same as all his other ones.  This doesn’t sound like Eshkeri’s other ones, but it’s also not radically different from the standard modern Hollywood action score.  What does distinguish it is the local flavour the composer adds, mainly through instrumentation (including the bizarre Scottish instrument the carnyx – the picture of which in the album booklet has to be seen to be believed) – and apparently several of the themes are based on ancient folk tunes, though in truth it’s not the themes which really make this score, it’s the design and execution.  Celtic influences were a blight on film music for a while after Titanic but when done well can be a real boon, and they’re handled very well by Ishkeri here – adding just enough flavour without sounding hackneyed.  Some thunderous action music (the London Metropolitan Orchestra’s percussion section in particular got a real workout) is very impressive and the engineering brings it out to its full potential.  This is one of the year’s most enjoyable film music albums.  ****

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  1. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 22 October, 2010 at 23:28

    Southall, with all the respect I have for you, this year I find myself almost never agreeing with you.

    How you can give a joyously thematic score like How to Train Your Dragon a lesser ranking than this simplistically pounding, monothematic one is absolutely beyond me. Centurion, for me, is a *** score, if that. The main theme is a purely average power anthem, the action music relies far too heavily on its percussion and – unlike an earlier percussion-heavy score which you gave a surprisingly high rating, Green Zone – doesn’t really muster a lot of excitement or energy; action music needs to have a bit of tonality to do that for me and a lot of Centurion is surprisingly dissonant. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s simultaneously dissonant and simplistically pounding, which I found simply unpleasant at times. That said, the softer plucked passages are quite beautiful but not enough to merit your highest rating this year.

    It certainly wasn’t one of the most enjoyable of the year. Again, how you can put this above HTTYD is beyond me. But I’ve read your HTTYD review several times now and I think I should stop, it simply irritates me every time. Powell turned out a bona fide five star score there and I feel honestly quite sorry that you don’t hear it. That’s not mean-spirited at all: I genuinely wish you weren’t missing out on what I (and most other film score fans who share my high opinion of that score) am getting.

  2. Mikal (Reply) on Saturday 23 October, 2010 at 04:41

    Edmund, it’s just his opinion…calm down, haha. 😛 Granted, by saying that it was one of the year’s most enjoyable scores, Southall is making an impossibly objective statement. You could argue with him until the cows came home, but I can almost guarantee you that neither one of you would change your mind. Also, adjectives are typically qualifiers, meaning they’re meant to describe something as it seems to the person using them, i.e., they’re going to be subjective. For example, Southall thinks that the score is “deft” and “impressive.” That’s his opinion, and you shouldn’t try to attribute some sort of objective qualification to music, an abstract thing which means different things to different people. No use getting riled up about it, dude. 🙂

  3. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Saturday 23 October, 2010 at 10:07

    My apologies for getting riled up – this does tend to happen whenever I read Southall’s HTTYD review. Just to be on the safe side, I probably should permanently ban myself from reading that review (just as I’ve permanently banned myself from reading Christian’s Pirates of the Caribbean reviews, I’ve given up on finding a single word in there that I agree with…).

    Certainly Centurion is an effective score and it’s technically quite impressive, what with the carnyx and all. It just didn’t move me. And to be fair, maybe I should pity myself for not finding what Southall finds in Centurion, just the way I pity him for not finding what I find in HTTYD.

    This has, yet again, been proof positive of the utter impossibility of objectivity in the field of film music (or any art form, for that matter).

    p.s. I still think HTTYD is “defter” than Centurion: in thematic development, in orchestration, even in its narrative flow, which was criticized (“too long”) – and yet Centurion’s narrative flow escapes me completely. This is all IMHO!

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 23 October, 2010 at 10:33

    I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard of so many people disagreeing with me than with How to Train Your Dragon – and so I’ve made several attempts to hear what everyone else seems to hear. I find it very enjoyable but there’s one huge blight on it and that’s the way the brass sounds, that horrific Zimmer-style synthetic sound. I think it prevents Powell’s fine music from coming across as well as it ought to have done, and that’s a real shame. If it weren’t for that, I’m sure I’d be far more inclined to listen to it more often.

    As for Centurion – I must admit it was a bit of a slow-burner for me. A little like HTTYD, I couldn’t quite see what the fuss was about at first, but I felt as I listened more I was hearing much greater depth there than I had first thought.

  5. Mastadge (Reply) on Sunday 24 October, 2010 at 18:27

    I remember being disappointed by both this and Christian Henson’s BLACK DEATH on first listen. Maybe I’ll give them another spin this week.

  6. Michael (Reply) on Wednesday 24 November, 2010 at 04:09

    I’ve listened to it a couple of times but just can’t seem to get into it. Maybe I’m missing something, what cues did you particularly enjoy?