- Composed by Tyler Bates
- Warner Bros. / 2011 / 70:43
The list of films which haven’t been remade gets ever shorter and now Conan the Barbarian gets in on the act, with the popular Robert E. Howard character returning to the screen. John Milius’s 1982 version is what made Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name – so maybe a couple of decades from now, the star of the new one (Jason Momoa) will be elected Governor of California. Rose-tinted spectacles may have clouded some people’s judgement, but actually the fairly lukewarm reaction offered the 2011 version isn’t that different from what greeted its predecessor. Director Marcus Nispel has mostly made horror movies up till now (including the Friday the 13th remake and a couple of Cher music videos).
Providing the music this time round is Tyler Bates. The controversy surrounding the score for 300 seems to have been shaken off in terms of the composer’s standing with the studios – no doubt he was only following orders on that one, but the Numemberg Defence isn’t a particularly popular one. While it seemingly hasn’t done much damage to his own career, it might take a little more time (potentially a lot more time) to build bridges to the wider film music community. Scoring a remake of a film which featured a truly beloved score by a truly beloved composer was never likely to build those bridges, but I do wonder if some of the criticism this score has attracted was rather preconceived, because there’s little about it which would warrant it.
It’s always important (difficult though it can sometimes be) to throw the preconceptions away as far as possible. This score was never going to sound anything like the one written by Basil Poledouris in 1982, any more than a film made in 1982 would have featured a score which sounded like one Leigh Harline might have written in 1953. Bates’s score for the new Conan is very much in keeping with the traditions of this day which (though it pains me to admit it) is all it ever could have been. It is very much in the Remote Control vein – a smallish orchestra sometimes doubled, almost always accompanied by synths and samples, with plenty of synthetic percussion and guitars – with some specific similarities in approach to Gladiator but more in common generally with more recent scores by Hans Zimmer underlings.
The thing is – and this will sound like it’s damning with faint praise, and perhaps it is, but that’s not really the intention – this is lightyears ahead of something like the music from the Clash of the Titans remake. Synthetic they may be, but some of the orchestration is satisfyingly dense and florid – Bates takes the Remote Control style but forces it through a more orchestrally-satisfying mould, much like Brian Tyler does – and the more melodic, softer passages may be relatively sparse but they work very well and help fashion what is, once all prejudices are put to one side, a rather satisfying album.
The action music is frequently dynamic (“Fever” in particular is an exhilarating thrill ride), with an unashamed everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Maybe the choir’s a bit of overkill but it’s the sort of OTT stuff which often forms the basis of (slightly) guilty pleasures. It will win no awards for originality (or probably for anything else) but for sheer enjoyment, I’d take this every day of the week over a lot of 2011’s film music, not just the obvious garbage like Green Lantern or X-Men: First Class but (maybe controversially?) even slightly more serious efforts like Thor. Fan reaction suggests it will take an awful lot of effort for this composer to win people over but anyone able to forgive and forget will potentially be as surprised as I was by Conan the Barbarian. ***