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Cowboys & Aliens
  • Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
  • Varese Sarabande / 2011 / 57:38

I haven’t seen Cowboys & Aliens.  However, my research has revealed that the film features both cowboys and aliens.  (Take that, those who say my reviews are poorly-researched).  If there are two things which might be expected to inspire a film composer to create something memorable and exciting, they would be cowboys and aliens.  Sure, a bit of pastiche would be expected – whether of Elmer Bernstein’s wide-open-spaces style of western scoring, or perhaps more likely Ennio Morricone’s brilliant, quirky style – and take your pick of any of the great scores which accompany alien invasion movies.  What a mouthwatering prospect.  Harry Gregson-Williams was the lucky guy chosen to score this film – while not consistently great, he has shown on various occasions that he can be creative, that he can write memorable tunes and that he is more than capable of injecting his scores with a great sense of fun.

One can only assume, then, that he must have received directions to avoid doing all of that and to write music as bland as he possibly could.  Imagine one of those dull scores from Tony Scott’s films (where it doesn’t really matter – they serve their purpose) only with a few bits of twangy guitar (hey, there are cowboys).  How utterly depressing.  For most of its hour-long run-time, the album just plods along without doing much of anything.  From time to time it springs to life and these moments rescue it from being a disaster – but even here the music just sounds generic and like it could come from pretty much any Remote Control-scored action film.  This is music which just doesn’t have a personality, doesn’t really have anything about it which I can think would make anyone listen to it before any of the numerous things which are similar but better or the vastly-more-numerous-still things which are not similar but which are better.  It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want music like this in their film – I can’t believe Gregson-Williams would have written music like this if he had his own way and I can’t believe that director Jon Favreau wanted this either, he was presumably overruled as on Iron Man – it’s not awful by any means, it just all seems fairly pointless.  **

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  1. Paulo (Reply) on Saturday 13 August, 2011 at 21:15

    Perfect James! I’ve just felt the same as well as the score is concerned. Unfortunately, they did not make film music nowadays as it it was in the past. (far away past) Look at the Conan remake for instance; it’s shameIful that THING must be called Conan music! I did not get more frustrated cuz i knew what would goin’ to happen….

  2. A. Rubinstein (Reply) on Monday 15 August, 2011 at 15:45

    It’s interesting how Gregson-Williams is gradually increasing my aversion to him with each new score he writes. I remember that back at the days when he used to work with John Powell I always thought that he was the massive talent between them (and the fact that shortly after they split he made Sinbad and Kingdom of Heaven only reinforced that thought). But as the years pass Powell flourishes and delivers one great score after another, while Gregson-Williams got stuck in this electronic-atmospheric droning scores niche, and each time it seems like he’s about to deliver the goods with some promising project it eventually turns out to be a disappointment (e.g. Wolverine, Prince of Persia and now C&A). Whether that’s the filmmakers fault or his, it’s extremely unfortunate nonetheless.

  3. James Southall (Reply) on Monday 15 August, 2011 at 19:40

    I used to think the same about Gregson-Williams and Powell. Seems unbelievable now, given how their careers have gone. I just don’t understand a score like “Cowboys & Aliens” – why anyone would want that in their film – and if they really do, what the point is of paying someone to “write” it and all the musicians to perform it when they could literally just hire a talented music editor to paste together other scores from the past, presumably much cheaper.

  4. Sean Wilson (Reply) on Thursday 18 August, 2011 at 11:39

    It’s a funny thing, I watched the film last night (OK, completely fails to do anything with the brilliant central conceit) and gregson williams’ score stood out as one of the film’s better elements, in stark contrast to the somewhat anonymous CD release. did they choose to leave out most of the rousing western action material? because i swear there was a lot more of it in the film than on the album!

  5. broodwich (Reply) on Saturday 27 August, 2011 at 06:23

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why is the score supposed to be all about a splashy statement for the composer? The score underscores the action in the movie, it should not overwhelm the actors or cinematography. Have you seen the movie? The opening scene is so quiet that I had to hush my son from chewing his popcorn.

    Much of the movie is done sparsely, the actors and stark, bleak desert melding into a silent reverie of weathered houses, people, and animals. Did you see the dog? A dirty old shepherd mix. This movie is not about flashy bright sounds and inventive hooks in the music score. It reflects the even greater quiet of the scenes, it drifts up like the crack of pink on a morning sunrise.

    It’s not in your face, it never takes over the action in the movie, and sounds quite brilliant on its own. I’m glad you feel like your opinion has so much relevance. The better to poop on you with.

  6. Guy (Reply) on Monday 2 January, 2012 at 20:12

    Finally got around to watching the movie and couldn’t agree more about its banal score. I’ve never followed this composer’s work prior and his Cowboys & Aliens certainly won’t alter that tact.

  7. Jodi (Reply) on Tuesday 3 January, 2012 at 02:22

    I thought the music was great. I like the mix of modern, classic, and country style.
    I will buy the music.

  8. Jason (Reply) on Wednesday 4 January, 2012 at 18:45

    Nice review James! Quick question to all those who commented, I have started a site that focuses on all things superhero related as it pertains to film. We review soundtracks in a sort of jokingly matter, but we don’t have anyone who writes film score reviews in a serious manner.

    Would anyone here like to contribute to the site? You would own the piece and it can link back to any blog or site you have.

    If you are interested let me know and I can give you more details, email me at