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Fantastic Four
  • Composed by Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass
  • Sony Classical / 2015 / 66m

Another film series rebooted by its studio just in time to avoid losing the rights to the property, Fantastic Four comes ten years after Twentieth Century Fox’s first attempt at turning the Marvel comic-strip into a film series.  It was a pretty awful film but moderately successful so got a sequel which was slightly less awful but also slightly less successful.  But they seem like The Godfather parts I and II compared with this almost universally-derided reboot directed by Chronicle‘s Josh Trank, who doesn’t seem likely to be given another big studio movie to make in the foreseeable future.

One thing that was interesting was the composer assignment, with Marco Beltrami – a perfectly logical choice – joined by Philip Glass – which is to say the least a rather left-field one.  No information has been released publicly about the nature of their collaboration – the 78-year-old Glass hasn’t said a word about it in any interview and while Beltrami has spoken about the score, as far as I can discern he hasn’t mentioned Glass on any occasion.  Reportedly Glass wasn’t at any of the recording sessions.  So the only thing to do is speculate…

Marco Beltrami

Marco Beltrami

The score starts with a five-minute “Prelude” and I’ve seen comments from people that it’s “pure Glass”.  However – while it does feature some of his trademarks – the deep bass clusters, the flute arpeggios – it’s also got a modern action movie style to it which is clearly all Beltrami’s.  Then the second cue, “The Garage”, also features a few things familiar from Glass’s past works but the theme at the centre of the cue sounds very much like Beltrami.  The little repeating phrases in the next cue, “The Unveiling”, are much more Goldsmith (a Beltrami favourite) than Glass.  The main theme at the centre of “Baxter” is surely Beltrami’s work, even if the wind writing surrounding it is clearly Glass.  And so it goes on.

So my speculation would be that Glass probably provided a bit of material which Beltrami worked in to a couple of parts of the score, which is otherwise entirely his creation (well, apart from the other three men listed as additional composers).  It’s virtually inconceivable that the two men sat down in a room together and came up with the music in a genuinely collaborative way, and similarly not a single cue sounds like it could have been the work of Glass alone.

Philip Glass

Philip Glass

That’s all well and good, but ultimately of course it doesn’t matter who wrote what – the end product is what matters.  And while parts of it are superb and the whole thing is entirely competent, for the most part it is surprisingly humdrum, a routine and up to a point relatively lifeless modern action score with little to distinguish it (apart from a few tracks featuring flourishes of Philip Glass).  Beltrami’s a terrific film composer so one wonders if he was a bit hamstrung by having to work in his “collaborator’s” contributions; similarly, it would have been genuinely fascinating if the filmmakers had just had the balls to get Glass to do the whole thing.

The main theme – while bog standard – is entertaining in its way, but frustratingly under-developed.  A secondary “awe and wonder” type theme crops up occasionally – again, there’s a Goldsmithian tinge to it – but really it’s only heard fleetingly and again not that much is done with it.  The most satisfying feature – perhaps not surprisingly, given Beltrami’s pedigree – is the action music, which begins to become more and more prominent in the later stages of the album.  Before that, it’s really suspense music that dominates after the opening burst of interesting material, and much of it is a bit half-hearted and largely interchangeable with any number of similar modern scores.  There are some really nice moments – the warm Americana that closes “Launch One”, the bits of feeling injected into “Footprints” – but you have to plough through some much duller stuff to find them.

As the album reaches its half way point, the first really strong action cue appears, “Run”.  It’s rollicking stuff, brassy and ballsy and exciting, and if not quite top-tier Beltrami it’s certainly entertaining.  There’s a gap then before the score kicks back into life: I like the slow-burning “Return”, with the subtle choir adding colour to the growing orchestral drama.  After that, the lengthy “He’s Awake” takes a while to get going but when it does it’s deliciously dark action music, with the thrills then not letting up over the concluding three tracks, running around a quarter of an hour between them (and worth of the “fantastic” moniker).

The opening and particularly the closing parts of the album are strong, thoroughly entertaining and impressive.  The Philip Glass bits – which disappear almost completely the closer the score gets to its conclusion – do add a bit of curiosity value, but to be honest no more than that.  The star of the show is Marco Beltrami’s action music towards the end.  Is it enough to redeem an otherwise surprisingly mundane score?  Not really – but it’s certainly worth the wait to get there.

Rating: ** 1/2 | |

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  1. Jim Ware (Reply) on Friday 11 September, 2015 at 15:44

    My description of the ‘Prelude’ as ‘pure Glass’ may have been presumptuous. After further listens, I’m going to change it to ‘polished Glass’. It’s Glass’ trademark arpeggiations and rhythms with the added gloss of Hollywood orchestration and performance.

    I was under the impression that Glass did put in an appearance at some of the sessions.

  2. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Saturday 12 September, 2015 at 20:34

    Interestingly, I felt the same way about “Watchmen;” the (tracked) Glass there was so much more effective than the original score that one wishes they’d hired him to do the whole thing. I think Glass would play ball with such an assignment and if nothing else it would make for an entertaining album.

    No slight on Beltrami, though; as you say, he had a tough situation incorporating the minimal Glass material and the film’s production turmoil. It’s just too bad that all of his superhero movies since Hellboy have been disappointments.

  3. TDidz927 (Reply) on Tuesday 23 August, 2016 at 20:51

    I’ve been listening to this a lot lately, and really enjoying it. I didn’t much care for it last summer, but after listening more, I can pick out more of the ‘Glassworks’. I think it’s a strong work for both of the composers, but I would have loved to hear a more singular work from either of them.

    And also, I’d have loved a better movie.

  4. Aidabaida (Reply) on Monday 19 September, 2016 at 18:00

    An absolute five star score for me…I’m a weird person.