- Composed by Alexandre Desplat
- WaterTower Music / 2014 / 61m
After shooting the low-budget Monster (whose visual effects he funded himself), director Gareth Edwards got his shot at the big time by being given the huge budget to shoot the latest attempt by Warner Bros. to make a decent American version of Godzilla, 16 years after Roland Emmerich’s pretty awful effort. Along for the ride and adding some prestige is the rather unexpected choice of composer, Alexandre Desplat, whose classy music is usually heard in either more arthouse fare or weighty Oscar-bait dramas (though he has of course made his contribution to big-budget spectacles like The Golden Compass and the last two trips to Hogwarts). (Warning: some cue titles referenced in the review may be construed as containing spoilers.)
Desplat’s mean, moody score is thunderously dark throughout. The album gets underway with the outstanding “Godzilla!”, an opening full of incredible portent with the main theme blaring forth from the horns, leading straight into the brief action cue “Inside the Mines”. But this is not a theme you’ll be humming as you leave the cinema – indeed the melody is almost the least important thing there – it’s about the mood, carefully crafted from the orchestration (the onslaught of percussion and gnarling brass is almost constant through the album).
Indeed, it’s the orchestration that sets this one apart. We haven’t heard clustered brass writing like this in a Hollywood blockbuster since Elliot Goldenthal in his heyday – it’s extraordinarily aggressive, dark as nails. Percussion is everywhere, piling on pressure and excitement in much the same way as Danny Elfman did in his Planet of the Apes score. The mood throughout is oppressively claustrophobic, a bass-laden recording deliberately designed to envelop the listener (and of course viewer) in a cocoon of suspense.
This isn’t really one of those albums where you pick out highlights, maybe create a playlist – it’s about the whole experience, so carefully put together by the composer to work as a single entity. Having said that, there are still so many individual parts worth pointing out. “The Power Plant” is a sensational action track early on the album and starts a trio of outstanding pieces, the percussion and brass joined by some ingenious wind phrases in the cue’s first half; an emotion-laden mournful melody then rises from the ashes, briefly and rudely interrupted by a blaring cacophony. The following “To Q Zone” sees a thunderous, bass-laden electronic effect slowly beaten out, sounding perhaps like the relentless procession of footsteps of a monster. Finally, a plaintive piano solo introduces “Back to Janjira” – this may not be a score which will be remembered for its thematic content, but there is no shortage of emotion – before once more the orchestra (including dynamic punctuations from Japanese flutes) builds up in chaotic fashion, including this time a brief passage of choral bursts which are so unexpected they have a definite shock value.
“Muto Hatch” includes a battle between furious string runs and brass trills, getting ever more frantic, ever more furious. Following that is an exercise in using music to create tension, “In the Jungle” seeing a two-note motif passed from bassoon to trombone – the piece begins murky, foggy, you can imagine people carefully making their way, fearful of what they may find – and then suddenly they find it and the orchestra explodes once more, leading into the seriously impressive action cue “The Wave”, including the heroic little fanfare which I presume is used to represent little triumphs in the film; and that’s certainly what it represents in the brilliant musical storytelling of the album. The brief “Airport Attack” sees whatever triumphs they may have been quickly discarded (it is more relentlessly dark action) before some much-needed respite comes in “Missing Spore”, which features the first genuinely light musical moment of the score (for once a trumpet is heard clearly); needless to say that doesn’t last long as the aggression returns in the second half of the cue.
Electronics come more to the fore in the forlorn opening to “Vegas Aftermath”, the light well and truly extinguished again now; a few bars of misleading calm then danger once more at the top of the musical agenda, but there is a sustained period of reflection in the cue’s later portion and then once more the sound of hope as “Ford Rescued” begins, layer upon layer of brass and strings added as the piece progresses. “Following Godzilla” continues the now firmly-established action template of the score, slow but dominant brass phrases blaring over frenetic strings, the trademark Desplat electronic pulse underneath it all. “Golden Gate Chaos” lives up to its name, creepy string music (of the kind used by Hollywood composers to represent creepy foes since time immemorial) leading into a veritable cacophony of brass and percussion, desperate choir joining in as the piece progresses towards its frantic conclusion.
“Let Them Fight” is brilliant in the way it moves from cool detachment to frantic desperation, featuring truly incredible playing from the brass section of the LA orchestra. The tension is ratcheted up another level in “Entering the Nest” (impossible though that would have seemed), featuring a passage in the middle brilliant in its simplicity, a repeated clarion call from the brass which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Max Steiner score (hey, sometimes the old ideas are the best ones). “Two Against One” sees the orchestral fireworks continue, some higher-register parts of the orchestra making a rare appearance. The furious excitement reaches its zenith in “Last Shot”, yet another fantastic piece of action music. And then… (spoiler)… the incredibly dark “Godzilla’s Victory”, a powerful statement from the orchestra giving way to violins and piano playing at their highest ends, musically suggestive of a dawning realisation of what’s happened – reflective, elegiac, extremely sombre yet somehow quite beautiful. There’s no happy ending – “Back to the Ocean” is murky, contemplative and above all sad, until the Hollywood ending finally arrives with the orchestra swell in the final minute or so, the main theme suddenly transplanted into triumphant mode.
Some people will bemoan the lack of themes and they’re right – the themes there are subtle – but that’s just not what the score’s about. This is not a score for the faint-hearted. It gnarls and growls throughout. It is oppressively dark, gradually closing in before going for the jugular. I haven’t heard an orchestral onslaught as savage as this in a film score in a long time. Desplat has pretty much now proved that he can do anything – for all my admiration for the composer I wasn’t sure he had a brutal score like this one in him. It’s a 2014 action blockbuster with a distinctive, individual sound, brilliantly written and orchestrated, brilliantly played by the orchestra and brilliantly recorded by Dennis Sands – and it is sensational.