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  • Composed by Fernando Velázquez
  • Sony Classical / 2014 / 65m

As a younger man I got very excited about upcoming movies, gathering all the information about them I could, reading endless publicity fluff interviews with the filmmakers, watching trailers… until one day I realised it was all a bit of a waste of time.  Especially the trailers.  When I realised how different my movie experience so frequently was from the experience I expected based on the trailers, I gave up on all that.  But I still see the odd one when they can’t be avoided and one I saw a couple of times earlier this summer was for Brett Ratner’s Hercules.  I thought the days of trailers influencing my movie-watching decisions were behind me – but then I saw this one.  Honestly, the sum of money you’d have to pay me to watch this movie is larger than the GDP of some countries.  It looks so bad, it might even make Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules not the worst Hercules movie of 2014.  Had Michael Bolton pitched up singing “Go the Distance” it would have confirmed that it was all a deliberate joke, but he didn’t, so I guess it was meant to be serious.

The thing with Ratner’s movies is that no matter how bad people seem to think they are, they tend to make a load of money (his nine movies have grossed over a billion dollars between them) and so he gets to keep on making more of them.  And the other thing – of most relevance here – is that no matter how bad people seem to think they are, he does seem to have an ear for a film score.  For one thing, there’s the great late-career opportunity he gave to Lalo Schifrin, whose superb music for the Rush Hour trilogy was so delightful; then there’s some fine music by John Powell and Danny Elfman too.  So for Fernando Velázquez – the exquisitely talented Spanish composer whose fledgling career has been so impressive so far – this may have been a very unorthodox assignment, but the virtual guarantee of high profile and box office success makes it very obvious why he would have accepted the chance to score it – it’s by a million miles the biggest movie he’s ever done.

Fernando Velázquez

Fernando Velázquez

There’s been a slightly odd, and rather disappointing, trend recently of talented composers getting a “big break” of sorts on the kind of movie you wouldn’t really expect them to work – and then seeming to dilute their natural instincts and pander to a lower common denominator than you’d want them to.  So far in 2014 we’ve heard it in Clinton Shorter’s Pompeii and indeed Tuomas Kantelinen’s The Legend of Hercules (Kantelinen is such a phenomenal composer, it was borderline heartbreaking to hear him doing the whole horrible clichéd Remote Control stuff in that score – the final result was an entertaining enough piece of fluff, but you just know that he could have written something spectacular for it).  I honestly didn’t think Velázquez would be reduced to the same thing – and yet he has been.

The big Brian Tyler-style anthem that opens the score in “Son of Zeus” is an immediate signal that this is not the Fernando Velázquez that so many people have come to so admire.  Then come some god-awful drums in “Pirate’s Camp” which sound like they could be from a Jablonsky or Djawadi score.  Again – this is heartbreaking.  Here’s someone with a chance to score a film like this who is actually capable of delivering – he is not Jablonsky or Djawadi, he is the infinitely superior Velázquez.  Yet either he chose not to be Velázquez (surely not) or he wasn’t allowed to be.  Either way, it is so very disappointing.

Having said that – once you get over that initial shock and just treat the score on its own terms with no preconceptions about how you expect it to sound – it is OK.  The composer is clearly trying to emulate the Brian Tyler model heard in that composer’s Marvel scores, taking that Remote Control sound, orchestrating it to the hilt, coming up with a kind of a wall of sound.  Actually, Tyler does it brilliantly.  Velázquez doesn’t sound nearly as at home with the electronics – they don’t feel like an organic part of the whole as with Tyler, they sound like they’re bolted on – but of course he’s perfectly at home with the orchestra and fortunately that side is allowed to shine through often enough that Hercules can still function as a piece of entertainment.

That side is first properly revealed in “Lord Cotys’s Palace”, a nice theme being developed, with some decent orchestration.  Then when you hear the sound of real heroic emotion in “I Will Believe In You” and “The Lion’s Tooth”, you’re in no doubt that there is an actual composer here (there’s even a hint of Jerry Goldsmith to the sweep of the theme heard in those two tracks).  And when he leaves the electronics behind, even in the action music there is a decent amount of entertainment – “Bessi-Battle” is immense, fast-paced, when the main theme finally bursts forth towards the end it’s a great moment.  The second half of the album is essentially one long action sequence, relentlessly energetic and thrilling.  Do I remember it after it’s finished?  Not a note.

So the problem isn’t necessarily with what’s here, but what might have been here (and what I expected to be here).  So perhaps the problem is really with me – but it’s one I would expect an awful lot of people to share.  There is so much more class in Hercules than if it had actually been written by one of those composers not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Fernando Velázquez – but at the same time, there’s no escaping the fact that he wrote down here, he wrote beneath himself either because that’s what he felt he had to do, or that’s what he was told to do – and that’s just so sad, no matter if the result is a decent enough piece of entertainment.  Go in expecting to hear an intelligent action epic from the composer of The Impossible and Mama and you’ll almost certainly be disappointed; go in expecting a high-end Remote Control-style action score which approaches the style of something like Thor 2 but never quite has as much panache, and you might be nearer the mark.

Rating: ***

See also:
The Legend of Hercules Tuomas Kantelinen | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Tuesday 29 July, 2014 at 02:34

    I wasn’t that harsh with this score, actually, I gave it half a star more than you, James. However, this score was a bit disappointing to me, it sounded like a mixture of Brian Tyler’s scores like The Expendables 1 and 2 and Thor: The Dark World, with a few hints from Patrick Doyle and Alan Silvestri. At least, Velázquez is a better composer than Jackman or Jablonsky, for example, and this score is way better than the usual Remote Control music. The cue BessI Battle, for example, is terrific, one of the best action cues of the year, along with “Maleficent Captured”, “Battle of the Bewilderbeast” and the whole Godzilla soundtrack.

    I remember that, in 2012, Javier Navarrete was told to do the exactly same thing than Remote Control composers in his score for Wrath of the Titans. The funny thing is that he was never hired for another blockbuster again, despite of doing what he was told to. Are we going to see the same thing happening with Fernando Velázquez? I hope not, he is extremely talented and deserves more chances in Hollywood.

  2. David (Reply) on Tuesday 29 July, 2014 at 02:46

    tiago: Velzquez will be doing Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak, and has recently scored the fantasy film The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box. He mentioned that for Hercules, he wanted the score to be modern, but classic at the same time. Which is why, even though there’s a lot of electronics and synths, the orchestra is mostly used, including actual woodwinds. The choir doesn’t get a prominent role, other than giving a sense of beauty and danger than your typical end of the world feel. It’s different from Navarrete’s Titans, which it was originally a fully orchestral score, and it got lots of drum loops and synths added in post-production as a “remix”.

    There’s a lot of Velazquez in the score, including parts of the main theme of The Impossible as part of the B phrase of the Hercules theme. The MV style is just that, a style, and every composer can adapt and transform.

  3. Matt (Reply) on Friday 1 August, 2014 at 18:51

    Totally agree with James on this score. The Impossible was one of my favorite scores of recent years and I had high hopes that Velasquez would deliver a great epic action score, but instead we got a mix of Brian Tyler and RC styled scoring and the whole thing just left me unimpressed. The end titles are pretty good, but I have yet to make it through this entire score in one sitting without getting bored. I’m getting tired of this type of scoring for all these action movies. I know it’s all about how well the music compliments the film, but where is the creativity and variety and a solid theme? When is the last time you left the theater humming a theme to a new movie?

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 1 August, 2014 at 22:05

    “When is the last time you left the theater humming a theme to a new movie?”

    I can’t remember ever really doing that. Listening to film music away from context has kind of ruined that for me. :p

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 1 August, 2014 at 22:06

    By which I mean, if I’m humming it, it’s probably because I’ve heard it on album, not in film. As to what I’ve been humming lately, well, the new themes from How to Train Your Dragon 2 have been top of the list.

  6. Jeff (Reply) on Saturday 2 August, 2014 at 02:05

    I didn’t hum it, but I just saw the new Godzilla movie and I left the theater with the song they played during the opening credits stuck in my head. Of course I listened to the album before seeing it…

  7. Igger6 (Reply) on Monday 4 August, 2014 at 00:41

    Not to divert from the subject of humming, but I think the End Titles cue here is a stunner. I was unimpressed by almost every track I heard on the album (and on James’s recommendation, I skipped the whole latter half) but the main theme actually soars in the End Titles, and if it’s nothing too groundbreaking, at least it’s mostly orchestral. It’s a longer-lined theme than “Iron Man 3,” it’s got a nice melodic arc to it, and frankly I’m not sure what else I would have hoped for in a big-budget Hercules movie. I had hoped this score would yield more than one decent track, but it’s not a total disaster. Maybe after I’ve lived with the theme for a while, I’ll go back and pick up its major appearances in the score…