- Composed by Henry Jackman
- WaterTower Music / 2017 / 57m
Twelve years after his last big-screen appearance, King Kong is back, with an “origin story” (everybody needs one of those these days). Kong: Skull Island is set in the 1970s and stars Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman and Brie Larson, as a government agency discovers an island with the giant ape in battle with the “skull crawlers” who have virtually wiped out his species. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts – who rather boldly cited Apocalypse Now and The Conversation as influences on the film – early reviews have been positive and, if nothing else, at least watching it won’t take up such a large portion of your life as Peter Jackson’s previous one.
The score comes from the busy Henry Jackman, clearly now seen as one of the most bankable Hans Zimmer protégés, though like most of them I’m not really sure how much of his own voice we’ve heard so far. Having said that – if you thought you would know exactly what this score sounds like before hearing it, for once you’re probably wrong. It’s not the standard Remote Control-type modern action score, instead taking at least a bit of inspiration from the 1970s setting as well as the 21st century benchmark for these things, which is Alexandre Desplat’s Godzilla – and at times the orchestra has an almighty power.
The opening “South Pacific” is too brief for anything to happen, then comes “The Beach”, with a modern-sounding bit of foreboding and a clarion call from the horns over some foreboding choir before the orchestra lashes out in a bit of frenzy. It’s not until the third cue, “Project Monarch”, when things really get going – a fairly generic, serious melody gets underway, eventually morphing into the score’s main theme. Its wide leaps appropriately convey a sense of scale, and the brass in particular really does sound huge; it’s just a pity the melody itself is a bit humdrum.
The guitars which open “Packard’s Blues” offer what would have been a refreshingly different sound for this sort of film, but that sort of thing isn’t really reprised enough as the score develops. The next cue, “Assembling the Team”, combines the theme with some interesting little textures that plays a bit like some of the softer moments of Alan Silvestri’s The Avengers, and by this time the score’s primary pattern has emerged quite clearly: the music keeps offering promising beginnings which seem like they are building up to something, but that something doesn’t come. It’s there again right away in “Into the Storm” – menace, foreboding, but it doesn’t get anywhere. A rare exception does mercifully arrive in “The Island” the theme soars away very satisfyingly; it’s the best cue on the album, sounds like proper film music, and the shame is that it’s only just over a minute long.
The first real action cue is “Kong the Destroyer” – the strings swirl around, the brass is ferocious, then all of a sudden there’s a great thunderous fart with the arrival of the dreaded HORN OF DOOM, which instantly renders the whole thing a bit laughable. Again – it’s a shame. What’s around it is actually quite decent and didn’t need to be cheapened in such a facile way. The Herrmann-type motif for Kong himself is given its first airing in the cue and, while it doesn’t break new ground, it does its job.
Following this is quite a lengthy sequence in which barely anything happens, with lots more building of menace and dread only very occasionally bursting out into any tangible thrills, the solitary exception during these largely interminably dull twenty minutes or so being the excellent “Grey Fox”, with the Monarch theme being given a full-on Copland Americana treatment. It seems to come from nowhere but it’s really very good, its first half warm and attractive and its second dramatic and powerful. The sound is reprised to a slightly lesser extent in “Marlow’s Farewell”, boosted by the wash of sincere emotion which closes the piece.
Finally, things spark to life in “Ambushed” as the album starts to draw to a close. It’s a powerful action piece, the score’s best, the orchestra being given quite a workout, the thematic material incorporated well. The tribal drums which open “Man vs Beast” are a nice touch, though it descends into a much less satisfying modern variant of it underneath the orchestral hijinks. The big action climax is “The Battle of Skull Island”, and the six minute cue certainly pushes the right buttons, but not perhaps quite as hard as you might expect. Still, at least there’s finally a payoff to all the build-up.
There are some moments of genuine quality here but even a half-hour album would be stretching them a little thin; as it is, it’s double that and large swathes go by which are just so monotonous. Jackman is following in some pretty distinguished footsteps by scoring this – those of Max Steiner, John Barry, John Scott and James Newton Howard – and each of their scores is uniquely theirs, clearly different from each other. Skull Island could be the score for anything, really, by anyone; and that’s a big disappointment.
See also: Godzilla Alexandre Desplat