Latest reviews of new albums:
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

I remember when I was a boy, occasionally my parents would get themselves an Indian takeaway. I was always offered some and always declined. While I found the smell enticing, I found the prospect of spicy food to be a scary one indeed. I just knew how much I would hate it. One time I relented under much pressure and tried a bit and confirmed that I hated it, but of course I already knew that I would. Fast forward a decade and a half to when I was living in my own house, and my friends wanted to go out for a curry. I didn’t want to have a curry, but I did want to go out with my friends, so off I went. This time, with a mindset that I wanted to have a good time, I found that not only did I not hate the curry, I actually really liked it. Fast forward another twenty years and Indian food is my favourite cuisine.

In case you hadn’t got the point of this very heavy-handed analogy – sometimes we change our minds. Opinions aren’t facts – they’re shaped by a number of factors, how we’re feeling at the time, how things are going at work, whether it’s rainy or sunny, whether it’s Monday morning or Friday night. And sometimes we allow our biases – both the conscious ones and the unconscious ones – to have an undue influence on how we respond to something.

Lorne Balfe

I don’t know how many film scores I’ve written about over the years – hundreds, maybe thousands. Every now and again I find myself looking at something I wrote at some earlier point for one reason or another, and often I find myself wondering what I was smoking at the time to have written what I did. But while it’s common that I find myself enjoying something to a much greater or lesser degree than I did at the time I wrote about it, I can’t often say I was “wrong” about something because whatever I wrote reflected how I felt at the time. Opinions can’t be wrong. But they can be ill-informed. When I wrote about Mission: Impossible – Fallout on July 17 2018, I got it wrong. Maybe something crap had happened that week, maybe I was in another “not another Remote Control composer!” mood – maybe I was allowing preconceptions to improperly cloud my judgement. Anyway, it was wrong and I was horrible about the music and insulting to Lorne Balfe and that makes me feel bad. In order to preserve my stupidity for all to see, I’ve pasted the original review into a comment at the end of this new one.

It’s a very different beast to the earlier Mission: Impossible scores – but they’re nearly all different beasts to each other, too, since they were almost all written by different composers. What Balfe did with his score was essentially take the Inception sound that was dominant at the time and shove it through a Mission: Impossible filter to create a very modern action/thriller score with very clear and obvious tips of the hat to Lalo Schifrin. Indeed, we hear the first in the opening bars of the opening piece of music, “A Storm is Coming”, with the bongos – and bongos go on to feature heavily.

Also featuring heavily are Lalo Schifrin’s two themes – both his absolute genius-level main theme (perhaps the best tv theme ever?) and “The Plot”, which has been used by all the movie series’ composers. I think both of them are featured more heavily in this score than any of the others – the main theme is absolutely everywhere, sometimes overtly but often somewhat hidden, perhaps just the rhythm or a subtle hint of its opening bars on the timpani. It’s actually quite fun hearing it with that distinctive Balfe horn sound when it bursts out in “Fallout”.

There’s an absolute load of action music here. The best track is “Stairs and Rooftops” with the 70s thriller-style piano rumbling, a complex mass of percussion, darting string runs and tension-relieving bursts of brass. It continues into “No Hard Feelings” – those little low-end piano figures are terrific – and then the marvellous “Free Fall”, with its choppy strings building tension which gets ratcheted up further with some echoing horns, finally resolving in a brilliant climax. Later, “Escape Through Paris” is another barnstorming highlight with some dynamic variants on both Schifrin themes scattered through some breathless action material. And really, you could pick almost any track and you’d find a very decent piece of action music, with only occasional pauses for breath.

There is one of my original complaints that I feel I should somewhat sheepishly retain, and that’s that the album is 96 minutes long. Now I know that lots of people like their soundtrack albums to be very long like that, and that’s a perfectly valid opinion, but I think to sustain such a massive length you really need the music to have its own dramatic architecture that takes you on some sort of emotional journey – this music undoubtedly supports its film absolutely fine but what it doesn’t really do when pulled apart from its intended purpose is have those dramatic and emotional highs and lows – there’s not a different feeling about the early action cues compared with the later ones, so there is a very samey feeling running through it all. A tight, 1990s-style soundtrack album presenting the highlights would have made that a non-issue.

I’ve been pummelled into submission on that album length point over the years – it is what it is and I realise I have no choice but to live with it if I want to keep listening to film music. So instead I must focus on the positives – and this score has lots of them. It’s genuinely exciting, has a vibrant energy running through it, makes a good film even better and can very firmly stand alongside the very fine music written for the earlier films in the series (I still think Danny Elfman’s score for the first one stands above the rest, but all of the rest have their own qualities). Apologies to all concerned for getting it so wrong the first time.

Tags: , ,

  1. Jordan (Reply) on Tuesday 17 July, 2018 at 00:35

    Why do composers insist on such lengthy albums? Ego? Hubris? I’ll never understand it. All it would take is a word from Balfe to an assistant to edit together the best 40 minutes of the film’s score.

    I don’t get it.

    • Liam (Reply) on Sunday 26 August, 2018 at 17:55

      I actually like long albums like this. It just makes me happy to know they’re trying to leave as little music off as possible. I feel it’s the closest thing we can get to a commercially released complete score.

  2. A. Rubinstein (Reply) on Tuesday 17 July, 2018 at 21:06

    “Even Hans Zimmer’s much-maligned contribution to John Woo’s second instalment in the series has grown on me a lot – it’s so outlandishly different, frequently so entertaining, I can’t help but like it after all this time”.
    I’m pretty sure you liked it from the beginning. You originally gave it 4 stars back in 2000.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 17 July, 2018 at 21:20

      Did I? Well well well. I must have been the only one who did, I remember it being much-criticised at the time.

  3. Error601 (Reply) on Wednesday 18 July, 2018 at 06:53

    This score is dreadful. We don’t need another Zimmer clone in the film music world. Appalling stuff.

  4. DrTenma (Reply) on Wednesday 18 July, 2018 at 11:47

    Zimmer’s M:i 2 has also grown on me… But not that much! I agree with your vision of this new score, there are some “nice” moments, but ultimately is a quite boring and uninspired work.

  5. Juleso (Reply) on Thursday 19 July, 2018 at 10:14

    Missed your reviews James!
    Was also very disappointed in this one. Been looking forward to it for a couple of years, since Kraemer absolutely knocked it out of the park (assumed he’d follow it up). Was still hopeful when Balfe was announced – from memory his Penguins of Madagascar was quite fun. Absolutely understand wanting a different sound to continue the MI tradition, but this is just so generic and feels lazy. You’d have to assume McQuarrie wanted it that way as well, which is a shame. Have heard it works quite well in the film though, which I guess is a bit of comfort.

  6. Bracklin (Reply) on Thursday 26 July, 2018 at 23:10

    Funnily enough, “A Storm is Coming” is also the title of the first track of the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack.

  7. Timothy Snyder (Reply) on Tuesday 31 July, 2018 at 19:47

    It’s seems that for Lorne Balfe, creating a unique, quality score is an impossible mission.

    • Peter (Reply) on Saturday 8 July, 2023 at 18:08

      Dont be so hard on yourself James – your review wasnt stupid. But yeah, I thought this was a good action score for modern times.

      Definitely my two favorite standouts are A change of plan and Freefall. Got a bit of a Brothers in Arms from Mad Max feeling on that one.

  8. ANDRE>>Cape Town (Reply) on Wednesday 8 August, 2018 at 18:40

    Lots of drumming–then BALFE’S very exciting reworking of SCHIFRIN’S theme, sounding sensational on the Cinema’s state-of-the-art Audio system, introduces this overlong take on the franchise. The remainder of the original score is boring and forgetful. And without marvellous themes, just somewhere, to anchor this movie, it too becomes forgetful. Why are directors and composers no longer aware of the power of music to cement movies in our minds decades after their release, thanks to memorable themes? JOHN BARRY…..HENRY MANCINI, GOLDSMITH, HORNER, MORRICONE, DELERUE and before them, Hollywood”s Golden Age composers, directors and producers were all aware of the magic that occurs in the minds of audiences when visuals are augmented by the music of composers who were gifted with the power to create scores that had longevity long after the films were forgotten.

  9. Mart McBoros (Reply) on Sunday 9 September, 2018 at 19:37

    Surprised to see all this negativity. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of my favorite action scores ever. It just fills me with energy. Looking at other forums many people agree with me. I guess Lorne Balfe is just hated on this site.

    By the way, I don’t see a problem with a lengthy soundtrack like this, and to suggest it has something to do with ego or hubris is ridiculous. I’d be angry if I heard a great moment in the score of a film and I couldn’t find it on the album.

    • CAHet (Reply) on Wednesday 12 September, 2018 at 14:49

      Mart, in many ways I have to agree with you. I really enjoyed this score and it is definitely one of the better action scores of the past couple of years- and in the same breath of Rogue Nation as the best M:I score.

      I especially agree that this site does not seem to appreciate the Lorne Balfe/Hans Zimmer sound, overall. Thanks!

  10. MPC (Reply) on Monday 24 September, 2018 at 01:50

    According to Kraemer, he wasn’t even contacted by McQuarrie and Paramount if he could return. I’m not sure if Kraemer and McQuarrie had a falling out after MI: Rogue Nation or not, but it’s a real pity.

    Balfe’s score is barely serviceable in the film, it just drones in the background. McQuarrie would’ve given it so much more.

    • MPC (Reply) on Monday 24 September, 2018 at 01:51

      My apologies, I meant “Kraemer would’ve given it so much more”, not McQuarrie.

  11. James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 8 July, 2023 at 14:38

    My stupid original review:

    Tom Cruise has been playing Ethan Hunt for 22 years now since he made Mission: Impossible with Brian de Palma in 1996. Each of the next four films was made by a different director, generally in a pretty distinctive way, which has been a really interesting approach to a film series. That record comes to an end with the previous instalment’s director Christopher McQuarrie returning for a second bite of the cherry in Fallout, though interestingly he has said he wanted to make it in a way that made it seem like he was a different director after all.

    I’m not entirely sure if that latter point is why he didn’t bring back his usual composer Joe Kraemer (who has written three wonderful scores for McQuarrie) – but whatever the reason, he didn’t, and he turned instead to Lorne Balfe.

    Anyway, this series has an interesting musical pedigree, with five solid scores for the first five films (six, if you include Alan Silvestri’s rejected effort for the first one). Even Hans Zimmer’s much-maligned contribution to John Woo’s second instalment in the series has grown on me a lot – it’s so outlandishly different, frequently so entertaining, I can’t help but like it after all this time. Danny Elfman’s score for the first one was excellent; Michael Giacchino did fine work on the third and fourth; and then Kraemer delivered an excellent score for the fifth.

    I guess the run had to end at some point, and here it is. Some have speculated that McQuarrie attempted to make the film to an extent in the style of Christopher Nolan, and if so then I suppose it makes sense that Balfe’s music is essentially a set of variations on the action ostinato from The Dark Knight films. The opening bars of the album (in “A Storm is Coming”) actually sound promising, with the bongos as appropriate, but they’re soon enveloped by the wall of sound that is as predictable as it is unwelcome.

    We wait a few tracks before we hear the Lalo Schifrin theme, in “Good Evening, Mr Hunt”, where it is repurposed as an action power anthem; “The Plot” appears midway through “Change of Plan”, just about raising its head over the horrible synth noises which rather ruin what could otherwise be an impressive piece of music (the choral writing is actually more than decent – and even the brass which repeats endlessly is pretty dynamic and sounds, for once, like actual instruments). Each of the Schifrin pieces is used frequently through the album.

    Now, the album: it’s 96 minutes long. There’s no getting around that – it’s 96 minutes long. I’ve watched probably 200 hours of television featuring Bear Grylls, frequently in desperate situations, and let me tell you that I’ve never seen him have to endure an experience quite as arduous as 96 minutes of music from Mission: Impossible – Fallout. I think you could forgive the blatant Dark Knight lifts if they didn’t go on and on, monochromatically for so long. There is none of the wit or sophistication of some of the other scores in the series – it really is just one sound which never alters, never gets more or less colourful, always just stays grey. There are no moments of heroism, no suggestions of villainy – there’s no joy, no sadness – it’s just the same thing repeated for what seems like an eternity.

    And that’s the thing: however well it does or does not function in the film, if you’re putting this music on an album, you can’t in your wildest dreams think it can possibly sustain 96 minutes. As a result, it is fiercely, oppressively boring: I can imagine that in a more discerningly-produced album, a track like “Stairs and Rooftops” might stand out and provide some entertainment, but here it gets lost. We’ve heard it all before, but it’s not bad music as such – it’s just so dull. No doubt Balfe was doing what he was asked to do, the problem is that it’s really rather hard to understand what happened to Christopher McQuarrie that made him think this was what he needed to ask for. I guess maybe the kids might love it; sadly, I don’t.

    • Jose (Reply) on Sunday 9 July, 2023 at 01:37

      Hey, it wasn’t a bad review though! Sure, you did focused a lot on the negative and I think it’s one of the better Hollywood RC scores I have heard recently. Granted, it’s a very low bar to surpass but credit where credit is due though.

      If you want to hear to music evoking old school style of spy scoring you have to look for other places though, like this anime show:

  12. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Saturday 8 July, 2023 at 15:57

    This score holds a very special place in my heart for two reasons. One: it features my favorite title rendition of the M:I Theme, and two: I actually got to hear that theme being performed live for my first ever film music concert, with it opening the second half of said concert to a thunderous applause.

    Also, side note: there also exists a slightly longer CD release of this soundtrack, adding six tracks and about thirteen minutes of bonus material. Admittedly, in comparison to the main body of the album, it largely feels like filler, but it’s fun to have.

  13. Jose (Reply) on Sunday 9 July, 2023 at 00:17

    It’s one of the few Hollywood RC scores on where you get the impression the composer did try to make it sound more interesting with very occasionally decent brass writing, its still isn’t as good as it could be at least for me.

  14. Luke Hollingshead (Reply) on Sunday 9 July, 2023 at 21:42

    Thanks for taking another look at this score and converting! I quite enjoy this soundtrack, I just think of it as kinetic energy as music. Absolutely wonderful to contrast your original review with your new one.
    And I completely agree with the Stairs and Rooftops opinion. Wondrous stuff.

    • Luke Hollingshead (Reply) on Sunday 9 July, 2023 at 21:43

      Especially that wonderful theme throughout the movie starting at 1:59. I love those six or however many chords. I think it’s one of the standout action themes too.

  15. Julian (Reply) on Monday 10 July, 2023 at 12:48

    You and me both! Just read my original comment and am now a big fan of this score lol. Although not as into his effort on Dead Reckoning, from what I heard at the cinema at least. Maybe my opinion will turn around on that one too lol

  16. Lionel (Reply) on Friday 14 July, 2023 at 19:23

    Rogue Nation still better than that.

  17. Andrew Scott Mayer (Reply) on Monday 17 July, 2023 at 18:39

    Hey James, been a big fan of your reviews for awhile now; however, something doesn’t quite sit well with me about this one. FYI this may turn into a rant, but I have strong views about this score.

    I understand how opinions change over time, but I feel as though you are suddenly giving this score way too much credit. Your original review was spot on, as it felt very personal with what you believed good scoring was. It was based on credibility, opinions, and didn’t try to appease the quality of a score for the artists sake.

    For me, this is an objectively bad score filled with every single modern cliché in the book. It’s actually offensive to me, as it disregards everything that I’ve learned about scoring and fills the checklist of what not to do when composing. It’s processed, repetitive, and lacks any sort of dynamic contrast within the progression and synchronicity of a cue. The orchestration is basically the same throughout the whole score, with articulations within each section of the orchestra being basically non-existent. Now where is the musicality in that?

    I remember watching an interview with Joe Kramer in which he discussed how he (for MI-5) avoided using processed samples, loops and modern clichés by approaching the score from a organic perspective. More specifically, he wanted the score to sound like it was composed, produced and recorded in an age where modern tech didn’t exist. it wasn’t tampered with layers of processed sounds that couldn’t be replicated organically within a live orchestra setting. In other words, it was designed to be musically timeless. While this doesn’t necessarily always mean that a good score comes out of these proceedings, it’s almost certainly more musical and reflective of the composers talent.

    I could go on and on; however, I don’t want to breed too much negativity and drag this out.

    Sincerely, Andrew

  18. Steven K (Reply) on Thursday 20 July, 2023 at 14:40

    I have to say I agree with Andrew. Anyone can change their mind, but this is a 100% turnaround and it looks, frankly, a bit fishy to me – and totally at odds with the honest and fairly uncompromising way you’ve reviewed all scores hitherto.

    To label your original review as “stupid” only adds to the fishiness. Why should a well-considered and well-written review be ‘stupid’? In fact,why has it taken until now – as the latest M:I film is being released – to complete this almost biblical reassessment of the previous movie?

    It seems to me inevitable now that bright rays of sunshine and massed choirs will also accompany a likely hugely positive review of ‘Dead Reckoning Part 1’ sometime in the near future, somewhat akin to a similar turnabout I’m seeing from another prominent reviewer today.

    I’m not sure what is going on here, but I’m sure there’s *something* going on…

    • James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 22 July, 2023 at 18:20

      Honestly just did a complete turnaround on it. Didn’t give it a good enough chance at first. I wrote it now because I intended to follow it up with a review of the new one, but I’m not sure I can be bothered to write about it because the album’s so massively over long I struggle to even get through it. I think it’s fine but doesn’t have the highlights that Fallout does.

  19. Sean (Reply) on Saturday 22 July, 2023 at 04:05

    Great read as always. As a general rule I think if a score release is no longer than the actual score in the film I have no problem with it being lengthy