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Oblivion
  • Composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese
  • Back Lot Music / 2013 / 70m

Oblivion is a science fiction film starring Tom Cruise as a man who thinks he is helping look after the safe transfer of energy from a post-apocalyptic earth’s oceans for transit to new colonies elsewhere in the solar system – but not everything is as it appears.  It’s enjoyable stuff – but admittedly goes over pretty well-trodden ground (most recently trodden in the excellent Moon).  It’s from the director of Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinski, who said of the score that he wanted – and got – something completely new and fresh.  In fact it sounds pretty much the same as the score for Tron: Legacy, so perhaps he has a very short memory.

At the time Tron: Legacy was released, many people – including me – were hugely impressed with the score, credited to 90s electronica duo Daft Punk.  Indeed, some wondered just how Daft Punk might have written such a slick orchestral/electronic hybrid, and the years since have revealed that largely, they didn’t, and much of the work was done by orchestrator Joseph Trapanese with support from Team Zimmer.  The rather curious credits for Oblivion are “Music by M83, Score composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese.”  This seems even stranger if like me you thought the M83 was a Scottish motorway near Glasgow, but in fact it’s referring to the French electronica outfit of the same name, led by Mr Gonzalez.  Trapanese seems to have developed a curious niche of writing orchestral music on behalf of unlikely-seeming crossovers from other fields (he also “co”-wrote The Raid: Redemption with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park).

Entry sign to the M83 motorway

Entry sign to the M83 motorway

As I said at the outset, this score is very much a continuation of Tron: Legacy.  It takes elements from that, and from modern-era Team Zimmer music (in particular the Batman scores and Inception) for a prototypical 2010s-era ostinato-based, simplistic, Zimmerised dumbed-down thriller score.  And the weird thing is – I love it.  The first thing to note is that this isn’t actually as good as Tron – the melodies aren’t as catchy, there aren’t so many memorable moments – but even given that, there’s still much to enjoy.

A twinkly little piano theme opens the album in “Jack’s Dream” but the music only really gets going in the surprisingly attractive “Waking Up”, which paints a stark but beautiful portrait of the loneliness of life on a virtually-deserted Earth.  “Starwaves” is a wonderfully textural, atmospheric piece (which is evidently the work of a composer of synthesiser music transplanted into an orchestral setting – but frankly none the worse for that).  “Earth 2077” is a powerful, pulsating piece with the electronics and orchestra – and drum kit – working very well together for a pleasingly organic sound.

“Canyon Battle” is a nice piece of action music – it sails exceptionally close to Inception, but is just about distinctive enough (with a heavier, and more confident, use of keyboards over the pounding orchestra).  Those Zimmerish trombone growls have become a bit too clichéd now, but I grudgingly admit that they’re still pretty effective in this type of context.  Some later action sequences, when the drum kit is brought out again, also offer thrills, but not quite at this level; “Ashes of our Fathers” probably the pick of the later action cues.

There are a few token efforts to inject some emotion in the body of the score – the later stages of “You Can’t Save Her”, the bulk of “I’m Sending You Away” – but of course, that’s not really what the score’s about.  Most scores of this ilk are all about texture, not emotion.  I think that’s a curious way for film music to have turned, but I’ve dwelt on that enough elsewhere.  As guilty as the pleasure may be, I do think Oblivion is a pleasure, and it reaches its peak towards the end.  There’s a religious feel about “Temples of our Gods”, then “Fearful Odds” has a desperate dramatic feeling. “Undimmed by Time, Unbound by Death” is the fairly standard Zimmerish conclusion, the equivalent of Inception‘s “Time”.

The best track of all might just be the six-minute song which shares the film’s title, at the end, performed by M83 featuring Susanne Sundfør.  It takes some melodic elements from the score itself, the vocals are powerful and dramatic – it’s a great song.  The score itself is all very familiar and I like it much more than I probably should – it’s certainly not on the level of Inception or Tron: Legacy, but is several steps ahead of its other most obvious influence, The Dark Knight Rises.  And while it’s all a bit simplistic from a compositional perspective, there are a few touches here and there – like the strings at the beginning of “Tech 49” – that go beyond anywhere an actual Zimmer-branded score would.  Enjoyable stuff.

Rating: ****

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  1. Chris (Reply) on Saturday 11 May, 2013 at 00:58

    Nice review James,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. There’s nothing particularly deep, composition-wise here, but sometimes you just want a good popcorn score to enjoy and this fits the bill nicely. I didn’t realize Daft Punk didn’t do much of the legwork in coming up with the Tron:Legacy score. Is there an article or a website somewhere where this is discussed? It’s the first I’ve heard of that.

    Cheers,

    Chris.

  2. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 14 May, 2013 at 17:34

    I think James is selling Daft Punk just a little short. Sure, Trapanese probably went above and beyond the usual role of an orchestrator, but I doubt that Daft Punk took as much of a backseat as described here. Just look at the quality difference between Trapanese’s Tron Uprising score (fun but relatively unmemorable fluff) and the original Tron Legacy (probably the best hybrid score…well, ever).

  3. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 14 May, 2013 at 23:07

    I don’t particularly disagree. Daft Punk clearly deserve a lot of credit. I think it’s more a kind of David Arnold / Nicholas Dodd relationship. Everyone knows that Dodd puts more into those scores than a typical “orchestrator”, but when you listen to his solo scores, they’re a long way behind, it’s obvious something (i.e. David Arnold) is missing.

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 16 May, 2013 at 13:30

    Apt comparison, the Dodd/Arnold thing. If you were feeling particularly charitable you could also compare it all to Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe, given that the latter’s scores tend to sound exactly like the former’s minus anything memorable.