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Ready Player One
  • Composed by Alan Silvestri
  • WaterTower / 84m

Steven Spielberg’s most popular film in years, Ready Player One diverts away in many ways from Ernest Cline’s novel but perfectly captures its heart: a young man in a not-so-distant future gives his all to try to get away from a horrible life and claim a massive prize by completing a set of challenges within a massive online world (the Oasis) set by its creator, obsessed with pop culture especially of the 1980s.  It’s an entertaining film with an enthusiastic cast and the proper acting comes from Mark Rylance, appearing in his third Spielberg film – his quirky portrayal of the Oasis’s creator Jim Halliday is quite brilliant.

John Williams, busy with scoring duties on The Last Jedi and Spielberg’s own The Post, sat this one out, meaning the veteran director had the relatively unfamiliar task of having to think about who he wanted to score his film.  His choice – Alan Silvestri – was a truly inspired one.  Silvestri worked on some of the films referenced within this one and it would have been impossible to score it in any way other than with an old-school fantasy adventure score like all the beloved ones of the 1980s: Williams and Basil Poledouris are both mentioned within the novel on which this is based – which also features a little passage about how awful Ladyhawke‘s score is.

Alan Silvestri and friend

If there’s one thing Alan Silvestri can do, it’s write a killer theme – he’s been doing just that for decades now.  The scores that go with the great themes don’t always quite live up to them, but make no mistake – he brought his A-game to Ready Player One and provided his best piece of work in a very long time indeed.  If the very long running time of the album puts you off, don’t let it – this one seems to race by in no time at all.

Things get underway in “The Oasis”, a choral piece very much unlike anything I’ve heard before from Silvestri.  It’s clearly inspired by Karl Jenkins’s new age classical work “Adiemus”.  “Hello, I’m James Halliday” starts with Bach’s toccata and fugue but it’s not long before Silvestri launches into his warm-hearted, quite brilliant theme for this film and its central character Parzival (more on that later).  Mystical choral music appears as the score’s “mystery theme” leads us into some theatrical suspense music and then into the next cue, “Why Can’t We Go Backwards?” which opens with the twinkly, incredibly sweet theme for Halliday – it’s absolutely typical Silvestri, reminiscent of Forrest Gump and so on – and before long we’re onto the fourth theme, an unabashedly heroic little fanfare.  Midway through the cue, the action starts – bold, brassy, at times uber-dramatic (there’s even a quote of Max Steiner’s King Kong theme) and at one moment a very, very John Williams-like triumphant fanfare (performed – kind of – on-screen).  Another warm statement of the main theme – this time with choir – ends the cue.

“An Orb Meeting” begins with a very nefarious musical portrait of villainy but becomes increasingly jocular, leading up to a jaunty march which (I’m sure deliberately) recalls John Williams’s theme from 1941 and then another airing of the mystery theme.  A rollicking action cue, “Real World Consequences” comes next – Silvestri’s always been a master of action and his familiar style is all over this – and (to much joy I’m sure for everyone who grew up on film scores at the time I grew up on film scores) there’s a little quote of the composer’s most famous theme of all, quite brilliantly placed at the point Parzival unleashes the Zemeckis Cube.  Like probably everyone else, I knew before going in that the composer used his Back to the Future theme and I knew that Parzival drives a DeLorean – so in my head I had already decided how that music was going to be used.  That it isn’t for that at all is really quite brilliant.

Some electronics open “Sorrento Makes an Offer” – which he made his way as a film composer with those early Synclavier scores, I’ve never been a great fan of Silvestri’s use of electronics – but here he does it really very well.  This cue underscores the film’s darkest moment and the tone reflects that – the closing passage in particular is black as coal.  This contrasts with the gorgeous love theme – a romantic variant on a bit of the main theme – which opens “Welcome to the Rebellion”, all swooning strings and winds.  Silvestri dabbles around with that theme and the main theme alternating with each other before we go all-out-action for the closing of the piece.

“High 5 Assembles” gets going with some warm reprises of a couple of the themes before the low-end piano, throaty bassoon solo, percussion and brass signify some more vintage Silvestri action, culminating in a spectacular little horn fanfare, before we go full circle back to the lovely main theme.  There’s a greater electronic presence in “Orb of Osuvox”, which Silvestri often uses for the more dastardly antics of the film’s primary antagonist Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn).  It’s another of the score’s darker pieces, building up to a gothic-sounding choral presence as it nears its end.  The darkness continues through “Sorrento Punked”, this cue more suspenseful; even if it’s one of the less interesting cues, there’s still enough going on throughout.

Light starts to seep through as the lengthy “Wade’s Broadcast” progresses, the electronics beating away but the general feeling becoming more heroic and adventurous (including what sounds like a subtle hint of The Avengers theme).  “Arty on the Inside” is a riveting piece of action music, which leads into the spectacular “Looking for a Truck”, the score’s most exciting cue.  Even if it were just another excellent collection of Silvestri action trademarks it would be great – but it isn’t, it’s so much more than that – during the cue the composer inserts a direct quote of Akira Ifukubi’s Godzilla theme and then proceeds to present his own action music in that orchestration style and it’s really quite glorious.  Then in “She Never Left”, there’s a lot more great action (including a fist-pumping take on the heroic fanfare).

The electronics are back to accompany the orchestra in “Last Chance”, Silvestri going through loads of thematic content now, and as the piece goes on the synths get thrown away, the brass becomes ever more heroic.  “Get Me Out Of This” is a brief cue, a bit of a pause for breath really, before the conclusion of the massive action sequence that has been running through so many cues finally comes in “Hold On To Something”, another thrill-ride.  I’ve always loved the composer’s action music but have found that on occasion its signature stop-start nature isn’t quite so impressive away from the film as within it; no such problem in Ready Player One, where everything is impressively musically structured to be just as satisfying as a standalone listen.

As the film nears its conclusion, Silvestri has the opportunity to revisit the mystical-type choral music featured near its beginning.  It’s a gorgeous, heavenly sound which opens “This is Wrong”, briefly punctuated by some very ballsy action material (including what you might think of as the time-travelling twinkle and the clocktower ostinato if you’re a certain way inclined – and indeed that familiar rhythm is all over the film’s final reel – there’s no specific reason for it as far as I can tell, but it certainly works well).  The composer offers some lovely variations on Halliday’s theme and the score’s main theme in “What Are You?” which are full of warmth and charm; and the score ends with the sweeping, glorious “There’s Something I Need To Do”.

The album’s note quite done yet, though.  Two tracks remain – billed as the main and end titles (but in reality the film’s main title features a song).  The end titles cycles through various ideas and perhaps it’s quite as satisfying as it ought to be, but the main title piece is actually the concert arrangement of the main theme and is a real stunner.  As I said forty years ago at the start of this review, Alan Silvestri really can write a theme – and Ready Player One is one of his very best.  It’s full of adventurous spirit and youthful vigour, perfectly evoking the classic adventure films of the 1980s.  There’s a lovely little nod to John Williams in there, and it really does bring a nostalgic tear to the eye as it so deliberately brings to mind a period when all the big films were scored by Silvestri, Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Bruce Broughton and co.  I realise that there’s a very specific reason why this film is scored this way and it’s not going to herald a return to those halcyon days – but hey, I’ll take what I can and in 2018 this is just amazing to hear.

This is Alan Silvestri on absolutely top form.  I’ve actually been wondering if this might be the best thing he’s written (in this style, at least) since all the way back to the era Ready Player One so fondly looks back on.  I know that all the references I’ve picked out in the words above probably make it sound like the score just throws together a load of pre-existing material, but that couldn’t be further from the truth – the way the composer pieces it all together, so seamlessly (and lovingly) incorporates all his own easter eggs, is truly remarkable.  Throw in the fact that there’s a killer thematic base and you get a spectacularly satisfying experience which will bring a smile to the face of anyone – like me – who grew up with scores like this.  Take a bow, Alan Silvestri – you absolutely nailed it.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Morgoth (Reply) on Sunday 8 April, 2018 at 22:33

    I love Alan Silvestri, and I’m happy about his score getting a good review -but man, I refuse to support anything RPO-related. It’s the nerd equivalent of jiggling keys in front of a toddler. Hey ‘mumber the Iron Giant? ‘mumber Jurassic Park? What about Halo and Overwatch?
    Like a 120+ minutes long nostalgia advertisement.
    Sorry about being a grump. I have no problem with people having fun with it. Ernest Cline just gets under my skin.

    • Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Monday 9 April, 2018 at 08:47

      The movie is actually a lot better about the references than the book (I mean there are still tons of them, but they never feel quite so rote and checklist-y). If (like me) you enjoyed the general concept of the novel but found the actual writing subpar, then you might be surprised how much you like the film. It’s one of the rare times I have found myself thinking that an adaptation might be better than its source material.

  2. Jules (Reply) on Sunday 8 April, 2018 at 22:52

    Ripper score.

    I’m very excited to see what he does with the next Avengers movies. The first one also had a great theme, but the rest of the score was not top tier Silvestri.

  3. Sivakumark52 (Reply) on Tuesday 10 April, 2018 at 03:49

    I always felt bad on not being an 80s kid with these huge composers scoring fascinating movies which I was unable to view on theatre. But what Spielberg and Silvestri did on 2018 is something beyond my imagination. Thank you James for such an heartfelt review that I would revisit more often.

  4. Jules (Reply) on Wednesday 11 April, 2018 at 12:52

    Hey James,
    I’m looking to find some fresh stuff to listen to, getting a bit bored at this point in the year. Just wondering if you had any scores that you absolutely love that aren’t particularly famous (they can still be pretty mainstream, and not fussed about what point of history). I’d love it if you had time, and I’m sure lots of readers will enjoy it!
    Thanks mate

    • Duncan (Reply) on Friday 13 April, 2018 at 15:34

      Let The Right One In is beautiful.
      Fury is a great score.
      & I really liked the Hancock score.

      • Jules (Reply) on Thursday 19 April, 2018 at 09:06