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The Dark Tower
  • Composed by Tom Holkenborg
  • Sony Classical / 2017 / 67m

Long in development, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower has finally made it to cinemas in 2017, directed by Nikolaj Arcel (J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard having previously been attached).  It ended up being a continuation of the series of novels, incorporating elements from various entries along with some of King’s other works.  Idris Elba takes the lead as the Gunslinger, with Matthew McConaughey as his nemesis The Man in Black.  It has been panned by critics.

The novels are renowned for their unique combination of various genres, with inspiration coming from sources as varied as J.R.R. Tolkien and Sergio Leone.  The fantasy, science fiction, horror, western mash-up was sure ripe territory for an ambitious broad-canvas musical work from a top film composer; unfortunately, instead it got an inane, generic collection of colourless modern film music tropes from Tom Holkenborg.  His elevation to A-list film composer is truly a curious tale: while it’s understandable that he may have been able to use his friendship with Hans Zimmer to get a big film or two at the start of his film composing career, the fact that he now keeps getting hired must surely indicate that filmmakers have found something in his work they admire.  Whatever it is, I haven’t been fortunate enough to find it myself.

Tom Holkenborg

The album actually starts off inoffensively enough.  The titular opening cue has “awe-and-wonder” chord progressions from the synths and what sounds like a largely sampled orchestra (but is apparently real), and then comes a bit of twinkly fantasy in “The Face of My Father”.  Unfortunately, that unmemorable opening pair of cues – combined running time of three minutes – is the high-water mark until an hour later and the album is coming to an end.

It’s in the third cue, “I Kill With My Heart”, that the grating noise begins.  Grim electronic clangs, buzzes and whirrs are brought together with incredibly simplistic instrumental textures and generic choral oohs and aahs – on another day I might euphemistically describe it as being “atmospheric” to avoid crossing an unwelcome line from criticism to insult but [redacted].

For moments of excitement, the drumming get more intense; for moments of drama, it gets less intense and we get long notes from the “strings” instead, but that’s the limit of the score’s palette and there’s never really any sense of drama or momentum.  A cue like “Dutch Hill”: yes it has a sense of foreboding, but no more than could be achieved by most people in the world who can play a keyboard if you asked them to write a couple of minutes of music to represent “foreboding”.  Either I’m just missing whatever depth is there, or it isn’t there at all.

One of the best cues is the 47-second “Guardian”, fairly straight-laced “orchestral” action/horror writing (I keep using the quote marks because it really does sound sampled).  But it’s only 47 seconds.  There’s the pleasant, mellow “The Creed” (basically the latest in a very long list of variants on “Journey to the Line”) and right at the end, “Roland of Eld” gives another, much more heroic variant on that and is easily the best thing here.  But apart from those few minutes (including the couple of cues at the start), there’s really nothing here I can connect to at all.  We all have our tastes and those who love Holkenborg’s music will no doubt disagree with everything I’ve said.  But I really just don’t get it – don’t see anything there that makes filmmakers want him to score their films, don’t see what he’s bringing to the table.  The Dark Tower sounds to me like a cheap collection of rather tired clichés strung together into a whole which doesn’t offer any emotional depth, any real dramatic colour or compelling musical narrative.  It doesn’t have anything like the intensity of the composer’s Mad Max, which I didn’t love either but at least I could more follow the thought process behind it.  This score’s purpose seems to be to just be there, hanging over the film like musical wallpaper.  I guess Tom Holkenborg – who seems like a lovely man with real enthusiasm for what he’s doing – sadly just isn’t for me.

Colourless, lifeless collection of clichés | |

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  1. , Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Tuesday 8 August, 2017 at 23:26

    Your comments, James, could also apply to The Black Room, scored by Norwegian composer SAVANT [real name ALEKSANDER VINTER]. There`s a respite from the dreariness with two tracks titled Lebanese 1 and Lebanese !!—quite exotic with ethnic percussion and a faraway male voice singing in Arabic.