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The Great Wall
  • Composed by Ramin Djawadi
  • Milan / 2017 / 66m

All the way from China and starring one of the country’s most popular stars Matt Damon, The Great Wall is a monster movie set in the Song Dynasty a thousand years ago, events previously filmed in the tv series Dynasty starring John Forsythe and Linda Evans.  It is named after the Great Wall of China, which as some people know is the only man-made structure visible from next to the Great Wall of China.  Directed by Zhang Yimou, the film has been greeted by mixed reviews but seems to have found a decent audience.

Providing a score as authentically Chinese as Big Alan who runs the Peking Nights Chinese Chippy around the corner from me is newly-styled “legendary composer” Ramin Djawadi, presumably hired as a result of his popular work on Game of Thrones (James Horner had actually signed up to score it, before fate tragically intervened).  He’s served up a couple of guilty pleasure action/adventure scores in recent years, most notably Pacific Rim, and this just might surpass that and be his most entertaining film score yet.

Ramin Djawadi

It kicks off with “Nameless Order”, a choir solemnly introducing the main theme which is then taken up by the orchestra, all very serene and beautiful at first before the fireworks start about 90 seconds in.  Still the same melody, still the choir, but now agitated strings and pounding percussion join in – it’s very simplistic but highly entertaining, like Game of Thrones without the irritatingly cheap sound.  When the horns kick in near the end, it’s like proper film music: big, bold and there’s actually a memorable tune.

The second track, oddly the “Prologue”, introduces the score’s secondary theme, a full-bodied action motif that sounds like it could come from Howard Shore’s Middle Earth soundscape (well, if Shore forgot a lot of his orchestration training).  And the action continues straight into “What a Wall”, heavy again on the brass and percussion, with some vaguely exotic ethnic elements too, adding some colour.  It’s all highly entertaining.

I mean that, too: it’s all entertaining.  What brings it back a bit is that it’s very repetitive: every cue is basically a variant on something heard in the ten minutes of those opening three.  It’s almost like an hour-long action/battle piece (it does pause for breath but only very occasionally, the excellent “Funeral Song” being the best example, but I note that somewhere between the review promo being sent and the album being released, that track seems to have vanished – hopefully just renamed something else), which could easily have got tiresome very quickly, so it’s to Djawadi’s credit that it doesn’t, really: it doesn’t exactly stay entirely fresh (because of the repetition), but he does just about enough with the material to keep attention.

It’s no The Monkey King, but The Great Wall is a fine effort packed with lots of entertainment value.  The orchestra actually sounds like an orchestra – a lot of times these days, that’s by no means a given – and I can’t remember the last time an all-out action score had a theme that really stuck in my head the way this one does.  I suppose for some it will be a bit of a guilty pleasure because of how simple it all is, but a guilty pleasure is still a pleasure and even those like me who have struggled to find much to like from this composer in the past may well find themselves unexpectedly having a lot of fun.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. David Hand (Reply) on Sunday 26 February, 2017 at 17:26

    A brilliant film, technically very complicated and what a score. This amazing composer does it again with some memorable themes

  2. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Tuesday 28 February, 2017 at 21:55

    I’ve just heard, James, that you’re on the Hate List of the ever youthful, still unbelievably beautiful Joan Collins…the fury of Hell is rageing within her psyche, because you omitted her name from the ‘Dynasty’ TV series. Lets face it, her glamorous presence immediately boosted the ratings of that 80s series and rekindled her Celebrity. Your future monarch, William, frequently entertains this living legend of the Cinema…so! I saw ‘The Great Wall’ today, and there’s lots to amaze & entertain one, especially in the stageing of the battle sequences– they’re almost balletically choreographed! The movement of thousands of soldiers as they dash to various strategic battle positions along the Wall could be tiresome, but it never is thanks to the fluidity of disciplined Chinese military rankings AND the imaginative weaponery they hurl [often with Acrobatic manoeuvrings] at the monster Queen and her agile, fearsome- CGI-looking soldiers. And DJAWADI’S music is there to propel the action and bond us to the characters with his heroic themes, embellished with ethnic Chinese instruments. Your review says it all, James, especially the “this is not The Monkey King” comment, [CHRISTOPHER YOUNG’S stunning score, for those who havn’t heard it] but it’s never boring and is always “entertaining”.