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The Impossible
  • Composed by Fernando Velázquez
  • Quartet Records / 2012 / 52:29

One of the most deadly and destructive natural disasters of modern times, the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 saw almost a quarter of a million people lose their lives, with untold more left homeless.  Its effects are still being felt today, with the scale of the devastation almost incomprehensible.  Over half of the lives lost were in Indonesia, with huge swathes of the coastline of Sumatra destroyed completely.  The Impossible, from Spanish director J.A. Bayona and starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, follows a family taking a holiday at the time; it has attracted rave reviews from its festival appearances and will get a wider release early in 2013 in most of the world (having already broken box office records in Spain).

The music is by Fernando Velázquez, who rose to prominence five years ago when he scored the same director’s The Orphanage.  This score is likely to push him considerably further into prominence if the film manages to attract an audience in the rest of the world.  With an operatic sweep, the composer has fashioned music which manages to conjure the same type of powerfully anguished beauty as the great Georges Delerue did in his scores for more serious films.

Fernando Velázquez

The main theme – for my money the single most impressive piece of film music I’ve heard this year – is a real powerhouse.  The London Metropolitan Orchestra – bolstered by a very large string section – provides a stirring performance of Velázquez’s devastating melody.  A cello provides the introduction before the strings swell (this is an unashamedly old-fashioned approach, far more common in European cinema today than in Hollywood) and the melody plays out in all its glory, finally pared back down to its basics for a piano coda.  It’s straightforward and direct, leaving no stone unturned in its quest to wash away every emotional barrier the listener may attempt to erect; in a word, it’s exceptional.  It would take a very heavy heart to be able to listen to the eight minute end title piece and not be moved by the experience.

In between the two lengthy title pieces that bookend the album, the main theme has an almost constant presence.  Perhaps fifty minutes of variations on the same sombre theme – however beautiful – is a bit much, and ultimately that is my only criticism of the album, but there’s no doubting the theme’s power; and few will escape the feeling of having gone through the wringer by the album’s conclusion.  There are a few instances where Velázquez departs into darker territory, for the more desperate moments – the dissonance of “Is It Over?” and “But She’ll Be OK, Right?” serving as a reminder of the horrific tragedy unfolding.  A subtle male choir is heard in a couple of cues, perhaps an attempt to add a human touch, but in truth the composer manages to do that throughout (the frequent piano interludes always achieving just that, I think – it is the most “homely” of instruments).

This is an extremely beautiful, very affecting score featuring a main theme that is truly outstanding.  Despite the repetition, the theme never loses its power, its ability to be quite profoundly moving.  It’s quite rare to hear such overt emotional manipulation from a film score these days – it went out of fashion, in much of Hollywood at least, quite a while ago – and so those who object to such things should steer well clear.  But for the majority, I suspect this will prove one of the most popular film scores of the year, and the album from Quartet Records comes highly recommended.  **** 1/2

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  1. christopher (Reply) on Saturday 20 October, 2012 at 16:28

    Sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to buy this one.

  2. Philip Wood (Reply) on Friday 2 August, 2019 at 16:20

    I heard the music before I saw the Film – and I entirely agree with your review. Yes, it is rare indeed to be so utterly moved by a film score, in this day and age. I loved Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman, Max Steiner etc., and, of course, M. Morricone’s intensely moving themes for ‘Cinema Paradiso’, Once upon a Time in America’ and Barry’s ‘Somewhere in Time’ and several others – but this is something else. I am looking forward to discovering Mr. Valázquez’s other scores, although I don’t think I’ll find such a mighty, soaringly Powerful theme as this. Utter bliss!