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The Legend of Tarzan
  • Composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams
  • WaterTower Music / 2016 / 71m

The latest in a long line of cinematic adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic tale, The Legend of Tarzan stars Alexander Skarsgård as the legendary ape man with Margot Robbie as Jane.  It’s directed by David Yates, who made the last few Harry Potter films, and had an awful lot of financial muscle behind it; but the early reviews are pretty poor and it doesn’t look likely to be a hit.

Most of Yates’s films were scored by Nicholas Hooper until the two-part Harry Potter finale which went to Alexandre Desplat; this is his first film since and he’s gone in a very different direction, turning to Rupert Gregson-Williams to provide one of the most prototypical Remote Control McScores in recent years.  (Next up is the Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, for which James Newton Howard is on board.)

Rupert Gregson-Williams

Rupert Gregson-Williams

The best track on the album is probably the first one, “Opar”, coauthored by Lebo M and featuring vocals by Zoe Mthiyane.  Her soulful performance is beautiful, full of passion, the tune itself full of feeling.  But after that the score descends into a disappointing parade of clichés, elements of The Dark Knight series and Man of Steel thrown together into a blender and emerging as a bland, forgettable paste with little to recommend it.

For a while after that lovely opening, the music is joyless and monochrome, modern bleeps and bangs seemingly completely at odds with the story (though I haven’t seen the film, so it might be just fine).  Finally in “Returning Home” comes a bit of light and happiness, a subtle piano theme leading into a pleasant bit of instrumental pop before some earnest dramatic flourishes.  Even that’s short-lived and the dreaded chugga-chugga strings appear in the second half of the piece, but at least it’s something.  It’s The Thin Red Line‘s turn to come out next, in “Campfire”, for the latest in an endless stream of variants on “Journey to the Line” but with the choir included this one is probably closest to the Pearl Harbor version.

“Tarzan and Jane” still sounds anachronistic with its keyboard style (transcribed largely for orchestra) but it’s undoubtedly one of the highlights, tentatively touching.  Unfortunately it doesn’t usher in a new style for the score, which reverts instead to rather grim action and suspense music with little to recommend it (in fact it takes a few somewhat abrasive turns which are downright unpleasant) until there’s a brief return to the vocals of the opening cue in the lovely “Elephants in the Night”.  “Jane Escapes” is probably the pick of the action cues, still dark and grimy but with an urgency to it that makes it stand out.

Except for the occasional cursory injection of some jungle percussion there is no particular attempt to anchor The Legend of Tarzan in a time or a place – and while that’s not a fundamental requirement of a film score, it might have been a decent place to start, a way of giving the film an injection of musical personality.  As it happens it doesn’t really have one – it’s not terrible music, but the best parts are mostly watered-down imitations of other things and unfortunately the result is a score that doesn’t have any particularly distinguishing feature that might make it stick around.  Gregson-Williams has proved that he’s a talented composer so it’s a shame that on the biggest solo project of his career to date he’s written music that few people are likely to remember.

Rating: **

See also:
Tarzan David Newman
Greystoke John Scott | |

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  1. TDidz927 (Reply) on Tuesday 5 July, 2016 at 20:42

    It wasn’t great, but it’s always nice to hear from Lebo M. Power of One is one of my most listened to albums.