- Composed by John Paesano
- Sony Classical / 2014 / 63m
The first in a series of post-Hunger Games novels aimed at “young adults” (a group of people that only seem to exist in the minds of book publicists – most people call them “children”) written by James Dashner, The Maze Runner sees a teenage boy wake up to find himself trapped in the centre of a giant maze along with other teenage boys. Occasionally a door into the maze opens but nobody who ventures inside ever comes out again. One day a girl arrives and they all try to escape. A movie adaptation of the sequel, The Scorch Trials, is already in pre-production.
I must admit that I wasn’t familiar at all with composer John Paesano before this score came around. Usually when a major film is scored by a composer I’ve never heard of, that composer turns out to be some guy who turned up to wash Hans Zimmer’s car or something and five minutes later ended up scoring something like Iron Man, but it turns out that Paesano is a proper composer, classically trained, who worked briefly with Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and – yes – Hans Zimmer. In the press release for this album, he names a score by each of those three composers as an influence on The Maze Runner – Alien, Jurassic Park and The Thin Red Line, an eclectic collection but one which certainly left me intrigued to hear it.
The album starts with the main theme (which is not heard all that frequently afterwards) – after a bit of a slow build, with a few hints of The Thin Red Line‘s famous “Journey to the Line”, comes the theme itself, which is a tad simplistic but solid enough, with a clearly heroic nature, reminding me a little of James Horner’s theme from The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s a strong opening, nicely dramatic and surprisingly bold, but things quickly calm down in the following “What Is This Place?” with a fairly desolate soundscape, plaintive guitar strumming overlaying a series of moody atmospherics from winds, strings and keyboards. “My Name is Thomas” takes that sound as its foundation but adds a layer of emotion on top, a tentatively prodding piano solo leading into the piece which is dominated by a feeling of uncertainty, interesting orchestral textures used to create that feeling.
The first action arrives in “Ben’s Not Right”, a Michael Giacchino-style blending of brass and percussion, quite aggressive and exciting (and I guess there is a superficial similarity to Jurassic Park‘s raptor music). It’s stylishly done: there’s something quite guttural about it which is very effective. That sound is very much continued in “Banishment”, which follows, though it’s slightly more distant, suggestive of horrors lurking nearby. It turns into another very fine track, dynamic and strident. A lyrical melody emerges at the tail-end of the piece which has an elegiac feel to it, effective if frankly not particularly memorable.
A few moments of calm, soothing reflection come in “Waiting in the Rain”, with more James Horner hints, this time of the forest music from Avatar. The action’s soon back, in the urgent “Into the Maze”, where a new sound to the score is first heard, some much more modern-sounding electronics which are I suppose inevitable (and to be fair, the orchestra is still dominant) but it does give the score a more “standard” feel than it had previously had. This is also the case in “Griever!”, some complex orchestral dissonance accompanied by standard-issue 2014 film score electronics, which is a real shame because the majority of the cue is really quite something. “Why Are We Different?” is more low-key for the most part, but the more ethereal sound later in the cue – electronics and all – actually work very well, which is then developed further in the lovely “Chat With Chuck”.
“Section 7” is an unusual piece made of grander gestures alternating with pretty bland noodling. Things burst back into life in “Maze Rearrange”, more of that muscular action writing which is really impressive. “Griever Attack” begins in sombre mood, dark murmurings but you just know from its title that it’s going to get a bit hairy and so it proves, explosive action. This continues in “Trapped”, powerful blasts of brass punctuating pacy string runs – it’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s completely musical, dramatically potent and highly enjoyable music. “Wckd is Good” (which I assume is not referring to the blue, vodka-based alcopop) provides a little respite with its eerie calm, then emotion returns to the fore in “Thomas Remembers”, lovely music for the opening before a passage of fairly unpleasant suspense material. “Goodbye” is tender and lovely but there’s time for more action yet, with the blockbuster Williams-via-Giacchino style “Final Fight” one of the score’s highlights. “Wckd Lab” initially sees things return to much more low-key territory but does pick up more of an epic sweep as it develops. The score draws to a close with the superficially The Thin Red Line-like “Finale”, a rousing and satisfying conclusion to proceedings.
The Maze Runner comes really close to being brilliant – almost all of it is well-composed and vibrant, there are interesting ideas and it’s refreshingly some distance away from the clueless Remote Control soundalikes that tend to dominate these films today. Paesano knows how to write real music and there’s a decent dramatic flow to the whole thing. I’ve mentioned a number of influences from other film scores but that’s not a problem for me – there’s nothing blatant and, considering this is the first music I’ve heard by this composer, it’s no surprise that I’m yet to discern his own musical voice. I think the one thing that holds the score back is that for all the impressive orchestral writing only occasionally punctuated by more irritating electronics, the melodic content just isn’t quite memorable enough – a really strong theme developed over the course of the score to bind it all together would have been what Jerry Goldsmith, one of the influences on the music, would have brought as a matter of course. Still, there’s an awful lot of promise here and it’s an album I can imagine returning to frequently. Impressive stuff.
Rating: *** 1/2