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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Composed by Atli Örvarsson
  • Milan Records / 2013 / 64m

City of Bones is the first book (and now film) of a kiddie fantasy series called The Mortal Instruments.  (Surely there was a way of conveying this information without needing such a cumbersome title.)  It hasn’t made much impact on the box office but the sequel’s already in production.  A few years ago director Harald Zwart hired Atli Örvarsson to score his remake of The Karate Kid, only to reject his music and replace it with another composer’s.  For City of Bones he hired Gabriel Yared but then rejected that and went full circle back to Örvarsson.  Curious indeed.  But the Icelandic composer responded with a decent score, never moving beyond the confines of the Remote Control sound but being entertaining and enjoyable within that context.  The best track is the first one, “Clary’s Theme”, with a religioso sound that includes vague hints of Hans Zimmer’s music for Robert Langdon, complete with choir (my favourite part is actually when he pares it down to a piano solo, though the theatrics either side are also great fun).  When synth percussion and farting synth brass are added to the choral theme later (in “The Clave’s Curse”), all of a sudden it sounds like Pirates of the Caribbean; but it’s still enjoyable.

While I’m sure many people will pick out the grand theatrics as their favourite parts, many of those are full of all the Remote Control clichés (yes, the HORN OF DOOM is here, and there’s one instrument whose mortality will hopefully be proved rather soon) which instantly puts a limit on just how much fun can be had (perhaps some day a reason will emerge as to why they all record a brass section of an orchestra and then drown it out with synth brass playing the same lines).  For me what does differentiate this score are actually the quieter, more tender moments, where it becomes clear that Örvarsson isn’t just another robot on the production line – there’s actual emotional depth to things like “Pretty Far From Brooklyn”, or the quieter choral moments, even the ethereal quality of the electric cello heard in a few cues.  Having said that – it would be entirely curmudgeonly to suggest that the barnstorming action music isn’t without its enjoyment – “The Angel Rune” in particular is great fun.  It’s a decent album, the best I’ve heard so far from this composer, and suggests there’s some real talent there.

Rating: *** | |

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  1. mastadge (Reply) on Saturday 7 September, 2013 at 11:14

    I’ve seen so many people discussing this as one of the best scores of the year, and I’ve listened multiple times trying to hear what they’re hearing, but I basically agree with you on this one. I don’t even mind RCisms particularly, but this score didn’t stand out to me as an exemplar of the sound or of film music in general. Solid, but not something I’ll probably return to often.

  2. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Sunday 22 September, 2013 at 12:01

    James – there’s a scene in the movie that has the heroine’s love interest,Jace (a Shadowhunter…they track down vampires) playing the opening of a beautiful piano melody written by J.S. BACH. It appears that BACH was also a Shadowhunter and structured his compositions so that certain combinations of notes produced frequencies that were lethal to the vampires those centuries ago. These piano/harpsichord notes are not chilling nor atonal and another scene has a witch morphing into a nasty vampire as our Shadowhunter performs a beautiful BACH melody on the witch’s piano. This plot contrivance may have inspired ATLI ÖRVARSSON to structure his theme for Clary (this saga’s heroine) as classically Bachian. ÖRVARSSON’s score for the film is vastly superior to anything composed for the TWILIGHT franchise which THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS is hoping to replace > and the symphonic/ choral / electronic energy [and beauuiful, gentler themes] that ÖRVARSSON’s music generates easily parallels JAMES NEWTON HOWARD’s score for HUNGER GAMES – another franchise hoping to fill the niche left vacant by the TWILIGHT series.