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THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
Bland science fiction score is a bad reflection of current trends
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
The original The Day the Earth Stood Still is notable as one of the first science fiction films that went beyond being a silly B-movie and actually explored the genre to its potential, with a message about mankind's lack of respect for the planet he inhabits; Robert Wise's film is still fondly-remembered today, well over half a century later. It now joins the list of films which have had a modern remake (a list which will probably be longer than the list of films which haven't had a modern remake before too long), with Scott Derrickson stepping into the considerable shoes of Robert Wise, and the even more considerable shoes of composer Bernard Herrmann (whose wonderful score is one of the original film's greatest assets) being filled by Tyler Bates.
It's usual when reviewing the score to a remake to compare it with the music from the original film and speculate what inspiration the new composer may have drawn from the old; in this case that would be a pointless exercise since clearly you're not going to get anything even vaguely similar. This time out, the music is pretty standard 2008 action movie material - in other words themeless, largely aimless and some may say pointless. It's there to provide noise when noise is needed, and nothing more; it's a shame that film music, which used to have so much to add to the dramatic weight of all films, including the big-money blockbusters, is now used - particularly in the blockbusters - as a kind of accompaniment to the sound effects more than anything else.
The score actually begins reasonably promisingly; following the brief opening, "Mountain Climber" and "National Security" are decent pieces of action music, suggesting this may rise above what one might call "the Iron Man standard", but sadly those pieces turn out to be by far the best thing about the album, at least until the vaguely stirring finale. Much of what's in between is presumably intended to be unsettling, but the blandly-orchestrated music combined with a very heavy dose of electronics is at best bland, and at worse vaguely irritating. The sad thing is that the filmmakers were probably delighted by it - this is exactly what they seem to want, and the composer was presumably only doing what he was told. This inevitably leads one to compare the state of film music today with 50 years ago, when Herrmann was let loose on the original; but doing this can only lead to one place, and that's downright depression.
I could harp on about the album being too long, or the lack of themes, or the absence of any discernible musical voice of the credited composer; but there's such an inevitability about the whole thing, it's hard to be energised enough to even do that any more. It's not as bad as Iron Man by any means (though in fairness, nothing is) but the moments that lift it from the mire are relatively infrequent and its worst crime is not that it's bad, just that it seems so pointless. Do people really want to listen to music like this?