Visit the Movie Wave Store | Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer | Contact me
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
Action-packed blockbuster score full of thrills, pays homage to a past master or two in the process
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
With Stallone revisiting Rocky and Rambo, I suppose it was inevitable that Bruce Willis would get in on the act as well, going back to his most enduring role for Live Free or Die Hard, the latest instalment in the action series. Out goes director John McTiernan, who helmed the excellent first film in the series and the dreadful third one, and in comes Len Wiseman. Out too, of course, is composer Michael Kamen, whose music blessed so many films during his wonderful but all-too-brief career; Wiseman brought along a capable successor in his Underworld: Evolution composer Marco Beltrami.
Much though I loved Kamen, I've never quite understood why his Die Hard scores were placed on such a high pedestal - he was typecast as an action composer for a long time, but it wasn't really what he did best, and I don't think those scores represented the composer at anywhere near his peak. However, they certainly had a distinctive sound, and it is nice to see that Beltrami has pulled out all the stops to live in that same sonic world, even while throwing his own distinctive trademarks all over it.
From the outset, "Out of Bullets", it is clear that Beltrami is happy to pay homage to Kamen's style without getting so hung up on it that he isn't able to put his own life into it. With the emphasis on deep brass, drums of all shapes and sizes and winds, this perfectly lives inside the Die Hard musical world. And action - there's no shortage of action music here. Indeed, the vast majority of the 63-minute album is taken up by one frantic action piece after another, a little like 2006's finest summer action score, Mission: Impossible 3 - and that isn't the only similarity between this and Michael Giacchino's effort, though Beltrami doesn't do such a good job at keeping the music fresh and interesting throughout.
Cues like "Traffic Jam", "The Break-In", "Copter Chase" and "The F-35" really are belters, modern action music of the highest quality - and I can't help but notice another influence here, that of the great Jerry Goldsmith, whose distinctive style of action music was the most effective ever applied to film music but which has seen surprisingly few imitators over the years. With the furious string ostinati accompanying the brass and percussion thrills, this is at times Goldsmithian in the extreme, and it's so good to hear a composer continuing the great man's legacy. (I will say again that it is all done with Beltrami's own voice - he isn't ripping people off here, he's just looking to the best and using the techniques which made them so good - and that is no bad thing.)
The problem with scores like this - or, more specifically, albums like this - is that with all the non-stop action music over such a long period of time, paradoxically it is very hard to maintain attention throughout. Without a classic build-up and payoff scenario (this is 100% payoff) you can't get quite the satisfaction. It's possible to get away with it to an extent by injecting some lighter, softer moments over the course of the album to replace some of the action, which is pretty much what Giacchino did to keep his Mission: Impossible album as listenable as it is, but without any of that - frenetic action music from the word go - losing interest before the end is almost an inevitability. This is a pity, because this is well-constructed, impressive music, and I'm sure the film didn't give Beltrami the opportunity to do anything better, but this is a case of the whole not quite being as good as the sum of its parts. It's still a fine action score, Beltrami's best for some time, and I'm quite sure it will prove to be one of the most popular of this summer.