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Beltrami impresses with consistently good, exciting, intelligence science fiction score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2009 Summit Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
The latest thought-provoking science fiction film from Alex Proyas is Knowing, which debates whether life unfolds as a series of random events or is somehow predetermined. It's a question which has been debated pretty much since the dawn of recorded time, but rarely before has the debate cost $200m and starred Nicolas Cage. It all kicks off when Cage - a university professor, naturellement - sees a 50-year-old document that has accurately predicted every major disaster to happen since - and is predicting another great big one just around the corner.
Proyas opted to return to his I, Robot composer Marco Beltrami here, scoring his first major action blockbuster since Die Hard 4. His output over the past couple of years has been highly variable, with standards oscillating wildly between his career-high 3:10 to Yuma and rather more standard fayre like The Eye - fortunately Knowing finds him near the top of the cycle again. I must admit, it's taken a while to grow on me - this isn't one of those instant-gratification scores, it's one that works its magic on a more gradual basis.
The score is a mixture of the suspenseful and - to borrow Varese's PR word - the "apocalyptic". Both sides are done very well indeed. The suspense music is very distinctively Beltrami's - arguably it's taken a while to get there, but the composer has undoubtedly joined that select bunch of film composers who have really singular music personalities over the past few years. There is an aggression in Beltrami's orchestral writing which is actually pretty rare - and an impressive willingness to hold back the histrionics at least temporarily, so that when the full dramatic forces are finally unleashed, they have a much greater impact. My initial reaction was to dismiss a piece like "Numerology" - a repeating synthesised bass beat under gentle pizzicato low strings, and not much more - as disposable, but on closer inspection it fits beautifully into the overall scheme of things and builds up tension until breaking point is reached.
Much of the album's first half is taken up by this suspense music - I guess many people will be most taken by the action track "New York", but if anything that sounds just a little too familiar to Beltrami's past efforts to me, and it's the less obvious pieces which leave the deepest impression. Having said that, there are a couple of softer pieces which are quite irresistable, right from the first time they're heard - "John and Caleb" and "Aftermath", which sandwich the previously-mentioned action piece "New York", are fantastic excursions into more moving science fiction territory.
There's some good action material in "33" and then the score really explodes in "Loudmouth", a truly thrilling piece of action music featuring Goldsmithian piano - a device he used so effectively so frequently, it's astonishing that more film composers don't do it these days (though in fairness, I get the impression there are quite a few film "composers" who wouldn't even recognise a piano - fortunately, Beltrami is from the opposite end of the spectrum). The piece is followed by "Revelations", the perfect gentle riposte. Things kick off again in the score's final five tracks, which represent one of the most thrilling 20-minute passages I've heard in a film score in a long while. "Shock and Aww" is a fine piece of orchestral grandstanding, before the lengthy "Caleb Leaves" begins with a reprise of the softer material introduced earlier in "John and Caleb", before exploding into an exhilirating piece of action. After that excitement, Beltrami slows things down in the fine "Roll Over Beethoven", but after a gentle opening that turns into a piece of doom-laden action. There's a hint of Elliot Goldenthal (more than a hint, actually) in "New World Round", a fantastic well-cooked piece of musical awe; and things are rounded off nicely in the brief "Who Wants an Apple?"
Knowing is a very fine album - dramatically-potent music, well-composed. After Jerry Goldsmith's death, few composers have seemed able to tackle this sort of project well - James Newton Howard on one of his best days, perhaps, or Christopher Young; but Beltrami is more than capable.