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Artwork copyright (c) 2003 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Sometimes furiously exciting superhero music

Another week, another comic book adaptation.  This one was spectacularly unsuccessful.  Perhaps sometime studios will start to realise that if they insist on spending a fortune on adapting a comic book that nobody under 25 stone has heard of then they actually need to make it good.  Any road up, the production difficulties which reportedly led to Sean Connery firing the director Steve Norrington during the post-production process don't seem to have had much effect on the score, by Trevor Jones.  It's his best for some time.

He would not have been my first choice for a film like this (indeed, I don't think he wouldn't have been in my top hundred choices) but he has acquitted himself very well.  There is a strong - if somewhat unmemorable - main theme for low brass and strings, a ballsy, machismo motif really that stands a long way from some of the great superhero themes in terms of style (if anything, it's closer to Shore's Lord of the Rings) but is stylish enough to stand out from the generic fare heard in things like X-Men 2.  But what really impresses is the action music.  I've sometimes found Jones's action material to be somewhat underwhelming, though scores such as Dark City certainly have their fine moments, but here he doesn't hold anything back and gives the London Symphony Orchestra a real workout.  It's all low-register, dark material, but very thrilling and impressive stuff.  Again it reminds me a little of Shore's Lord of the Rings action music, but it's not quite so dense, which makes it rather more appealing.

For a film about a collection of superheroes, you might expect it to be multi-themed, with one for each one, but Jones decided to eschew that approach in favour of trying to give continuity by having a consistent style and only one real theme.  I think either approach would have worked well enough, but you do sometimes long for a Goldsmith/King Solomon's Mines-style theme to burst forth for Allan Quatermain or a gothic romantic theme for Mina Harker.  But instead of being scattered with numerous themes, instead the somewhat monothematic approach is broken up by three ill-fitting pieces of source music, one Victorian song pastiche by Jones and two tracks he co-wrote for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which ruin the score's atmosphere but probably added a zero to the number of units sold.

Speaking of the number of units sold, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has proved to be a rather controversial album because of the way it has been released.  Originally, Fox decided they would release it exclusively through Apple's iTunes service, so the music would be available for download only.  Then someone pointed out that iTunes is available for North America only, so they contacted Varese Sarabande for a release in the rest of the world.  Then someone else pointed out that even in America access to iTunes is hardly that common, so they agreed that Varese could also sell the album through their website.  For me, there are so many flaws with selling a film score album on the internet that I hope nobody bothers to try again.  For one thing, one makes or breaks a score release financially is the number of "floating voters" who buy it, ie those casual fans who happen to have seen the film and liked the music.  They would walk into their record store, look for the album, find out it wasn't there and then forget all about it - so their custom is lost.  Second, downloading 55 minutes of music off the internet takes so damn long.  Third, the audio quality is not as good.  Fourth, despite the fact that you get something that can only be listened to through your computer's speakers, with no liner notes or artwork, you are paying almost as much as you would for something you can hold in your hands, look at, play on your computer, on your hi-fi, in your car, take round your friend's house, and so on.  The whole reason downloading music from the internet became so popular was that people discovered they could get music, illegally, for free.  As soon as they start having to pay for it, it just ain't going to happen.

Anyway, enough about the manner in which it was released.  Ultimately it's all about the music and despite a few rather dull tracks in the middle section, this is a winning score.  Those of you who don't live in the USA can pop down to your local record store and get your hands on a copy (such an antiquated, inconvenient thing to have to do) but those fortunate to live in the States can pay just as much money and eagerly sit at your computers for 48 hours and wait for the thing to download so you can listen to it through inevitably-tinny speakers in the smallest room of your house.  Now there's progress for you.  


  1. Dawn of a New Century (4:28)
  2. Kenya - Wait for Me Ladysmith Black Mambazo (3:32)
  3. Task Requires Heroes (4:09)
  4. Promenade by the Sea (2:54)
  5. Nautilus - Sword of the Ocean (3:30)
  6. The Game is On (2:54)
  7. Old Tiger (2:56)
  8. Capturing Mr Hyde (3:29)
  9. Mina Harker's Secret (3:18)
  10. Phantom's Lair (5:30)
  11. Portrait of Dorian Gray (3:40)
  12. Treachery (5:29)
  13. Storming the Fortress (3:55)
  14. May this New Century Be Yours (2:34)
  15. Son of Africa Ladysmith Black Mambazo (2:08)