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A modern classic gets a well-deserved deluxe release
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
One of the very few science fiction films which has found an audience far wider than the usual demographic, The Matrix was nothing short of a phenomenon upon its 1999 release, seemingly coming from nowhere to take $400m at the worldwide box office. Filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski put their hero (Keanu Reeves) into a world much like ours, which turns out to actually be an artificial reality in which humans are playthings controlled by androids. It's a decent film, with a few intelligent twists and turns, and it looks absolutely spectacular - and it sounds even better. If the reputation of the film itself has suffered enormously from its ill-advised, hideously bad sequels, fortunately the same is not true of its score, by Don Davis.
Davis was not particularly well-known at the time he scored this film - he had written numerous scores, but mostly for low-budget, little-seen films and for television - this was by far the biggest thing he had ever done. In every sense. At a time when seemingly every action movie was either scored by Hans Zimmer or someone doing an impression of Hans Zimmer, Davis went completely the opposite direction and instead of composing music which dumbed everything down, composed music which is challenging, enlightening and actually moves film music forward rather than back. While the influences are pretty obvious (from John Adams to Lutoslawski), a few experiments from Elliot Goldenthal aside, postmodern music like this just hadn't been used in film scoring beforehand, which alone would make it one of the landmark scores of modern times - the quality of the final product puts that beyond doubt.
From the now-famous fading brass chords of the opening title through the clustered brass in the action music to the pure human feeling of the sections for boy soprano, Davis doesn't waste a note here, serving up a perfectly-constructed, beautifully-presented feast of a film score. With hints of minimalism and frequent atonality, melody very much takes a back-seat here, but that should never be taken as a sign of the music being unlistenable - quite the reverse, this is rare for largely-dissonant music in that it sounds so organic and natural that it is extremely easy to listen to. The large orchestra is augmented by electronics and occasional choir, and perhaps most notable is the size of the brass section, which is undoubtedly the dominant force - and the action music, which is the most remarkable feature of a score which is not in any way short of remarkable features.
Varese Sarabande released an excellent score album at the time of the film's release, but union restrictions at the time meant it was only 30 minutes long. While that album was very well-done, it could never show just what intelligence went into the creation of this music and how large its scope really is. The same label's CD Club has now released this new 77-minute album - and I can think of few more deserving scores than The Matrix when it comes to expanded releases. From first moment to last, this is mind-bogglingly good, music to be cherished. It's so far ahead of any other action scores which have come since (with the exception of Davis's music for this film's two sequels) I can't believe that his career hasn't taken off more than it has. Apart from those two films, the only other film he has worked on with any degree of high profile was Jurassic Park III - a composer capable of writing music like this deserves as much time in the limelight as possible. I couldn't recommend it more highly.