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The Bourne Legacy
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Lionsgate Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
People who drop by this website occasionally based on critical messageboard postings probably think I'm a cranky old fart who can't stand anything remotely "modern" in film music. Some people may think that's correct, but I hope it isn't, and indeed I have on numerous occasions found myself sucked in to online arguments defending various modern composers. One of those is Brian Tyler, who seems to get an awful lot of Zimmer-scale abuse from film music fans, but doesn't particularly deserve it; he can actually compose real music, he has a sense of how to make it work in a film, and he clearly has a real passion for his craft, so already he's several steps ahead of many composers who are more deserving of that criticism.
Unfortunately, he does seem to have stagnated somewhat after an explosively promising start to his Hollywood career, and this stagnation continues to an extent here in War. Paradoxically, musically it is in places really impressive, featuring cleverly-orchestrated music of real excitement - so what's wrong with it? It's one of the most blatant temp-track extravaganzas this side of 300, specifically feeling almost throughout its running time that it's the fourth chapter in John Powell's Jason Bourne series of scores.
While Tyler doesn't go to quite the same extravagent lengths as Powell at creating the complex electronic overlay to the orchestra, he does do it up to a point, and the orchestration is just pure Powell, with the choppy strings, real and sampled percussion, guitars and bass. It's actually really quite disconcerting the first time you listen to it - Tyler hasn't quite stolen Powell's tunes particularly, but it's (virtually) an entire score written in a way to make it sound like another without actually quoting the melodies.
There are positives and negatives to that: the positive is that Powell's scores are amongst the most impressive modern action scores, and anything which resembles them as closely as this does must clearly have something worthwile about it; but the negative is that no matter how good the impression, Tyler was never actually going to be as good at composing Powell as Powell is (or indeed as good at it as he is at composing Tyler) - so you're left to ponder, why listen to this when you could be listening to the real thing?
The other problem is that Tyler doesn't actually do quite so much with the raw material as Powell would have done; somewhat bizarrely, there are two versions of the album available, one featuring a very generous amount of score (an hour or so - rather more than the music can sustain) and the other one featuring yet more (74 minutes - available for download only). Whichever version you go for, after 15 minutes - if you can get over the Powell impression - you'll probably be sitting there thinking you're listening to something which is really good. But honestly, you could press "stop" after 15 minutes and you would miss absolutely nothing in the rest of the score which hasn't already been done. So it's a tricky one to summarise - some very good points, some very bad ones - I'm sure it will appeal to Tyler fans and to Powell fans to a point, but I hope it's not long before this talented composer gets back to being himself.