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Tomb Raider
  • Composed by Tom Holkenborg
  • Sony Classical / 72m

Most films based on video games are cinematic masterpieces and the two Tomb Raider films which starred Angelina Jolie are no exception.  I remember both of them – they starred Angelina Jolie and, oh wait, I don’t remember anything else.  (OK, I remember that bit when she got onto the boat.)  Still, I’m sure this new one will really be great – how could it not be?  It’s 3D!  Alicia Vikander steps into Jolie’s shoes as Lara Croft, and the plot sees her raiding various tombs.

There are a lot of strange, frankly inexplicable things happening around the world in 2018.  There’s no need to list them.  One of them is that Tom Holkenborg, who seems to have no aptitude whatsoever for scoring films, is a successful, high-profile film composer.  Evidently some people see something in his work because he keeps getting hired.  Whatever it is, I haven’t seen it so far.  In all interviews, in all reports I’ve read, he is evidently an immensely nice guy who really cares about what he does, which makes me feel quite guilty that I just can’t find anything much to like – so I’ve been waiting in desperate hope that finally something would come along which I could finally like and admire.

Tom Holkenborg

In the most resounding fashion, Tomb Raider is not it.  The opening cue, “Return to Croft Manor”, is terrible – and also by far the best cue on the album.  It actually sounds like it might be improvised – keyboards and acoustic instruments which sound like keyboards noodle along, textures rising and falling, at one point a naff variant on the Bourne ostinato appears, sticks around for a bit and then disappears again – there’s no flow, no structure, but it does have the redeeming feature of not being earsplittingly loud.

Virtually everything else on the album is earsplittingly loud.  There’s loud drumming, loud brass (which sounds like keyboards), loud strings (which sound like keyboards) and – to add some occasional variety – loud keyboards.  I’ve been doing this for years – decades – and I know by now to have low expectations for things like this.  A composer once wrote to me that because I couldn’t write music myself I had no right to criticise those who did.  Well, Holkenborg clearly can’t write music either and yet he’s making a living from it.

I know it seems harsh, but it won’t if you have the misfortune of hearing this.  I’ve no doubt that a huge amount of effort and passion went into creating this and I admire that, of course, but it’s terrible – monochrome, repetitive, no dramatic structure, no emotion, no nuance.  “But you can’t seriously expect anything else in the score for Tomb Raider!” I hear people cry.  Of course I can – imagine if John Powell had scored this, or Michael Giacchino.  If Brian Tyler had scored it it would still have been loud, but it would have had an orchestra that sounds like an orchestra and almost certainly a kick-ass theme.

I do realise I’m not the target audience for this.  It might be on Sony Classical, but don’t let that deceive you.  I maintain that there’s no reason the music for a Tomb Raider film has to sound like this – we could still get an actual film score with a sense of drama, an emotional arc, a musical vision of some kind – but it is what it is.  I remember how much everyone thought Graeme Revell’s score for the first of the Jolie films was awful too, and trust me that one sounds like Lawrence of Arabia compared with this – I guess this must be what the kids want and therefore it’s what the filmmakers want.  The hunt for Holkenborg’s gift for film music goes on, for me at least.  If you’ve liked what he’s done in the past, I’m sure you’ll like this too.

Rating: No stars | |

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  1. J.B. (Reply) on Friday 9 March, 2018 at 21:51

    “A composer once wrote to me that because I couldn’t write music myself I had no right to criticise those who did.”

    That is a laughable argument. I hope you came up with a good counter.

    • Jules (Reply) on Friday 9 March, 2018 at 22:25

      Please tell me it wasn’t Han.
      But I’d bet money it was.

      • James Southall (Reply) on Friday 9 March, 2018 at 22:42


        • Jules on Wednesday 14 March, 2018 at 11:08

          It’s sad that he seems to have such a big ego, because he does come out with genuinely great music, and has given pathways to some of my favourites – Powell, Gregson-Williams etc.

    • Justin (Reply) on Saturday 10 March, 2018 at 22:28

      Yeah, it’s such a bonehead argument; knee-jerk and not reflection of deeper thought.

      I’m not a cook, but I know bad food.

      I don’t make cars, but I know a lemon when I see one (and so does congress — there’s a lemon law).

      I’ve never made a movie, but I know shitty movies hen I see them (anybody seen “The Room”?).

      And so forth and so on.

  2. Ad de Nijs (Reply) on Saturday 10 March, 2018 at 09:39

    Spot on James.
    I had the pleasure of meeting fellow countryman Tom Holkenborg in LA at the Fans of Film Music meeting and he is actually a nice guy.
    But there it indeed ends. I find your comparisons hilarious (especially the “Lawrence of Arabia” one) which makes even a harsh piece of review like this fun to read.
    For me, i.e., Tom will think otherwise I’m afraid but the truth can hurt.

    Btw. I made a remark on your twitter post that states that what you mention here about the lack of education goes for many pop music turned filmcomposer IMHO.
    Lucky one-hit-wonder aside that includes many ‘great’ names in film scoring.
    But that would trigger a completely new, but interesting discussion for fora.

  3. AdoKrycha007 (Reply) on Saturday 10 March, 2018 at 09:51

    No more Remote Control shit composers !!!

  4. ghostof82 (Reply) on Sunday 11 March, 2018 at 20:36

    I know it’s not fair to expect there to be another John Williams around, but really, can you imagine what JW of the 1970s period (Superman The Movie, Star Wars, Raiders etc) would have done with a film like this? Movie music is lost down the rabbit hole and I don’t think its glory days are ever coming back.

    This almost makes me wish that Zimmer had done it.

  5. Markus (Reply) on Tuesday 13 March, 2018 at 20:08

    You nailed it James!!!! Terrible “music”

  6. Momo (Reply) on Wednesday 14 March, 2018 at 23:27

    You were fantasizing, but Powell really DOES need to get more action-adventure assignments like this.

    • Jules (Reply) on Thursday 15 March, 2018 at 08:25

      I think Powell might be quite serious about the ethics of the violence portrayed on screen, which is why he does a lot of animated stuff. Not sure where I heard that though.