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Total Recall
  • Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
  • Madison Gate Records / 2012 / 56:22

I think a lot of people were surprised by Len Wiseman’s seemingly-unnecessary remake of Total Recall in that they didn’t hate it – many went into the film expecting little but finding that actually, it’s OK.  The same could probably be said for the score, by Harry Gregson-Williams.  Following in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith is a pretty thankless task for any film composer (no matter what you do, the film music fans are unlikely to be forgiving) but he certainly didn’t disgrace himself.  Film music has changed a lot since 1990, particularly in big Hollywood action films – whereas back then it was acceptable for a score to have a real personality of its own and through extension give the film some real personality, these days the role of music is more usually to provide ambient support.  Atmosphere’s the key, not personality.  Narrative drive is something usually forbidden from the score (a lot of bad action films were made to seem a lot better in the 1980s and 90s through their music; something much rarer today, showing the lack of appreciation of a lot of filmmakers over exactly what a good score could do for their films).

Gregson-Williams somewhat predictably offers what is in many ways an extension of the sound he developed on various Tony Scott thrillers, and while it’s no masterpiece, this score is far more enjoyable than any of them.  Things don’t get off to the best start in “The Dream” (the vaguely Goldsmithian two-note rising motif notwithstanding) but after that they pick up considerably in what is virtually constant action music.  The contribution of the electronica group Hybrid won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the composer does well to integrate that with his more orchestral music.  A theme of sorts appears in the second track, “The Fall”, and it’s a shame he couldn’t develop that further; but particularly in the second half of the album, much of the music is pretty engaging.  The biggest shame is that – in stark contrast with the score with which everyone will inevitably compare this – the music just doesn’t have a big personality – it’s designed to sit in the background within the film, so it just ends up sitting in the background away from it too, not able to create enough of an impression.  Still – particularly when the orchestra is cranked up a bit, like in the string ostinati that are more Brian Tyler than the usual John Powell, though his influence is all over the percussion sound – and in the rare moments of reflection, like the beautiful “The Vault” – there is quality to be found.  At almost an hour, the album’s twice as long as it needs to be, but it’s better than a lot of people would have you believe – just a shame that (in common with almost all music for similar films of the last decade or so) it couldn’t be bolder in its convictions and less afraid to play a leading role, not just a supporting one.  *** |

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  1. chris (Reply) on Friday 21 September, 2012 at 20:34

    yes the film not so bad at all but I’m surprised you rate 3 stars such a generic score. From HGW , this is one of the worst music I ever heard .

  2. André - Cape Town. (Reply) on Saturday 22 September, 2012 at 12:25

    Phillip K Dick > visionary, futurist & tortured, if brilliant SF author and COLIN FARREL’s performance. Yet, there were no empathetic themes for a man whose world and the people in it, inexplicably alter along with his mind-set & physical abilities. A melodic piano theme triggers a clue to the bewildering world Farrel finds himself in BUT it goes nowhere. It could so easily have developed into a grand heroic theme. Do I want a copy of this score? It’s at the bottom of my ‘want’ list while I wait for previously unreleased Morricone, Goldsmith, Delerue, Jarre and Portman CDs and, hopefully, new scores that havn’t been created by ambient-fuelled composers.

  3. André - Cape Town. (Reply) on Saturday 22 September, 2012 at 17:53

    Hi James – my comments re Harry Gregson-Williams’ score were so bizarrely edited that they make no sense. Please cancel if the intro has been lost or beamed to some other cyber-site. Hopefully u can locate and restore. Are comments limited to X number of words. Thanks for a great site. Regards. André.

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 22 September, 2012 at 19:18

    Sorry – must have been lost. As far as I know, there’s no limit to the length of comments. Thanks for your kind words! I can delete the comment if you’d like me to.


  5. André - Cape Town. (Reply) on Sunday 4 November, 2012 at 15:11

    Hopefully the virtual gremlins won’t create a Black Hole for my comments this time round James. If successful, please cancel my previous comments. “Philip K. Dick > futurist, visionary & tortured Sci-Fi writer summoned up a horrendous post – apocalyptic world in BLADE RUNNER(1982), comparable to his 1990’s TOTAL RECALL. Both films boasted exceptional scores by VANGELIS and JERRY GOLDSMITH respectively! I doubt whether Harry Gregson-Williams’ music for TOTAL RECALL’s 2012 will ever enjoy the accolades that are continually heaped on GOLDSMITH’s twenty- two year old opus. Len Wiseman’s conception & direction of this futuristic thriller is exciting and his visuals elements are awesome. Views of the cityscapes are phantasmagoric with structures extending in all directions > cubistic & rectangular in design, they’re piled one above the other at obscure angles. This crushing claustrophobia is home to humanity…. uneducated millions living unfulfilled lives > entire populations performing mundane tasks of physical drudgery. What a marvellous opportunity for a composer to underscore these unforgetable visuals with stirring empathetic cues… excepting Gregson -Williams, whose one – dimensional drones & rhythms are unsatisfying. And then there’s COLIN FARREL. Surely this actor’s looks, physical performance and acting ability required heroic themes to rival those created for actors [and obviously their characters] such as Sean Connery, Charlton Heston, Daniel Craig et al. FARREL’s character decides to escape the boring life that is no life scenario he’s in, by turning to REKALL’s electronics & drugs to experience,for a short while, a different reality. The session goes wrong, and Farrel finds that his world and the people in it alter…along with his mindset & physical capabilities. A melodic piano-theme triggers a clue to the bewildering time-line Farrel now finds himself in BUT it goes nowhere. It could so easily have morphed into the grand heroic theme befitting Farrel’s character and his enigmatic past. Gregson-Williams’ score lacks personality, identity, emotion & thematic development. It is inter-changeable with a dozen othes ambient-fuelled scores, and has contributed to the crises in American film scoring where innovation and identity and beauty in filmmusic appear to belong to the past”.