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World War Z
  • Composed by Marco Beltrami
  • Warner Bros. / 2013 / 44m

A film that seemed to be in a lot of trouble, with well-publicised reshoots, World War Z may not have turned out so badly after all, based on the early reviews.  It’s hard to see how you could go too far wrong, really – a “zombie pandemic” is spreading across the world, and mankind’s last best hope for survival is Brad Pitt.  Oddly, the studio wanted it to be made so it would be suitable for kids, which presumably makes it a lot less gory than it would otherwise have been, but still – you can’t have everything.  Director Marc Forster – heavily-criticised on Quantum of Solace because people saw him as an arthouse filmmaker trying in vain to make an action movie – continues his arthouse credentials here.

The music comes courtesy of the prolific Marco Beltrami, who says he hates horror movies and never watches them, but seemingly scores approximately fifteen every year.  Beltrami’s style certainly lends itself to the genre – he has a very modern orchestral sensibility, often favouring aggressive, darker sounds.  World War Z is one of his most aggressive and darkest scores so far.  The tone is set immediately in the bleak “Philadelphia” – dissonant textures mix with blaring action, for a portentous opening.  ”The Lane Family” presents a melodic theme, but it’s far from a happy one – this is no picnic-in-the-sunshine music, it’s sadness and despair.

Marco Beltrami

Marco Beltrami

From after that point, the music barely lets up at all in conveying desperate terror, but it does it in two ways.  The score features an array of percussion – the composer even, creatively, uses the sound of teeth banging against the skeletons of feral pigs.  Apparently that technique was suggested to him by his friend Tommy Lee Jones – and there’s something strangely wonderful about that.  The sound produced is certainly evocative – a perfect zombie accompaniment, really.   ”Zombies in Coach” is a wonderful piece of action music.  Somewhat alarmingly, Hans Zimmer’s HORN OF DOOM is in it (and elsewhere in the score), but it’s backed up by frantic string music and that ever-present percussion giving such a sense of momentum, the piece getting ever more frantic as it veers towards its thrilling conclusion.  Later, “The Salvation Gates” pushes the volume up to the limit, not to mention the thrills.

There are a few of those pulse-pounding action pieces on the album, but also a few much lower-key tracks that don’t pack the same immediate wallop – then on closer inspection and deeper listening do still draw me in and hold both my attention and my tension.  (I’m not sure that makes any sense, but it seemed quite a cute thing to say.)  There are electronics used throughout, but only ever to augment what is primarily orchestral music; and the augmentation is done in a way that adds at times a very unsettling sound, particularly through various subtle stereo sound effects that can send a chill down the spine.  It’s oddly captivating – not a great deal really happens in the suspenseful “Searching for Clues” yet somehow it has me on the edge of my seat.  (The Goldsmithian piano figure is a wonderful touch.)  Towards the end of the album, “Wales” offers just the slightest hint of hope, for the first time really in the score.  If they’ve gone to Wales, perhaps they’re hoping to eat some leeks or go for a walk along the beach at Aberdovey, always a lovely thing to do, so it’s no surprise there’s a bit of hope in the music.  The actual finale, “Like a River Around a Rock”, isn’t exactly full of brightness and optimism, but it does eventually turn that way and brings things to a rousing close.

The album doesn’t perhaps provide the obvious thrills of Beltrami’s most popular scores, but it feels like there’s something going on at a deeper level here, there’s a clear purpose to all the music and it’s executed very well.  At a shade under three quarters of an hour, the album’s the perfect length given the material – any longer and it would suffer the danger of the spell the composer so carefully casts simply becoming too much.  It’s such a dark score, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly easy to enjoy, but there’s an incredible technique on display and it’s certainly easy enough to be impressed by that.  Recommended.

Rating: *** 1/2

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  1. Jason Farcone on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 19:19

    “Director Marc Forster – heavily-criticized on Quantum of Solace because people saw him as an arthouse filmmaker trying in vain to make an action movie – continues his arthouse credentials here.”

    Yeah they really made right on that blunder by getting Mendes for the new Bond’(s)””’. teeehee at the ‘scoring 15 horror movies’ a year comment, I never got the idea of Beltrami as anything but a horror composer out of my head. Terminator 3 had some nice wee bits, though. (‘radio’)

  2. Gil on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 19:42

    I’ve given the soundtrack three tries and I would say the orchestration is to be commended but Beltrami’s WWZ could easily be plunked down into any generic action thriller (that was temp tracked with Zimmer’s Inception) and you wouldn’t even guess it was originally intended to accompany a horror movie about a zombie apocalypse.

  3. Jason Farcone on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 19:55

    here’s my real response to world war Z:

  4. krish on Saturday 22 June, 2013 at 18:59

    World war z score truely sinking us in the film….
    Your review is good…
    But,i give 4 and 1/2

  5. Jason Farcone on Friday 12 July, 2013 at 19:57

    James I swear to god allah buddha and chaplin I’m not using movie-wave to promote my spuriously irrelevant links. I SWEAR. but since you didn’t get to changing your damn site layout till a few years back, I (obv) cannot ‘ put some things ‘ in their appropriate/respective places#%!%!#!

    So I’m abusing World War Z, as I did with that Great Dictator post, to link something completely unrelated. just choosing this score/review because it’s probably the most popular sci-fi (sans man of steel) score you’ve reviewed of late.

    I just noticed, after mentioning Randy Newman’s rejected ‘Air Force One’ score, that in your review of that album you referred to it as akin to Poledouris’ ‘Starship Troopers’ (which you added, Air Force One PRECEDED it by;; must say I took/take slight offense to that, since as good as Newman’s rejected score is, it …. is……. NO ……. STARSHIP …… TROOOOOOOOOPERS.

    Anyway, I stumbled upon this track recently, and was, in a WAY, blown AWAY. It’s off the extended Starship Troopers bootleg that I guess wiggled its way to the net/on cd(r/) many years back; I even heard it at that point and reviewed it, but dismissed the entire thing as superfluous and overlong, adding nothing to Varese’s original, perfectly produced half-hour or so release. This piece, however, is quite strange, mostly because IT IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND IN THE FILM (which is prob in my top 5 everrr), and furthermore, while the orchestration is directly in line with the rest of Poledouris’ official score, the TONE is quite different; more heroic and optimistic than anything found within the film. This simply staggers my mind because I would have never guessed in a million years that something this polished and fantastic would be CUT from a Verhoeven film; the obvious conclusion being that the film, too, must have had at least SOME (potentially amazing) scenes ripped out by TriStar/the producers (SPRINGTIME4hitla&germANY). It really makes me rather sad. Though Starship Troopers is my favorite Verhoeven film, it’s probably arguable that in terms of overall quality, it doesn’t quite hold up to ‘Total Recall’ (or even ‘Robocop’). But with stuff this good thrown in the garbage can, suppose that would be expected.?

    http://picosong.com/RjZ6/

    again pangs of guilt for this quasi-spam; will not retaliate if this post, too, is thrown in the can.

  6. Jason Farcone on Friday 12 July, 2013 at 20:08

    bah. just so anyone familiar with Starship Troopers doesn’t think I’m an amnesiac and/or lying, I’m fully aware a majority of that Poledouris track was actually in the film (towards the end of the big BUGS! attack at the ‘mormon outpost’), but the first minute and a half or so of the piece is the stuff I’m referring to, which I’m 99.9% positive finds itself nowhere within the final cut of the movie.

    LONG LIVE THAT GRECO-AMERICAN MAESTRO. in other words, RIP. though I personally believe he’s somewhere up in the clouds writing music for theaters in the afterlife.

  7. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. on Saturday 27 July, 2013 at 15:45

    James, you’re very generous awarding +3*s to Beltrami AND THE 4 COMPOSERS who assisted with scoring details. The opening titles credit Beltrami and an unfamiliar name [?? Bellamy] for music responsibilities. The end titles’ Post Production music credits list another 3 composers including Buck Sanders, frequent Beltrami collaborator. Yes, some of the original cues would have had to be restructured because of reshoots & editing demands, but surely 5 COMPOSERS could have created an innovative masterpiece for WW-Z. Instead, we have repeated LAZY rewrites of leftovers from Max Payne, Hurt Locker [barring that beautiful "The way I am" cue] Cursed etc etc. Surely Beltrami’s creative inspirations aren’t exhausted, resulting in this banal sameness. A friend -also an avid film music collector- saw WOLVERINE yesterday, and described Beltrami’s score as “awful, ignoring the Japanese locations to introduce Far Eastern colouring”. Maybe the ethnic instruments were overwhelmed by the sound-effects. The sound-effects / music mix in World War Z also drowned out the Beltrami percussion and, yes, James, those percussive teeth your review mentioned. I was looking out for that sound. I recently bought THE DEAD by British/Indian composer IMRAN AHMAD. This score features ethnic African percussion, glorious vocalises, an exquisite, delicate – sounding stringed instrument, the KORA AND beautiful music vyeing with the ominous, aggressive atonalities of zombies in an African wilderness. Have a listen James- and you too, Marco Beltrami if you read Movie-Waves reviews, and value the critiques of your concerned fan-base of admirers.