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X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Composed by John Ottman
  • Okeh Records / 2014 / 77m

The seventh film in the remarkably long running X-Men series, Days of Future Past mixes castmembers from the original trilogy with those from First Class.  With Bryan Singer – who made the first and best two films in the series – returning as director, hopes are high for the film (and Singer is apparently already working on the eighth one!)  Incredibly considering the series’ longevity, Days of Future Past marks the first time so far that a composer has worked on a second entry; of course, that composer is Singer’s usual collaborator John Ottman (who missed out on the first X-Men because of a conflict with his directorial duties on Urban Legends: Final Cut).

Despite fine scores from Michael Kamen and John Powell, it would be a stretch to claim that these films have been especially musically distinguished, and only a barrel-scraping effort from Henry Jackman amongst its number prevents the score Ottman wrote for the second film being the worst of the lot, so I can’t say I was exactly jumping for joy at the news of his return, despite the opportunity it provided him to maintain some musical continuity between X-Men and Lifeforce (which he does).  When the score gets off to as terrible a start as Days of Future Past (horrible “atmospherics” for a couple of minutes before the Lifeforce theme comes on) I feared the worst; when I heard the second cue, “Time’s Up”, with its absurd HORN OF DOOM and badly-judged choral melodrama, I could only hold my head in my hands.

John Ottman

John Ottman

But the strange thing about this score is that it almost feels like two or three different scores going on at the same time, interspersing each other, and sounding like they were written by different people.  Because after that wretched opening, “Hope” (subtitled “Xavier’s Theme”) appears and all of a sudden we’re into a different Hans Zimmer territory, a thinly-veiled rewrite of Inception‘s “Time” complete with Zimmer-style orchestra-that-sounds-like-samples, one of the most blatant temp-track lifts I’ve heard in a while (and it appears several times throughout the early portions of the album before being discarded entirely after that).

The frustrating thing is that in the very next track, “I Found Them”, after some more Inception (this time without the percussive accompaniment, making it sound a whole lot fresher) and HORN OF DOOM, there’s some genuinely classy dramatic orchestral writing which shines so much brighter than anything up to that point, you hear a glimpse of just what the score could have been.  Then as soon as it arrives, it’s left behind again, with the horrible percussive/electronic “Saigon – Logan Arrives” taking over, rock guitars joining in to add the feeling of it being yet another different score later on.  And that’s the problem with the album as a listening experience – there are some reasonable ideas here that are never particularly followed through or developed, some clever music which doesn’t sound like anything around it and then disappears almost as quickly as it arrives.

It’s such a shame it’s so uneven because the good parts really are worth listening to – “He Lost Everything” still has that Zimmer influence but it’s more disguised and comes across as a genuinely touching piece of music.  The next cue, “Springing Erik”, again seems to come from a completely different score but there’s something quite cool with the rhythmic bass, like it’s an espionage movie and it’s the best cue on the album, curiously classier than most things that surround it.  Following that is a very long sequence of somnambulant cues in which barely anything happens – brooding underscore of the most uninteresting kind, which should never have got anywhere near the album.  The exception comes in parts of “Paris Pandemonium”, a lengthy cue that itself seems to lack any kind of focus but which does feature some fine individual moments, boasting some excellent orchestration at a couple of points when the score suddenly becomes like one from a hard-hitting horror movie and even a few bars from Michael Kamen’s X-Men score.

I fear that many people won’t get far enough to hear them, but the album’s best parts are saved until late.  The film version of “Time’s Up” starts it – so much more vibrant than what was billed as the “original version” earlier on the disc (a version which should have been left on the cutting room floor), it’s still got the dreaded HORN OF DOOM but also some fine orchestral action music; easily the most exciting piece on the album and a tantalising glimpse at what might have been.  “The Attack Begins” is lively too, despite succumbing to more Zimmer clichés (a bit of Man of Steel percussion here); “Join Me” with its sweet piano lullaby at the start and moving cello solo at the end is absolutely lovely; and the heart-tugging strings in “Do What You Were Made For” have a beautifully-judged tragic air.

This is one frustrating album.  The best parts are clearly considerably better than anything in Ottman’s X2 but they are interspersed with some incredibly blatant temp-track lifts and a whole host of music which is frankly just terribly dull (the album is considerably overlong); add to that the bizarrely piecemeal nature of even the better material, which really does have so little continuity it sounds like it could have been written by different composers for different films, and it’s a curiosity indeed.  Maybe the score was very rushed for some reason – if so, that’s a shame, because with more time perhaps the ideas could have been turned into a more compelling whole.  There’s no denying that some of those ideas really are excellent but it would be a very generous stretch to say they can rescue Days of Future Past from being a disappointment.

Rating: **

See also:
X-Men Michael Kamen
X2: X-Men United John Ottman
X-Men: The Last Stand John Powell
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Harry Gregson-Williams
X-Men: First Class Henry Jackman
The Wolverine Marco Beltrami

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  1. Daniel Henderson on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at 02:03

    So John Ottman still has no style of his own? X2 was a Temp Track mishmash and the only good thing about Superman Returns was when he was rerecording John Williams.

    Now after 10ish years, he’s added Zimmer to his “style.” That’s a bummer. At least there’s a good chance he’s not going ruin any other superhero movies like he did last time.

    Love him or hate him, Hans Zimmer has a “voice,” and I can excuse a lot if someone has their own style. I have less tolerance for people whose “voice” or “style” is a Temp Track.

  2. Mikal on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at 03:58

    Daniel – Still has no style? If you can’t discern his style via elements like interval preferences or choices in instrumentation, that’s your problem, but to state he doesn’t have one is simply erroneous.

  3. ghostof82 on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at 08:04

    Don’t understand the LIFEFORCE reference early in the review. That was a Mancini score, so this must be referencing some other LIFEFORCE? Clue me in because its bugging me, I don’t get it!

  4. Jim Ware on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at 12:05

    Ottman’s main theme is rhythmically very similar to Mancini’s Lifeforce.

  5. ZheParadox on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at 12:10

    Hey ghostof82…

    The Main Theme from” X2: X-Men United” is only a little rewrite of Henry Mancini’s Theme from “Lifeforce” that’s why James refers to it as Lifeforce Theme (he also wrote about that in the “X2″ review).

    there you go :)

  6. Gal on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at 23:43

    Good review.
    Certainly problematic score to review with all the temp track.

    The (Zimmer’s) “TIME” ripoff (in the very few tracks without the word ‘time’
    in them !) is nearing parody.

    Even though Henry Jackman did a ‘Time’ variation rewrite in his own score as well,
    he did it far better. I guess there’s a limit of how many times (pun not intended) you
    could copy one track. I guess with this score here, it’s one time too many.

    Despite Ottman dismissing it (in recent interview), he did in fact use Henry Jackman’s Magneto theme in track 15 – “Time’s Up 2″.

    Maybe one of the ‘ghost writers’ snuck it in.

    I’d hope to find bits of either Jackman’s or Powell’s X-MEN group themes somewhere within,
    but Ottman travelled back in time to erase them from memory in favour of his inferior X2 theme.

  7. mastadge on Monday 19 May, 2014 at 00:58

    Apparently there was a VERY last-minute scoring session, so it could be that the film version of the cue was completed after Ottman started doing promotional interviews about the score.

  8. Gal on Monday 19 May, 2014 at 01:00

    Here’s the link to the interview:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA_dOsONS54

    He actually said something more upsetting –
    he said Jackman’s Magneto’s theme was actually his own Wolverine theme from X2 !

    Personally, I couldn’t tell if there’s any truth to that. Can someone link us to the said bit
    from X2 ?

    On another note – Ottman says his X-MEN theme is the most memorable and loved…
    loved by John Ottman, I guess…

  9. John Cunha on Monday 19 May, 2014 at 05:05

    The theme in question from X2 can be found at 1:45 in this video, from the complete recordings… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwiRFKjf_vY

  10. Daniel Henderson on Monday 19 May, 2014 at 23:38

    re: Gal

    Someone besides Bryan Singer has to like Ottman’s work, it might as well be him.

  11. orion_mk3 on Tuesday 20 May, 2014 at 15:46

    That’s disappointing to hear. I thought that X2 has some strong themes, whatever their influences might have been, and was hoping for Ottman to build on them (you can clearly hear the influence they had on Powell in X3). But from the sound of things it seems like this might be another Spider-Man 2, with slavish temp track devotion (including a few temped bits of X2) the order of the day. Pity.

  12. Matt on Tuesday 20 May, 2014 at 17:07

    So far only Astro Boy and Superman Returns are the Ottman scores that I tend to revisit. I’ve always felt like Ottman’s scores were serviceable, but not very memorable. I personally like Jackman and Powell’s work on the X-Men movies the best. The Jackman score is a guilty pleasure for me. That “First Class” track is great. I didn’t have high hopes for Ottman’s score. The movie on the other hand I have high expectations and looks promising.

  13. muckle_dabuckle on Tuesday 20 May, 2014 at 19:56

    “…despite the opportunity it provided him to maintain some musical continuity between X-Men and Lifeforce (which he does).”

    LOL! Absolutely hilarious! One of the many reasons I love reading your reviews.

  14. cirithungol on Wednesday 21 May, 2014 at 12:09

    His score to Valkyrie is excellent!

  15. Rob on Sunday 25 May, 2014 at 04:49

    Well you call them temp tracks, but at least it’s not that free library music b****hit. Maybe I’m making an unfair comparison to composing software and orchestra, but the proper instrumentation and tone of even a fleeting ‘bridge’ track like “Contacting Raven” makes for a bit more weight and nuance I’d take any day.

    I think that’s the flaw with him being the editor as well to Bryan Singer’s films. It’s is that he has so much access, not just to film but to all the footage, than the average composer.

    Most of them have just the script or 1st cut so they would leave it first impressions, but him spending months rehearsing every moment may of made him think too specific of what works in highlights that he can’t funnel it into something cohesive.

    “I’ve been over this frame by frame, seeing it from every angle and take. This is what it should be for this scene. That worked. Next scene.”
    Not a proper work ethic probably.

    So yeah I guess I can tolerate orchestral filler better than most types of music. I can take a fair share of dullness in before or after, if it still gives a fleeting moment of beauty like 0:15 to 1:13 in “All Those Voices.”

    I do agree it’s all over the place, but to me there’s enough bits in-between to for me to warrant this a three star rating.

  16. Simon on Saturday 31 May, 2014 at 02:08

    John Ottman’s X-Men theme sounds nothing like the Lifeforce theme except for a similar violin rhythm in the first few seconds of them both.

    I mean, the tune is COMPLETELY different. Granted both pieces sound very similar for the first 5 seconds, but from thereon they cease to sound even somewhat similar. So calling out Ottman for plagiarising Mancini, not just in this review, but in the X2 review, is just ridiculous.

  17. Shaun on Monday 2 June, 2014 at 21:09

    Simon, no one is talking about the actual tune itself. It is that whole build-up to the theme that was ripped from the Lifeforce score. It’s a pretty powerful (and recognizable) opening, almost iconic here in America, though mostly because of ANOTHER ripoff, this one done for NFL Films (and later used in countless NFL-related commercials).

  18. tiago on Saturday 7 June, 2014 at 17:10

    I personally found the Original Version of Time’s Up better than film version. I felt that the choir in the OV is more creative than the FV. But it’s still a terrible album, though, and especially disapponting, since last year Ottman came with his wonderful Jack – The Giant Slayer soundtrack.