Music in the movies: April score round-up

In this week’s Music In The Movies, Glen checks out the latest scores available from such films as Battle: Los Angeles, Never Let Me Go and Rango...

Recently, there have been some fantastic scores from established composers, as well as some great pieces of music from new names, and this year’s already seen some spectacular movie soundtracks. Here are some of the scores worthy of your attention this month…

Rachel Portman – Never Let Me Go

Rachel Portman is a composer who I plan to write an article about before the end of the year, and one whose work I’m a fan of. Her work here really is quite excellent – some have complained that it’s a little overly sentimental, but I think, in many ways, it’s lighter than what the material calls for, but is still a hugely effective piece of work.

Portman spent four months working on the score, and her efforts show, as she draws out huge emotions through the use of strings. Versatility and simplicity are shown throughout, as the mood can switch from optimism to despair in an instant.

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Rachel Portman’s score for Never Let Me Go is available now through Varese Sarabande.

4 stars

Hans Zimmer – Rango

Hans Zimmer provides the score to the rather fantastic Gore Verbinski-directed animated film, Rango. The film itself is up there with my highlights of the year so far, and I’m pleased to say that the same can be said about the score also.

Zimmer’s score here incorporates elements of his previous work, most notably Sherlock Holmes and Pirates Of The Caribbean, as well as containing the odd homage to Ennio Morricone. There’s also a Mariachi-tinged version of Ride Of The Valkyries that segues into Der Shonen Blauen Donau, which features in one of the film’s standout scenes.

He’s helped out by Los Lobos, who deal with the vocal lead songs whilst Zimmer focuses on the score. It’s great stuff from Zimmer, and is up there with his best work to date. It’s nice to see him move away from overblown orchestrations and pick up a banjo, and with a number of big projects on his slate over the next year or so, this bodes well for his future output.

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Hans Zimmer’s score for Rango is available now through Anti.

5 stars

Lorne Balfe – Ironclad

It’s appropriate that Scottish composer Lorne Balfe should follow Zimmer in this article, given that he’s worked so closely with the great composer’s Remote Control Productions studio. Balfe has co-composed with Zimmer and other composers on a number of big films and videogames over the years, but this marks his first solo score to accompany a theatrical release that’s widely available.

On the strength of this score, I should expect Balfe to go at it alone more often, and become a composer in demand, as all the years studying under Zimmer have clearly served him well. Not only is there a great deal of attention to detail with regards to the instrumentation used, there are choral elements, too, with male and female voices representing different aspects of the narrative, as well as some outstanding orchestration.

The film itself is a medieval siege movie (and a quite brilliant one at that), so there’s a wealth of fantastic combat scenes which Balfe’s compositions complement perfectly. The film sets out to immerse you in the action, and Balfe’s score only adds to this. It’s a tremendously exciting and layered piece of work that perhaps surpasses Zimmer’s King Arthur score.

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Lorne Balfe’s brilliant score to Ironclad is available now through Varese Sarabande/Colosseum Music.

4 stars

Paul Leonard-Morgan – Limitless

Composer Paul Leonard-Morgan hasn’t got a vast number of credits to his name at this point, but what he has produced has been of a high quality, and is another composer whose talents can be expected to be in demand in the not too distant future. Having primarily worked on TV up to this point on the likes of Spooks and A History of Scotland, he has also collaborated with a number of Scotland’s premier musical artists such as Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian and The Beta Band on their own material, as well as his album, Filmtales.

His score for Limitless features a number of great moments, and serves the film well without ever being too obtrusive. Mainly guitar based, variations on a simple theme are used throughout and the use of this leitmotif is very effective, and deployed in a similar way to the main theme in The Social Network, where slight variations give the theme a whole new meaning.

It’s perhaps not a score that will have a universal appeal in the same way that some scores of recent times have, but it’s still a fine effort, and is certainly one worth checking out.

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Paul Leonard-Morgan’s score for Limitless is available now through Relativity Music Group.

3 stars

Brian Tyler – Battle: Los Angeles

For me, Brian Tyler’s score was by far and away the best thing about Battle: Los Angeles, but like the film itself, it’s not without its problems. I’ve written about my love for Brian Tyler previously in this column, and how I think he’s the finest composer of action scores working today, but despite this being quite different for him, the score for Battle: LA does seem like a bit of a step back when compared to some of his other efforts.

At a time when he was starting to get his own voice in scoring, it seems strange that he would mimic Explosions in the Sky so overly here. Don’t get me wrong, it is effective within the context of the film, as well as working fantastically well as a standalone listen, but I’d have liked more of Tyler’s personality to shine through here.

There are moments of brilliance, but those moments are repeated to the point that you’re not left wanting more. Not classic Tyler by any means, but even on an off day, the fact that he still produces one of the finest action scores of the year is quite telling.

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