Music in the movies: Brian Tyler

If you’re an action or horror director, Brian Tyler’s the ideal composer to provide the music. This week, Glen salutes one of cinema’s more underrated talents...

Tyler is perhaps not the biggest name composer I’ve covered in this column, but he’s certainly one that’s making a habit of creating some seriously effective scores, and one whose work I keenly anticipate.

I think a contributing factor to Tyler’s work not getting the recognition it deserves is that the quality of the films he scores aren’t usually that great, and in almost all cases his efforts far outweigh the quality of the films they accompany.

He’s a skilled creator of exhilarating themes, and has composed one of the finest action scores of recent times in his work on The Expendables, which won’t be covered here as I have  already reviewed it for the site. It also featured in my top ten scores of 2010 article, which ran at the beginning of the year.

With Battle: Los Angeles set to be released, I thought now would be a great time to look at some of the notable scores that Tyler has composed to date. Tyler’s work will also be able to be heard later in the year, in Fast Five, with Wrath Of The Titans, and probably The Expendables II, following on in 2012.

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Frailty

Bill Paxton’s directorial debut has an interesting premise, but feels like a TV movie made 10 or 15 years prior to its actual release. An early effort from Tyler sees him take influence from Bernard Herrmann, as he sets to evoke classic Hollywood suspense with a contemporary twist. It’s a strong effort that shows exactly why he has been called to provide scores for horror movies over the years, and it’s certainly an interesting change of pace from the action-oriented material that has typified his recent output.

Darkness Falls

Another film that I’m not a big fan of, but the score for Darkness Falls stands as one of the best of Tyler’s career, and by far the strongest he has composed for a horror film. Gone are the Bernard Herrmann influences heard in Frailty. Tyler’s score here sees him finding his voice with an exciting and unsettling effort.

Tyler masterfully mixes orchestral elements with more modern techniques, although in many ways it’s not so much of a combination, as the different parts of the score seem to be in conflict throughout. I appreciate that this may sound like a mess, but it really is an excellent and hugely effective score that’s as good as a standalone listen as it is when accompanying the film.

Bubba Ho-Tep

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The score for this rather fantastic Bruce Campbell horror comedy sees Tyler reuse some of his previous work from Children Of Dune, but features enough quality to make this worth seeking out and picking up (if you’re able to find it). Given the film features an aging Elvis in a retirement home as its lead, it’s little surprise that the soundtrack carries a few themes suitable for the King.

There are moments of whimsy and humour throughout, but at its core this is very much a horror score, and this is clearly an area in which Tyler is extremely comfortable. Whilst it may not reach the heights of Darkness Falls, this shows Tyler can balance elements to create a varied and interesting score for a film that mixes genres.

Constantine

Not the most groundbreaking or forward-thinking of pieces to Tyler’s name, but his score here is perfectly suitable for  the material it accompanies, evoking the requisite levels of darkness and menace.

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There are effective uses of choirs alongside typical orchestrations, and a rather out of place burst of drum and bass-style percussion. It doesn’t hold up well as a standalone listen, so if you’re looking to explore some of Tyler’s work, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Another score for a Bill Paxton directorial effort, this relies too heavily on sports drama clichés to stand as one of his finest pieces. but is a good example of Tyler’s range as a composer. Having proven himself adept at creating thrilling action-packed pieces and horror themes, it’s good to see that he’s comfortable shifting down a few gears and tackling something lighter.

There’s an absence of soaring strings, which is refreshing on a score such as this. Tyler instead opts to use piano and acoustic guitar passages to draw out the required levels of emotion.

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious

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Action scores can be subject to snobbery in a way that other genres aren’t, but when done well, the results can be excellent. Tyler’s scores for the recent outings in this franchise are some of the best of his career, and are often overlooked because of the franchises they’re attached to.

Tyler judges the level perfectly, with both pictures injecting the right level of exhilaration and excitement to compliment the on-screen action. For Tokyo Drift, he’s assisted by Slash on some of the more up-tempo guitar-heavy numbers. However, it’s not all balls-to-the-wall action here – there are changes of pace to some delicate acoustic numbers also.

His score for Fast & Furious is another great effort, and at the time of writing is £1.99 on Amazon, which is insanely cheap considering how good it is. It’s his work here, along with some of his other recent work, that make him one of the most interesting and exciting composers of action scores working today, and I can’t wait to hear what he does for Fast Five later this year.

Rambo

Tyler’s work here no doubt played a large part in him scoring The Expendables, as this is largely an 80s revisionist score. Stallone’s return to one of the franchises that defined his career was a remarkably violent, thrill-packed feature that no doubt pleased fans that had waited years for some more Rambo action.

The score does a great job of matching the craziness that unfolds on-screen, and there are several nods to Jerry Goldsmith’s earlier Rambo scores, with Tyler interpreting the classic theme with his modernist sensibilities. Interestingly, there’s a maturity to the piece, too, as Tyler attempts to reflect the aging of the character and the internal and external conflicts that he’s struggling with.

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