Music in the movies: David Arnold

In this week’s Music in the movies column, Glen looks at the compositions of David Arnold, famous for his contemporary Bond themes...

Following on from the recent piece looking at John Barry’s musical contribution to the Bond franchise, I thought it would be suitable to look at the man who has taken charge of scoring duties for the modern Bond movies, David Arnold.

Arnold worked extensively for TV, prior to working on movies, and composed a fine score for one of 2010’s finest new series in BBC’s Sherlock. His first exposure on the big screen came through his work on Young Americans, for which he provided the score as well as co-writing the rather wonderful Play Dead with Bjork, and it was the success of his work here that would bring him to the attention of Roland Emmerich, whom he would go on to work with…


One of my favourite of Emmerich’s movies, Stargate, is a solid piece of sci-fi action with elements of mythology thrown in. For his score, Arnold delivers a piece of work in a similar vein to John Williams’ great scores for similar films with Spielberg, but adds his own twist to proceedings by incorporating elements of middle eastern folk music.

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The deluxe edition is a score that comes highly recommended for fans of sci-fi scores. It’s an extensive collection of material that shows the inventiveness of Arnold’s work here.

Last Of The Dogmen

Like a few scores that will be covered later in this piece, this is a score that seems indebted to the works of John Barry, particularly the scores the great man composed with a western feel. The score very much has a feel that it’s from the golden age of Hollywood, epic in scale with lush orchestrations courtesy of the London Symphony Orchestra.

It’s an interesting piece as, for me, this represents one of the finest scores he has produced throughout his career, but he hasn’t really explored this approach to scoring since. Instead he has opted for up-tempo action numbers with a modern techno edge.

Independence Day

Like the film it accompanies, Arnold’s score is serviceable, not spectacular. It hits the right beats at the right times, but doesn’t offer up anything particularly groundbreaking or memorable, especially when compared to the score for Emmerich that preceded it.

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Heroic fanfare typical of this kind of film are present and correct. The most enjoyable aspects are the different leitmotifs for key characters and events and, in particular, those for the president and the aliens.

Tomorrow Never Dies

After Eric Serra’s lacklustre effort for Goldeneye, Arnold was brought in to provide music to effectively accompany the franchise and match the output of Barry in his heyday.

As a debut score to the series, this is an outstanding piece of work that doesn’t stray too far away from the Barry blueprint, but does enough to update the feel and sound as well as containing a few flourishes that are unmistakeably Arnold.

It’s a shame that the film carried such a weak song, especially considering the quality of the Arnold and KD Lang effort Surrender, and Pulp’s rather excellent proposed lead song that was later released as a B-side.

Still, overall this is a fantastic piece of work that showed that the franchise had found their Barry for this generation.

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The World Is Not Enough

Where Tomorrow Never Dies saw Arnold make his introduction to the franchise with a Barry-esque score with his own modern flourishes. Hhis work here finds him in a more experimental mood. Clearly comfortable with his remit, he expands on themes established in his previous score and melds together a number of moods into a fantastic score that, again, outshines the film itself.

Also, he helped pen the rather fantastic title song for Garbage and an excellent closing track for Scott Walker, who was in contention to record the lead song at one point.

Listeners to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film reviews show would have recently heard Arnold perform the song originally intended for Walker live on air.

Die Another Day

Arnold’s score here, for the most part, sees him tone day his modernistic approach to the Bond score template and, as such, it seems like a much less confident piece than his previous two outings. It also sees him reuse a couple of the queues from previous works. But, overall, in moving away from what he established previously, it affects the dramatic impact of the music and alongside a lacklustre film and a car crash of a title song nothing seems to sit right.

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As covered in the Barry piece, the great man had a few clunkers along the way, so it would be wrong to dwell on this too much.

Casino Royale

For me, this represents the finest work Arnold has contributed to the franchise and is up there with the best pieces of his career. Taking the character back to his first mission and stripping away many aspects of the series that had become far too predictable and clichéd allowed the filmmakers and Arnold to truly revamp the character.

Casino Royale is a massive success that may have taken inspiration from a certain other modern action franchise, but the inspiration clearly worked wonders and this stands as one of the finest Bond movies, and Arnold’s score ranks among the finest composed for the franchise.

The highlight, for me, is African Rundown, a relentless action number that utilises African percussion and heightens the tension and suspense. The score is packed with equally impressive numbers, not only from an action perspective, but also the more reflective and introspective pieces are also incredibly well judged and executed.

Quantum Of Solace

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Silly title, atrocious theme song and a bit of a mess of a film, and kind of like how Die Another Day saw Arnold’s score take a dip in quality hot on the heels of a fine piece of work, the score here takes a similar path. It’s not that bad, however, and references back to the Casino Royale score.

There’s the usual deft handling of action sequences that Arnold is so adept at, but overall, like the film itself, it can seem quite messy at times and it isn’t the strongest standalone listen.

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