Music in the movies: Marco Beltrami

Glen looks over the finest work of Marco Beltrami, a diverse composer of action, horror and sci-fi movie scores…

With Scream 4 currently in cinemas, I though now would be the ideal time to look at the work of the series’ composer Marco Beltrami’s career highlights to this point.

The Scream franchise

Beltrami had scored one film prior to being hired by Wes Craven to score his horror smash hit Scream in 1996. Sure, the sourced music for the series gets much of the attention and acclaim, but Beltrami’s music really set the tone for the series, and helped establish the young composer as one of the go-to guys for genre projects.

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Some of his mentor, Jerry Goldsmith’s influence shines through, particularly in the confident, unshowy builds of tension that serve the series so well. There are, of course, overtly bombastic elements to scare the bejesus out of the audience, but overall, it’s a fairly restrained effort, particularly when compared with many conventional horror scores.

Themes would be reused throughout the series, adding an air of familiarity, so with the fourth instalment, it’s unsurprising that Beltrami dusts off some of those classic cues again.

It’s not just his own cues that are heard throughout the series, as elements of Hans Zimmer’s Broken Arrow score and the Danny Elfman penned Cassandra Aria are heard in the Scream 2, and Beltrami incorporates elements of Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand into his score for Scream 3.

Mimic

This is an incredibly interesting score, and one of the finest pieces Beltrami has composed. It’s refreshing that, after making his name with the score to Scream, he goes completely the other way, and composes a varied and often eccentric score that mixes out-and-out scare moments with warm emotional themes, as well as some crazy cues with more than a hint of madness.

It’s a score that shows off a greater degree of originality than his previous scores, and is a hugely effective score for a flawed but often interesting film.

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The Minus Man

For this fairly low key psychological horror, Beltrami draws on some of the some of the subtleties heard in his Scream score and builds on them. It’s an incredibly effective piece of work that perhaps won’t be to everyone’s tastes, as it requires a certain investment from the viewer (or listener) to reach its pay-off, but when you do, it’s very much worth it.

The sense of dread and tension reaches almost unbearable levels in moments which, for me, are a sign of a quality score for this kind of material.

Hellboy

Having worked with Guillermo del Toro on Mimic and Blade 2, Beltrami was called upon by the director once again, to score his big screen adaptation of Hellboy.

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Beltrami does a great job of eliciting the moods conjured up in the comic book series, and transfers them to the big screen by understanding that an all out horror or action score is not what is required; instead, he creates a much more methodical and considered piece that draws upon the subtleties of the characters and the script’s dry humour.

Not only is it thematically varied, but it also features an array of instruments and musical approaches that help to make this such an interesting listen. Alongside typical orchestrations, we have some nice synth work, as well as a bit of Theramin to add an air of otherworldly creepiness. The highlight, for me, is the stunning vocal work on Kroenen’s Lied.

I, Robot

Beltrami’s first attempt at a straight sci-fi score was for Alex Proyas’ I, Robot. His work here bears similarities to his score for Hellboy, but, for me, it’s a weaker effort overall. There are times where the bombastic approach really works, and is effective at getting the adrenaline going during some of the action sequences, but this reliance on bombast and particularly percussion drowns out some of the more melodic passages that try to break through.

Beltrami’s work has often carried strong melodies while still hitting the notes required of the genre, but the balance isn’t always right here. It’s an okay score for a blockbuster, but somewhat disappointing, knowing what he’s capable of.

The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada

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For me, this score marks the pinnacle of Beltrami’s career as a composer; it’s an incredible piece of work that really shows what a versatile talent he is, as he composes a score that takes in variations of country and folk music from both America and Mexico, and features an all-star line-up performing his compositions.

It’s a beautiful and haunting piece of work that is minimalistic at times, but pulls on the heart strings when needed. It’s a shame that he didn’t receive much in the way of awards season recognition for this, as it really is an outstanding piece of work.

The Omen

Given Beltrami’s affiliation with the horror genre and the fact that he studied under Jerry Goldsmith, he was a sensible choice to score the remake of The Omen, following in the footsteps of his mentor in the process. It was always going to be the case that Beltrami’s score would be judged against Goldsmith’s classic score rather than on how effective it was in its own right, so it perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

He uses a few passages of Goldsmith’s score, but quite rightly attempts to make this piece his own by taking a similar approach as he did with previous horror themes. Sure, it doesn’t match Goldsmith’s Omen score, but then few do. As a piece of modern horror composing, though, it’s an effective piece of work.

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3:10 To Yuma

Many of the best composers have at least one western score in their back catalogues, and it’s typically a genre where composers have flourished and produced some of their best work. Certainly The Three Burials… was a western of sorts in the themes it explores, but 3:10 To Yuma is much more of a western in the traditional sense, with it being a modern day remake of a classic of the genre.

I enjoyed the film a great deal, and in many ways, it’s better than the original. The casting is near perfect, Mangold’s direction is solid, and Beltrami’s score moves things along nicely. Taking cues from the likes of Morricone, Beltrami infuses his own sensibilities by adding modern techniques to avoid some of the genre’s clichés.

It’s a piece jam-packed full of suspense, and complements the action brilliantly. In many ways, it is more of a thriller score than a western, but it suits the material well.

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