Music in the movies: Tyler Bates

As Sucker Punch arrives in UK cinemas, Glen looks back at the work of its composer, Tyler Bates...

Tyler Bates is a composer with a variety of credits to his name, including movies, TV and videogames. He started off scoring B-movies, but has gone on to become the favoured composer of Rob Zombie and Zack Snyder. With his work about to accompany Snyder’s Sucker Punch, I though now would be an ideal time to look at some of his best work to date.

Get Carter

Roy Budd’s score for the original 1971 Get Carter was absolutely fantastic, and perfectly captured the mood of the film. Tyler Bates’ score for the remake, much like the film itself, pales in comparison to the original, but unlike the film it accompanies, has a number of interesting moments that make it worthwhile.

Bates hints at Budd’s score, but fails to match its minimalistic subtlety, and instead adopts a percussion heavy approach that works well in some of the action sequences, but fails to gel with the rest of the film. Overall, it’s a fairly underwhelming score, but one that would hint at techniques that Bates would explore with greater success as his career progressed.

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Dawn Of The Dead

Another score, another remake, albeit for a considerably more successful one than the film above. Zack Snyder’s directorial debut marked the beginning of his working relationship with Bates that continues to this day, with Bates scoring all but one of Snyder’s films so far.

The two versions of the original Dawn Of The Dead featured some great music, particularly Goblin’s score for the European cut of the film, which was renamed Zombi.

While Bates’ score for the 2004 Dawn doesn’t match either of its predecessors, it shows that his approach and talents are well suited to this kind of film. There’s an effective slow build of tension early on, but Bates doesn’t shy away from unleashing a little sonic fury when required.

The Devil’s Rejects

Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, House Of 1000 Corpses, was partly scored by the director himself, but for his much more accomplished sequel, he enlisted the talents of Mr Bates, and the results are very strong indeed. The film itself isn’t without its problems, but is a well made and thoroughly entertaining piece of genre filmmaking, and Bates’ score complements the piece incredibly well.

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As well as including Bates’ own take on horror scoring heard in Dawn Of The Dead, the composer also incorporates elements of Rob Zombie’s brand of rockabilly-tinged metal. It’s not all balls-to-the-wall, though, and rather unexpectedly, there are moments of beauty here. It’s a varied and accomplished score that perhaps won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but in the context of the film it accompanies it’s near perfect.

Halloween and Halloween 2

Having scored Zombie’s previous film, Bates would return to provide the music for the director’s Halloween reboots. I’ve written about my love for Carpenter’s score in the past, so the bar was set very high for Bates indeed. Bates attempts to rework the original Carpenter theme with moderate success – it really didn’t need messing with a great deal, so adding layers of industrial noise only served to distract from the melodic genius of the original.

I’m all for experimentation, but much of the two scores here could best be described as anti-music. It’s little more than a collection of white noise, and thudding industrial percussion and synthesisers. It makes for an interesting atmosphere at times, and is incredibly unsettling when it needs to be, so on that level, I suppose they’re a success. But attempts to listen to them in isolation from the films themselves is, for me at least, something of a chore.

300

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There was a certain amount of controversy surrounding the release of 300, and Bates’ score, with detractors alleging that it ripped off Elliot Goldenthal’s Titus wholesale. It’s not unusual for composers to take influence from existing work, and many great scores over the years have shared similarities to existing properties, but Bates’ score here is, arguably, a little too close for comfort.

Controversy aside, it does fit the material incredibly well, and it certainly stirs the emotions, from subtle and atmospheric moments through to a full on, bombastic assault that accompanies the more action-heavy scenes.Doomsday

This is the only film that Neil Marshall has directed that I’m not a huge fan of. The idea is interesting, but the final product just doesn’t do a great deal for me. With regard to the music, Bates’ idea of blending 80s synth pop with an orchestral score makes for an interesting mix. The distance between the LA-based Bates and the British production of the film, which saw numerous changes during production, proved to be a challenge, with the original plan for an 80s-style synth score being scrapped in favour of an orchestral one. Perhaps these problems go some way to explain why it’s not the most cohesive score.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Say what you like about Bates, but you can never accuse him of shying away from a challenge. With pieces on this list having seen him follow in the footsteps of the likes of Goblin, John Carpenter and Roy Budd, his score for this remake sees him follow the late great Bernard Herrmann.

As with previous efforts, he makes a decent stab at it, but doesn’t quite reach the heights achieved by his predecessor. The score for the 1951 Day The Earth Stood Still soared, and was packed full of emotion, whereas this is a little flat emotionally, and certainly isn’t one of Bates’ best pieces.

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Watchmen

Much of the attention for the music of the film was directed at the choices for some of the sourced music, some of which are great, while others are excruciatingly poor (Hallelujah particularly). Sourced music aside, Bates’ music for Watchmen is one of the finest of his career. It’s a score that’s epic in scope, and not what you’d typically expect from a superhero film, although there are a few passages reminiscent of Elfman’s score for Batman.

Although I do appreciate that Watchmen is far from a conventional superhero film, and that both the score and the film aren’t without their problems, Bates’ work here does more than enough to impress.

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