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Clash of the Titans - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Apr 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

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    Clash of the Titans - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

    I'll make no bones about it, I despised Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk from 2008, and although I had very high hopes for his take on Clash Of The Titans, part of me still thought this lavish, CG-enamoured remake of the fondly recalled Harryhausen original would come apart at the seams. And, lamentably, those high hopes were dashed and my sixth sense was proved totally accurate. The film is dreary, dull and wretchedly written. A great cast is utterly squandered with awful dialogue and risible character development. The effects are reasonable, though not outstanding. Although it is bewildering that they still don't seem able to make a man on winged horse look very convincing. The Kracken - admittedly Harryhausen's worst-ever creation even when seen in the original - is just as tacked-on in this version for little more than five minutes of splashing about, and Medusa is now just a boring letdown who is thoroughly un-scary. Just how you could botch up this story is beyond me. But saddling such a fantasy epic with Sam Worthington's bland, generic Perseus, who is barely able to keep his Aussie accent in check, just drags the tale lower than Hades' ass in the Underworld. The luscious Gemma Arterton is resolutely naff as the whispery Io - although I still look forward to seeing her in the much more impressive-looking Prince Of Persia - and only the likes of Mads Mikkelsen and Liam Cunningham, as the hero's trusty men-at-arms actually provide anything of worth to the film. But what does Leterrier do after giving them the best lines and the most likeable characters - he kills them both off in virtually the blink of an eye!

    But let's now concentrate upon the film's score.

    If you didn't look at the name of the composer for this score, you would swear, by the massively familiar sound of it, that it was the almost ubiquitous Hans Zimmer who was responsible for it. And, despite the official name of the man who produced this heavy-going synth overload being Ramin (Iron Man) Djawadi, I would suggest that you'd actually be completely right about the true note-scribbler-cum-button-pusher behind it. This is Zimmer's work, through and through. In this score, you will hear homage, riffs, variations and just plain steals from the likes of Gladiator, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, King Arthur, Crimson Tide and the Pirates Of The Caribbean Trilogy (Dead Man's Chest, especially) ... as well as some exotic ethnic noodles courtesy of The Last Samurai and Sherlock Holmes. So, to put it bluntly, if you liked those scores - and who doesn't? - then you'll like this too. It is just that it doesn't do one single thing that is new. And this, folks, is maddening. You get the feeling that Zimmer's company, Remote Control, are accepting all these assignments and laughing all the way to the bank, simply because they know just how bloody easy they are going to be to produce. Just churn out the same old stuff, Hans. Again. And again.

    And again.

    Now, being a James Horner fan, I am perfectly suited to, and comfortable with, such repetition. And, being a Zimmer fan, I can accept this standardised approach that he takes to material. But the point is this - Zimmer is unleashing lots of new scoring talent into the world of movies, but he is refusing to allow any of them their own identities. When Zimmer takes people under his wing - and he should be applauded for his profound generosity and tutelage - he does, nevertheless, seem to stamp an awful lot of his own personality on them, branding their output with similar methodology, musical styles, phraseology and that mixing-desk sensibility that his detractors will never accept and his fans will simply go on adoring ... up to a point. Composers like John Powell, Nick Glennie-Smith, Edward Sheamur, Klaus Badelt, Steve Jablonsky, Geoff Zanelli and Harry Gregson-Williams all carry the Zimmer brand like a musical tattoo. Some do strive to concoct something a little different from time to time. Powell's work on How To Train Your Dragon is a fine example. And whilst Badelt has become a tedious tone-banked bore of late, you just have to listen to his older score for The Time Machine remake to hear just how beautiful and dynamic he can write. Yet, using him for the most obvious case, he has now utterly degenerated into the devout Zimmer-clone that all the rest of them are.

    Well Djawadi is still pretty much the stranger in town out of this brood. His Iron Man score was well-received by some and certainly suited the industrial metal mood of the movie, although it was a painful chore to listen to when separated from the movie. Here he strives for the epic and the brawny, his grinding bombast fuelled as much with sweat and blood as with nitro. Channelling the World Music ethos of Zimmer, with the bellowing lungs of a noble male choir, as well as the sweetly mournful cadence of an uncredited female singer and mashing them into the mixing desk to the accompaniment of a limited orchestra produces a distinctly “modern” sound for this tale of ancient heroes, gods and monsters. But, after listening to this, you could easily assume that Jason Bourne had been scrapping with the Kracken.

    Now, something that we should address is the fact that the film's original composer, the far more accomplished Craig Armstrong (who composed for Leterrier's Hulk smash), was cruelly shunted off the job and replaced with Djawadi, in an eerie coincidence that smacked of the same twisted trick that happened with Danny Elfman on The Wolfman. But whereas Paul Haslinger's replacement score was righteously thrown out and Elfman's music brought back on board (discussed in-depth in my review for the lycanthropic score), no such luck befell Armstrong. However much of a score he completed - it is still not clear - only a brief cue of it remains in the film, serenading Io at the end. Wasting a talent like Armstrong, who served Clash's director so well on The Incredible Hulk, is one of those sad and all-too commonplace occurrences and conjures up the image of Zimmer and his cronies as a gaggle of conceited bullies who have altogether too much power and dominance. But the politics of such a tactic are beyond the ken of mortal men, so we will just have to leave this baffling move for now in order to concentrate on what did actually come to pass as 2010's answer to Laurence Rosenthal's original score for Clash Of The Titans (CD reviewed separately).

    Like the film, the score is largely generic and featureless, just a formulaic, metallic grunge-fest of the most lethargic, monotonous and depressing. Well, there, then ... that's said it. But as is usual with even the most banal and boring examples of that Zimmer sound, there are still a few nagging elements that actually work surprisingly well. The score, as heard on this release, does not run in film chronological order. Whilst Djawadi's name is associated with the majority of the score, both Neil Davidge and Geoff (Outlander) Zanelli are credited with composing a couple of tracks, as well, but their style is exactly, one-hundred percent identical to Djawadi's. Which means - oh, yes - that it is also pure Zimmer.

    We start off the album with a song that isn't even in the movie. “The Storm That Brought Me To You” just seems to come out of nowhere, themed by the heavy industrial-synth style that embraces the rest of the score, and clearly modelled on the classical tale. Now this is, naturally, the crassest of marketing ploys for a company releasing a score on disc. Pepper it with songs or music “inspired by” the film to make it more palatable to those punters who wouldn't normally prefer to purchase a soundtrack. Now, ordinarily, I, too, would despise this kind of thing. The lousy songs that puncture the moods of James Horner's more commercial scores - Avatar, The Mask Of Zorro, Troy etc - immediately spring to mind. But this song, composed by Djawadi and Neil Davidge and performed by Tina Dico actually, against all the odds, got something to it that I like. Namely, it carries that gloriously melancholic 80's post-punk vibe that drones on with the sort of “misery” that is, well, cool. Siouxsie And The Banshees go Titan. Does it fit the film? Nope. Not at all. Does it fit the album? Ahhh, well ... nearly. But, in a way, this sombre crooning Goth-ballad makes you believe that the Remote Control tag-team had a “concept album” in mind which, given some later indulgences, could well be the case.

    Track 3, Perseus, is where the score's main theme comes in. And, thankfully, it is a good one. Whilst the signature for the film's crop-topped hero only really begins about half-way through - the longish intro is a mood-setter of epic, long-drawn out earnestness - it has a pay-off that is both emotional and hummable ... two good points in a hero's theme. I am also reminded a little bit of Ennio Morricone's plaintiff seaborne lament from Orca - Killer Whale with the main motif, but many more out there will, no doubt, recognise the piece as being none other than the far more recent cue for Optimus Prime from Transformers. So, even here, for what we should be able to safely bet would something original (it's for the story's big hero, for pity's sake!), we get a recycled theme. And yet, for some reason, I quite like it. Maybe it is because it kind of evokes a undercurrent of vulnerability for Perseus, as well as the quest-in-earnest motif. Infectious and catchy, the main passage wins over any direct similarities to a multitude of other themes in the end and becomes one of the score's necessary high-points and returns a couple of times throughout the score.

    Nothing will be gained by going track-by-track with this lengthy release, folks. So let's just pick a few parts out for discussion that may just offer an indication of what this score does right, and, sadly much more often, of what it does wrong.

    Track 4, You Can't Hide From Hades, is sprung out of a box clearly labelled Gladiator. What we have here is the rapid rising 2-note momentum for when Maximus, having bested the mighty Tigris of Gaul, raises the axe the finish the job but then, to defy that pesky Emperor Commodus, refuses to slay his fallen enemy. Hades (a snidey Ralph Fiennes) appears and disappears in swirling black clouds of harpies and Djawadi's music immediately becomes an almost pantomime-like villainous motif. Rising up to threatening proportions, it then clamours with a grim sustained crescendo that wobbles and weaves about for a starched middle section of simmering doom before returning to the 2-note theme as Hades, his point made clear to both Mankind and to his brother Zeus (the damp-squib of Liam Neeson), vanishes into the scheming shadows once more.

    The Gladiator motifs come thick and fast, especially when an ethereal female voice serenades some of the more glistening and deified moments. You can easily imagine Zimmer sitting back in the crowded studio, overseeing his technicians and orchestrators, and pining for his old accomplice, Lisa Gerrard, especially in things like Track 5's Medusa, which is a delightfully melancholy and supernatural lament for the serpentine murderess. There is a hint of the dark tragedy from Elliot Goldenthal's magnificent moroseness for Interview With The Vampire, but the piece adds a layer of sick mystery that works quite well enough to set it apart. To be honest, only a part of this cue actually features in the film, just a brief, fateful serenade as Perseus and his all-too swiftly slain comrades first enter her lair. But for the best results, if you want the full Medusa-hit, then marry this track up with Track 14, Eyes Down, which contains the action suite of the men versus Gorgon confrontation. Brash and energetic, this cue smacks the deep-set percussive wallop that Zimmer has instilled in all of his entourage.

    Track 6 is curiously reminiscent of the music for that other Kracken - the one that Zimmer helped unleash in Pirates 2 Dead Man's Chest - but this time it is for the arrival of the Scorpiox. Again, there are core components lifted from Transformers - aye, even the rather obvious Scorpioc skirmish from that particular film is served-up - but this raucous and pulse-pounding approach never really goes amiss when laid over the top of a kinetic slice of fast-cut, CG-smothered mayhem. And, as an album track, it hits the right note if you happen to be pumping iron at the same time. So, it has its benefits.

    You Fall, You Die accompanies the sequence when Perseus, the “Fisherman”, learns to wield a sword and fight like a man. A typically corny episode in the film, the music actually takes a little snippet of the exotic woodblock and tabla mantra from Horner's cue for Achilles battling Hector in Troy and beds this primal sound in amongst the more requisite dense blanket of synths. Track 10, Pegasus, commences with a sombre reflective tone that seems, for all the world, as though it will develop into another Maximus passage for his “slave to gladiator” transition, but then brings in a sampled pan-flute and some deeply trenched choral croons to affect an air of wisdom and beauty. But this overt familiarity only makes you want to play the appropriate cues from Gladiator instead.

    Zany, sizzling exotica introduces the bark-skinned desert warriors, the Djinn, in Track 13. But this electronic warbling/yawning effect was employed almost identically in Nick Glennie-Smith's score for We Were Soldiers, so the gorgeously weird sound loses a point there. The fact that it then retreats into more bland electronics further nixes the variety that these odd characters - surely there with an eye towards action figure merchandising with this motley mob - could have offered the score. Ethnic passion swoons in Track 17, I Have Everything I Need, which actually hails from the very end of the movie. This is the music that features a lingering residue of Craig Armstrong's original score, and it stands out from the rest of the turgid synth-deluge. Violins and French Horn treat the moment seriously and glisten with genuine warmth. Brass comes in at the finale with massed choir to back it up before a swelling return to the loud and soulless bombast of Djawadi caps it all off. King Acrisius, which follows, just hammers home this tonal swing-shift with all the impetuosity and lack of subtlety all the more. Track 19 covers the ghostly voyage that Perseus and his squad of God-defiers take across the River Styx in the company of Charon, the Ferryman. But this unsettling trip is given only a low shimmering tonal frost from Djawadi that delivers nothing of properly skin-prickling or portentous value, dulling what could have been a terrifically creepy episode. Laurence Rosenthal nailed this expertly in his score for the original Clash Of The Titans.

    There is also some massive indulgence taking place here. Just listen to the ten-minute marathon Track 20, Be My Weapon, which was actually another contribution from Neil Davidge and Geoff Zanelli to the album. Just what are Djawadi, Zimmer and these other two playing at with this? I'm all for extended cues and extra music on score CDs, but it does help to have some form of relevance. This track, which is, broadly speaking, a leviathan-mix for Calibos' theme (and then some) just seems to go on forever without ramping-up the excitement or throwing in any variety. I swear to God (any of the gods you care to choose) that it also sounds, at one monotonous point, as though it is nothing more than a stuck record. Quite frankly, this dirge-like anvil-trance is dreadful. Just dreadful. Is this supposed to evoke Ancient Greece? Drum-loops, an incessant electro-beat and sizzling electric guitars against a wall of programmed keyboards? Aye, Tyler Bates did something similar for his excellent score for Zack Snyder's equally excellent 300 - but it worked powerfully with the hyper-realised style of such intense testosterone-soaked ferocity, and produced a searingly vivid musical atmosphere of pure myth and machismo. Davidge, on the other hand, just keeps his finger on the sample selection button whilst snoozing with his earphones on. It is the musical equivalent of Louis Leterrier training his camera on Jason Flemying's cranium-cleaved Calibos for a shot of snarling and gurning and then nodding off without saying “Cut!” first. Perhaps fortunately, Forum etiquette keeps me from saying precisely how I feel about this tripe and its ridiculously weighty inclusion on the album.

    The Best Of Both, Track 21, plays beneath one of the film's most wretched lines, but it does possess some more of Armstrong's original material. And then Djawadi releases his own nightmarish broadside as Zeus, himself, urges his minions to Release The Kracken. In the time-honoured fashion, this features icy suspense, riotous and tumultuous aggression and interweaving themes for Hades and Perseus as our Worthers engages in a veritable dog-fight with the pin-wheeling harpies all around the tentacles of the briny, barnacled behemoth from the beneath the waves. Dizzying strings whirl about, massed banks of samples collide with one another and the whole thing then grinds to a weirdly unsatisfying finale just when it seems to get going. What should have been the showpiece of the score becomes instantly forgettable and redundant. The final track of the album, Almost Human Of You, takes the soft approach to Perseus' theme for its first half, and then resorts to a “going nowhere” last stretch that dangles heavy bass elements and unfulfilled percussion at us as if Djawadi is going to unleash another battering reprise of the heroic signature for the film ... but then does nothing and just fades-out. A poor climax to what is, ostensibly, a poor score, overall.

    Quite incomprehensibly, there are also sound quality issues with this release. The volume is all over the place - drowning the mix and the appearance of individual elements during the more chaotic sequences, and even sliding back the scale a little too much until some tracks in the middle of the score lose vigour and become an indistinct and residual mush. I'm not the first to comment on the fact that this really shouldn't be the case when there are so many trained sound engineers and mixing technicians working on the case. Or is this just an example of too many cooks? Play this disc loud, as many of us will want to do, and the sound merely becomes a wall of uncomfortably crushed over-programming. Which, of course, is exactly what it is.

    The really frustrating thing about this score is that I keep on trying to like it. Why? Is there something there that is, in fact, worth it? Does the Djawadi/Zimmer hybrid find true heroism, wildly addictive adrenaline or ethereal Olympian beauty in this regurgitated cacophony? Truth is, I don't think so. But maybe there is a strange sort of comfort to be gleaned from the safe complacency that such a familiar score generates. Zimmer, to whom you must look for overseeing this entire production, worked wonders with his recent Sherlock Holmes score - I love that score, folks - takes a major step backwards with this. Djawadi's name is the one attached to it though, and this, I'm afraid, marks him out as a composer of severely limited ambition, choice and individuality. Perhaps the perfect foil to Leterrier's over-reaching, big-headed under-achiever, eh?

    Clash Of The Titans, music-wise, is as much of a disappointment as the film, then. Moments of rhythmic grandeur and exciting action are few and far between and, at the end of the day, this project just melds with at least a dozen other offerings from Zimmer's button-nudging sample-harem.

    A slight footnote to all this. After my initial disillusionment/borderline hatred for what Leterrier has done with such rich material, I have, begrudgingly, had to sit through the film again - and the unbelievable thing is that I actually began to enjoy it on some utterly brain-dead and “expectations lowered” kind of level. It may lack charm, personality and spirit. It may be resolutely patchy in tone and frustratingly inept with regards to that stilted, wooden screenplay. It may even lack some vital heroics on the part of Perseus and lay waste to the best characters in the film in a stunning piece of bad direction ... but there is some fun to be had, even if it is of the inordinately disposable and infinitely forgettable variety. And Djawadi's score? Well it seems to fit the film as well as his music for Iron Man served Jon Favreau's heavy-metal vision. But that does not mean that it does enough to stimulate as a stand-alone experience on album.

    I cannot, therefore, recommend the score CD for Clash Of The Titans at all.

    Full Track Listing

    1. The Storm That Brought Me To You *

    2. There Is A God In You

    3. Perseus

    4. You Can't Hide From Hades

    5. Medusa

    6. Scorpiox

    7. Argos

    8. You Fall, You Die

    9. Written In The Stars

    10. Pegasus

    11. Bring Everything (But The Owl)

    12. Killed By A God

    13. Djinn

    14. Eyes Down

    15. You Were Saved For A Reason

    16. Redemption Through Blood

    17. I Have Everything I Need

    18. King Acrisius

    19. It's Expensive Where You're Going

    20. Be My Weapon

    21. The Best Of Both

    22. Release The Kracken

    23. It's Almost Human Of You

    * song not in film


    Verdict

    If you are a big fan of Hans Zimmer, then Ramin Djawadi's score for Clash Of The Titans will definitely sound very familiar to you. But although I am a defender of the infamous Zimmer sound, I have to say that the guy must have some serious brainwashing techniques if every single one of his protégées can't help but come up with the exact same thing, time after time, as though they are plugged into the circuitry of his own back-catalogue. This entry in a musical genre that has seen the shining glories of Bernard Herrmann's The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and Jason And The Argonauts, Miklos Rosza's The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, Alex North's Dragonslayer (full CD review coming soon) as well Howard Shore's more recent LOTR, Brian Tyler's 300 and Zimmer's own Gladiator is a massive letdown. Sporadically entertaining, but totally anachronistic to the visuals, this is loud and boring and utterly charmless.

    I cannot imagine what they thought they were achieving with the likes of the execrable ten-minute cesspit of Be My Weapon, but my cynical side is adamant that Zimmer and his clones are laughing their socks off at an industry that they have virtually trampled into submission.

    I've wasted far too much time and effort on this score, folks. So that's it.

    Djawadi's committee-run drivel is lucky to get a 4 out of 10 from me. But my advice is for score-fans to totally avoid it.


    The Rundown

    Movie

    4

    Overall

    4

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