The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review
We've already looked at the original movie and its sensational score (it's BD release courtesy of Keith Hurst) and now we can turn our attention to the music created for the remake. Composed by veritable new kid on the block, action-specialist Tyler Bates - with 300 and Dawn Of The Dead (remake) for Zack Snyder, Doomsday for Neil Marshall and Rob Zombie's Halloween makeover to his grinding, adrenalised name already - The Day The Earth Stood Still 2008-style takes Bernard Herrmann's disquieting sound design - cold, glacial and implacably “alien” - but somehow jettisons the true sense of wild wonder in favour of a relentless and somewhat depressed droning. As far as the film goes, this score actually works quite well. Keanu Reeves' blank-paper alien emissary, Klaatu, is the perfect face to carry this type of lazy scoring. Inner motives, thought processes and an emotional core are three factors he necessarily (and, perhaps, unavoidably) has to be not to posses, and charting his quirky adventure on Earth, Bates' score becomes that same featureless automaton. His music, as you watch the film, never actually intrudes, never propels nor offers any delicious sci-fi thrills or frisson ... it merely forms a wall of sound that wraps rather than decorates. But whilst this may not actually the harm the movie on the whole, on the album, I'm afraid, the affair becomes exceptionally tedious, dry and downright boring.
Early moments such as Track 3, National Security, Track 5, Military Approach and Track 7, G.O.R.T. boast impressive depth and percussive weight, but is there really the need for Trevor Rabin-style enhancement via electronica? Gort's admittedly awesome first appearance is bolstered with a degree of menace, a rising industrial shriek that is capped by the distant-sounding voices of the Hollywood Film Chorale. Shivering strings agitate during Surgery (Track 8) and Interrogation (Track 9) swallows itself with odd clumps of bellowing bass surges, but the tension is wrecked by the whup-whupping helicopter effect that rides over the top of it almost all the way through. This is the sound of late nineties horror scores, a time when thematic instrumentation was swapped for atonal barrages and biting sampled effects. Bates has a huge army of violins, violas, celli, flutes, tuba and bassoons, yet we can't really discern their sound above alien drills, thudding drum loops and shafts of heavy electro-exasperated bass. The pedigree of such a concept is unmistakable. Forbidden Planet had a score of tonal textures and bizarre primitive electronic effects. Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars remake was covered by Christopher Young's incredible and thoroughly experimental shifting sea of layers of synthesised tones and textures. Solaris, again the remake, had the hypnotic ambience from Cliff Martinez and, of course, Bernard Herrmann's score for Robert Wise's original version of this film was a boldly avant-garde system of unease and frosted celestial glimmering. Bates seems to have been intent on following this form, but somehow his score achieves no such originality, no freshness and no tangible evocation of the otherworldly.
The middle section of the album is thoroughly underwhelming. A substantial selection of tracks just build “noise” without seemingly going anywhere of interest. Track 17, Orb Rising - The Day The Earth Stood Still, however, suddenly brings the strings and the voices of the choir to something approaching a proper ethereal quality. Passion and power resonate, albeit briefly. Then the next track, They're Not Afraid Of Us, brings us back into the conglomeration of effects, tones and misused, disenfranchised music. A hint of Hans Zimmer is recalled in the fleeting Flash Chamber, with the weighty dread of The Dark Knight and the sampled rotor-blade buzzing of Black Hawk Down. Here, in this track, the stuff actually works, but the cue fizzles out way too soon.
Track 20, Helicopter Collision is, it has to be said, pretty exciting, though. The longest track on the album, this is possibly where we get the closest thing to a musical narrative. There are crescendos aplenty, a sense of drama and almost all the orchestra is brought into play. The electronica is widely distributed, but it accentuates the driving nature of the track rather than detracting from it with unnecessary detail. The icy climax is also nicely coupled with bells and chimes. But is this variety and excitement too little, too late? Sombre reflection suffuses the likes of See My Son and Cemetery, but you only have to recall the solo trumpet of Herrmann's score for similar material to understand how superficially Bates treats the same ideas. Gentle lamenting vocals remain airborne above small piano notes that drip through a glistening sheen of strings, but strangely the section remains unemotional and decidedly un-affecting when it should have been imploring and earnest.
Distress and Wrong Place Wrong Time serve as build-up, horns and trumpet suddenly burst through with a nice little melody informing us that time is running out and that Klaatu might not be able to stem the destructive tide that Gort has unleashed upon us. And then we get the best track on the album, Track 25 Aphid Reign. Drums pound away, strings curl around a fierce tempest of brass and percussion, mimicking the unstoppable fury of the swarm of tiny nano-bots. Then the eerie pulses and glittering of alien-esque chirps and hummings form a mid-section plateau before the piece rises to a genuinely yearning crescendo. Voices that were hidden away can be heard edging-in and bass rumbles help to keep the heavenly drama grounded and earthbound. Power Down plays like a variation of Vangelis' tremendous opening track to Blade Runner - a swooning, yet cold sheet of icy effects and strings glides over the roof of slow, far-away bass reverberations. And then the big finale comes in the twin-waves of He's Leaving and The Beginning. Both short cues, the music still begins to soar with full orchestral passion in He's Leaving, before then dying-out into the dour, downbeat and rather pitiful denouement of The Beginning, in which Bates, himself, plays the guitarviol. The album has, thus, come to a very unsatisfying end, having gone virtually nowhere and evoked nothing more magisterial or magnificent than a couple of stray moments of sly menace.
Bates' score should not really be considered against the stature of Herrmann's - the film he writes for moves at a different pace and tells a story sufficiently different to allow him the room for his own voice. However, whilst Bates still delivers some of his trademark action cues, the sense of awe and wonder is almost completely lacking. Most of his cues are vastly over-produced, another of the tricks that many modern composers don't seem able to resist. Bates actually has a large and strong orchestra at his command here - banks of strings, some heavy percussion and a glistening array of brass - so his eagerness to dress their sound up with electronic mixes to “densify” them seems like wrapping up a diamond in used chip-paper. Many cues contain those little swirls and bleeps that Vangelis elaborated his Blade Runner score with and the hazy, half-formed catalogue of ideas make for very dissociative listening - which is a definite shame. Bates can certainly come up with the goods. I love what he did with 300 and play the score a lot (great workout material) and seeing his name in a film's credits is usually something I find reassuring. But this interpretation fails on so many counts that it descends into mere misguided, misinformed and purely mistaken territory much too often. Undoubtedly, Bates was given direction and ideas by the film's director, Scott Derrickson, so the blame cannot be fully dumped at his feet. Nevertheless, with a story as strong and as compelling as this and with so much influential music to fall back on within the genre, we should have been better catered-for than this.
Bringing in the Theremin, of all things, you would expect Bates to make some fine use of it. Yet, he doesn't. The instrument - so pivotal to the original's power and success - is brought into play clearly as an afterthought. Oh yeah, Herrmann used it, didn't he? That means the fans will be expecting it in the mix somewhere, won't they? Ahh, in that case, we'll just lob a few meandering ululations to creep about in the background, then. That should keep 'em happy, eh. Wrong. Even with all the electronic gizmos and samples and effects mixing that can be used by today's composers, the Theremin is a completely unique proposition. If you are going to use it at all - and having someone who can actually play the damn thing is pretty much a rarity in the first place - it should not be kept in the background and, even then, only used sparingly. Such energised beauty cannot be relegated to merely flitting through the orchestral and sampled mush that drives and swirls in the foreground. It needs to be freed-up and unleashed, or else there is no point having it in there at all. In the track This Is Not An Exercise, the Theremin is so deeply embedded within the mix that you'll be lucky even to hear it.
Quite horribly, nothing about this score stands out. Nothing sticks in the mind. As it plays, you can certainly hear lots of dramatic chords swelling, that same dark and melancholy theme building and building and the shebang has a sense of seriousness that is palpable. But whereas nobility and worthiness can and, indeed, should play a major part in this score, Bates smothers the musical message and metaphors with too much dirge-like overkill, hammering the cause home with a sledgehammer when it could have benefited so much more with a defter hand and, dare I say, a more retro vibe. The contradiction, it seems, is that whilst Herrmann's 1951 score was unmistakably ahead of its time, Bates' music has no identity and plays out like a “wall of sound” from one of those dream-state horrors that I mentioned earlier, which can only end up dating it severely - despite the advances in musical technology that he had to incorporate. Therefore, it seems a tad ironic that I can only “dream” about how the score would have sounded had someone like James Newton Howard gotten hold of it. His latest score - for the Daniel Craig War-time drama Defiance - is an excellent melding of both noble grandeur and emotional wallop. He finds the time for character, for action and for the over-arcing theme of the story with considerable panache, warmth and elegance. Although the subject matter may be hugely different, the actual resonances, musically speaking, between TDTESS and Defiance are very similar - both are dark, tragic and important. Bates misses his cue by a mile, though. Thinking that he is capturing the eeriness and the cosmic aura of it all by crafting textured layers of sound, ambient tones, all manner of sampled electronica and backing it with a female choir, Bates falls into the modern composer trap of taking too much for granted and going down the easy road of button-pushing bells and whistles. His score is clichéd, stock and generic. Unforgivably he structures the music without any cohesive peaks and troughs, the main body simply driving forward at a monotonous pace and derailing any of the momentum that should have been spiking this version of the story frequently. Only a handful of tracks have any meat to them and this is most assuredly not enough to have you returning to this score in a hurry.
A wasted opportunity, folks.
Full Track Listing -
1. Stars (:39)
2. Mountain Climber (2:41)
3. National Security (2:48)
4. This Is Not An Exercise (:53)
5. Do You Feel That? (2:00)
6. Military Approach (1:07)
7. G.O.R.T. (2:43)
8. Surgery (1:31)
9. Interrogation (2:33)
10. You Should Let Me Go (2:25)
11. A Friend To The Earth (1:55)
12. Fighter Drones (1:24)
13. Came To Save The Earth (:46)
14. I'm Staying (1:11)
15. Helen Drives (:45)
16. Containing G.O.R.T. (:45)
17. Orb Rising - The Day The Earth Stood Still (2:41)
18. They're Not Afraid Of Us (1:21)
19. Flash Chamber (:54)
20. Helicopter Collision (5:14)
21. See My Son (2:12)
22. Cemetery (3:19)
23. Distress (2:00)
24. Wrong Place Wrong Time (:56)
25. Aphid Reign (4:17)
26. Power Down (:56)
27. He's Leaving (1:50)
28. The Beginning (1:11)
Even being charitable, Tyler Bates' score for this revamped version of The Day The Earth Stood Still lacks charm, mystery, wonder and terror. Scratch beneath his tonal, textured veneer of dark ambience and you'll find ... well, nothing, actually. His music is colourless, shorn of personality and bereft of any of that essential fantastique. I loved his score for 300 and it is simply leagues ahead of the simplistic, soulless shimmering that he comes up with here. The ghost of Herrmann looms large over this project, so it is perhaps unfair to compare and contrast their styles, but Bates fabricates, elongates and, ultimately, decimates the material with music so bland that it could perfectly help wither away the ecology that Keanu's Klaatu wants to protect all by itself.
The film, itself, is not the train-wreck that many people claim. As an idea, the story is still enormously relevant and could have been another classic. When John Carpenter updated The Thing, he turned out one of the greatest and most influential genre offerings that we've had. The Day The Earth Stood Still is the type of tale that can be just as well adapted and moved with the times. A great notion would have been to have had Klaatu actually coming back to Earth in a full-on sequel - I mean we most certainly haven't been adhering to his warnings, have we? As it stands, the film is perhaps atmospheric, but also clearly redundant in the grand scheme of things, despite the ecological side-step. And the score only bolsters that vogue of unnecessary-ness all the more.
Tyler Bates is much better than this. A severe disappointment and a score that I cannot recommend.
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