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World War Z (Marco Beltrami)

June 29, 2013

cover_worldwarzWORLD WAR Z

Marco Beltrami, 2013, Warner Bros.
11 tracks, 44:20

Zombies! They may be dead, but they certainly keep Hollywood alive. “World War Z” is yet another zombie flick, but appears to offer little new. Deadly epidemic. Spreading fast. World in danger. One man to the rescue. The soundtrack to all this is written by Marco Beltrami, no stranger to the horror genre; and he certainly shows his expertise once again.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

At an estimated budget of £190 million, one wonders if this is the most expensive zombie flick ever made? Brad Pitt stars in this film directed by Marc Foster – who previously directed “Quantum of Solace” and “Finding Neverland”. Going for ‘versatile’, are we Marc? The film tells the story of a pandemic and one man’s mission to save humanity. Needless to say he is separated from his family; faces many dangerous, and so on and so forth. The film was met with positive reviews, particularly being praised for doing away with unnecessary gore and instead focusing on the human element. Reports emerged saying that even composer Marco Beltrami was asked to tone down his music, as it was perceived to be too scary! [1]

What does it sound like?

Marco Beltrami has been scaring the pants off us since 1996’s “Scream”. Those familiar with the music for that trilogy, as well as “Mimic” and “Blade II” will know what to expect. This is cleverly written music. Very detailed, fast-moving and aggressive music. It sits nicely along all the other horror scores we know from Beltrami; and it caters to the modern cinema-goers taste with its string ostinato and heavy percussion. It offers some originality in that some of the percussion instruments are in fact pig skulls; and that some of the orchestration is based on the US Emergency Broadcast siren. [2]

The album opens with “Philadelphia”, a balls to the wall action cue driven by staccato string writing, lively percussion and fat brass stabs, with interludes of dissonant horns, strings and distorted synth sounds. “The Lane Family” introduces a gentle, surprisingly poignant theme that seems to consist of two chords that are being repeatedly, almost hesitantly, in different registers. It seems to favour a particular combination of four chords, creating a circular patterns – a little bit like how Horner approaches his ‘mathematical’ music in scores like “A Beautiful Mind”. Whilst Beltrami’s effort is low-key and melancholy, it edges on epic in a very subtle way.

The ‘family’ theme returns in “Searching for Clues”, which sounds as mysterious as the title might suggest. Plenty of contemporary though softened electronic noises here, with some echoing sounds reminiscent of Cliff Martinez’s work. There is nothing quiet about “Ninja Quiet” and in fact sounds more like ninja kicking some serious *ss.  It doesn’t really seem to contain a theme and exists to get the heart racing. The same can be said about “NJ Mart” with its harsher electronic approach. This leads us to “Zombies in Coach”, arguably one of the album’s most intense cues, with its energetic string writing, fat brass chords (some will inevitably claim it  shows an “Inception” influence), plenty of percussion and synths. “Hands Off” at one point promises to reprise one of the score’s themes, but resists the temptation and ultimately offers little more but sheer terror through the use of various layers of subtle, but disturbing synth pads. “No Teeth No Bite” continues in the same way.

“The Salvation Gates” offers little in terms of emotional resolution, but does provide a variation on the 5-note theme and plenty more exciting action music. This cue alone shows the excellence of Marco Beltrami. It shows that, even in a deadly serious cue like this one, you can have fun with the music, through colourful orchestrations and playful writing. Check out the playfulness (leading up to and) around the 2:50 mark! I dare say this is something Beltrami took away from his time studying under Jerry Goldsmith, whose horror music was often centered around almost childishly simple ideas. Beltrami’s music here is so vivid and – pardon the pun – infectious! I wholly believe this is due to the largely orchestral approach Beltrami took. Plenty of other composers would settle for a half-hearted orchestral performance and double it up with synthetic samples in an attempt to make their music sound more powerful – yet often failing miserably. Beltrami instead really makes his orchestra sweat. He applies different orchestration techniques to get different kinds of sound out of the instruments, leaving the synthesizers to add those sounds that an orchrestra genuinely can’t produce.

“Wales” takes things a lot easier – or uneasier as the case may be – with nervy (electric) guitar sounds and distorted piano, which contains a simple 5-note theme (three ascending notes, followed by two descending), presumably to indicate some kind of resolution to the story. The overall sound and style of this cue did trigger some memories of John Murphy’s “28 Days Later” with me. Closing the album is “Like A River Around A Rock”. It picks up the pace again with string ostinato and brass crescendos. The second half of this cue sees the 5-note theme return in the string section, augmented by electric guitar percussion. It adds a hint of heroism to the final moments of this album.

Is it any good?

With it being a horror score, and quite an aggressive one at that, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. “Finding Neverland” this is not! The score bumps and grinds along, building tension; and as such it’s hard to describe it as a ‘pleasant’ experience. Having said that, it’s as cleverly written as anything Beltrami has done. It contains two subtle themes that make a few (if only a few) appearances and the action music is genuinely exciting; though I wouldn’t have minded hearing a few more thematic cues on this album. The large orchestral performance (and its recording) is crisp and the percussion provides a genuine drive to the whole affair. It just goes to show that you don’t need a hundred drummers to make an impact. It also goes to show you don’t need a battery of synthesizers to make those ostinato strings sound interesting. Beltrami infuses some well-chosen synthesizer sounds into his score, but it is the clarity and sheer force of the orchestra that makes this score truly exciting.

Rating [3,5/5]

Tracklisting

1. Philadelphia (4:04)
2. The Lane Family (2:49)
3. Ninja Quiet (2:55)
4. Searching for Clues (5:34)
5. NJ Mart (4:02)
6. Zombies in Coach (3:44)
7. Hand Off! (2:50)
8. No Teeth No Bite (3:26)
9. The Salvation Gates (4:25)
10. Wales (5:23)
11. Like a River Around a Rock (5:08)

Album credits

Album credits on allmusic.com

Review Notes

[1] http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood
[2] http://www.hollywoodreporter.com

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4 Comments
  1. joshnarwold permalink

    I’ve had this score pretty much on repeat for the last week, and it took a bit for me to figure out why I was enjoying it so well; it kind of snuck up me! The themes are subtle in their presentation and Beltrami doesn’t go out of his way to try sounding epic, as I would argue Zimmer did with Man of Steel. This is just an impressive blend of interesting and varied orchestral & synthetic textures (with an emphasis on strings & brass, but also finding roles for piano and percussion and using synthesizers in a subtle, atmospheric sort of way) with really solid action writing and just enough of an emotional core to keep things from becoming overbearing.

    There’s a complexity here too that’s refreshing to hear; you actually have to pay attention at times to notice and appreciate what’s happening in each layer. For example, the segment beginning at 3:00 in “Philadelphia” lays down an urgent (and strangely catchy) 3-layer baseline combining percussion, piano (as another layer of percussion, basically), and a sort of circular string ostinato. Each layer is doing something interesting, and together they produce a sense of momentum and expectation.

    At 3:10 things get a little more intense, with staccato brass blasts added (split into what sounds like a half-note interval for tension and sounding sort of like a rapidly-repeating echo), and Beltrami adds a simple string motif on top of it all. The low brass–the Inception reference, if you will–picks up the “bum…bum-bum” pattern from the piano just once before varying its intervals for the next 10 seconds or so. Good stuff!

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