Film and Television Features

Keeping Score Vol. 1

Film scores have always been a pocket fascination of mine. While some ignorant naysayers regard film music as mere pop culture imitations of supposedly "superior" classical pieces, I tend to think of them as the next natural step for art, let alone music. It’s the merging of two very different media into one immersive experience... and yet, we can still enjoy both entities as much separately as when they are melded together. It’s really the best of both worlds, isn’t it?

Anyway, we’re going to try something new today at No Ripcord. We’re going to somewhat marry our interests in film and music to bring you Keeping Score -- an all-new, seasonal feature where we analyze the latest, greatest (and dullest) film scores! Below we have our thoughts on a smorgasbord of musical selections from this summer’s box office season. Read, enjoy, and don’t hesitate to sound off in the comments section with your own two cents.


Man of Steel-- Re-imagining John Williams’ iconic score for the original Superman films is no easy task. In fact, it’s damn near preposterous, as the score has become entirely synonymous with the Superman character itself. It’s like any other great piece of music, you can hear the first 3 seconds of it and immediately know what it’s referencing. So, naturally there’s a bit of a stigma attached to Hans Zimmer’s score for Man of Steel from the get-go. But despite the burden of previous accomplishments, Zimmer pulls through with a breathtaking tone-poem ode to the DC’s most recognizable character. Where Williams’ sought to express the majesty and wonder of Superman, Zimmer explores the loneliness and introspective side of being the world’s strongest man and the last of an extinct species. It’s touching and somber, but can still deliver some up-tempo pomp amidst the windswept awe of seeing Superman outrun a bullet or take down an alien automaton. 8/10


Only God Forgives-- It’s immediately apparent that Cliff Martinez is quickly proving himself as one of the most important film musicians of the 21st century. He’s been Steven Soderbergh's go-to composer, scoring everything from the director’s debut film Sex, Lies, and Videotape through Solaris, but 2011’s Drive was his commercial breakthrough, catapulting him into the vanguard of new century Hollywood composers alongside the likes of Ramin Djawadi, Hans Zimmer, and Trent Reznor. Only God Forgives appears to be somewhat of a continuation of what he accomplished on Drive, but only in texture. Melodically speaking, we find Martinez abandoning the ghostly harmonic gasps of yesteryear for a cataclysmic arpeggiated form strongly reminiscent of Philip Glass’s work on Koyaanisqatsi. But while there are hues of other composers in Only God Forgives, Martinez’s work stylistically stands all on its own. 9/10


Pacific Rim-- Ramin Djawadi’s work on Pacific Rim is almost as ridiculous as the film’s premise. Everything from the bursts of brass ornamentation to the frantic guitar-noodling of Tom Morello (yes, that Tom Morello) nods to the larger-than-life quality of the film. It’s a great companion to the movie, yet its more solemn moments (see Mako, Better than New, and Pentecost) can stand on their own as bits of pure mellifluous meditation. Overall, it’s a memorable score that can surely fit into the upper echelon of Kaiju soundtracks -- certainly somewhere between Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla and Yuji Koseki’s Mothra. 7/10


The Wolverine-- Marco Beltrami’s body of work speaks for itself. However, The Wolverine will not go down as one of his best. It’s a slow-moving piece of work, but not in a methodical way. It just doesn’t possess a large abundance of melodic motives or rhythmic ideas to start with, and sort of loses the attention of the listener early on. It’s what film music sometimes is, background noise. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of brilliant moments. Logan’s Run dabbles in some interesting Japanese-style percussion and The Wolverine is melodiously exciting in its own right, but these bits alone aren’t enough to provide an engaging experience throughout. 6/10


The Conjuring-- Remember the days of video nasties and cheap grindhouse slaughterfests with cheesy, yet memorable synth scores? I do! Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and now we’re stuck with paint-by-numbers haunted house flicks like The Conjuring and their similarly personality-less “soundtracks” -- if you can even dignify them with that label at all. There’s no substance here -- no reoccurring theme, curious aural eccentricities, or really any melodic material at all. Instead, we’re treated to a whole lot of spooky whispers and cattle-prod bass that exist merely to facilitate the film’s banal jump scares. 4/10


Maniac-- Now this is how you make a horror score. Soundtrack newcomer Rob provides an abundance of haunting melodies and pulsating synthesizer bacchanal that is at once an homage to the cheesy scores of ‘80s slasher films and a daring leap into the contemplative harmonies best associated with Cliff Martinez's recent work. With only a few, sparsely-woven piano notes holding up its basic structure, it’s both minimalist in melodic approach, yet crowded in its synth-saturated sonority, which is intriguing all in its own. But perhaps most refreshing is its lack of filler. Everything put to tape is intended to evoke a very specific emotional response from the listener and, with a only few nagging exceptions, it does so marvelously. 8/10


The Lone Ranger-- Sorry, folks, but everything about this movie was trash. Really, what else can you expect from another dilettantish Bruckheimer production? Unfortunately, this is Hans Zimmer at his lowest. There’s no passion here, just the familiar pulsating rhythms and assorted fanfare of Zimmer’s previous work. It’s as if he’s just going through the motions, albeit grandiose ones, but still you can tell his heart wasn’t in this project. 2/10


Game Of Thrones Season 3-- Okay, so this isn’t a film score, but it’s pretty damn close to one! Again, Ramin Djawadi steps into the foreground to provide the perfect companion to TV’s favorite Knights Of The Round wet-dream. In all seriousness, never has a soundtrack provided such important thematic cues to a television show. Without explaining the entire series to the non-viewer, there are certain melodies associated with specific groups of characters, and their presence in certain scene clues the viewer in on the direction of currently unfolding events. It’s a rather clever way of having the music interact with both the viewer and the on-screen characters at once. But aside from the music’s usage, the melodies and textures that Djawadi presents are bedazzling, and display a composer with a unique appreciation for musicians of the past, specifically the technical work of Renaissance composers Josquin des Prez and William Byrd. 7/10


Elysium-- It’s not often that I feel like a film score is pandering to an audience, but Elysium certainly made it abundantly clear that its whomp-whomp bass and sputtering, mid-range frequencies were intentionally targeted at the dubstep generation. In a summer filled with box office disasters, I can’t necessarily blame a composer for taking a safe approach to his work, but in Elysium’s case, it’s a damn shame. Underneath all of its electronic pageantry, between bass drops and trip-hop drums, there’s a compelling Goldsmith-ian score waiting to be set free. 5/10