The first official blockbuster of 2010 and an unpleasant harbinger of the future of summer hits, Clash of the Titans disappointingly, but perhaps inevitably, is about as dynamic as a plank of wood. With a lead performance from Sam Worthington so stilted that Ronseal could be used as a sponsor, formulaic effects, assaultive sound design and a general lack of, well, passion, it’s movie-making by committee; bizarrely it’s also less entertaining than the dated 1981 effort that inspired it.
That regression has unfortunately extended to another eagerly anticipated part of the production: the music. Nowadays, it’s simply not enough to dumb down the visual and narrative aspects of big budget entertainment; the orchestral score is also suffering increasingly in the face of overbearing executives and audiences who can’t bear to be told how to feel through a musical score. Hence, Craig Armstrong was dropped at the eleventh hour in favour of Hans Zimmer protégé, Ramin Djawadi, another coup for Zimmer and his stable of manufactured sound at Media Ventures.
However, there’s a degree of devil’s advocate playing to be done here because, away from the dreadful sensory experience of the film (where the poor mix of music and sound was akin to drowning in wallpaper paste), Djawadi’s score features just enough nuances to stand as an acceptable experience. It’s no masterpiece but there are frustratingly brief glimpses of the rich, resonant, dramatic score it wants to be.
The question then raises its head: who is ultimately responsible for dumbing down engaging orchestral music in favour of that which largely moves in static, crass, synthetic strides? Make no mistake: most of the score for Titans could be removed and placed in Pirates of the Caribbean or The Rock. Media Ventures can only take so much of the blame as it has produced some terrifically exciting voices of its own, not least of which is John Powell who has miraculously changed the sound of action movies without sounding a bit derivative of someone else.
And it’s certainly not Djawadi’s fault as listening to the score reveals a perfectly capable musical voice struggling to get out, even if only in a handful of tracks. He undoubtedly acted as a professional, delivering what was asked. Perhaps it’s merely symptomatic of a wider cultural shift where painting in broad, simplistic strokes musically will get the punters engaged more easily and result more bums on seats. Either way, it’s an unpleasant, upsetting tide.
As for the qualities of the music itself, it’s less a mixed bag as a monotonic one. Things start promisingly with an unexpectedly excellent rock effort, ‘The Storm That Brought Me To You’, composed by Djawadi in collaboration with Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge and sung by Tina Dico. A stirring mix of contemporary swagger and Dico’s piercing vocals, it should be applauded for veering away from the usual power ballad nonsense that blights many summer blockbusters.
Djawadi’s score then kicks in proper with ‘There Is A God In You’, bringing in the now over-familiar, tired hallmarks of the Hans Zimmer sound, including chunks of synthetic brass, strings chopping away restlessly and a boring, portentous tone. It does though also introduce an effective three note theme for Worthington’s Perseus that gives the score a degree of backbone, one which is deployed through much of the album as our hero sets out on the quest to save the city of Argos (Woolworths was damned, then?)
‘Perseus’ is much more effective, with some moving strings and dark choir grasping at emotion the film fails to conjure, while a slight tinkling mandolin gives a hint of local flavour. Needless to say, the harmony doesn’t last with the ponderous action music seeing the track to a close, stylistics then sadly influence many of the following tracks including the obnoxious electric guitar work in ‘Scorpiox’, the much anticipated Medusa scene ‘Eyes Down’ and the lacklustre climax ‘Release the Kraken’, one that should have the listener punching the air in delight rather than yawning.
However, it’s not all bad. The descending flipside to Perseus’ theme in ‘You Can’t Hide From Hades’ is almost laughably simplistic but it is effective. More memorable are the quieter moments hinting at the rich tapestry of mythology that has spawned it, including the eerily lovely vocal/violin work for ‘Medusa’ herself; the haunting, spiritual ‘Pegasus’; and the gorgeous full melody of ‘I Have Everything I Need’, all of which suggest the potential for both a much greater score, and much greater composer. There’s even a strong action piece in ‘You Fall, You Die’, contrasting light percussion with some electric guitar licks.
Yet there’s more than a nagging feeling that the music isn’t going anywhere, not taking us on a journey. By the time we’ve reached the conclusion, where the proverbial stops have to be pulled, not only are we puzzled by an out of place piece of solo electronica composed by Neil Davidge himself entitled ‘Be My Weapon’, Djawadi’s score seems to fizzle completely. There’s no variation in tone; in drama; in the music itself. The score could be played back to front and the impact would be exactly the same, which may be the most damning thing of all. It’s aural wallpaper, functional but plasticised, the finale of which, ‘It’s Almost Human Of You’, is negligible.
Again, Djawadi is not to blame for this as he is surely doing only what he was told, and he unquestionably did it to the best of his ability. The fleeting high points of the music itself hint at his potential but neither he, nor any other aspiring composer can possibly form their own identity with such an identikit system of scoring film, where music is treated more as a building block than an organic, individual process.
Thank goodness then for John Powell and Alexandre Desplat, eh?