I listen to a lot of soundtracks. And I mean a lot. Alongside speculative fiction, soundtracks (for movies, games, television shows, etc) are my drug of choice. It’s hard to imagine a world without those two things. When I read, I have a score playing in the background. When I write fiction, invariably, I’ll have my headphones plugged into my computer, obscuring the world around me, enveloping me in the world that my brain has built around the sound. And at work, it’s what helps me get through the entirety of the day.
I love me soundtracks. And I love thinking about them. And one of the things that’s caught my attention over the past few years is the move away from any sort of recognisable usage of leitmotifs or even hummable melodies. I could list any number of soundtracks (for major movies and shows) that eschew identifiable cues in favour of music that compliments the action on screen but never quite enhances it.
As a result, I was dreadfully worried about what was going to happen to John Carter of Mars, upon its arrival in cinemas. Here was a score that demanded the composer take it seriously, and give it the treatment it deserves. And when it was announced that Michael Giacchino would be composing the score, my trepidation increased. Whilst his work on Star Trek was passably acceptable, his previous work (Medal of Honour aside) felt unfocused and dissonant.
And yet with John Carter of Mars, somehow he managed to surprise the hell out of me. Here is a score that doesn’t just feature sweeping, grand themes, reminiscent of John Williams filtered through Maurice-Alexis Jarre, oh no. It also features moments of tenderness, wonder, even – dare I say? – tranquility. And of course, a fair amount of his famous love of shivering violins.
And yet, 20 seconds into track 2 (‘Get Carter’) there is comes: a sweeping, majestic theme that hasn’t been heard in popular film scores since David Arnold’s Stargate. Or consider track 8: ‘The Blue Light Special’. A haunting choir, featured as an ever-so-slight counter-point to the strings, before fading out and letting Giacchino unleash a melody that takes a highly unexpected cue romantic cue that could have come from Mussorgsky himself, had he been at the helm of the orchestra.
From beginning to end, this is an excellent score. It accomplishes most if not all of what it set out to do. Of all the film scores I’ve heard in the last year, this is the one that’s stood out the most thus far. And not many popular filmscores are content to do that anymore. Here’s one that does.