CD REVIEW: BEOWULF

By • November 27, 2007

Grade: A+
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Label: Warner Brothers
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99

Sure Alan Silvestri can play nice with the Mario Brothers, Stuart Little or Forrest Gump. But when it comes to scoring manly men, Silvestri has shown he can compose sweaty, muscular music with the dexterity of Charles Atlas. Listen to the ripping military action that accompanied Schwarzenegger’s takedown of the Predator, the funhouse Fascist strains of Stallone’s Judge Dredd, Young Guns Ii’s rock and roll western, and the monster-fighting paloozas of The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing. All of these stand as some of the coolest examples of musical testosterone committed to a film soundtrack – big, bold exercises in mighty themes and melody.

This is the stuff of which mythic bloodletting is made. And it flows like a gusher in Silvestri’s amazing score for Beowulf, which sums up his ability to pump it up to 11 on the action dial. Yet Beowulf isn’t some dunderheaded exercise in orchestral volume, but instead a smart, wonderfully over-the-top way to play a hero’s cult of personality – a bravado of sex and violence which Silvestri tunes to tragedy before this epic is out.

Beowulf is so filled up with melody and motifs that you almost expect the characters to burst into song, which they have a way of doing in the court singers’ throaty exaltations of the film’s self-made warrior-king. Ancient vocals probably haven’t gotten this much of a workout since The Omen, as a mighty chorus churns in time to Beowulf’s march to glory. Thankfully, Silvestri’s fun ballads and beat-backed choral “Hooo-Haaays!” never tip over the Mead and turn Beowulf into a Nordic version of Spamalot. This is an action-musical done with deserved pride in Beowulf’s mad monster-slaying skills. After all, someone isn’t playing a tender lute when dealing with the stuff of legends. They’re letting it rip for history to hear.

Like such other great warrior-king scores as Conan, Beowulf revels in trumpeting themes, of which Silvestri displays many. Yet some of the composer’s most affecting work is for Angelina Jolie’s demon seductress, particularly in a sequence where Beowulf has to choose between his libido and slicing her twain. With her sinister lullabye bells, low sampled beats and ominous voices, Silvestri reaches the kind of dark, ominous sexiness that recalls Bernard Herrmann’s lush, lady killer suspense at its best. And when it comes to large-scale action runs, Silvestri is at the top of his game here, with Beowulf’s climactic dragon battle a tour de force for strings, brass and chorus, viscerally swooping with every sword and fire parry, all building relentlessly to that final, fatal thrust. It’s the kind of seemingly endless, yet constantly intriguing writing that Silvestri does so well, it’s fifteen minutes held together by pure symphonic blood and thunder. And even when that dreaded pop ballad comes in at the end, Silvestri and Glen Ballard somehow pull off “A Hero Comes Home,” a song that will end up being the “My Heat Will Go On” of Nordic demon fighter movies.

For a film that’s state-of-the-art animation, Beowulf is a triumph of robust old-school music. Even with a tip of the hat to the kind of rock rhythms that infused 300, Beowulf is defiantly retro in its symphonic approach, with “ethnic” instruments rarely getting in way of his operatic thrust. Orchestra is The Word here. And more than ever, Alan Silvestri proves himself to be the lord of it. With Beowulf being his only film score since last fall’s A Night At The Museum, I can only hope this hit gets him from the Carmel vineyards to Hollywood’s shores more often. There are CGI monsters for Silvestri to battle, not to mention a soundtrack industry that’s begging for his mighty touch – whatever the subject might be.

To buy the Beowulf soundtrack, click here.

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