Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Movie Music Musings: Soul Surfer

I tend to write about favorite film composers who are part of the older generation. These are guys who worked films in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Some are still working like John Williams and Ennio Morricone. Others have left us a legacy to enjoy like James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith. But since I do watch current films, I do actually enjoy music from some of the current crop of composers.

One gent that I'm finding more and more to like is one of Jerry Goldsmith's students: Marco Beltrami. I posted a blog about his outstanding work on 3:10 to Yuma. But one of my favorite scores by him is Soul Surfer. Now to be honest, I've never seen the movie. And normally scores to inspirational dramas are not usually something I pick up. But Soul Surfer has such a unique sound and has a couple of great uplifting themes that it is really hard not to fall in love with it.

The film is based on the life of surfer Bethany Hamilton and her experience of surviving a shark attack and rising above it to continue her life in competitive surfing. Beltrami takes the setting in Hawaii and uses it at the basis for his score. He fuses Hawaiian style music and chanting with an orchestra and the result is unique and completely engaging.

Here is one of my favorite tracks, I just love the way he builds into a wonderful crescendo in this one, called Half Pint Boards.

See, nice and soothing with a great uplifting lilt to it. But Beltrami takes that same style and turns it dark with some pounding percussion and sinister sounding chants for this next track, the fearsome Shark Attack.

Man, that almost sounds like a horror movie in parts, and I love it. Beltrami really captures the tension and fear of that sequence in the music. And male chanting is so intimidating, and over the propulsive percussion that just keeps the tension raising. It is one of the best tracks on the album, but not necessarily something you want to listen to all the time (unless you're a film music geek).

But let's end this with something more uplifting. This is one of the final tracks in the score Bethany's Wave. It takes the themes already presented in Half Pint Boards but brings them to this great triumphant conclusion. 

The whole score is one of those that I can pretty much listen to in one go and not feel the need to skip a track. And once it ends, I have no issue playing it again. Not too many film scores fall into that boat for me. Soul Surfer is a great example of a composer allowed to try something unique and yet fitting for the film. It is one of Beltrami's great talents, and when the man is given some free reign he composes some great stuff. But like many modern composers he often gets stuck composing minimalist scores or scores that rely on atmosphere over themes and storytelling. He does a fine job with those too, and actually can make some very interesting atmospheric music. But I love a good theme and musical color. Soul Surfer fits the bill perfect. Highly recommended if you like these samples.

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  1. Your eclectic taste in music is remarkable. Is there a "default mode" (e.g. a particular genre) to which you most often revert when no otherwise influenced by daily events?

    1. LOL. Thanks for that compliment (at least I think it is a compliment).

      Well I have a couple of default modes. Most of film score listening is done while I work and when I'm writing (blog or fiction).

      For doing chores or long drives I usually go with music from the 80s and 90s. Pop, rock, techno and J-pop are usually what is on there. I'll throw in a few more current artists on there if a song strikes me. A recent long drive playlist on my iPod included: Joan Jett, Pat Benetar, They Might Be Giants, Avril Lavinge, Gabrielle Robin (Yoko Kanno), Daft Punk, Robert Palmer, U2, Katie Perry, April March, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Power Glove, Garbage, No Doubt and Danny Elfman (with and without Oingo Boingo).

      The only three genres of music I really don't like are folk songs (or 60's protest music), country western, most rap. Hip hop I can enjoy in small doses, as long as it isn't pure rapping. And something about men singing in high falsetto, no matter what the genre, just drives me up the wall. So yeah, no Bee-Gees.