WRATH OF THE TITANS – Javier Navarrete
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
I have to admit, when I learned that Javier Navarrete was scoring Wrath of the Titans, I was pretty excited. The original film to which this is a sequel – 2010’s Clash of the Titans – was solidly panned by the majority of film critics, and had a pretty risible score by Ramin Djawadi that adhered to every Remote Control cliché ever invented. Everything was revamped this time, with a new director in the shape of Jonathan Liebesman, a new supporting cast including Rosamund Pike and Bill Nighy behind leads Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, and a brand new composer, whose track record promised to provide everything that Djawadi’s score was lacking in terms of thematic identity and orchestral intelligence. Navarrete is, of course, the Spanish composer of such excellent works as Pan’s Labyrinth, Inkheart, Mirrors and Cracks, and this would be far his biggest assignment in the Hollywood mainstream to date.
The film takes place ten years after the conclusion of the first film, and has a plot that is somewhat similar to last year’s Greek God flop Immortals. Perseus (Worthington), the demi-God son of Zeus (Neeson) is living quietly as a fisherman with his young son, but has his new tranquil life shattered when his father visits him to inform him that the prison Tartarus, which houses the evil and destructive Titans, is in danger of being breached due a lack of belief in the Gods from humanity. Initially indifferent to the plight, Perseus is forced in to action when the walls of Tartarus break and monsters are unleashed into the world – much to the delight of Zeus’s brother Hades (Fiennes), who hopes the chaos will give him an opportunity to overthrow him. After slaying a Chimera that attacked his village and threatened the life of his son, Perseus begins to assemble an army, and travels to seek the help of another demi-God, Hephaestus, in an attempt to stop Hades and return the monsters from whence they came.
All this sounds like it would provide a composer with a massive canvas on which to paint, right? However – unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view – Navarrete seems likely to be considered this year’s Patrick Doyle, in that he is a composer whose personal style has become subsumed somewhat by the current Hollywood blockbuster musical style, in much the same was as Doyle was with Thor last year. In an interview with film music journalist and IFMCA member Daniel Schweiger, Navarrete stated that “he met Hans Zimmer early on in the scoring process”, who gave him some “advice”. Apparently “the score started out more orchestral and classical”, but then that as the weeks went by it “became more loopy and programmed and heavy-sounding”. As such, the score bears all the hallmarks of a prototypical Zimmer-style blockbuster score, with the churning cello lines and prominent electro-percussive accompaniment, which is likely to turn off a great number of potential listeners instantly, especially those who are becoming tired with the sound.
Having said that, Navarrete is nothing if not a talented composer, and throughout the score he still manages to allow parts of his personal compositional style and orchestrational knowledge to shine through. The stylistics of the score mirror the one Djawadi wrote two years ago, but in terms of creativity and thematic content, Navarrete’s work is far superior. There’s a large orchestra, a large choir, and a large bank of electronics, but he augments these with a number of specialty instruments to give the score a little ethnic flavor, including a shehnai Pakistani oboe, an electric cello, and several regional Indian reed instruments. In addition, a little research revealed that the choir is often singing original poetry prose, written by Navarrete in an ancient Greek dialect, which directly references the action on-screen.
The main theme, which is prominent throughout the score, is big and bold and heroic, as one would expect. It gets an enormous introduction in the very enjoyable opening cue, “Wrath of the Titans”, and features strongly in many of the score’s later cues as a marker for Perseus’s adventurous exploits: listen out for the especially grand recapitulations in cues such as “Son of Zeus”, and in the finale of “To the Battle”. The action music is similarly large-scale and powerful, making strong use of the scope his orchestra provides, but too often the creativity of the orchestral lines Navarrete crafted is obscured by the incessant thumping and grinding of the electronic palette. With the exception of parts of his score for the bizarre ninja western The Warrior’s Way from 2010, I’ve never heard Navarrete use so many synth overdubs, and one gets the feeling that he didn’t quite know what to do with them all once he had them at his fingertips. Time and again, in cues such as “Attack of the Chimera” – probably the best of the action pieces – “Perseus in the Labyrinth”, “Escape from Tartarus”, “Brother Ares”, and the end-of-album remix “Kronos Megalos”, there are some sensational instrumental performances going on, but you can’t hear them properly because of all the scraping and grinding and bubbling electronica that he has dancing around on top.
The net effect of all this is that the action music tends to sound very unfocused and chaotic, noise for the sake of noise, without a real sense of what it’s trying to achieve beyond being as loud and frantic as possible. Whether or not these timbres were part of Zimmer’s “helpful advice” – and whether they were his idea or not – is open to debate, but from my own point of view I would much rather have been able to fully appreciate Navarrete’s excellence with the orchestra than be straining to hear it under all the samples. The score was orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd, whose expertise has been brought to bear on scores by composers as varied as David Arnold, Clint Mansell, Mychael Danna, and even James Horner on Avatar, but other than some fleeting similarities between the fizzy electronics in Avatar and this score, the familiar “Dodd sound”, and especially his brass phrasing, seems conspicuous by its absence too.
Having said that, several of the cues do impress. The staccato chanting and rousing brass chords in “Humans Stopped Praying” are impressive, as is the lonely and heartfelt electric cello motif that appears half way through the cue. The intentionally horrific choral shouting at the beginning of “Zeus in the Underworld” scared the bejeezus out of me the first time I heard it, and certainly sets out an unnerving musical scenario for Hades and his denizens of the deep, especially with the sordid-sounding Middle Eastern inflections in the cue’s second half, which continue on through later cues such as the moody and more appealing “Son of Zeus”. The “Cyclops” is based around a repeated single percussion ostinato, intended to convey the thoughtless single-mindedness of the creature, as well as the (in an abstract way) the single eye the creature has, which contributes to its lack of wider vision. Some of the quieter moments showcase Navarrete’s deft touch too, especially the expansive and lyrical “Pegasus”, the sweeping and noble middle section of “To the Battle”, and the ethereal and moving finale in “Zeus Leaves”, which even has a touch of James Horner about it, in its chord progressions and use of harp glissandi.
I’m torn as to whether to recommend Wrath of the Titans or not. On the one hand, it’s clearly superior to pretty much every one of the Zimmer-style summer blockbuster scores written by Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Djawadi and others over the last couple of years, and if you have an affinity for that style of scoring there is clearly going to be a lot to enjoy as a result of Navarrete’s excellent compositional talent and intelligent use of his orchestra. On the other hand, I still can’t help but feel a little disappointed that Navarrete chose not to – or wasn’t allowed to? – draw on his own sound and stylistics a lot more, instead adopting a way of writing that seems so very inferior to the outstanding music we heard in scores like Pan’s Labyrinth. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy listening to the score, because I did, and on those terms it should please many, but I can’t help feeling a little frustrated at its lack of a singular and truly original approach.
Buy the Wrath of the Titans soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Wrath of the Titans (2:15)
- Humans Stopped Praying (4:10)
- Zeus in the Underworld (4:02)
- Attack of the Chimera (4:10)
- Son of Zeus (5:19)
- Pegasus (2:59)
- Andromeda (6:12)
- Cyclops (5:04)
- The Orb (6:44)
- Ares Fights (3:15)
- Perseus in the Labyrinth (6:23)
- Escape from Tartarus (4:17)
- To the Battle (4:33)
- Brother Ares (4:22)
- Zeus Leaves (5:33)
- Kronos Megalos (Remix) (5:07)
Running Time: 74 minutes 25 seconds
Watertower Music (2012)
Music composed by Javier Navarrete. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Michael Connell and Graham Sutton. Album produced by Javier Navarrete.