THE IMPOSSIBLE – Fernando Velázquez
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
On December 26th 2004 a massive 9.1 earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra, causing a colossal tsunami tidal wave to spread violently across the Indian Ocean. Countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and India were severely damaged by the effects of the tsunami, but the country of Indonesia was affected most, with some 131,000 people confirmed killed in its immediate aftermath, and hundreds of thousands more left homeless, and forced to deal with the disease and poverty that inevitably followed. Almost eight years later, the tsunami is generally considered one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recorded history, having already been classified as the largest earthquake for over 40 years, and the third largest on record. Director Juan Antonio Bayona’s film The Impossible – known as Lo Imposible in Spanish speaking countries – stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as Henry and Maria, a normal family who happen to be on vacation in the country at the time the tsunami strikes, and who get caught up in the horrific tragedy. It is through their eyes, their plight, and their struggle to survive that we witness the devastating events unfold.
Providing the score for The Impossible is young Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez, who since first coming to international prominence in 2007 with Bayona’s previous film The Orphanage has split his time equally between Europe and Hollywood, scoring such high-profile films as Shiver, Los Ojos de Julia and Devil. Despite the excellence of these earlier works, it’s probably fair to say that The Impossible is the best score of his career to date. Velázquez has shown thematic excellence in his earlier works, but nothing compares to the sheer, overwhelming impact of The Impossible. Written for a large symphony orchestra with emphasis on strings, and recorded in London, The Impossible sounds like a collision of Georges Delerue at his most emotionally powerful, and Ennio Morricone at his most thematically lush. Try to imagine scores like Diên Biên Phu or Memories of Me, crossed with Deborah’s Theme from Once Upon a Time in America, or the main title from The Red Tent, and you are starting to come close to the immense power of Velázquez’s score for this film.
The score is essentially built around a single main theme, heard in its entirety in the opening “Main Title”, and which features in almost every cue thereafter, until its magnificent recapitulation in the “End Titles”, a cue that spares no expense in wringing every last tear from the listener’s body. Initially performed on a solo cello with a soft string backing, the long-lined theme eventually grows to encompass the entire string section with grace, elegance, and no small amount of emotion. It’s a desperately sad theme, but also astonishingly beautiful in its simplicity and the way it unashamedly tugs at the heart strings. The gradual build-up, and eventual release during the powerful performance of the theme beginning at around the 2:40 mark of the cue is simply sublime, while the conclusive piano refrain at the end of the cue provides a perfect coda to just over five minutes of almost flawless film music, some of the best I have heard in a long time.
Subsequent cues, notably “The Best Holiday Season Ever”, the unexpectedly lively “Go and Help People”, the sentimental and piano-driven “I Will Bring Your Pappa Here”, the darkly exciting “Let’s Go, No Need to Wait”, the solemnly reflective “I Have a Family Too” and the cathartic “He Looked So Happy” contain stirring restatements of the theme, while virtually all the others contain fragmented performances on one instrumental texture or another – note especially the delicate harp performance of the theme in “Kem Kang Noi” .
A few moments of orchestral dissonance, in the short but vividly effective “Is It Over”, and the nervous-sounding pair “We’ll Drive You Somewhere Safer” and “But She’ll Be OK, Right?”, attempt to illustrate the sense of terror and chaos associated with the strike of the tsunami and the earthquake with undulating, skittering cello rhythms and a more rhythmic, driving ostinato, while the occasional introduction of a male voice choir into cues such as “My Boys, I Cannot See Them” and parts of “Mom, Guess What I Just Saw Outside?” give a slightly ominous edge to the proceedings, as well as a subtle religioso flavor that adds a faint spiritual element to the music.
If one was to make any criticism of the score, you could acknowledge that it has just one emotional tone – devastating loss and tragedy – which is entirely understandable given the context of the film it accompanies, but may prove a little too downbeat and depressing for listeners who need lighter and more upbeat music. One could also point to the comparative lack of thematic development – it starts out being desperately tragic, continues to be desperately tragic for almost an hour, and ends by being desperately tragic – and the fact that the score relies almost entirely on a single melodic element throughout its length, but this would be nit-picking of the highest order.
The Impossible is clearly one of the finest scores of 2012, further cementing Fernando Velázquez’s standing as one of the best young composers working in film music today, as well continuing the Iberian Invasion, which has seen composers from Spain and Portugal – people like Roque Baños, Arnau Bataller, Federico Jusid and Nuno Malo – writing some of the best contemporary film music anywhere in the world over the last couple of years. If orchestral, theme-driven scores with powerful emotional cores are your thing, do yourself a favor and seek out The Impossible. It will be impossible for you not to be impressed, entertained, and deeply moved.
Buy the Impossible soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The Impossible Main Titles (5:12)
- The Best Holiday Season Ever (2:27)
- Is It Over? (0:53)
- Even If It’s the Last Thing We Do (1:28)
- Kem Kang Noi (2:02)
- My Boys, I Cannot See Them (3:53)
- Go and Help People (1:36)
- I Will Bring Your Pappa Here (1:23)
- Is There Somebody We Could Call? (1:21)
- We’ll Drive You Somewhere Safer (1:18)
- I Won’t Stop Looking Until I Find Them (1:31)
- But She’ll Be OK, Right? (1:52)
- Mom, Guess What I Just Saw Outside? (5:50)
- Let’s Go, No Need to Wait (4:45)
- Am I Dead? (2:36)
- I Have a Family Too (1:31)
- He Looked So Happy (5:01)
- The Impossible End Titles (7:50)
Running Time: 52 minutes 29 seconds
Quartet Records (2012)
Music composed and conducted by Fernando Velázquez. Performed by The London Metropolitan Orchestra and the Kup Tadea Choir. Orchestrations by Jessica Dannheisser. Recorded and mixed by Marc Blanes Matas. Album produced by Fernando Velázquez.