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END OF DAYS – John Debney

November 26, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

endofdaysOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Having suffered professional ridicule for his performance in the laughably bad Batman & Robin, and having subsequently undergone open heart surgery, Arnold Schwarzenegger had been away from the world’s cinema screens for almost three years. He needed a vehicle to re-assert his star power, to confirm that his status as the world’s favorite action hero had not been diminished by health scares, and to reaffirm his status as the biggest box office draw in town. What better, then, than to have him do battle with Old Nick, the devil himself? In End of Days, Schwarzenegger does just that.

Arnold plays Jericho Cane, a former cop driven to the brink of suicide by a combination of alcohol and self-loathing following the death of his wife and child. With only his job as a security consultant keeping him going, Cane suddenly finds himself embroiled in a mystery when the businessman he is protecting is subject to an assassination attempt at the hands of a renegade priest. As the plot unfolds, Cane discovers that the devil himself has come to New York, in the guise of Gabriel Byrne (the businessman), and is intent on finding his anointed bride. Legend has it that, if Satan successfully impregnates this chosen women between 11 and midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, hell will descend upon the Earth and the resulting child will rule the world. As one would expect, Arnold takes it upon himself to stop the prophecy from coming true.

For all its lofty intentions, End of Days is really no better a film than any of Arnold’s other star vehicles like The Running Man, Total Recall and Eraser, albeit with excellent production value and a convincingly dark and nightmarish visage. Peter Hyams’ direction is competent but uninspired, the supporting cast is largely nondescript (with the exception of the wonderful Miriam Margolyes, who has a wonderful time beating Arnie up!), and Schwarzenegger himself is woefully bad when called upon to show a hint of emotion – the scene in which he supposedly breaks down in tears looks more like a man suffering from acute constipation. To accentuate End of Days’ apocalyptic overtones, composer John Debney wrote one of his most harsh and experimental works, a score rich with dissonant, brooding passages, intriguing vocal effects and clever electronic tumult.

Debney is not a man usually found inhabiting the horror genre who, despite brief deviations like The Relic and I Know What You Did Last Summer, is much more at home in the action and comedy arena. However, Debney still displays a keenness and willingness to musically stretch himself, and makes End of Days an interesting – if not entirely pleasurable – listening experience. The main crux of Debney’s score is his use of vocals: solo choirboy Theo Lebow singing a four-note Agnus Dei motif to represent the spiritual nature of Jericho’s quest; a mixed-voice choir chanting in Latin, adding an oppressive feeling of foreboding; and the eerie Tuvan throat singing by mysterious vocalist Ondar, the deep bass drone of which will be familiar to owners of Poledouris’s On Deadly Ground, Glass’s Kundun or Williams’s Seven Years in Tibet.

The vocals ply their trade against the backdrop of a large and loud symphony orchestra, which occasionally rises to truly massive proportions. Some of the action cues, especially ‘The Shootist’, ‘Alley Fight’, ‘Helicopter Pursuit’, ‘The Beast Comes a Callin’ and ‘Subway Attack and Escape’, come across as being especially impressive, while some of the more prominent choral pieces such as ‘Baptism In Blood’, ‘Jericho Finds Faith’, ‘The Eternal Struggle’ and ‘Redemption’ not so much mimic but draw comparisons with some of the classic pieces of the past, including Carmina Burana and The Omen.

Much of the rest of the score conforms to genre standards, which much creaking and groaning from the string section, and unearthly synth vibes courtesy of Skinny Puppy band member Cevin Key, whose startlingly original electronic textures can be heard in a number of cues, notably ‘Porcelain Man’, ‘The Tunnel’, ‘Satan Walks The Streets’ and ‘The Gates of Hell’. Equally bizarre is the alternate main title, easily the most offbeat cue of Debney’s career to date, which combines the orchestra with a host of disturbing sampled sounds including babies crying and a Blair Witch-like cackling laughs.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of End of Days will rest entirely upon your acceptance of music that has no conventional beauty and no real themes. As an accompaniment to a film that touches on the subjects this one does, Debney undoubtedly hit the nail right on the head, alluding to the liturgical, Satanic nature of the storyline, and lending weight to the battle between good and evil that the film itself failed to capture adequately. It is a testament to Debney’s continuing stature that he is willing to push the boundaries of his own work out into left field, but despite his creativity, End of Days is still nowhere near the top of his list of best scores to date. Cutthroat Island still fills top slot and, unless he comes up with something extraordinary, I think it always will.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • End of Days Main Title (2:52)
  • Porcelain Man (1:17)
  • The Shooter (1:41)
  • The Tunnel (1:44)
  • Alley Fight (2:18)
  • Baptism in Blood (1:42)
  • Helicopter Pursuit (3:06)
  • Satan Walks the Streets (1:46)
  • Crucifixion (2:10)
  • The Beast Comes a Callin’ (2:08)
  • The Gates of Hell (2:41)
  • Subway Attack and Escape (4:46)
  • Jericho Finds Faith/The Possession (2:45)
  • The Eternal Struggle (1:46)
  • Redemption (2:40)
  • End of Days Alternate Main Title (2:44)
  • End of Days Dance Mix (2:06)

Running Time: 40 minutes 23 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6099 (1999)

Music composed by John Debney. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by John Debney, Brad Dechter, Frank Bennett, Don Nemitz, Chris Klatman and Pete Anthony. Featured musical soloists Cevin Key, Chris Bleth and Loren Marstellar. Special vocal performances by Theo Lebow and Ondar. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson and Michael Stern. Edited by Tom Carlson. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by John Debney and Robert Townson.

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