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I, ROBOT – Marco Beltrami

irobotOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Marco Beltrami was a late addition to the creative team of I Robot, following the dismissal of original composer Trevor Jones by director Alex Proyas. Beltrami had just nineteen days to write and record his replacement score – no mean feat to accomplish in such a short space of time, and with the added pressure of knowing that the film was one of 2004’s most anticipated summer releases. His success is nothing short of remarkable, and it’s quality is testament to his increasing stature as one of film music’s true emerging talents.

Loosely based on a short story by famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, I Robot takes place in Chicago 30 years in the future, in a society where robots firmly integrated into everyday life. Robots, which are used as janitors and laborers by their human owners, are governed by the ‘three laws of robotics’: 1) a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) a robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law; and 3) a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law. However, when Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the head of robot and cybernetic research, is killed, maverick cop Del Spooner (Will Smith) believes that the perpetrator was a robot named Sonny (Alan Tudyk), who has somehow found a way around the Three Laws of Robotics. However, when Spooner and his colleague Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) did deeper into the mystery, they uncover a conspiracy far more terrifying…

Beltrami’s score is a mix of moody electronic and orchestral suspense cues, mixed with a great deal of pulse-pounding action that builds on the stylistics heard in earlier scores such as Mimic, Blade II and the ever-popular Scream trilogy. The main theme, given a full work-out in the third track, is a Beltrami staple – not whistlable, but effective in context, gradually building in size and intensity as the cue progresses. It isn’t one of those themes which reaches out and grabs you – although it is interpolated into many cues, it is somewhat difficult to pick out – but it does at least provide some kind of thematic centerpiece on which to hang all the crashes and bangs.

Instead, by far the most impressive aspect of I Robot is the action music. Beltrami has a very distinctive style of action writing, with very strong string undercurrents bolstering the cues that give them a clever, fluid sense of motion. Where tracks such as “Gangs of Chicago”, “New Arrivals”, the striking and exciting “Tunnel Chase”, and the mesmerizing “Spiderbots” succeed is in the fact that they are not simply ‘noise’ cues – they have definite, identifiable melodic cores, around which the exciting layers of brass and tempestuous percussion rhythms are built.

The more low key tracks – “Main Titles”, “Sonny’s Interrogation”, “Dead Robot Walking” among others – play around with interesting electronic sound design (courtesy of long-time Beltrami collaborator Buck Sanders) and long-lined string chords to add an air of suspense and menace, while the unusual “Chicago 2035” is an offbeat, but equally effective track – a vaguely Goldenthalian piece filled with powerful brass fanfares, crescendos and string runs which signify the technologically advanced, hustle-and-bustle society in which the movie takes place.

The bombast is tempered by several cues of outstanding orchestral and choral beauty, most notably the hugely dramatic “Spooner Spills”, and the heavenly finale cue “Round Up”, where the string section soars to amazing heights of intensity and passion, bolstered by the voices of the Hollywood Film Chorale singing in sensitive unison.

With this score, and his equally exciting work on Hellboy earlier in the year, Beltrami is firmly announcing himself as one of film music’s potential big league players of the future. The quality of his work on I Robot, when taking into account the ludicrously short timescale in which it had to be finished, makes the finished product all the more impressive – and, equally importantly, proves that Beltrami can deliver the goods when it is necessary. Talented, reliable, and a team player? The young Italian/American has a big, big future.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles (1:31)
  • Gangs of Chicago (3:13)
  • I Robot Theme (End Credits) (3:15)
  • New Arrivals (1:06)
  • Tunnel Chase (3:10)
  • Sonny’s Interrogation (1:27)
  • Spooner Spills (4:21)
  • Chicago 2035 (1:57)
  • Purse Snatcher (1:00)
  • Need Some Nanites (2:53)
  • 1001 Robots (4:16)
  • Dead Robot Walking (5:09)
  • Man on the Inside (2:25)
  • Spiderbots (4:19)
  • Round Up (4:24)

Running Time: 44 minutes 04 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6591 (2004)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Pete Anthony and Marco Beltrami. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Frank Bennett, Bill Boston, Chris Guardino, Jim Honeyman, Randy Kerber, Jon Kull, Carlos Rodriguez, Dennis Smith, Ceiri Torjussen and Marcus Trumpp. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Alex Gibson. Album produced by Marco Beltrami.

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