Home > Reviews > WE ARE MARSHALL – Christophe Beck

WE ARE MARSHALL – Christophe Beck

December 22, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Marshall University, in Huntington, West Virginia, is a fairly unremarkable higher education establishment, famous for sciences, health studies, technology and engineering, and for Billy Crystal having attended one semester there in his youth on a baseball scholarship. Unfortunately, the school is also famous for the worst tragedy in American college sports history when, on 14 November 1970, virtually the entire squad of the ‘Marshall Thundering Herd’ varsity American football team were killed in a plane crash on their way back from a game in North Carolina.

We Are Marshall, directed by Charlie’s Angels helmsman Joseph McGinty Nichol (“McG”) is the story of the events leading up to the tragedy, the crash itself, and the way in which the school rebuilt its football program afterwards – and how, in doing so, they honoured the dead and began the healing process. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as the Herd’s head coach Jack Lengyel and Lost’s Matthew Fox as assistant coach William “Red” Dawson, and features Ian McShane, David Strathairn, Kimberly Williams and Robert Patrick in supporting roles. For the score, McG turned to French-Canadian composer Christophe Beck, having now left Buffy the Vampire Slayer long behind him and settled into a career as one of Hollywood’s busiest feature composers. We Are Marshall is his sixth score in 2006, following The Pink Panther, The Sentinel, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, Zoom and School For Scoundrels.

American sports movies have a long and proud tradition of having stirring, patriotic scores. Hoosiers and Rudy are two which spring to mind, both of which were written by Jerry Goldsmith. Unfortunately, and despite its best efforts, We Are Marshall never comes close to emulating the vibrant passion of those great works. The central “Theme from We Are Marshall” is a stately and noble brass refrain, containing all the appropriate solemnity the tragedy demands. Unfortunately, it’s not one of those immediately soul-stirring themes which embeds itself in your memory. It has a curious anonymity about it, a sort of hybrid of every sports movie theme you’ve ever heard. It’s not a bad theme in any way – just completely unmemorable.

The theme re-occurs regularly: augmented by an electric guitar and playfully hooting woodwinds in “Winning is Everything”, as a funereal elegy in “Aftermath”, with sweeping forthrightness in the admittedly quite lovely “Nate’s Plea”, as an earnest solo violin in “Sons of Marshall”, and with a great deal of restraint and tenderness in the conclusive “From the Ashes We Rose”, but by the end of it all I still couldn’t recall it afterwards.

Some of the game cues – “Marshall vs. East Carolina”, “The Young Thundering Herd” – are scored with drumline-style percussion licks which would not sound out of place accompanying a cheerleader dancing competition, and actually come across as being slightly cheesy, despite the intricacy and speed of the percussion performances. The finale, from “Marshall vs. Xavier” onwards, is like a master class in how to touch base on every musical sports movie cliché ever invented: hyper-kinetic action material which sounds like it’s being performed by a marching band, huge blaring trumpet fanfares, and a huge orchestral finale in “Touchdown” which is supposed to be soul-stirring but actually sounds schmaltzy.

The low-key cues, like “Annie and Chris”, “Why Jack Called”, “Rebirth” and “Back on Track”, are as you would expect them to sound, with soft woodwinds and gentle strings and occasional guitars playing pretty melodies. The darker moments, such as “Breaking News”, have a more serious aspect, the former concluding with a violent-sounding brass chord to echo the sense of horror felt as the news of the plane crash emerges. “Our Boys’ Plane” features a solo boy soprano to ram home the tragic loss.

Unfortunately, the word which kept coming to me throughout We Are Marshall was ‘predictable’. Every single moment of the score sounded exactly as I expected it to, with absolutely nothing in the way of innovation, real creativity, or anything thing to distinguish it from the 500-or-so other Hollywood movies scores written each year and which sound exactly like this. From this, one could assume that We Are Marshall is a bad score. It’s not. The writing is fine, all the right buttons are pressed, the emotional themes are nice enough, and I imagine it’s exactly what the director asked for. I would imagine that if you had never heard a film score before, it would come across as being a genuinely excellent work. Unfortunately, I have now heard several thousand film scores, and I’ve heard this kind of thing done many, many times before.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Theme from “We Are Marshall” (3:14)
  • Marshall vs. East Carolina (3:14)
  • Winning is Everything (2:03)
  • Annie and Chris (1:01)
  • Breaking News (1:54)
  • Our Boys’ Plane (3:08)
  • Aftermath (2:29)
  • Nate’s Plea (2:54)
  • Dedmon’s List (2:11)
  • Why Jack Called (2:30)
  • Sons of Marshall (1:44)
  • Rebirth (1:36)
  • The Young Thundering Herd (2:10)
  • Back on Track (2:28)
  • Remembering #29 (3:49)
  • Marshall vs. Xavier (3:59)
  • Game Day (4:29)
  • Second Half (3:44)
  • Touchdown (2:18)
  • From the Ashes We Rose (3:34)

Running Time: 54 minutes 38 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6779 (2006)

Music composed by Christophe Beck. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony. Orchestrations by Kevin Kliesch, Adam Blau and John Ashton Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Fernand Bos. Album produced by Christophe Beck.

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