Home > Reviews > PATHFINFER: LEGEND OF THE GHOST WARRIOR – Jonathan Elias

PATHFINFER: LEGEND OF THE GHOST WARRIOR – Jonathan Elias

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In a similar way as David Shire scoring Zodiac earlier in the year, Jonathan Elias’s hiring to score the medieval action adventure Pathfinder: Legend of the Ghost Warrior marks the return of a film music composer to the box office after a gap of almost 15 years. For those who don’t remember, Elias is a classically trained composer and conductor who first broke into the mainstream through the advertising arena. His company, Elias Associates, established itself as one of the pioneers of advertising music by applying film scoring techniques to the industry, and before long Elias had secured lucrative contracts for himself with several global brands.

His cinematic successes in the 1980s included the Stephen King horror classic Children of the Corn, the teen action movie Tuff Turf, the Grace Jones vampire comedy Vamp, and the cop thriller Shakedown. And then, all of a sudden he vanished from cinema screens, concentrating almost solely on his advertising work. His only major musical achievement since then has been the 1999 contemporary choral symphony “The Prayer Cycle”, sung in 12 languages and featuring vocalists such as Alanis Morissette, and the late Ofra Haza and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – until now.

Pathfinder: Legend of the Ghost Warrior is the latest film from German director Markus Nispel (the creator of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and stars Karl Urban, Russell Means, Jay Tavare and Clancy Brown. Set in North America a hundred years before the voyages of Columbus, it tells the story of a Viking boy who is accidentally left behind when his Norse tribe, vicious marauders from Scandinavia, are defeated in battle. Raised by the native Americans who saved him, the boy – named Ghost – grows up to be a fearsome warrior, who eventually is forced to face his past when the Norsemen return years later to claim that part of the New World as their own…

So, I suppose the question worth asking is, after 15 years away, is the return of Jonathan Elias worth celebrating? The answer, sadly, is a rather frustrating no. His score for Pathfinder is like a world-music mishmash, taking the choral and percussive parts from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and mixing them with pseudo-Hans Zimmer Gladiator-esque touches, resulting in an ethnic potpourri of styles which is neither original or particularly entertaining. The forces behind the score are impressive enough – the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in all their glory – but the end result not quite the stirring epic it seemingly aspires to be.

Much of the score is made up of dense, throbbing percussion tracks overlaid by chanting vocal work and the simplistic ascending orchestral chord progressions. Howard Shore’s use of this technique is one of the things which made Lord of the Rings so distinctive, but here they just come across as being derivative – Elias even manages to reprise the innocent boy soprano technique in an attempt to add a touch of solemnity to the aftermath of an action cue. Tracks such as “Vikings Attack”, “Ghost Fight Begins”, “First Kill”, “Cave Surprise”, “Quick Kills” and “The Last Stand” all fall into the trap of mistakenly equating loud volume and fast rhythms with excitement, although some of the choral work in the “Viking Attack” and “Eye for an Eye” is actually rather good, especially when it dips into the realm of throat-singing, and “Quick Kills” does build up a healthy head of steam half way through.

Pan pipes, fluttery woodwinds, and other touches of ‘ethnic’ color litter the score, especially in quieter tracks such as “The Discovery”, “Sanctuary”, and the conclusive “Prophecy Fulfilled”. Although in themselves they are generally well-conceived and performed, they nevertheless seem a little clichéd and predictable – it’s almost as though Elias was cornered into writing this sort of music in order for the audience to think ‘oh, I hear ethnic flutes, this must be where the Natives live’. Every score whose film is set in this locale seems to sound like this nowadays, and while usually the technique is effective, in Pathfinder it seems more than a little tired.

Occasionally a stirring orchestral theme will appear, such as towards the end of “The Discovery” and “Ice Lake”, but again these are clearly based on the bass-voiced moments of musical nobility Hans Zimmer used almost a decade ago in scores like Gladiator. Having said all that, there are still a couple of highlights: “Starfire” is a lovely string-led interlude with a wistful, longing refrain, while “Moving On” gradually builds to a quite lovely orchestral and choral finale, again featuring the aforementioned boy soprano.

In the 80s, Jonathan Elias was well known for his innovative and groundbreaking approach to using electronics in his film scores, and although I always applaud composers who take the time and trouble to write their scores for full orchestras, it is perhaps this very thing that is lacking in Pathfinder. Orchestral ethnic action scores like this are a dime a dozen these days, and Elias really does nothing distinctive, and never allows his score to emerge from the grasp of all the other action scores that sound like this. He never does anything to make the listener think, “Wow! Jonathan Elias is back!” Perhaps his next score will allow his true musical personality to shine through – providing we don’t have to wait another decade for him to write one.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Opening Credits (1:28)
  • The Discovery (2:02)
  • Remembering (2:28)
  • Sanctuary (1:54)
  • Haunted (3:03)
  • Starfire (1:39)
  • Vikings Attack (3:12)
  • The Aftermath (1:44)
  • Ghosts Fight Begins (2:45)
  • First Kill (3:47)
  • Eye for an Eye (1:55)
  • Cave Surprise (2:01)
  • Healing Ceremony (2:44)
  • Moving On (2:32)
  • Quick Kills (4:55)
  • Cave Maze (3:34)
  • The Last Stand (2:18)
  • Pathfinder’s Destiny (2:38)
  • Ice Lake (2:00)
  • Vikings Ascent (1:19)
  • Mountainside Battle (4:16)
  • Gunnar’s Fury (2:12)
  • Prophecy Fulfilled (5:39)

Running Time: 62 minutes 05 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6806 (2007)

Music composed by Jonathan Elias. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Conducted and orchestrated by Tim Davies. Additional music by Tim Davies and Nathaniel Morgan. Recorded and mixed by John Timperley. Edited by Jim Flamberg, Steven Galloway, Katrina Schiller and Vincenzo Lo Russo. Album produced by Jonathan Elias and Vincenzo Lo Russo.

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