Home > Reviews > THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM – John Powell


Original Review by Clark Douglas

Though I’m no fan of “MTV-style” action movies, where things whiz and pop so quickly that everything becomes incomprehensible, Paul Greengrass impressed me a great deal with his fast, jerky, shaky stylings on “The Bourne Ultimatum”. There was a method to the madness, a certain precision and caution taken to insure that the chaos was more than merely chaos. Soundbites and quick images of actors like Matt Damon, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn were edited into what looked like impressive performances, and the story proved to be a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

Besides Damon and Julia Stiles, one of the few members who has been part of the series the entire time is composer John Powell. Powell’s music for the first film was a smart electronic experiment of clanging, clashing, and chopping, a score that proved to be intolerable to many at first, but one that yielded some rewards upon further listening. Powell brought his game to a new level with “The Bourne Supremacy”, taking his original ideas and fleshing them out superbly, adding a lot of orchestral meat to the banging bones. I wondered what direction Powell would go with this third score, and it’s one that will greatly satisfy fans of the first two scores while perhaps frustrating everyone else.

The first thing Powell has done is understandable and a bit obvious… he has brought even more orchestra and organic ideas to the score, making things bigger than ever before. However, unlike “Supremacy”, this isn’t merely an fleshed-out version of the exact same thing. Powell has jumbled and mixed his themes and motifs into a devious stew of sound and fury, signifying everything. Familiar ideas swirl in and out of this score at a furious pace, often mixing with other familiar ideas and disappearing before you notice. In order to fully appreciate this score, the listener must be well-versed in the ideas of the first two scores, because this score rarely takes the time to offer comprehensive thematic statements of anything. This is musical algebra, and if you didn’t bother to learn the times tables, you may well be lost.

Don’t let the phrase “musical algebra” discourage you action fans out there. This isn’t some sort of chilly Philip Glass experiment. Powell’s music is intense and exciting, fast-paced and relentless. The cues are so full of diverse ideas that to try and explain them one be one would be either futile or far too lengthy for this review. Basically, “Thinking of Marie”, “Faces Without Names”, and “Jason is Reborn” are the emotional/introspective cues on the album, and provide nice moments of rest during the score. Everything else is thrilling action music, which is all more or less consistently satisfying (I’m particularly fond of “Tangiers” and “Waterloo”).

Once again, the album closes with the Bourne theme song, Moby’s “Extreme Ways”, which is given a new arrangement. Surprisingly, this is one of the better “remixes” I have heard, adding some genuinely interesting changes to the instrumentation… and believe it or not, Moby’s vocal is actually stronger and more on-key than the original. The song has always fit perfectly with the tone of Powell’s score, and is one of the few closing soundtrack rock songs you won’t find me skipping. Much like “The Matrix Revolutions”, this is a fine album of action music that will thrill fans and alienate newcomers. If you own the first two scores, you have to have this. If not, go get the first two scores, listen to them at least a couple dozen times, and then buy this one. Unless, of course, your collection is dominated by scores written by Rachel Portman and Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, in which case you’ll probably find this to be quite icky no matter how familiar you get with it.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Six Weeks Ago (4:31)
  • Tangiers (7:40)
  • Thinking of Marie (3:51)
  • Assets and Targets (7:18)
  • Faces Without Names (3:31)
  • Waterloo (10:38)
  • Coming Home (3:19)
  • Man Versus Man (5:46)
  • Jason Is Reborn (4:04)
  • Extreme Ways (Bourne’s Ultimatum) (written and performed by Moby) (4:22)

Running Time: 55 minutes 01 seconds

Decca/Universal B0009488-02 (2007)

Music composed by John Powell. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Orchestrations by David Butterworth, Jake Parker and Gary K. Thomas. Additional music by James McKee Smith and John Ashton Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Album produced by John Powell.

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