Home > Reviews > BABYLON A.D. – Atli Örvarsson

BABYLON A.D. – Atli Örvarsson

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s funny how career trajectories change. Five years ago, Vin Diesel was a hot new action hero in Hollywood, off the back of smash hit films such as Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious, and XXX. Recently, however, his star seems to be fading somewhat, and this downturn in popularity will not be helped by Babylon A.D. Based on the comic book by Maurice G. Dantec, the film stars Diesel as Toorop, a futuristic mercenary who takes the job of escorting a woman named Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from Russia to New York. Initially, Toorop thinks this is just an ordinary mission, but he gradually finds out that his assignment is more dangerous than he realized – Aurora is intended to be the host for an organism that a cult wants to harvest in order to produce a genetically modified Messiah. Despite having an impressive supporting cast (Michelle Yeoh, Gérard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling), director Mathieu Kassovitz allegedly disowned the film during post-production, stating that it had been “ruined” by the distributors, 20th Century Fox, his fellow producers and other partners, and that his film was now “like a bad episode of 24”.

It couldn’t have been easy for Atli Örvarsson to come into this shambolic mess and write his music, but that was the task faced by the young Icelandic composer, on what is only his second major movie as a solo composer. Örvarsson has been around Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control organization for a few years now, having worked on films such as The Holiday, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Simpsons Movie and Iron Man, but until now had yet to make much of an impression. His first major score, Vantage Point, was pretty abysmal, but thankfully Babylon A.D. shows much, much more promise.

Örvarsson’s score is predominantly orchestral, albeit with a considerable electronic accompaniment, and is performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra and the Metro Voices, with featured performances of electric cello (by Martin Tillmann), various Indian percussion items (by Satnam Ramgotra), and solo soprano vocals by the composer’s sister, Thórhildur Örvarsdóttir. To accentuate the messianic religious overtones of the story, Örvarsson chose to base his main thematic content around repetitions of the phrase agnus dei from the traditional Latin requiem mass, which literally translates as ‘lamb of God’, and clearly alludes to the part played by Aurora in the film.

The choir is present in virtually every cue in one form or another, from Örvarsdóttir’s solo vocal work to the massed voices of the full choral ensemble. Örvarsdóttir’s cut-glass tones permeate cues such as “Aurora’s Theme”, “Toorop is Home” and “Are You a Killer, Mr. Toorop?”, giving them a sense of innocence and purity, further alluding to Aurura’s Christ-like portrayal. In later cues, different Latin phrases are whispered and chanted with a much more menacing intent, accompanied by urgent, thrusting orchestral pulses. The first half of “Babylon Requiem”, “Entering New York City”, “The Monastery is Destroyed”, “Train Travel” and “Leaving the Monastery” are fine examples of this.

Occasionally, the choral writing recalls the work of composers such as Christopher Young and Howard Shore, while elsewhere there are also brief textural similarities to Alexandre Desplat’s score for The Golden Compass, especially in the use of bowl-like percussion in cues such as the opening “Aurora’s Theme”, “Leaving the Monastery”, “Toorop is Home” and the conclusive “One Child at a Time”, where Örvarsson also features a solo piano to add a touch of warmth and humanity. There are even the ubiquitous throat-singers in “The Marketplace”, which continue to unnerve me despite their increasing popularity in Hollywood scores.

The most fan-pleasing cues will likely be the action pieces, which throb to incessant Batman-esque electronic rhythms and deep, resonant string writing à la The Da Vinci Code. Almost inevitably, the sound of his mentor, Hans Zimmer, is prevalent in the action writing, with cues such as “Babylon Requiem”, “Too Many Refugees” and “Rover Chase” containing a great deal of exciting, propulsive, dense music of which his boss would be proud. When the choir enters the mix during these cues, the result is quite thrilling, and proves just how effective and enjoyable this kind of music really can be.

What I like about Örvarsson’s work here is that it is a score with its own distinct personality that never sounds like it was intended to be a ‘Zimmer clone’. Far too many scores by Zimmer protégés tend to be somewhat dull facsimiles of other, better works but, refreshingly, Babylon A.D. never seems to fall into this trap. The style is undeniably modern, and clearly belongs to the ‘sound palette’ that Zimmer and his contemporaries have developed over the course of the last 15 years or so, but Örvarsson’s clear talent for orchestral and choral writing elevates this score above pretty much anything written by anyone else from Remote Control in the last couple of years.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Aurora’s Theme (Agnus Dei) (4:09)
  • Babylon Requiem (5:34)
  • Aurora Borealis (2:31)
  • Leaving the Monastery (2:21)
  • The Cold Walk (2:47)
  • Too Many Refugees (2:53)
  • Aurora and Toorop (1:34)
  • Snow Travel (2:09)
  • Rover Chase (2:41)
  • Entering New York City (2:19)
  • Mystery Package (1:52)
  • Skyscraper (1:55)
  • The Marketplace (2:39)
  • Toorop is Home (2:31)
  • The Monastery is Destroyed (3:18)
  • Train Travel (1:57)
  • Are You Afraid to Die? (2:22)
  • Are You a Killer, Mr. Toorop? (2:13)
  • Sister Rebecca (2:43)
  • Future Vision (1:32)
  • Save the Planet (1:05)
  • Leaving the Monastery (1:58)
  • One Child at a Time (2:45)

Running Time: 57 minutes 51 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6925 (2008)

Music composed by Atli Örvarsson. Conducted by Andy Brown and Atli Örvarsson. Performed by The London Metropolitan Orchestra and Metro Voices Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler. Featured musical soloists Martin Tillmann, Satnam Ramgotra and Atli Örvarsson. Special vocal performances by Thórhildur Örvarsdóttir. Recorded and mixed by Steve McLaughlin, Slamm Andrews, Jeff Rogers and Alan Myerson. Edited by Del Spiva. Album produced by Atli Örvarsson.

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