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QUANTUM OF SOLACE – David Arnold

November 14, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The re-boot given to the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale in 2006 was possibly the best thing that could have happened to 007. The film itself was arguably the best Bond movie since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, and Daniel Craig’s gritty, wounded portrayal of MI6’s finest brought him firmly into the new millennium. Quantum of Solace, the second movie in the new rebooted series, continues the story from the immediate point where Casino Royale concluded; it’s essentially a revenge film, with Bond attempting to bring the killers of Vesper Lynd from the previous film to justice, while locking horns with a new adversary – evil multimillionaire businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric). The film is directed by Marc Forster, also stars Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton as the new Bond girls, Camilla Montes and Strawberry Fields, and features Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini in recurring supporting roles.

Composer David Arnold also returns for his fifth Bond effort, making him the second-most prolific Bond composer in franchise history, after John Barry. Continuity is good. Unfortunately, for the second time in succession, much controversy surrounds the Bond song. On Casino Royale, Arnold collaborates with singer/songwriter Chris Cornell on “You Know My Name”, the melody of which was incorporated into the underscore proper, but which for legal reasons did not feature on the soundtrack CD. On Quantum of Solace, however, the reverse is true. The song here, “Another Way to Die”, features prominently on the soundtrack CD, but did not involve Arnold in any way – instead, it is a collaboration between guitarist and singer Jack White of The White Stripes, and R&B vocalist Alicia Keyes. With the possible exception of Madonna’s Die Another Day, “Another Way to Die” is probably the worst Bond song in history. It’s just awful, unintelligible, musically redundant, and bearing no relation to the rest of the score. I really wish they’d stop messing around with the Bond songs and just let Arnold write them. More than any other films, songs from Bond films are tradition, a musical snapshot of the tastes and styles of an era, and an important part of the heritage of the series. To have a song as bad as this join the pantheon of “Goldfinger”, “Diamonds Are Forever” and the rest is, frankly, shocking.

Stylistically, David Arnold’s score is almost identical to Casino Royale – which makes perfect sense as, in essence, the two films are one single story arc. The large orchestra, the appropriate electronic embellishments, the frantic pacing, and the ubiquitous brass flourishes are all there in abundance, as one would expect from a modern Bond score. Thankfully, Arnold has continued to dispense almost entirely with the horrid synth loops which plagued Die Another Day, relying instead on good, old-fashioned orchestral through writing and instrumental performance.

What Quantum of Solace lacks, however, is a strong thematic identity of its own, and this again goes back to Arnold’s exclusion from the songwriting process. Whereas Casino Royals featured liberal extracts from the “You Know My Name” motif, Quantum of Solace has no distinct thematic material from which to draw, which leaves Arnold in a quandary: does he come up with his own thematic material and risk undermining the song, or does he opt to remain slightly ‘subtler’ in his approach, allowing the song to be dominant element at the expense of his score? Disappointingly, but completely understandably, he chose the latter, and as a result the score suffers a little. It doesn’t have any real identity; nothing which earmarks it as a Bond score. The music is good, of course, but it could be from any old action movie, and the lack of use of the Bond theme compounds the problem.

As on Casino Royale, Arnold’s use of Monty Norman’s familiar Bond theme is judicious at best; it never appears in the full-throated glory that so typified the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras of Bond, instead making fleeting appearances here and there, almost like an as extended cameo that reminds the listener that this score really is a part of the Bond film series. “Bond in Haiti” is a wonderfully grungy jungle-drum version of the theme; the very end of “Pursuit at Port Au Prince” works in a Vic Flick-esque guitar riff which is nostalgic in the extreme; “Talamone” accentuates the theme with some trilling mandolins, and “Bolivian Taxi Drive’ goes native, with a stripped-down version of the theme being performed by more guitars and local percussion instruments. The bass flutes which typified so many performances over the years also make a welcome, if fleeting, appearance in “Field Trip”.

Having said that, there are still a number of moments of excellence which allow Quantum of Solace to shine. The opening action set-pieces, “Time to Get Out” and “The Palio” are breathlessly exciting, all frantic strings and brassy horn trills, while “Pursuit at Port Au Prince” brings an angry rock vibe to the action material, complete with electric guitar and drum kit. “Target Terminated” continues the style set out in the opening moment of the score, and is big and exciting; “Have You Ever Killed Someone” features some fantastic heavy percussion, while the final set piece “Perla De Las Dunas”, explodes with phenomenal kinetic forces half way through, and contains several wonderful homages to John Barry’s compositional style, especially in the brass writing.

Elsewhere, to accentuate the globe-trotting geographical settings, there are flashy Spanish guitars in “Somebody Wants To Kill You”, and moody pan pipes and sinister rumblings in “Greene and Camille”. A pretty sub theme for Bond girl Camille weaves its way in and out of the score, dancing up and down a scale on harps, guitars and other more intimate instrumentation during “No Interest in Dominic Greene” and others. Finally, providing at least one thematic link between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the bittersweet piano motif for Vesper Lynd re-appears in cues like “What’s Keeping You Awake”, “Forgive Yourself”, “Camille’s Story”, and the conclusive “I Never Left”, reminding Bond – and us – of his lost love.

Really, the problems with Quantum of Solace all boil down to the song, its overall inappropriateness, and David Arnold’s non-inclusion in its creation. Had his voice been heard in all the film’s musical elements, the resulting score would certainly have had more cohesiveness to it, and would have been less anonymous than it is. Instead, we have Bond score without an identity; technically superb and occasionally very thrilling, but just a step below its immediate predecessor.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Quantum of Solace soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Time to Get Out (3:28)
  • The Palio (4:59)
  • Inside Man (0:38)
  • Bond In Haiti (0:35)
  • Somebody Wants To Kill You (2:17)
  • Greene and Camille (2:13)
  • Pursuit at Port Au Prince (5:58)
  • No Interest in Dominic Greene (2:44)
  • Night at the Opera (3:02)
  • Restrict Bond’s Movements (1:31)
  • Talamone (0:34)
  • What’s Keeping You Awake (1:40)
  • Bolivian Taxi Ride (0:49)
  • Field Trip (0:41)
  • Forgive Yourself (2:26)
  • DC3 (1:15)
  • Target Terminated (3:53)
  • Camille’s Story (3:58)
  • Oil Fields (2:29)
  • Have You Ever Killed Someone? (1:32)
  • Perla De Las Dunas (8:07)
  • The Dead Don’t Care About Vengeance (1:14)
  • I Never Left (0:40)
  • Another Way To Die (written by Jack White, performed by Jack White and Alicia Keyes) (4:23)

Running Time: 62 minutes 02 seconds

J Records 88697-40517-2 (2008)

Music composed by David Arnold. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. James Bond theme by Monty Norman. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Album produced by David Arnold.

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