Home > Reviews > THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL – Tyler Bates


December 12, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The original movie of The Day the Earth Stood Still, released in 1951 and directed by Robert Wise, remains to this day a seminal, well-respected science fiction watershed, one of the first times that a movie in the previously much-maligned genre has actually had something important to say. The original film starred Michael Rennie as Klaatu, a visitor from another world who comes to Earth in the company of his giant robot, GORT, to warn that mankind’s increasingly violent nature will lead to the planet’s destruction if it doesn’t change. Also a major part of the original film was Bernard Herrmann’s classic eerie score, most notable for its groundbreaking use of a theremin.

The big-budget 2008 remake of the film stars Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, Jennifer Connelly as the human woman who helps him complete his mission, and is directed by Scott Derrickson, the man behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Unfortunately, Reeves is no Michael Rennie, and Derrickson is no Robert Wise, and early reviews of the film have deemed it to be an inadequate shadow of its prestigious predecessor; the same can be said of Tyler Bates’ original score. It must have been incredibly difficult for Bates to approach writing this score because, although over 50 years have passed since the original movie, it was inevitable that his music would be judged against Herrmann’s. Bates could write the best score of his life, and the comparisons with someone as legendary as Herrmann would nullify his efforts almost immediately.

Tyler Bates became something of a film music pariah following the shocking plagiarism of Elliot Goldenthal’s score for Titus in 300 a couple of years ago. While he is certainly more talented than his detractors would claim, and while the amount of negativity towards him is probably unfounded, his career has nevertheless become somewhat tarnished by the incident, leading to his score for The Day the Earth Stood Still being unfairly dismissed before it was even released. I was quite hoping that Bates would answer his detractors by writing an impressive sci-fi score that would go some way to restoring his reputation; sadly, this is not the case.

On the whole, Bates’ score is a noisy mess, devoid of any real thematic content, devoid of the emotional bridge that Herrmann provided between the human and alien worlds, and lacking any real semblance of cohesiveness. There are a lot of electronics in the score – unsurprisingly, considering the subject matter – and a female vocalist intonating alongside a large symphony orchestra. There’s also a credited theremin, clearly a tip of the hat to Herrmann, although it must be buried way down in the sound mix because I failed to pick it out. However, for far too much of the album’s 53-minute running time, it seems to be largely chaotic and thrown together, without any real structure or sense of organization.

Some cues – notably “Military Approach”, “GORT”, “Helicopter Collision”, “Distress” and “Aphid Reign” – are darkly violent, often rising to quite intense levels of orchestral and electronic carnage, but seem to be pitched randomly, all frenzy and fury with no form. Others, such as “National Security”, “Interrogation” and “A Friend to the Earth”, have a sense of urgency through increased tempos and prominent percussion, but sound as though they could have been written for any old action movie, and have no distinct personality of their own. Occasionally Bates’ electronic effects are quite interesting on their own terms, especially some of the sounds in “Mountain Climber”, “Do You Feel That?” and “They’re Not Afraid of Us”, but these piqued moments of interest are few and far between. There are one or two moments of notable choral beauty, in the “Orb Rising” sequence, in “Cemetery”, and during the epic conclusion “He’s Leaving”, but even here the music never strays too far away from its electronic bedrock, and the beauty of the finale comes far too late to salvage the rest of the score.

On far too many occasions, the music is simply unpleasant: grinding, brutal electronic screeches and vicious orchestral dissonance which, while most likely adding a level of uncompromising terror to the film itself, makes for a truly awful listening experience away from it. Every now and again – most notably in “You Should Let Me Go” and “Wrong Place Wrong Time” – Bates even inserts growling electric guitars with a rock/metal vibe into the score, which are wholly unexpected, and seem to sit at odds with the humanist, pacifist point of the story. It’s also worth noting that the majority of the score is also very, very loud, and regularly suffers from distortion at the upper registers of the sound mix as the pitch and volume rise to increasingly unbearable levels.

I don’t really know what else to say. It just seems to me that Bates has missed an enormous opportunity to write something exceptional, something memorable, that would restore some of his standing, at least within the film music ‘fans’ world. Instead, The Day the Earth Stood Still is barely better than the majority of the generic action and sci-fi gunk that is accompanying films with increasing, and alarming, regularity. Despite one or two moments of cleverness in its synth programming, for the rest of the time it’s up there with Iron Man and The Dark Knight as one of the obnoxious scores for a major studio movie, at least this year.

Rating: *½

Buy the Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Stars (0:39)
  • Mountain Climber (2:41)
  • National Security (2:48)
  • This Is Not An Exercise (0:53)
  • Do You Feel That? (2:00)
  • Military Approach (1:07)
  • G.O.R.T. (2:43)
  • Surgery (1:31)
  • Interrogation (2:33)
  • You Should Let Me Go (2:25)
  • A Friend to the Earth (1:55)
  • Fighter Drones (1:24)
  • Came to Save the Earth (0:46)
  • I’m Staying (1:11)
  • Helen Drives (0:45)
  • Containing G.O.R.T. (0:45)
  • Orb Rising – The Day the Earth Stood Still (2:41)
  • They’re Not Afraid Of Us (1:21)
  • Flash Chamber (0:54)
  • Helicopter Collision (5:14)
  • See My Son (2:12)
  • Cemetery (3:19)
  • Distress (2:00)
  • Wrong Place Wrong Time (0:56)
  • Aphid Reign (4:17)
  • Power Down (0:56)
  • He’s Leaving (1:50)
  • The Beginning (1:11)

Running Time: 52 minutes 57 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6938 (2008)

Music composed by Tyler Bates. Conducted by Tim Williams. Orchestrations by Tim Williams and Ruy Folguera. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra and The Hollywood Film Chorale. Recorded and mixed by Bobby Fernandez. Edited by Darrell Hall and Georgie Ramsland. Album produced by Tyler Bates.

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