VALKYRIE – John Ottman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Valkyrie is a film based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German aristocrat and officer in the Wehrmacht who, despite progressing to a position of some power during the Hitler regime at the height of World War II, was a leading member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement, and led a plot to assassinate the Führer in 1944. The film, which is directed by Bryan Singer, stars Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and Eddie Izzard as Stauffenberg’s co-conspirators in the resistance, and Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten and Thomas Kretschmann in supporting roles. Inevitably, with Singer directing, his frequent collaborator John Ottman is also part of the production team, pulling double-duty as film editor and composer.
Listening to Valkyrie is like looking at the book shelves of a master carpenter who only reads crappy novels. The bookends are stunning, but everything in between is indescribably disappointing. I appreciate that this analogy is somewhat odd, so let me explain. The first and last tracks on the album – “They’ll Remember You” and “Long Live Sacred Germany” – are simply outstanding, whereas everything in between is little more than bland, uninspired filler. “They’ll Remember You” could very well the greatest single cue John Ottman has ever written; it’s an emotional, poignant string elegy that gradually emerges into a graceful, moving choral piece sung in German by a cut-glass female soprano and a noble-sounding male voice choir, with lyrics that come from a poem by playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This magnificent opening cue sets up Valkyrie to be a masterpiece: could this finally be the score where Ottman shows his true colors, and delivers the goods? One can only imagine the disappointment I felt as I sat through the next 53 minutes of the “underscore proper”.
Given that the film is essentially an espionage action/thriller, there are a fair few action cues dotted around the score, and some of them are quite exciting in their own way. “Operation Valkyrie”, “The Way It Should Go” and “Olbricht Gives the Order” bluster along to pounding war drums and churning, rumbling cellos and basses, offering some of the score’s more stirring moments. Occasionally, cues like “Seconds Lost” and “I’m Sorry” briefly revisit the lush, melancholy thematic material from the opening cue, reminding the listener just how good this score could have been.
However, for far too much of the time, the score simply trudges onwards, rumbling away in the background, adding some brooding textures and a certain sense of menace and tension, but never really amounting to anything much. There are string chords and incessant pulses – both percussive and electronic – and, occasionally, some interesting rhythmic ideas creep in, but on the whole cues like “What’s This Really All About?”, “Bunker Bust”, “March 13 Attempt”, “A Place to Change” and others are fairly generic in their construction, and certainly pale massively in comparison to the stunning opening. Occasionally, these mid-album cues even lurch unsteadily towards the land of the dull – “Important Call”, for example, is little more than a percussive heartbeat overlaid with some simple string textures. Some of Ottman’s synth work also seems curiously anachronistic, and feels as though it would be more at home in a Bourne movie than a WWII thriller.
The “Midnight Waltz” is a mid-album curio featuring a lush, classical waltz for piano and string orchestra clearly intended to reflect the level of opulence that prevailed in certain parts of Nazi Germany during the era, while “The Officer’s Club” features a new performance of the old Marika Rökk Kabarett-salon classic “Für Eine Nacht Voller Seligkeit” performed sultrily by actress and vocalist Katharine Mehrling.
And there’s the beautiful final cue – “Long Live Sacred Germany” – which, while clearly never reaching the lofty heights of the opening, provides a soft, solemn reflection on Stauffenberg’s life and legacy, and is filled with more of the expressive, emotional string writing that I ever knew Ottman had in him. That’s what I mean about Valkyrie having bookends, and why the meat of the score in between these excellent tops and tails is so disappointing.
Ultimately, Valkyrie is an incredibly frustrating score, as it offers examples of the absolute best and the indifferently mediocre in Ottman’s writing. The opening cue is so good I almost wish he had written it for a different movie – one which would have allowed him to explore this style of writing more thoroughly, and not made him abandon it in favor of the middling action and suspense music that permeates the rest of this album.
Buy the Valkyrie soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- They’ll Remember You (4:20)
- Operation Valkyrie (5:11)
- What’s This Really All About? (3:44)
- Bunker Bust (3:45)
- March 13 Attempt (3:38)
- Midnight Waltz (2:11)
- A Place To Change (4:09)
- Seconds Lost (3:34)
- Getting the Signature (4:04)
- The Officer’s Club (performed by Katharine Mehrling) (2:37)
- The Way it Should Go (3:24)
- If I Were That Man/To the Berghof (2:21)
- I’m Sorry (3:04)
- Important Call (4:07)
- No More Indecision (2:31)
- Olbricht Gives the Order (3:18)
- Operation Terminated (1:16)
- Long Live Sacred Germany (6:13)
Running Time: 63 minutes 27 seconds
Varese Sarabande VSD-6937 (2008)
Music composed by John Ottman. Conducted by Pablo Heisenberg. Orchestrations by John Ottman, Reuben Panini and Lior Rosner. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Amanda Goodpaster. Album produced by John Ottman.