Home > Reviews > CLASH OF THE TITANS – Ramin Djawadi


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I went into Clash of the Titans expecting the worst. When the news broke that Scottish composer Craig Armstrong – who had been attached to the film almost since its inception – was being replaced by Ramin Djawadi, and that the film’s release date was being delayed several months so that the producers could cash in on the Avatar effect and add new 3-D special effects to an already effects-heavy film, my heart sank. However, after my first complete listen to the score, I found myself thinking “hey, it’s not that bad”. And then I stopped and thought again; have my standards dropped so low that ‘not that bad?’ is actually seen as a positive remark? Have Hollywood’s most expensive and elaborate productions become so bloated and self-serving that the music only has to not make the film demonstrably worse for it to be seen as a success? If this is where the major studios are pitching themselves these days, things truly are going from bad to worse.

Clash of the Titans is a remake of the 1981 film of the same name, which was itself based upon multiple stories and legends from Greek mythology. The film – which takes numerous liberties with the actual tales of antiquity – stars Avatar’s Sam Worthington as Perseus, the mortal son of the god Zeus (Liam Neeson), who is tasked with saving his homeland from Zeus’s vengeful brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), and his monster, the Kraken. The film also stars Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos and Pete Postlethwaite, and is directed by Frenchman Louis Leterrier, whose previous movies include Unleashed and The Incredible Hulk.

I have been accused in the past of having a bias against the Remote Control organization, and in many ways this is true, but not in the way you might think. On the one hand, I absolutely approve of the way in which Hans Zimmer nurtures young musical talent, giving them the opportunity to become successful, to work on major motion pictures, and to establish careers for themselves in the cutthroat world of film music. The fact that he successfully launched the careers of composers such as John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams and others is laudable in itself. What I hate, however, is the way in which the company has virtually taken over the upper echelons of the film music world, to the detriment of other, independent composers who can’t catch a break. Five of the 15 highest grossing films at the US box office in 2009 and seven of the 15 highest grossing films in 2008 were scored by Zimmer or someone who used to work for him. Such is their utter dominance of the “blockbuster sound” that producers and directors wanting a piece of the box office pie return time after time to the studio, not for new or innovative music, but for another variation on the last hit movie’s score, one which won’t upset the film’s target demographic, and creativity be damned.

What this means is that, rather than expressing their own musical personality in an artistic way, the composers at Remote Control are forced to ape Zimmer’s sound and maintain the corporate identity. Time after time, on film after film, the same predictable sound is unceremoniously grafted onto different films with little to no regard for their setting, or their time period, or any project-specific elements which would otherwise require original thought. The net result is that you end up with a series of scores which, despite obvious melodic differences, nevertheless sound more or less the same, irrespective of whether the film is about giant robots, samurai warriors, ancient Romans, iron-clad super heroes, or Greek gods. Case in point: this score.

I really don’t want to rag on Ramin Djawadi. I’m sure he’s a very nice guy who always wanted to be a composer, studied hard, works diligently, and provides exactly what the producer and director asked for. They go away happy, he gets paid handsomely. It’s just that the score is so formulaic and so predictable, that you almost don’t need to bother listening to it. Big orchestra? Check. Enormous bank of synths playing in unison with the orchestra? Check. Male voice choir from Crimson Tide? Check. Electric cellos from The Ring? Check. There is nothing about this score which tells you it’s a score about Greek gods, or that it’s set in classical antiquity. Nothing about the time period, nothing about the geographical setting, nothing about the inter-relationships between the characters. There’s no specificity. With a few timing changes and a bit of clever editing, this score could be re-applied to Iron Man or Transformers or King Arthur, and you wouldn’t know the difference. Basically, it’s little more than well-recorded library music. I know I’ve written this in other reviews, but if it keeps happening, I have to keep pointing out the same fundamental flaws.

As far as the music itself is concerned, it’s adequate enough. The album actually starts with a rather good song, “The Storm That Brought Me To You”, written by Djawadi in collaboration with British electronica composer Neil Davidge of Massive Attack, and performed by the smoky-voiced Danish singer Tina Dico. Some of Davidge’s electronic textures make guest appearances throughout the score, and he gets a full cue of his own, the 10-minute “Be My Weapon”, towards the end of the album, although the harsh rhythms, snarling electric guitars and grating samples he employs do tend to be rather jarring when heard alongside Djawadi’s more polished tones.

The score makes use of an 80-piece orchestra recorded in London, a choir of 40 vocalists, and opera singers, as well as various ethnic blown and plucked instruments, including a solo cello and a guitar viol, both of which were played by Djawadi himself. The main theme, first heard on low cellos and punchy brasses in the opening “There is a God In you”, is an oscillating three-note motif, and is clearly intended to act as a recurring leitmotif for the heroism of Perseus. Perseus’s theme re-occurs in several cues, often as a ‘moment of glory’ in an action setting, notably in cues such as “Scorpiox” and “Eyes Down”.

A more downbeat, reflective piece for strings opens “Perseus”, acknowledging both his dangerous journey and the fate that awaits him; it gives way to the first appearance of the famous echoing male voice choir from Crimson Tide half way through it’s 6-minute running time, and occasionally highlights a tinkling mandolin to give the piece a fleeting glance of local color. The tinkles briefly enliven parts of “Argos”, “Bring Everything But the Owl” and others, but they are little more than passing lip service to the film’s Hellenic setting.

There’s also a more aggressive secondary 5-note theme for brass which crops up in the action cues, of which there are many. They tend to be of the ‘loud and propulsive’ variety, and see the orchestra chugging away, usually accompanied by Davidge’s electronic percussion, the male voice choir, and occasionally a thrumming electric guitar, to give some of the cues an unmistakable rock music vibe. The action cues are energetic enough, and undoubtedly provide the film with an appropriate internal tempo, but independently they seem somewhat random, relying on little more that high volumes and endless repetition of bulbous string ostinatos to get their point across. “Scorpiox” seems to be a direct relative of Steve Jablonsky’s similarly-named “Scorponok” from his Transformers score, while later tracks such as “You Fall You Die”, “Bring Everything But the Owl”, “Djinn”, “King Acrisius” and the overly-frantic “Eyes Down” revisit the breathless, unfocused, action style. Geoff Zanelli wrote the conclusive “Release the Kraken” based on Djawadi’s ideas, but his increased contribution fails to enliven the score, despite his more liberal use of Perseus’s heroic theme throughout the cue.

The score isn’t all bad. The “Medusa” cue stands out as a creative high point, and sees Djawadi employing some very creepy processed vocal effects and unnervingly pitched violin writing to give the snake-haired gorgon a real sense of unsettling menace. The opening few seconds of “Djinn” are interesting, as they combine a quite evil-sounding throat-singer with fluttering pan flutes and processed Maurice Jarre-style electronics, creating a quite peculiar and effective sound. There are also a couple of very attractive and stirring moments; “Written in the Stars”, the heavenly “Pegasus”, and the trio that comprises “Killed By a God”, “You Were Saved For a Reason” and “I Have Everything I Need” feature some emotional string, woodwind and light vocal textures that are quite lovely, while the ethereal “The Best of Both” features a dreamy-sounding female vocalist. However, these moments are few and far between, and are unfortunately drowned out by the pumped-up orchestral carnage elsewhere.

In addition to my apparent anti-Remote Control bias, I’ve also been accused in the past of looking down on blockbuster scores like this when I accuse them of having no depth or innovation or originality. “It’s a movie about giant robots and CGI monsters”, they say. “It’s not supposed to be deep!” Well, that didn’t stop John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner or Danny Elfman or Bernard Herrmann writing excellent scores of depth and originality and quality and creativity for super heroes, B-movies, monster flicks and space adventures. Listen to Jurassic Park, Aliens, Batman, Jason and the Argonauts, and dozens of other scores, and tell me that great music can’t be written for films intended to be populist entertainment. This continual dumbing-down and pandering to the lowest common denominator seems to be pervading everything in Hollywood’s studio system, to the point where “merely adequate” is enough, so long as the profits remain in the black, and it’s got to change. The bottom line is this: I don’t want to write reviews like this. I want for every movie to have a great score, for Ramin Djawadi and everyone else to write superb, creative, fulfilling music, and for me to enjoy every note of every cue. However, until producers and directors start changing their attitudes, until composers are given more creative freedoms to be expressive without fear of having their scores rejected (or, better yet, until composers who are more apt to write challenging scores are given the gigs instead of toiling on low-budget films for free) I’m afraid I’m going to have to.

Rating: **½

Buy the Clash of the Titans soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Storm That Brought Me to You (written by Neil Davidge, Tina Dico and Ramin Djawadi, performed by Tina Dico) (4:50)
  • There Is a God in You (1:38)
  • Perseus (6:33)
  • You Can’t Hide from Hades (3:30)
  • Medusa (4:07)
  • Scorpiox (3:23)
  • Argos (1:53)
  • You Fall, You Die (1:14)
  • Written in the Stars (2:54)
  • Pegasus (2:22)
  • Bring Everything But the Owl (1:47)
  • Killed By a God (1:50)
  • Djinn (1:56)
  • Eyes Down (4:19)
  • You Were Saved for a Reason (1:20)
  • Redemption Through Blood (2:14)
  • I Have Everything I Need (3:15)
  • King Acrisius (2:27)
  • It’s Expensive Where You Are Going (2:50)
  • Be My Weapon (written by Neil Davidge) (10:09)
  • The Best of Both (1:29)
  • Release the Kraken (6:03)
  • It’s Almost Human of You (3:15)

Running Time: 75 minutes 18 seconds

Sony Music 88697675342 (2010)

Music composed by Ramin Djawadi. Orchestrations by Matt Dunkley, Stephen Coleman and Rick Ippolito. Additional music by Geoff Zanelli, Bobby Tahouri and Noah Sorota. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy ad Nick Wollage. Edited by Michael Higham. Album produced by Ramin Djawadi.

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