Home > Reviews > THE GREAT MIRACLE – Mark McKenzie


greatestmiracleOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I regularly have conversations with fellow film music aficionados about which composers don’t get the public acclaim, respect and – most importantly – regular assignments we feel they should. Time and again, Mark McKenzie’s name is repeated as one of those men whose music is so amazing, but no-one can adequately give a reason why he isn’t scoring the most important and acclaimed films Hollywood produces. He writes some of the most beautiful, lyrical and emotionally resonant music ever written for film – and I do mean ever written for film – but yet seems quite content to stay out of the limelight, orchestrating diligently for other composers, and writing one score of his own every couple of years. From a purely selfish point of view, this frustrates me immensely, because he quite obviously has the talent to be one of the all-time greats. As it stands, he has scored fewer than 20 films in his entire career, which spans back to 1991.

The Great Miracle, his latest, could very well be the best score he has ever written, and that’s saying something for a composer who already has such magnificent works as The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, Durango and The Lost Child to his name. A Catholic-themed animated film directed by former Disney storyboard artist Bruce Morris and produced in Mexico, The Great Miracle [El Gran Milagro] has a soaring, spiritually powerful score written for a full orchestra, full choir and boy soprano soloists. To say that it is beautiful is a gross understatement; there are hints of Georges Delerue at his most lush, and Ennio Morricone at his most musically reverent, as well as stylistic echoes of a few of his own earlier scores, and from start to finish the album envelops the listener in a wondrous wave of uplifting splendor, a respectful but joyous celebration of God and his good works.

The opening cue, “Entering the Cathedral”, introduces the main theme, a stately four-note rising motif, initially performed by the massed ranks of the string section and supported by warm, noble horns, before being passed off to a more intimate oboe and harp duet. Later, “Call of the Spirit” recapitulates the secondary part of the melody accompanied by tolling bells; “Reclaiming Faith” features a tender and inviting statement again for oboes; “You’ll See” offers a graceful piano version of the secondary theme in tandem with flutes, harp and an elegant string wash. The piano-and-string performance of the main theme at the end of “I Miss You” is just gorgeous.

The choral elements are equally magnificent. They first appear in the stunning “Angels, Demons and Prayer”, in which some more strident string writing and darker, bolder brass material finds itself competing with a heavenly performance of the main theme in a battle for musical supremacy. The London Libera Boy’s Choir conducted by Robert Prizeman enters the fray in the astonishing “Benedictus Deus”, which grows from a solo boy soprano to a duet to the full choir and orchestra over the course of a mere 97 stunning seconds. Later, their angelic cooing gives the triumphant and turbulent “Offerings” and the first half of the bold and vivid “I Miss You” a sense of majesty and grandeur, while their more emotionally charged and tragic vocal performances during “Ultimate Love” provides one of the score’s darkest moments of poignancy.

“A Clean Soul” uses an excerpt from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier Prelude #1 in C Major during its opening moments, highlighting a harp and a pious-sounding organ, before the score builds up to its majestic finale, from the gentle and inviting “Go in Peace” – which expands during its second half into a glorious statement of the secondary theme – through the restrained and reflective “That Beautiful Smile”, to the conclusive “Ascension/Gloria Patri”, a summary of all the score’s main thematic elements played at their fullest and most sweeping. It’s all I can do not to burst into tears by this point, such is the emotional effect the music has on me.

By all accounts Mark McKenzie is a deeply religious man, and apparently his faith is partly what draws him to particular film projects – it’s surely no coincidence that his last few films, such as The Last Sin Eater, Saving Sarah Cain and The Ultimate Gift, have all had strong and positive religious overtones to their narrative. If this is the case, and this is the reason why McKenzie generally stays away from the mainstream Hollywood scene, then clearly you have to respect his decision and admire his convictions, even if it means that his new works are often several years apart. It also ensures that those of us who know and love his music embrace fully his scores when they do come along. When they are as thoroughly wonderful as The Great Miracle, it’s worth the wait.

Rating: *****

Buy the Great Miracle soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Entering the Cathedral (2:21)
  • Call of the Spirit (2:37)
  • Angels, Demons & Prayer (5:34)
  • Reclaiming Faith (3:13)
  • Benedictus Deus (1:38)
  • You’ll See (1:16)
  • Offering (2:28)
  • Ask for What you Want (1:43)
  • I Miss You (3:35)
  • Ultimate Love (4:46)
  • A Clean Soul (3:04)
  • Go In Peace (4:04)
  • That Beautiful Smile (2:37)
  • Ascension/Gloria Patri (1:47)

Running Time: 40 minutes 42 seconds

Dos Corazones/McKenzie Music (2011)

Music composed by Mark McKenzie. Conducted by Gordon Johnson. Orchestrations by Mark McKenzie. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner and Brian Valentino. Edited by Marc S. Perlman. Album produced by Mark McKenzie.

  1. Christopher
    April 1, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    This is my favorite score of the year so far, and the only threat to it on the horizon is another McKenzie score that’s supposed to get a CD release sometime soon. I love this man’s music! Excellent review.

  2. Sophie
    April 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Yes, an excellent review. I’m very tempted to buy this soundtrack now 🙂 not sure if I should wait till the movie’s release though; It’s nice to be able to put images to the music, if you know what I mean.

  1. October 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm

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