Home > Reviews > TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON – Steve Jablonsky


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I didn’t want to write this review. I really didn’t. I saw the first Transformers movie and thought it was a decent enough summer popcorn flick, but then I endured Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and with the terrible acting and the execrable screenplay and the awful direction and the interchangeable fighting robots and the mind-numbing score, I vowed never to suffer through another Transformers-related experience, cinematically or musically. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, however, is one of the biggest box office successes of 2011, and contains one of the best-selling scores of the year, and as such it’s difficult to ignore it completely.

The complicated story concerns a secret crashed spaceship on the moon, the US military searching for the evil Decepticon transformer that still remain in the world, and a plot by those Decepticons to use ancient technology found within the spaceship to enslave humanity. Naturally, the heroic Autobots and their human friend Sam Witwicky team up with the military to save the day – cue massive scenes of chaos, enormous fighting robots, and general death and destruction. Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro all reprise their starring roles from the first two films, and are joined by newcomers Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, but lead actress Megan Fox chose not return to the series, and is replaced instead by English model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Returning to provide the score for the third time is composer Steve Jablonsky. Regular readers will know how much I love Jablonsky’s score for Steamboy, and enjoy his work on films such as D-War and The Island, as much as I hate his Transformers scores. Sadly, Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn’t buck the trend, once again leaving me with a hollow and unsatisfied feeling. I’ve said numerous times before how scores like this are slowly strangling contemporary film music; how their interchangeability, their lack of depth, their simplistic musical constructs, and their juvenile intents pander to both the corporate executives who don’t want to rock the boat and the casual listeners who don’t know any better, who simply respond to the score’s crowd-pleasing rock music instincts and its superficial heroism without looking for anything more substantial. I hate to keep repeating myself, but when scores like this continually accompany the biggest box office hits of the year, and the mainstream public keeps lapping it up, I feel almost compelled to voice my displeasure.

The main theme from the previous Transformers films is still there, at least giving the trilogy a little bit of thematic continuity, and there are a couple of meaty action sequences and moments of heroic bombast worth mentioning, but curiously for a film of this type there are large sequence of music where very little happens. “Lost Signal” and “In Time You’ll See”, for example, are little more than a set of repeated string phrases overlaid with ticking acoustic guitars, various synthetic scrapes and occasional chord of horn harmonics – and altogether this goes on for over seven minutes. Later, cues such as “We Were Gods Once” and “Battle” have a definite Inception vibe, with extended, bleating, tortured-sounding brass chords overlaid with churning string work and brutal, rapid-fire electronic percussion hits.

A new theme heard in the second cue, “Sentinel Prime”, is a noble dirge which sounds so much like Hans Zimmer’s The Last Samurai that while you’re listening to it you almost expect Tom Cruise to come riding out the mist. The quirky Trevor Rabin-inspired theme for Shia LaBeouf, which Rabin himself basically regurgitated from Thomas Newman in National Treasure, crops up in a bouncy variation in “Impress Me”. There are a couple of moments of pleasant ‘down time’ in cues such “There Is No Plan” and the first half of “The Fight Will Be Your Own” and “No Prisoners, Only Trophies”, although here the music seems to want to be Harry Gregson-Williams’ parts of Armageddon, with a moody electric guitar solos, soft piano and string chords, a more laid back percussion accompaniment, and Martin Tillman’s ubiquitous electric cello. These cues are probably the most appealing tracks on the album from my point of view, as they gives the listener a rare opportunity to actually hear a little bit of clarity in the instrumentation, away from all the banging and clanging and over-processed electronics.

Some of the action music is horribly obnoxious, however, none more so than “Shockwave’s Revenge” and “The World Needs You Now”, which are just relentless, brutal, energy-sapping cues of power and carnage and nothing else. The Shockwave cue batters you over the head with intrusive brass whole notes for nigh on two minutes, while “The World Needs You Now” sounds like someone fell asleep on the percussion sample library and just let it run randomly amok for a while.

The finale sequence, which runs for nearly sixteen minutes from “It’s Our Fight” through to the conclusive “Out Final Hope” bring everything to a rousing close, and if you can ignore the almost laughably undisguised rip of Zack Hemsey’s “Mind Heist” Inception trailer music in the middle of the aforementioned “It’s Our Fight”, it stands as probably the longest unbroken sequence of enjoyable music from any of the three Transformers scores to date. Ant that’s just the thing – on a purely superficial level, the score for Transformers: Dark of the Moon is fine in context. It’s large, loud, has a generally heroic overall feeling, and hits all the big moments with its patented combination of broad orchestral strokes, rumbling synthesized accompaniment, and cooing choir for added emotional emphasis. Much of the music is a little bassier than before, with many instruments playing at their lowest registers in many cues, but all this does is shift the music down an octave or two and make it sound like it’s emanating from your basement. If all you’re looking for in film music is an hour’s worth of undemanding action music, I fully understand how Transformers: Dark of the Moon would fit the bill. It’s a bacon double cheeseburger, the film music equivalent of a Burrito Supreme from Taco Bell, and makes no pretensions of being anything else. However, like the cuisine from that venerable establishment of Mexican-American gastronomy, there’s only so much of it you can stomach before you start feeling a little ill, and craving something with a little more taste and finesse.

Rating: **

Buy the Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Dark Side of the Moon (3:49)
  • Sentinel Prime (3:16)
  • Lost Signal (4:08)
  • In Time You’ll See (3:16)
  • Impress Me (3:00)
  • We Were Gods Once (4:22)
  • Battle (3:40)
  • There is No Plan (3:36)
  • We All Work For the Decepticons (1:51)
  • The Fight Will Be Your Own (4:41)
  • Shockwave’s Revenge (2:00)
  • No Prisoners, Only Trophies (3:32)
  • The World Needs You Now (1:59)
  • It’s Our Fight (6:32)
  • I’m Just the Messenger (4:25)
  • I Promise (1:58)
  • Our Final Hope (3:42)

Running Time: 59 minutes 48 seconds

Reprise Records/WEA 527705-2 (2011)

Music composed by Steve Jablonsky. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra and Metro Voices. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, Yvonne S. Moriarty, Rick Giovinazzo, Kevin Kaska, Ed Neumeister and Penka Kouneva. Choir conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Featured musical soloists George Doering, Martin Tillman, M.B. Gordy, Brian Kilgore, Peter Limonick, Wade Culbreath, Bernie Dresel and Dan Greco. Recorded and mixed by Alan Myertson. Edited by Alex Gibson. Album produced by Steve Jablonksy and Alex Gibson.

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