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THE THING – Marco Beltrami

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing is a prequel to the popular and influential 1982 film of the same name, which was directed by John Carpenter and starred Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley. The first few moments of that film show a Norwegian man in a helicopter shooting at a dog barreling across the frozen wastes of the Antarctic; the next 20 minutes reveal that the Norwegian was part of a scientific team, all of whose members have been gruesomely killed, and their research station burned to the ground. This film looks at the circumstances leading up to that awful discovery – who the Norwegians were, what they found buried deep beneath the ice, and more importantly, what killed them. The film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, and a whole host of Norwegian character actors in the smaller roles, and has an original score by Marco Beltrami, who spends part of his time channeling Ennio Morricone, and the rest of the time drawing upon his considerable horror movie music experience.

Ennio Morricone’s original score for the 1982 film was one of his starkest, full of abstract and tortured electronic organ tones and string stingers, and highlighted by a menacing heartbeat effect that punctuated the entire score. Beltrami’s score is larger and more expressive in terms of the orchestral forces at play, and has a slightly more tonal core than Morricone’s work, but still manages to retain the sense of impending terror and nervous paranoia that permeates both films. The sense of isolation is compounded by the way Beltrami adds a chilling wind-blown effect to the opening cue, “God’s Country Music”, which contains a great deal of chilly creepy-beautiful string writing underpinned by an intentional homage to the Morricone heartbeat motif, linking the two scores and films together in musical terms. The second cue, “Road to Antarctica”, builds on this style, adding a much more forceful thematic statement and grander orchestral ensemble into the mix with generally excellent results. The resounding brass calls, hooting bass woodwind accents and string flourishes give the cue a large and impressive sound, and make it one of the highlights of the score.

Much of the rest of the score revolves around suspense, tension, and moments of brutal orchestral carnage. The action music is vivid and violent, and gives Beltrami ample chance to do what he does best – give his orchestra free reign in the horror-action stakes. And let loose he does, giving his players an almighty workout through cues such as the impressive “Eye of the Survivor” with its wonderfully bold Elliot Goldenthal-style brass motif, the staggeringly vicious “Meet and Greet” with its shrieking woodwinds, the rampaging “Finding Filling” with its beefed-up percussion section and unnerving pizzicato strings, and the flat-out bone-chilling “Sander Sucks at Hiding”, which reaches ear-shattering levels of intensity by its conclusion.

The brass motif heard in “Eye of the Survivor” develops into a recurring danger motif for the Thing itself. It appears, surrounded by all manner of orchestral carnage, in several of the later cues that deal with moments of creature-related revelation, notably “Female Persuasion”, “Antarctic Standoff”, and especially the wonderfully nightmarish and dramatic “Meating of the Minds”, which is one of the best cues of its type in the score – although the massive, whooping trombones in both “Can’t Stand the Heat” and the short but memorable “Sander Bucks” are pretty darn sensational too.

The tension and suspense is usually created by low-end string sustains and ambient electronic chords, and some of the middle-album cues do tend to suffer from a little staleness and sameness as this style of music takes precedence over the more crowd-pleasing thematic statements and the barnstorming action sequences. As a result, The Thing tends to be a score which excels during its opening and closing sections, but gets bogged down just a little in the middle, and this may test the patience of some listeners who aren’t as adept at handling extended periods of anxious dissonance as I am.

Beltrami ends things on a more emotional and thematic note in the conclusive pair, “The End” and “How Did You Know”, which revisit the more melodic material from the opening of the score, with the added bonus of a haunting cello lament, and a stirring restatement of the main theme which eventually fades away until nothing but the howling wind remains – a clever, and poignant finale to the score.

This one small issue of the slower middle section aside, The Thing is nevertheless an excellent and very accomplished horror score. In fact, it’s been a terrific year overall for Marco Beltrami. With this score, his fourth and final effort of 2011, Beltrami has concluded a creative purple patch that has seen him not only excel in his beloved horror genre with this score and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but also stretch his wings into emotional family drama with the wonderful Soul Surfer, proving that he is a composer who can turn his hand to any type of music in any genre, and succeed admirably. This score comes highly recommended, especially for those who know and love his work in the horror genre.

Rating: ****

Buy the Thing soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • God’s Country Music (1:28)
  • Road to Antarctica (2:41)
  • Into the Cave (0:40)
  • Eye of the Survivor (2:25)
  • Meet And Greet (2:55)
  • Autopsy (3:09)
  • Cellular Activity (1:33)
  • Finding Filling (3:22)
  • Well Done (1:33)
  • Female Persuasion (4:51)
  • Survivors (3:29)
  • Open Your Mouth (4:21)
  • Antarctic Standoff (3:04)
  • Meating of the Minds (4:30)
  • Sander Sucks At Hiding (2:22)
  • Can’t Stand The Heat (2:11)
  • Following Sander’s Lead (2:38)
  • In the Ship (2:39)
  • Sander Bucks (0:46)
  • The End (2:34)
  • How Did You Know? (2:29)

Running Time: 55 minutes 49 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-7116 (2011)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Bill Boston, Rossano Galante, Dana Niu, Brandon Roberts and Marcus Trumpp. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Mark Jan Wlodarkiewicz. Album produced by Buck Sanders.

  1. October 20, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Fantastic review, Jon, as always!! And Bravo, Marco absolutely brilliant score! Another incredible fete of genious writing and engaging sound, color and rhythmic triumph that takes the movie to the apex of emotional and psychological thrill!

  2. October 20, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Fantasic review, Jon, as always- such wonderful and thorough attention to detail!!! And Bravississimo, Marco! Once again, brilliant score, genious writing and engaging sound, color and rhythmic triumph – always takes the film to the apex of pyscholoigcal and emotional thrill!!

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