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IMMORTALS – Trevor Morris

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Considering what a rich and vivid palette they have, and how much potential there is for great storytelling, there haven’t been many great films made about Greek gods. In the past couple of years Hollywood has tried to work its way into that world, with films like Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the remake of Clash of the Titans, but found limited success. Unfortunately, Immortals continues the trend by being a film with a great deal of promise, but which is severely lacking in dramatic content. The film is directed by Tarsem Singh, and stars Henry Cavill as Theseus, a simple mortal man who is chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans), the king of the Gods, to put an end to the reign of Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), a ruthless tyrant who is searching for the mythical Epirus Bow, a weapon of such enormous power that it has the capability to release the Titans – vicious warriors who were enslaved by the Gods centuries ago – and with which he intends to wage war on the Gods themselves. The film, which also stars Stephen Dorff, Frieda Pinto and John Hurt, looks fantastic, as is always the case with Tarsem’s films, but suffers from terrible pacing, especially in the film’s first half, confusing interchangeable characters which make empathy difficult, and a curious lack of connection with the audience, which left me unexpectedly uninvolved and – at times – rather bored. Style over substance, it seems.

The score for Immortals is by the emerging Canadian composer Trevor Morris, who has been gradually been building a positive reputation for himself by writing the music for a series of excellent historical TV dramas, notably The Tudors, The Pillars of the Earth and The Borgias, picking up a couple of Emmys along the way. He first emerged onto the film music scene in the early 2000s, working with Hans Zimmer as a music editor, technical advisor and additional composer on projects such as the first two Pirates of Caribbean films, The Last Samurai, The Ring and King Arthur, and gradually began writing music of his own. Immortals is Morris’s first major foray into the world of cinema as a solo composer, and parts of it are quite impressive indeed.

Tarsem Singh has generally had good musical sensibilities for his films: his debut, The Cell, featured a spectacularly challenging score by Howard Shore, while The Fall from 2006 had an equally outstanding effort by French composer Krishna Levy. For Immortals, Trevor Morris is clearly channeling Hans Zimmer and the now-familiar Remote Control “historical epic” sound that has been heard through scores like the aforementioned Clash of the Titans, and in the film the score comes off as being somewhat unfocused and overbearing, with little emotional content with which to connect. Initially, I dismissed the score in a similar fashion, but curiously Immortals is a score which actually works better on CD than it does in context, where you can hear Morris’s interesting rhythmic ideas, choral textures and thematic elements much more clearly, away from all the clashing swords and grunting bare-chested Adonises. It took several listens for it all to reveal itself to me, but it was worth putting in the time and effort.

The score is generally large and powerful, making use of a large orchestra augmented (but thankfully not overwhelmed) by synth percussion, with featured solo moments for electric cellos, and a large choir that showcases both male and female soloists in prominent performances. The first cue, “Immortal and Divine”, actually has a few things in common with the score for The Cell, with the chorus and orchestra combining and colliding in a quite chaotic manner that is quite startling, especially when the powerful horn blasts make their first unexpected appearance. Thereafter the score is pretty much a 50/50 split between large scale action material underscoring the numerous bloodthirsty battle and fight sequences, and lower-key thematic writing that tends to illustrate the more intimate relationships in the film – between Theseus and his mother, for example – and the heroism of the protagonists.

The action music has a dark, muscular quality, and despite being underpinned throughout by the now-familiar RC cello ostinato, actually takes its time to build up some more interesting textures and ideas. There’s a recurring three-note rhythmic idea which seems to follow Theseus and his fellow warriors around, acting as a rallying call to battle. In one of the ‘stirring pre-fight speech’ sequences the actors rap out the tattoo on their shields with their swords, and Morris takes this little rhythm and runs with it, building it into the percussive fabric of action cues such as “War in the Heavens”, the spectacular “Theseus Fires the Bow”, the second half of “Fight So Your Name Survives”, “Battle in the Tunnel”, and “Immortal Combat” to clever effect.

“Hyperion’s Siren” is a darkly atmospheric piece that introduces the recurring motif for Hyperion and his evil army, a brutal descending brass motif that takes its lead from similar motifs Jerry Goldsmith wrote for films like The Edge and The Thirteenth Warrior, growling down in the belly of the orchestra. Other action cues, notably “Witness Hell”, “Poseidon’s Leap”, the ferocious “Theseus Fight the Minotaur”, “Zeus’s Punishment” and the wonderfully propulsive “Ride to the Gates” keep the energy levels high, often incorporating a large and powerful chanting male chorus into the mix with the frantic action writing and regular restatements of the Hyperion motif, as if there wasn’t already enough testosterone on display.

Some of the slower, nobler material in cues such as “My Own Heart”, “In War Fathers Bury Their Sons”, “Do Not Forsake Mankind” and especially the conclusive “Apotheosis” is quite stirring and powerful, notably when the electric cello makes a lamenting appearance. Electric cellos have become something of a film music cliché in recent years, but something about the way Morris uses them here is unexpectedly appealing, almost like hearing the instrument for the first time. Elsewhere, the passionate love theme for Theseus and Phaedra, the beautiful clairvoyant high priestess, has a lovely outing in the aptly-named “Theseus and Phaedra”, one of the most attractive cues on the album.

In “To Mt. Olympus” Morris even finds time to work in some ethnic string and woodwind writing and a host of heavenly chorals to accompany the Gods as they watch the world from on high. There’s a similar world music vibe to “Enter the Oracles” too, where the orchestra combines with sultry Middle Eastern instrumental textures and breathy, almost orgasmic female vocals to excellent effect.

The only thing really missing from the score is a strong and memorable theme for Theseus himself; there’s a melody at the end of “My Own Heart” which could be Theseus’s theme, but it’s not really prominent enough to make its impression, and even here I could be misidentifying it. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a heroic theme for the protagonist buried in the middle of all the action cues, a heroic fanfare for the demi-god, but the very fact that I couldn’t pick it out illustrates my point in itself. There’s also a bit of temp-track bleed through from Wojciech Kilar’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in both “The Gods Chose Well” and parts of the subsequent “Fight So Your Name Survives” which is a little distracting, but can be overlooked.

I think, on occasion, I have tendency to pre-judge scores based on what I think they will sound like rather than what they actually sound like, especially those written by people who currently, or used to, work for Hans Zimmer. I really need to stop doing this, especially when it comes to scores like Immortals, because when heard as a standalone listening experience it rises above many of its contemporaries, RC-inspired or not. The inventiveness in the percussion writing, the power of the choral writing, and the impressive scope of the score as a whole is enough to recommend it. It’s not a world-beater by any means, but just don’t do what I did initially and dismiss this is a cheap Zimmer knock-off, because it’s really not.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Immortals soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Immortal and Divine (1:30)
  • War in the Heavens (2:32)
  • Hyperion’s Siren (3:47)
  • Witness Hell (1:56)
  • To Mt. Olympus (2:54)
  • Enter the Oracles (2:30)
  • Theseus and Phaedra (1:37)
  • Poseidon’s Leap (1:23)
  • This Is Your Calling (1:31)
  • Theseus Fight the Minotaur (2:13)
  • Theseus Fires the Bow (2:16)
  • My Own Heart (3:03)
  • Zeus’ Punishment (2:27)
  • Ride to the Gates (1:00)
  • In War Fathers Bury Their Sons (1:05)
  • The Gods Chose Well (1:18)
  • Fight So Your Name Survives (3:07)
  • Battle in the Tunnel (2:43)
  • Immortal Combat (3:34)
  • Do Not Forsake Mankind (4:33)
  • Apotheosis (1:44)
  • Sky Fight/End Credits (2:22)

Running Time: 51 minutes 18 seconds

Relativity Music Group 700240 (2011)

Music composed and conducted by Trevor Morris. Orchestrations by Trevor Morris. Additional music by Todd Haberman and T. J. Lindgren. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster, Nick Wollage and Shawn Murphy. Edited by Thomas Carlson and Scott Stambler. Album produced by Trevor Morris.

  1. November 23, 2011 at 7:46 am

    It’s probably one of the best-looking films of the whole year (yet, I still haven’t seen Tree of Life) and the action is awesome and in-you-face which is something I always like. The story dragged on a bit and I couldn’t help but think that if the writing was a tweaked a little better, this would have definitely been a very solid film. Instead it was just fun and pretty to look at. Good review.

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