Home > Reviews > THE DARKEST HOUR – Tyler Bates


December 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

As a general rule, and if I can help it, I don’t engage in hyperbole on Movie Music UK. A recurring cliché is that predominantly web-based reviewers are prone to proclaim every new thing “Best Something Ever” or “Worst Something Ever”, with no real sense of the history of whatever they are reviewing, and it’s a difficult stigma to overcome. Having said that, and with those points in mind, you will understand what it means why I say that Tyler Bates’ score for The Darkest Hour is one of the worst film scores I have ever heard. The last time I wrote something along these lines was when I reviewed Geoff Zanelli’s awful effort for the film Gamer in 2009. In my review of it I posted a picture of a polar bear with a migraine to illustrate how it made me feel; as such, here is a similarly illustrative visual representation of how I felt after listening to The Darkest Hour:

The Darkest Hour is a science-fiction action thriller directed by Chris Gorak and produced by Timur Bekmambetov, the director of the critically acclaimed 2008 action film Wanted, and the popular Russian sci-fi movie Night Watch from 2004. It stars Emile Hirsch, Olivier Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor and Joel Kinnaman as a group young Americans who, while visiting Moscow, become unwitting participants in the resistance fighting a group of invisible, deadly alien invaders who have attacked Earth through its electrical power supply.

It’s difficult to convey exactly what The Darkest Hour sounds like. In its hopelessly optimistic press pack, the score is described as “largely electronic – comprised of a palette of modular synthesizer experiments and propulsive rhythms featuring a vintage Synare at its core. Its atonal voice is an extension of the eerie electrical sound design that often makes one’s hair stand on end”. Bates himself says that his decisions to use nontraditional instrumentation without the aid of choir and brass melodies required him to “delve deep into the complexity of the non-orchestral aspect of the music in effort to convey the essence of Moscow’s desolate streets through sound and music. The vast expanse of a micro-waved Moscow, void of human life, allowed for emotional themes to be stated entirely with solo instruments.”

While this all sounds fine in theory, the end result is a score which is, more or less, an hour’s worth of incredibly loud, incredibly annoying sound effects. My esteemed friend and colleague James Southall described the score with a series of expressive onomatopoeia noises of the ‘squeak, whizz, boom, bang, blip, bloop’ nature, and I have to admit I can’t really think of a better way to put it myself. The majority of the score really does sound like a series of industrial sound effects – humming noises, grating and grinding, various bass-heavy rumbles and metallic scrapings. There’s virtually no melody, no recurring thematic presence, almost nothing to latch on to in an emotional sense. Occasionally you can hear a vaguely sinister wash of string sustains underneath it all, briefly giving the impression that someone alive and coherent was involved in its production, but beyond that it sounds like someone left a recording device running in a room full of machinery, and walked away.

Every now and again, a more recognizable percussion rhythm kicks in, giving cues such as the quite exciting “Night Club Attack”, the latter half of “They’re Inside”, and parts of “Holy Shit!”, “Dusted” and “Train Yard Battle” more structure. Occasionally the score takes on a little of the tone Brad Fiedel used on his original Terminator score back in 1984, especially the melancholic “Here’s Our Mission”. Later, in “Say Goodbye”, a more conventionally tonal piano melody adds a tone of dreamy reflection and remembrance, while in the finale, “Looking Forward”, Bates introduces what sounds like a sampled balalaika and a bed of rock guitars into his electronic palette, and presents a more hopeful and positive piece which actually contains a recognizable theme. However, these moments are few and far between, and amount to barely enough to give the score any recommendation whatsoever.

As I said in my review of Conan the Barbarian earlier this year, of all the composers working on major Hollywood productions today, Tyler Bates’ rise to the top is the one I find most inexplicable. I always feel really bad for continually coming down so hard on his scores, because he’s an extremely nice man, and he clearly puts a lot of time and effort into creating these outlandish sonic palettes for his films, but it’s part of my job to be honest when I review a score, and in all honesty, like far too many of his scores, I found the vast majority of The Darkest Hour to be an unlistenable mess.

Rating: ½

Buy the Darkest Hour soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • I Like That (written by Richard Vission, performed by Richard Vission and Static Revenger feat. Luciana) (5:08)
  • Москва [Moscow] (written by Igor Pustelnik, performed by Marselle) (3:22)
  • Space (2:31)
  • Northern Lights (2:39)
  • Night Club Attack (3:01)
  • The Bridge is Out (1:47)
  • Crashed (1:05)
  • They’re Inside (2:42)
  • Now What? (2:17)
  • Moscow Streets (1:55)
  • Holy Shit! (2:45)
  • Here’s Our Mission (1:42)
  • Dusted (2:47)
  • Metro Shred (3:35)
  • Say Goodbye (2:39)
  • Man Overboard (2:12)
  • Train Yard Battle (4:01)
  • Fighting Back (1:28)
  • Looking Forward (2:32)

Running Time: 50 minutes 18 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS 342452 (2011)

Music composed by Tyler Bates. Conducted by Adam Klemens. Orchestrated by Tim Williams. Recorded and mixed by Wolfgang Matthes and Nick Baxter. Edited by Darrell Hall. Album produced by Tyler Bates and Wolfgang Matthes.

  1. Beyond El Mar
    December 22, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Unfortunately this is what happens when scores like the Social Network and Drive are critically acclaimed and win Oscars.

    Tyler Bates keeps getting opportunities and he actually gets worse, according to your review.

    Thanks for writing this review, because I was thinking of buying this CD because I thought Timur put importance on good music (Wanted). Looks like I’ll save my money and skip this one.

  2. Leonard
    December 22, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Thanks for the review. I just listened to samples of The Darkest Hour and the only track that might please me is the last one (Looking Forward). But the other tracks seem to be terrible, really terrible. Unfortunately, this is Bates at his worst. By the way, I like his Doomsday score.

    However, I’d like to add something. I absolutely agree with your opinion on Gamer (which I consider to be the worst score ever) but I don’t think it’s fair to list Geoff Zanelli only because most parts of the score were “composed” by Robb Williamson.

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