Home > Reviews > OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN – Trevor Morris

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN – Trevor Morris

olympushasfallenOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Olympus Has Fallen is essentially “Die Hard in the White House”, an action thriller set in America’s capital. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, it stars Gerard Butler as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, who is ‘relieved of duty’ from guarding President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) following an accident in which the first lady (Ashley Judd) is killed. Flash forward a year, and Banning – twiddling his thumbs at a desk job – is suddenly called into action once more when North Korean terrorists led by the ruthless Kang (Rick Yune) manage to successfully capture the White House and take the President and his senior staff hostage. Working alone inside enemy territory, Banning manages to contact acting-President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and keeps them appraised of the situation behind enemy lines, while he picks off the North Koreans one by one, attempting to get the President to safety.

The film has been criticized in much of the mainstream media for being über-nationalistic xenophobic nonsense, a rah-rah flag-waving parody of jingoistic Americana that much of the rest of the world finds hard to swallow, but for all its flaws (and there are many), the film is still a generally well-made and compelling action film with a number of exciting set-pieces, a fast-moving pace, and a pretty decent central performance by Gerard Butler. Enhancing the film greatly is Canadian composer Trevor Morris’s exciting score, which plays as an enjoyable hybrid of Hans Zimmer’s patented summer blockbuster sound, and David Arnold’s noble patriotism from scores like Independence Day. It’s been an interesting couple of years for Morris, who made a real name for himself writing excellent music for high quality TV shows such as The Tudors, The Pillars of the Earth, and The Borgias, and is now gradually making the transition from the small to the big screen.

The noble main theme heard in the opening “Land of the Free” is one of those stirring horn anthems, complete with an accompanying angelic choir, and makes for a very profound opening to the score. Interestingly, the theme disappears for great chunks of the score proper, featuring only in the inspiring “The Full Package/Snowy Car Talk”, towards the end of “Saving Spark Plug” and briefly in “Any Regrets”, before returning to the fore for a rousing sendoff in the conclusive suite “Day Break/We Will Rise/End Credits” .

The bulk of the rest of Olympus Has Fallen is action music, and most of it is pretty good too. Despite having a large Slovakian orchestra providing its core, Morris’s music nevertheless has a definite contemporary vibe, taking its cue from the more engaging parts of scores like Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers or Ramin Djawadi’s Clash of the Titans, but sounding considerably better than either of those stylistic predecessors. Morris took a similar approach to the score for Immortals in 2011, but I felt – and still feel – that the sound was anachronistic in a historical epic. It fits Olympus Has Fallen to a tee, however, playing around with the film’s themes of modern technology gone wrong, and of noble redemption and heroic sacrifice of a lone warrior, while giving Banning’s exploits in the broken Oval Office a sense of gravitas and urgency.

In the soundtrack’s liner notes Morris talks about how his score was intended to be a “blend of aleatoric orchestral tension strands over beds of deep, dark electronic layers”, giving the score a “feel of constant unease and pulsating pressure that won’t let go”, and the description is really apt. The 17-minute action set piece comprising “White House: Air Attack” and “White House: Ground Attack” is a relentless exercise in intelligent restraint punctuated by moments of orchestral muscle, and stands as the score’s action high point. Bands of ticking and pulsing electronica give way to dense brass clusters and powerful string washes, giving the music a modern edge and a sense of relentless tension. There’s some synthesized sound design courtesy of Hans Zimmer’s regular collaborator Mel Wesson, and a lot of heavy percussion writing, prominently featuring militaristic snare drums throughout, some of which echoes the great action writing James Horner wrote for Aliens back in the 1980s. The energetic, trilling string runs which combine with a re-arranged version of the main theme at the end of the “Ground Attack” are especially engaging.

Other cues of note include the vividly dissonant brass writing in “Stage Coach Crashes/Death of the First Lady”, the catalyst of Banning’s downfall; this is tempered by the intimate piano writing of “Rocky Road Ice Cream”, establishing the tender relationship between a motherless young son and his loving father, who just happens to be the leader of the free world. “Olympus Has Fallen’ pits a despondent trumpet line, aghast with despair, against grinding synths and funereal-sounding snare drum licks. “Triage” introduces a bluesy-sounding electric guitar underneath the stirring orchestral lines, and “S.E.A.L. Helicopter Incursion” has some heroic-sounding fanfares emerging from the turbulent action material.

Perhaps the score’s biggest downfall, however, is its lack of strong thematic identity. Beyond the main theme, which does have a couple of subtle variations that allow it to be used as an action motif, there is very little melodic content of note; most notably, and as far as I can tell, there is no real theme for the Koreans beyond a brutal-sounding descending brass motif in “Mano e Mano”, which seems like something of a missed opportunity for Morris to inject a little ethnic flavor into the mix. There is a 12-note rhythmic device that crops up in many of the middle-album tension and suspense cues, notably “Banning Steps Into Action” and “Banning Gathers Intelligence”, which seems to act as a recurring motif for Banning’s sleuthing activities, but it’s impact fleeting and it never really establishes itself as a major memorable element in the score.

My first, instinctive response to hearing Olympus Has Fallen was that it was “a Remote Control score with style”, and I still stand by that general overview. Morris’s work certainly adheres to the tried-and-tested contemporary action score mold that so many composers are adopting these days, but somehow seems to be a step above the work of many of his contemporaries, with more interesting orchestral flair, inventive touches in the writing, and a strong emotional content that reveals itself during the finale. Admittedly, there is quite a lot of down time during the score’s restrained middle section which some may consider tiresome, but I quite enjoyed its intricacies and the cleverness of the sound design, and it makes the score’s high points worth the wait. Some commentators will likely lump Morris’s score in with the general critical disdain for the film itself, but this would be an injustice to a piece of music that, while not earth-shattering, or even especially unique in its aims, nevertheless provides the right combination of action-packed energy, tension, and patriotic fervor.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Olympus Has Fallen soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Land of the Free (1:40)
  • The Full Package/Snowy Car Talk (2:00)
  • Stage Coach Crashes/Death of the First Lady (2:38)
  • Rocky Road Ice Cream (1:14)
  • White House: Air Attack (7:08)
  • White House: Ground Attack (10:02)
  • Olympus Has Fallen (1:59)
  • P.E.O.C. Incarceration (2:20)
  • Banning Steps into Action (1:39)
  • Triage (0:52)
  • Banning Gathers Intelligence (5:10)
  • Hunting Banning (2:03)
  • He’s in the Walls (1:07)
  • Saving Spark Plug (3:51)
  • Breaking Madame Secretary (2:49)
  • How Do You Know Kang’s Name? (2:15)
  • Any Regrets (1:11)
  • S.E.A.L. Helicopter Incursion (4:45)
  • Walking the Plank (3:09)
  • Pulling the Fleet (1:22)
  • Mano e Mano (2:13)
  • Stopping Cerberus (2:24)
  • Day Break/We Will Rise/End Credits (5:05)

Running Time: 68 minutes 56 seconds

Relativity Music Group (2013)

Music composed by Trevor Morris. Conducted by Allan Wilson. Performed by The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and The Lucnica Chorale. Orchestrations by Allan Wilson. Featured musical soloists Chris Tedesco, Aaron Kaplan, Tina Guo and Trevor Morris. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs, Martin Roller and James T. Hill. Edited by Richard Ziegler. Album produced by Trevor Morris.

  1. April 10, 2013 at 1:45 am

    I am always so impressed by your descriptive writing! I wish I could put my thoughts about music into such eloquent words. Great review. Not sure I agree with most of it, but it’s always nice to read how you felt about the music! I think it will be interesting to compare/contrast this score with that of White House Down. There will inevitably be comparisons in the film reviews — I’d be curious to see how the scores may be similar or not.

  2. April 10, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Hm, I may have to check this one out on your recommendation!

    Incidentally, Clash of the Titans (2010) was credited to Ramin Djawadi, not Geoff Zanelli, though Zanelli had an additional music credit there. It’s okay, I get the MV/RC crew mixed up sometimes too 🙂

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