Home > Reviews > WORLD WAR Z – Marco Beltrami

WORLD WAR Z – Marco Beltrami

worldwarzOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Despite initially looking like a potentially disastrous movie, with the whole final third of the movie having to be re-written and re-shot following disastrous initial test screenings, World War Z is actually of the most intelligent and interesting zombie movies of recent years. With the 28 Days Later franchise, the Walking Dead TV show, and countless other imitators, zombies are de rigeur these days, but where World War Z differs is in the fact that it plays more like a tense medical thriller than a traditional zombie-slaughtering action flick, concentrating on the efforts to stem the tide of the potential apocalypse and save the afflicted rather than simply massacring them. Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations specialist who is called back into the fray from his quiet family life in suburban Philadelphia when a pandemic of global proportions erupts – people are turning into vicious, violent zombies at an alarming rate and if Gerry and his colleagues can’t find the source, or the cure, it could be the end of humanity as we know it. The film is adapted from the popular novel by Max Brooks and directed by Marc Forster, whose previous films include Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and the flop James Bond film Quantum of Solace; it co-stars Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz and James Badge Dale.

Writing the music for World War Z is the ridiculously busy composer Marco Beltrami, in what is his second zombie movie of 2013 after Warm Bodies, and the third of his scheduled seven feature films this year. Beltrami has always been a creative, innovative composer, and his work on World War Z is no exception; the score features a large and powerful symphony orchestra augmented by the now ubiquitous electronic enhancements, but the really interesting parts are in some of the specialty instruments Beltrami concocted to create the disturbing, menacing sonic world that Pitt’s character finds himself. According to the press coverage that accompanied the soundtrack release, Beltrami based all the melody, harmony, and rhythm of the score on the sound of the U.S. Emergency Broadcast System signal siren, and then incorporated non-traditional percussive elements such as the sound of animal skulls and teeth being mashed together, to create his menacing sonic palette.

What all this means in practice is that the score is very dark, very brutal, short on melody, but containing enough up-front action to satisfy even the most demanding genre fans. One of the things I like about World War Z is how organic it sounds; the orchestra and samples never sounds as though they are competing for attention, instead blending together perfectly so that one would sound incomplete without the other. Too many contemporary action scores seem to simply layer the electronics over the top of the live instruments without any real thought for why they are there or what they are doing, other than the fact that someone, somewhere decided that they should be there in order to appeal to the kids. World War Z’s hybrid sound is not like that at all: at times the electronics are the driving pulse of the score, while elsewhere the orchestra is leading the charge, but it always sounds natural and appropriate.

The score, basically, is split into three distinct styles: a tense moodiness that permeates the entire project, balls-to-the-wall action, and brooding, yet vaguely optimistic thematic writing that hints at a brighter future for the inhabitants of this ruined world.

The action sequences are intense. Cues such as the opening “Philadelphia”, “Ninja Quiet”, and especially the enormous “Zombies in Coach” are relentless explosions of rhythm and raw power. The brass section screams and howls in unison in a manner not too dissimilar to the best work of Elliot Goldenthal. The string section churns violently to give the pieces internal pacing and forward momentum, and the rest of the orchestra provides all manner of unusual performance effects, ranging from screeching high register woodwinds to throaty, raspy trombone blasts down in the depths of the mix. Around all this, the electronic enhancements provide interesting textural nuances – there’s even a sampled helicopter rotor in the aforementioned “Ninja Quiet” – while in several cues a growling, heavy electric guitar gives the score a modern, edgy grittiness. It’s quite exhilarating.

The tension and moodiness comes via cues such as “Searching for Clues”, the first part of “NJ Mart”, “Hand Off” and “No Teeth No Bite”, which are more low-key and downbeat, featuring a lot more understated string sustains, electronic pulses and stark piano chords, accompanying Gerry on his quest for answers in the face of world wide meltdown.

After a few moments of brief respite in the pretty and intimate “The Lane Family”, its is only when we reach the final three cues that score offers a brief sense of hope. The exciting, energetic, highly rhythmic “The Salvation Gates” is as close as the score comes to presenting something heroic, and parts of “Wales” are really quite lovely in a pseudo-grungy sort of way, while the conclusive “Like A River Around A Rock” allows the electric guitar to take full center stage with a lead performance that is world-weary, shell-shocked and resigned, but comes with a bittersweet sense of relief. This isn’t a cathartic release by any means – the themes are still grim and firmly entrenched in the misery of the world – but it’s a little something for the listener to latch onto in defiance of all the death and destruction.

World War Z is full of innovation and creative thinking on Beltrami’s part, and in listening to the score you can’t help but be impressed at the way in which the score is structured, layered and presented to have the greatest horrific effect. As an actual enjoyable musical experience, however, your appreciation for the score will depend entirely on your tolerance for extended periods of atonal, aggressive, at times viciously dark writing. For all it’s intellectual design and thoughtful approach to orchestration and texture, this is still a horror score through and through, and it is with that caveat in mind that I give it a recommendation to those who already know they appreciate music from the genre.

One final note: in the film itself, there is additional music by singer/songwriter Matthew Bellamy of the immensely successful and popular rock band Muse – two original pieces called “The 2nd Law: Isolated System” and “Follow Me” – but none of his music appears on the soundtrack CD.

Rating: ***½

Buy the World War Z soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Philadelphia (4:03)
  • The Lane Family (2:47)
  • Ninja Quiet (2:54)
  • Searching for Clues (5:33)
  • NJ Mart (4:01)
  • Zombies in Coach (3:43)
  • Hand Off! (2:49)
  • No Teeth No Bite (3:25)
  • The Salvation Gates (4:24)
  • Wales (5:22)
  • Like A River Around A Rock (5:08)

Running Time: 44 minutes 09 seconds

Warner Bros Records (2013)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Matt Dunkley, Dave Foster and Richard Bronskill. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by John Finklea and Kevin McKeever. Album produced by Marco Beltrami.

  1. Lu-Hiep Phan
    June 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    “The 2nd Law: Isolated System” and “Follow Me” are just tracks off Muse’s official album, The 2nd Law.

  2. Rui Lima
    July 6, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Do You think that this score is really better than I Am Legend by James Newton Howard? think again please!
    For me, this WWZ score is quite a brainless score even with the “so supposed” inspiration that Beltrami took from african percursions. There are few moments of warm tragicness, and few of electronic style that give the sense of finding a cure. What there is in the other hand is excessive use of action music.

  3. July 7, 2013 at 6:14 am

    3,5? Come on! WWZ is boring and schematic unlike other Beltrami’s work – Resident Evil.

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