Home > Reviews > POMPEII – Clinton Shorter

POMPEII – Clinton Shorter

pompeiiOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Roman city of Pompeii, near Naples in what is now Italy, was almost entirely destroyed in the year 79 AD following the volcanic eruption of the nearby Mount Vesuvius. The city was drowned in up to 20 feet of rock and ash, which killed a large portion of its 20,000 inhabitants, but also preserved many of the objects it buried, leaving an archeological treasure trove which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The movie Pompeii is a fictionalized re-telling of the story of the city’s destruction, told through the eyes of a slave named Milo, a Celtic tribesman who was captured in ancient Britain as a child and brought back to Rome to train as a gladiator. When Milo begins to catch the eye of Cassia, the daughter of a Roman senator, their forbidden love affair begins to cause ripples in the hierarchical circles in which Cassia moves, but before long they begin to have even more pressing problems when Mount Vesuvius begins to show signs of life… The movie stars Kit Harington from Game of Thrones, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kiefer Sutherland, and is directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.

The score for Pompeii is by Canadian composer Clinton Shorter, still best known for his work on the critically acclaimed sci-fi drama District 9 and the action comedy 2 Guns. Pompeii’s music is rooted in the modern epic swords-and-sandals sound that emanated from scores like Gladiator, and continued through Troy, the 300 series, and others like it: big orchestra, big choir. When compared to other efforts in the genre it all sounds slightly superficial, but it’s actually quite interesting how time alters perceptions: ten years ago, in the early 2000s, it’s likely I would have dismissed this score as ‘just another bland epic score’, but in the early 2000s scores like this were a dime a dozen. Not so much today, and as such I find myself actually having a pleasant pang of nostalgia for the uncomplicated sense of adventure and heroism Shorter brings to his score.

The score opens with “Pompeii”, which features a noble, stately theme for soft horns and strings, before expanding with a powerful chanted Latin chorus with prominent percussion and a rousing ‘epic’ feel. Later cues, notably “Home”, “My Name is Milo”, and the enormous “Away From You” continue to embrace this style of writing fully, with power anthems leaking from every orifice, stimulating the adrenal glands but generally leaving the cerebral cortex alone. Devotees of certain trailer music composers, especially the Two Steps from Hell duo Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergerson, will find much of the score to their liking, especially when this main theme is playing, as it has that same sense of bold, non-specific heroism that they tend to write. It’s hugely enjoyable, if not especially innovative.

The two big set pieces of the score are the “Celtic Rebellion” and “To the Harbor”. The first is a relentless action sequence which owes a great debt to two of Hans Zimmer’s acclaimed works in this genre, Gladiator and King Arthur. The rhythmic underbelly of the piece is almost identical to the “Battle” sequence from the former score, while some of the more unusual percussive ideas have their roots in cues like “Hold the Ice” from the latter. It’s all terribly dramatic and energetic, with all its string flurries and horn clusters and chanting voices, but one can’t help the nagging feeling that it’s just one cliché too many in a score full of them. “To the Harbor”, however, is quite excellent, building from a repeated ostinato into a magnificent, full-throated action sequence for the full orchestra and chorus, filled with hammering anvils and all manner of metallic instruments, keeping time as the protagonists attempt to flee from the lava flows and raining debris destroying their home around them. It’s breathlessly exciting, and the high point of the score.

Other cues of note include “Revenge”, which has some superb string cascades buried in the mix; “Slaughter” and “My People Were Horsemen”, which bring out the dreaded wailing woman to full effect, lamenting desperately atop a string-led dirge; the energetic “Streets of Pompeii”, which features a different set of ethnic ideas with lighter percussion and metallic dance-like rhythms; and “My Gods”, which has a very cool choral countermelody chanting underneath a strong percussive beat and swirling string writing. Everything turns sour, however, with the eruption of “The Mountain” which reverberates to screaming string dissonances and a sense of palpable danger, before concluding with a note of tragedy and remembrance in the conclusive pair, “I Won’t Leave You” and “Praying for Help”, the latter of which has a superb male voice choir element.

Pompeii is an easy score to recommend for pure enjoyment: it’s loud, exciting, has a prominent main theme, and will tick many of the boxes contemporary score fans require from their historical epics. Big orchestra? Check! Lots of choral chanting? Check! Rousing action sequences? Check! Unfortunately, it’s also endlessly derivative of other, better scores, and tends to completely ignore any opportunity for subtlety or restraint, meaning that the most important sequences of genuine drama and emotion tend to be obfuscated by other, less important moments that are nevertheless scored with the same level of power. Ultimately, Pompeii will likely be remembered as a throwaway guilty pleasure, and it will undoubtedly bring Clinton Shorter some new fans, but don’t go into it looking for anything of great depth or innovation, because you won’t find it, even if you dig through the rubble of the great mountain itself.

Buy the Pompeii soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Pompeii (2:35)
  • Slaughter (2:50)
  • Home (1:15)
  • Streets of Pompeii (1:30)
  • Revenge (1:51)
  • Enslaved (1:27)
  • My People Were Horsemen (4:16)
  • My Name is Milo (2:03)
  • Celtic Rebellion (6:22)
  • The Mountain (1:53)
  • To the Harbor (4:08)
  • The End of the World (2:29)
  • Away From You (4:56)
  • My Gods (1:30)
  • I Won’t Leave You (3:01)
  • Praying for Help (2:36)

Running Time: 44 minutes 18 seconds

Milan Records 36672-02 (2014)

Music composed by Clinton Shorter. Conducted by Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Matt Dunkley, Tony Blondal and Richard Bronskill. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Kevin Banks and Jon Mooney. Album produced by Clinton Shorter.

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