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THE IMITATION GAME – Alexandre Desplat

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

imitationgameOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Alan Turing was a British mathematician who was highly influential in the development of computer science and artificial intelligence. During World War II, Turing worked for the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, and was responsible for creating ‘Christopher’, an electromechanical machine that cracked the codes of the German Enigma machine, and in turn enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles. Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany, and that his work shortened the war in Europe by as many as four years. The Imitation Game is the story of Turing’s life, and follows him through his work in WWII and beyond, where it is revealed that, in addition to unearthing German secrets, Turing had some secrets of his own. The film is directed by Danish director Morten Tyldum, stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, and has an original score by the ever-busy Alexandre Desplat, the fourth of his five scores written in 2014.

Stylistically, Desplat’s score is rooted in his ‘classical European’ sound, making use of a full symphony orchestra recorded at Abbey Road in London, augmented by the subtle electronic bass he often employs, as well as the now-familiar precise woodwind phrases and metallic percussion that often underpins his scores. Conceptually, much of the score is a musical depiction of the inner workings of Turing’s mind: Turing is a classic example of high functioning autism, with the stunted emotional but increased intellectual capacity that condition often brings, and as such he is constantly thinking, in a methodical and almost mechanical fashion, figuring out problems and puzzles. Desplat’s approach is similar to the way James Horner tackled films like Searching for Bobby Fischer, Bicentennial Man and A Beautiful Mind; genius is scored with a sense of rhythmic, pulsating movement. This is offset by a more lyrical, romantic theme for piano and strings which comes into play during the infrequent emotional moments of Turing’s life, while simultaneously acting as a broader recognition of the importance of his life and work, but also his secret suffering.

The opening cue, “The Imitation Game,” covers both bases immediately, beginning with the rhythmic piano motif, and slowly emerging into the first performance of the lovely, sweeping string theme. As always, Desplat’s orchestrations are a delight; the way he manages to involve every section of the orchestra in his work, and allows all of them to have their moment in the spotlight without ever diminishing the other instruments’ importance, is continually amazing to me. Just in this opening cue, the rhythmic ideas pass between piano and celeste and back again, there are woodwind harmonies that jump between bass flutes, regular flutes and piccolos, and the main melody itself is led by first the string section, and subsequently by oboes, both of which are underpinned by glockenspiels, and feather-light chimes. It’s just glorious, so clear, so precise, so delicate, but so full of meaning and emotion.

As the score progresses, the music continues in this general mode. The main theme reappears in several lovely performances, including “Mission,” the poignant “Running,” and “A Different Equation,” before reaching its zenith in the euphoric finale, “Alan Turing’s Legacy”. There is also a more downbeat secondary theme, written to accompany the older Alan in his post-WWII life in Manchester, when his secrets emerge in the wake of a burglary and a subsequent police investigation. This theme has a couple of moments to shine in “Alone With Numbers” and “The Apple,” which showcase Desplat at his most emotional, with solo piano and clarinet performances that somehow contrive to be delicate and weighty at the same time. It’s most vivid performance comes during the finale, in “Because of You,” where it is anchored by harp glissandi, and has a brittle, fragile quality that is quite engaging. It’s so good, I almost wish it featured more prominently in the score.

The dancing, prancing rhythmic ideas play a major role in cues such as “Crosswords,” the driving “The Machine Christopher,” “Becoming a Spy,” and the lovely “End of War,” many of which further illustrate Desplat’s brilliant orchestration. “Crosswords” is especially notable in this regard, as Desplat keeps adding layer upon layer of instruments – from glockenspiels to flutes to strings to piano and more – to create a wash of color and movement. This cue reminds me of some of the similar things he did in The Golden Compass, especially with regard to the ‘Gyptian’ characters in that film, and is just as effective. “Decrypting” is the score’s only action sequence; in the context of the film, it’s a wonderfully breathless accompaniment to a sequence where Alan and his colleagues realize that they may have finally cracked the Enigma code, and Desplat’s energetic music follows them as they frantically sprint through Bletchley trying to confirm their findings.

One or two other cues also stand out as being different. The stark pianos, the dissonant string writing, and the pizzicato rhythms of “Enigma” are unusual, as are the more urgent and dangerous-sounding rhythms in “U-Boats,” which counterpoints a rolling, throbbing piano motif with ticking woodblocks, an increased brass presence, and a repetitive ostinato that cleverly mimics Morse code. Later, “Joan” has an unusual foot-stomping percussion effect towards the end of the cue. In addition, Desplat also deconstructs his main theme in interesting ways, breaking it down into a slightly uncomfortable performance for bass flutes in “Alan,” for introspective pianos in “Carrots and Peas,” and with an equally moving guitar element in “The Headmaster”. Each of these cues relate to flashback sequences concerning formative events in Alan’s childhood at school, and it’s clever how Desplat uses less than fully-formed versions of Alan’s musical identity to represent the less than fully-formed version of Alan.

Fans of Desplat scores like Girl With a Pearl Earring, Birth, The Queen, and The King’s Speech will find a lot of music to admire and enjoy in The Imitation Game. In many ways it’s a quintessential contemporary Alexandre Desplat score, combining his beautifully crystalline orchestrations, inventive instrumental choices, and elegant, metronomic rhythms with a memorable and engaging main theme. Taking account of his output in 2014 as a whole, The Imitation Game also further highlights what a versatile composer Desplat has become over the years. This year alone he has journeyed from the patriotic war music of The Monuments Men to the quirky European pastiche of The Grand Budapest Hotel, from the powerful monster music of Godzilla to the intimacy of this score, and still has Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken coming in December. People still criticize Desplat for being a ‘pretty little waltz’ composer, but I have never understood that label, as his filmography over the years blatantly disproves the arguments of the disparagers immediately, and this year’s snapshot just solidifies that counter-argument. The Imitation Game is one of the strongest drama scores of 2014, and if the film receives as much critical acclaim as it is predicted to receive, Desplat will likely receive his seventh Oscar nomination for it.

Buy the Imitation Game soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Imitation Game (2:37)
  • Enigma (2:51)
  • Alan (2:57)
  • U-Boats (2:13)
  • Carrots and Peas (2:19)
  • Mission (1:37)
  • Crosswords (2:53)
  • Night Research (1:40)
  • Joan (1:46)
  • Alone With Numbers (2:58)
  • The Machine Christopher (1:57)
  • Running (3:01)
  • The Headmaster (2:28)
  • Decrypting (2:01)
  • A Different Equation (2:55)
  • Becoming a Spy (4:09)
  • The Apple (2:21)
  • Farewell to Christopher (2:41)
  • End of War (2:08)
  • Because of You (1:36)
  • Alan Turing’s Legacy (1:57)

Running Time: 51 minutes 05 seconds

Sony Classical 501212 (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Jean-Pascal Beintus, Nicolas Charron and Sylvain Morizet. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin. Edited by Kirsty Whalley. Album produced by Alexandre Desplat.

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  1. January 29, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Excellent review to an excellent score! One of my top picks from the year, and “The Imitation Game” has opened the ears of this somewhat novice film score buff to truly appreciate Desplat’s talens.

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