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EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS – Alberto Iglesias

December 14, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

exodusgodsandkingsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Ridley Scott’s epic version of the biblical exodus story, Exodus: Gods and Kings, is lavish film making on an enormous scale. Based on the tale of Moses and his efforts to liberate the people of Israel from slavery under an Egyptian pharaoh, it stars Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as the pharaoh Ramses, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. Scott’s version is more rooted in historical realism than Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, but the film still covers all the major bases of the story: Moses and Ramses growing up together as brothers, the burning bush through which Moses communicates with God, the plagues which attack Egypt when Ramses refuses to free the slaves, the parting of the Red Sea, and the writing of the Ten Commandments. Visually, the film is a triumph, depicting the glory and opulence of ancient Egyptian civilization in majestic detail, but dramatically the story flounders occasionally, and some great actors – especially Paul, Weaver, and Tara Fitzgerald – are woefully underused.

Ridley Scott has a reputation for being particularly nitpicky about his scores. Many of his most recent films have all had some sort of rejection or replacement scenario, ranging from the composer smorgasbord that ended up on Kingdom of Heaven, the lean Marc Streitenfeld years, and Harry Gregson-Williams coming in to help salvage Prometheus. Looking further back, we mustn’t forget that Scott was the man who effectively rejected Jerry Goldsmith twice, on Alien in 1979 and Legend in 1985 – both unforgivable creative lapses. On Exodus: Gods and Kings, the same thing has happened; Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias was originally hired to write the film’s score, but the end product is a mish-mash of Iglesias’s original ideas, plus additional music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Federico Jusid. However, where Exodus differs from its predecessors is in the final execution: in context, it’s absolutely wonderful, adding a sense of gravitas and emotional potency to the story, and adding a level of geographic specificity to the music through its inclusion of various ethnic musical soloists and vocalists.

Written for a full orchestra, Iglesias adopts an epic tone throughout the score, accentuating each scene with musical grandeur that befits its scope. This is music on a scale I have not heard from Iglesias before, with rich themes, and multi-faceted orchestrations. Much of Iglesias’s earlier work, including his acclaimed scores for Pedro Almodóvar, and his Oscar-nominated work on The Constant Gardener, The Kite Runner, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, has been smaller-scale, subtle, almost restrained, but on Exodus everything is heightened. It’s interesting to note that the conductor and orchestrator on this score is Nicholas Dodd, who has a history of being involved with enormous orchestral action scores written by composers not usually associated with them – I’m thinking about Clint Mansell’s Sahara, Mychael Danna’s Ride With the Devil, and Javier Navarrete’s Inkheart and Wrath of the Titans, among others. Whether there is anything to read into this, I don’t know, but it’s an observation worth making.

Most of the early part of the score is moody underscoring, not strong in memorable themes, but containing a number of lovely instrumental textures and moments of great power and orchestral beauty. The ethnic ideas come via various regional Middle Eastern woodwind and string instruments, adding an exotic mood to cues such as “Nun’s Story” and “Arm Chop,” while the solemn sounding vocals of the “Opening,” the enormous, militaristic war horns in “Leaving Memphis,” the bittersweet cello and chorus writing in “Goodbyes,” the fluttering ney flutes in “Journey to the Village,” and the wonderful brass-and string contrapuntal harmonies in “I Need a General,” all leave an enormously positive impression. Importantly, Iglesias also regularly uses the stereotypically ‘biblical’ chord progressions that hearken back to Miklós Rósza’s work on Ben-Hur, Alfred Newman’s The Robe, and Elmer Bernstein’s own The Ten Commandments, and root the score in that glorious sound that immediately resonates with the listener’s expectations for films of this type. There are times for rocking the boat, and times to pay homage to your predecessors, and thankfully Iglesias recognized that this was one of the latter.

The main theme doesn’t actually emerge until half way through the score, once Moses has been transformed from an exiled shepherd into a crusading warrior who will liberate his people. Hints of it emerge via the cello writing in cues like “Alone in the Desert” and “Climbing Mount Sinai,” immediately prior to his encounters with God, but it doesn’t get its first true performance until “Exodus,” the score’s 16th track. A soaring, stirring piece, it’s by far the most memorable thematic creation of Iglesias’s career thus far, and the score’s second half is full of it, rooting the story in its most important element: the fight for the freedom of a subjugated race. Its subsequent appearances in cues like “Moses’s Camp,” “Lamb’s Blood” and the conclusive “The Ten Commandments” are noteworthy, especially when the orchestra expands to include accompanying performances from the choir and the unique, reedy regional flutes. “Into the Water” provides the score’s most robust and moving statement of the main theme, acknowledging that God has directly intervened to save the people of Israel with heavenly choirs, tolling bells, and the entire orchestra playing to its fullest capacity.

“Hail” is another noteworthy action sequence, an explosion of brass and choral power to match the devastation brought by the seventh of the ten plagues of Egypt, while subsequent cues like the tragedy-laden “Animal Deaths,” and “Looting,” capture the increasing desperation of the Egyptian people as their society is ravaged by the hand of God. The anguished cello writing in “We Cross the Mountains” confirms that even kings are not immune from theistic retribution.

Harry Gregson-Williams’s contributions tend to be action-oriented, including “Hittite Battle” and the tremendously exciting “Tsunami,” but he also has a chance to show his softer side in the lovely “The Vows,” a romantic theme for Moses and his wife Tzipporah. Elsewhere, Federico Jusid, who has explored the historical drama genre extensively via his wonderful work on the Spanish TV series Isabel, is given the chance to let loose with a couple of excellent action sequences too, notably “Ramses Retaliates,” the throbbing “Ramses’ Orders,” and the immense “The Chariots,” all of which explode with surging string rhythms, tempestuous brass performances, and ominous choral chanting. If this music doesn’t prove that Jusid needs a major movie of his own (and that he shouldn’t have been thrown off 300: Rise of an Empire), nothing will.

While some may be frustrated at how the score’s main thematic idea takes over half an hour to fully emerge, I personally found Exodus: Gods and Kings to be a gratifying experience which takes its time to carefully build up to its climax, rewarding listeners for their patience. The beautiful ethnic textures, Iglesias’s soulful and emotional orchestral writing, the occasional powerful action sequence, and the glorious thematic finale make the score a treat from start to finish. No, it doesn’t have the overwhelming spiritual glory of Elmer Bernstein at his most magisterial, nor does it have the straightforward religioso beauty of Rósza or Alfred Newman, but for a score from the year 2014 it more than holds its own, and has more than enough outstanding moments to be a worthwhile purchase.

Buy the Exodus: Gods and Kings soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening/War Room (2:39)
  • Leaving Memphis (2:03)
  • Hittite Battle (4:16)
  • Returning to Memphis (2:37)
  • Moses in Pythom (1:50)
  • Nun’s Story (2:18)
  • The Coronation (2:28)
  • Ramses Retaliates (0:53)
  • Arm Chop (1:58)
  • Goodbyes (2:41)
  • Journey to the Village (2:14)
  • The Vows (2:24)
  • Alone in the Desert (1:36)
  • Climbing Mt. Sinai (2:17)
  • I Need a General (3:22)
  • Exodus (2:52)
  • Ramses’s Orders (2:44)
  • Moses & Nun (1:48)
  • Moses’s Camp (2:42)
  • Ramses’ Insomnia (2:58)
  • Hail (2:01)
  • Animal Deaths (2:39)
  • Looting (1:19)
  • Ramses’s Own Plague (2:05)
  • Lamb’s Blood (1:39)
  • We Cross the Mountains (2:51)
  • Into the Water (4:00)
  • The Chariots (1:52)
  • Hebrews (0:58)
  • Tsunami (5:33)
  • Sword into Water (1:12)
  • The Ten Commandments (3:37)

Running Time: 78 minutes 24 seconds

Sony Classical 501908 (2014)

Music composed by Alberto Iglesias. Conducted by Nicholas Dodd. Orchestrations by Nicholas Dodd and Alastair King. Additional music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Federico Jusid. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin. Edited by Tony Lewis. Album produced by Alberto Iglesias.

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  1. December 15, 2014 at 6:22 am

    I think it’s kinda sad when the best parts of a score are from additional composers. It was the same thing on Prometheus (when Harry Gregson-Williams, and not Marc Streintenfeld, composed the cue of the opening of the movie). On Exodus, the best parts are from Jusid, who, like you said, deserves a big solo project – and, hopefully, a better one than 300.

  2. December 29, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    “I need a General” is so close to Wagner’s Rheingold prelude that I wonder why they didn’t just track in Wagner’s music.

    • RL
      March 31, 2015 at 5:12 am

      If you think that’s similar to Wagner’s just listen the score of the Miyazaki’s film: “Ponyo On the Cliff” by Joe Hisaishi. There’s a track completely plagiarized of the Ride of the Valkyries. And yet that score is beautiful.

  3. January 9, 2015 at 9:35 am

    It’s Rheingold vorspiel, no doubt! I was wondering the same thing when I searched in the final titles and I didn’t find it!

  4. RL
    March 31, 2015 at 5:18 am

    I love this score. Spanish composers are excellent! And can do basically anything _____ Scott is one of my favorite directors nowadays and critics are constantly putting him down with no need for that. Yes he bashes the scores of the composers, but he has worked with so many of them, that now he just can add music that was supposed to be from other film and cue it in the new. Probably parts of this score will appear in a new one to come :p

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