EVEREST – Dario Marianelli
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Although more than 4,000 people have scaled the summit of Mount Everest since Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered the mountain in 1953, hundreds have also perished on its treacherous slopes. Director Baltasar Kormákur’s film Everest tells the story of one of the mountain’s most deadly incidents, when eight people died trying to reach the summit in May 1996, including experienced guides Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, both of whom ran ‘adventure vacation’ companies that specialized in taking tourists to the top of the world. It’s an exciting, dramatic, harrowing, visually beautiful film, made all the more tragic through the knowledge that (by and large) it depicts true events. The film stars Australian actor Jason Clarke as Hall – getting to use his native accent for once! – and Jake Gyllenhaal as his American counterpart Fischer, and features Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Michael Kelly, and Sam Worthington in supporting roles.
The score for Everest is by the Oscar-winning Anglo-Italian composer Dario Marianelli, who is not well-known for his action-adventure scores, his work on V for Vendetta notwithstanding. What’s interesting about his score for Everest is that, with a few notable and understandable exceptions, Marianelli doesn’t score it like a genre film. This isn’t a story about thrills and pulse-pounding action; it’s a film about the mountain, about Tibetan culture and heritage, and about the eight people who came to the highest point on Earth to discover something about themselves, and maybe about humanity, but lost their lives in the process. As such, a great deal of Marianelli’s score is intimate, introspective, almost meditative, interspersed with a few moments of epic grandeur and tension to accompany the scenes of triumph and tragedy. It was recorded in London with session players, with featured solos by David Le Page’s violin and Caroline Dale’s cello, ethereal vocals by Melanie Pappenheim, and a synth element which is occasionally manipulated to mimic the sound of traditional Tibetan instruments, notably tingsha hand cymbals and suzu singing bowls.
The score opens with “The Call,” a lonely, but noble-sounding cello theme which acts as a recurring motif for the mountain itself, accentuated with synth textures and Pappenheim’s moody wordless vocals. This is really the only recurring thematic element in the score, which is otherwise content to present a series of textural and emotional vignettes as the album progresses. While Marianelli clearly made this conceptual decision to ensure that Everest itself was the dominant feature in the film, it nevertheless gives the rest of the music a slightly disappointing anonymity; the textures are lovely, and beautifully performed, but they don’t have any unique identifying feature that stays with you afterwards.
A solo piano enters the fray in “Setting Off from Kathmandu,” acting as a brief leitmotif for the relationship between Rob and his pregnant wife Jan (something which returns later in the score in cues like “Starting the Ascent” and the emotionally heightened “Epilogue”) before heading off into some region-specific Nepalese urban music, capturing the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Thomas Newman-esque percussion ideas are offset by busy string scales and brass clusters in cues like “First Trek: Base Camp” and “The Lowdown,” which feed off the energy and anticipation of the surprisingly crowded camp at the foot of the mountain. Subtle metallic Tibetan instrumental ideas and the vaguest hint of a throat singer remind you where you are.
The action music in cues like “A Close Shave,” “Lost,” and “Chopper Rescue” tends to be highly rhythmic and surprisingly electronic, with relentless heartbeat-like pulses and metallic sound design effects layered underneath the orchestra, ratcheting up the tension. Although parts of “Chopper Rescue” are quite exciting, it’s these cues which, personally, I found to be the most frustrating: Marianelli usually is a much more creative and intelligent composer than these cues would suggest, and seeing him simply getting his synthesizer out and writing fairly basic rhythms is more than a little disappointing (although another composer, Rael Jones, is co-credited with writing that first cue, so perhaps this is more his work than Marianelli’s).
Much more interesting are cues like “Starting the Ascent,” the second half of which combines the Everest motif with a pulsing, hopeful, anticipatory synth beat. Later, “Someone Loves Us” emerges from the haunting vocals into a noble theme full of relief and hope – the last moment of calm before the storm. “Summit” is the score’s thematic high point, a rousing and triumphant setting of the Everest motif against forward-thrusting string ostinatos, strirring percussion rhythms, David Le Page’s violin, and the merest hint of an electric guitar. You can almost feel the sense of relief and accomplishment that the climbers must experience when they finally achieve this most grueling of human endevors.
However, things take a turn for the worse during the disaster sequence, comprising “Time Runs Out,” “Lost,” and “Last Words”. In the film, quite a lot of the actual snowstorm and avalanche is un-scored, with the audience instead being bombarded by sound effects of howling winds, rumbling thunder, and freezing ice, meaning that many of these cues score the aftermaths of events rather than the events themselves. “Time Runs Out,” for example, has an incessant metallic pulse underneath mournful synth and cello textures, speaking to the impending and unstoppable force of nature that engulfs the climbers. Similarly, “Lost” uses processed whistles, along with the Everest vocal/cello combo, to mimic the sense of howling disorientation and isolation that comes with being adrift in a snowstorm. The five-minute “Epilogue,” as I mentioned earlier, features a moving performance of the Rob and Jan piano theme, which is given additional emotional weight by further performances of the ghostly vocal texture, and a whole raft of shifting, brooding string figures, especially Caroline Dale’s expressive cello.
Everest is a decent enough score by most people’s standards, but unusually for Marianelli it doesn’t have that special ‘something’ that allows it to be mentioned among his best works. Considering the tremendous scope for great emotion and drama a story like this can inspire, it spends rather too much of its time noodling around with pretty but insubstantial cello and piano textures which come nowhere close to emulating the stirring passion of something like Pride & Prejudice or Jane Eyre, subtly hinting at geographic locations with small amounts of regional color, and presenting action material that seems less well-developed than it should be. I’m sure this tone of somber reflection is exactly what the director wanted, but with the exception of one or two moments of grandeur, the album is a strangely unfulfilling listening experience.
Buy the Everest soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The Call (3:11)
- Setting Off from Kathmandu (1:16)
- First Trek: Base Camp (2:30)
- Arriving at the Temple (performed by The Monks of Tharig Monastery) (1:01)
- The Lowdown (2:36)
- A Close Shave (3:25)
- Starting the Ascent (3:06)
- To Camp Four (2:09)
- Someone Loves Us (1:56)
- Summit (4:57)
- Time Runs Out (6:58)
- Lost (2:23)
- Last Words (2:58)
- Beck Gets Up (2:55) – iTunes exclusive bonus track
- Chopper Rescue (2:20)
- Epilogue (5:11)
Running Time: 51 minutes 57 seconds
Varese Sarabande VSD-7368 (2015)
Music composed and conducted by Dario Marianelli. Orchestrations by Dario Marianelli and Geoff Alexander. Additional music by Rael Jones. Featured musical soloists David Le Page and Caroline Dale. Special vocal performances by Melanie Pappenheim. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs. Edited by Chris Benstead, James Bellamy and Yann McCullough. Album produced by Dario Marianelli.