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THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US – Ramin Djawadi

October 24, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Mountain Between Us is an unusual mix of genres, being described in the mainstream press as a ‘survival drama/action thriller/romance’. Directed by Palestinian filmmaker Haby Abu-Assad making his American debut, and based on a popular novel by Charles Martin, the film stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet as two strangers – he a surgeon heading to perform an operation, she on the way to her wedding – who agree to share a small plane charter flight out of Idaho to the East Coast. When the plane goes down in bad weather in a remote mountain range, and with the pilot having been killed in the crash, the pair must summon all their reserves of strength and resilience to survive.

The score for The Mountain Between Us is by composer Ramin Djawadi, who is currently riding the crest of the popularity wave with his scores for massively successful V shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld, and his film work on titles such as The Great Wall, Warcraft, and Dracula Untold. For The Mountain Between Us Djawadi crafted a comparatively small, intimate score, which concentrates more on capturing the relationship between Elba and Winslet’s characters than underscoring the action or the wide-open snowy vistas. Anyone hoping for something along the lines of a sweeping John Barry or James Horner-style wilderness adventure score will be disappointed at its comparative restraint, but there are still moments of note to be heard within.

In describing it, Djawadi says “The Mountain Between Us is a beautiful character driven story set against breathtaking landscapes which was very inspirational to me. My goal with the music was to show the intimacy of the movie, two strangers trying to survive. What the director really wanted was to blend the environment with the music; at the core of the score is the piano and the strings, and when you’re in the mountains, you echo, so I implemented the idea of an echo into the score. Nature played an influential role, too, and I tried to capture the ambient sounds with music.”

Much of the resulting score is built on the material heard in the opening cue, “The Mountain Between Us,” which uses the aforementioned strings and solo pianos to create a mood of hesitant romance that is actually quite lovely. The instruments move around and against each other, creating a series of hypnotic textures, and it often incorporates a series of repetitive string ostinatos to give the overarching melody a little bit of scope and movement. At times the score has the feeling of something Michael Nyman might have written for a film like this – The Claim without the choir, perhaps, crossed with a more minimalist version of “Light of the Seven” from Season 6 of Game of Thrones.

It’s all very appealing, and several subsequent cues – notably “Don’t Say Anything,” the soothing “1% of Something,” “The Photograph,” “Separation,” the determined-sounding “Not Today,” the warm and cathartic “I Feel Alive,” and the superb finale “Meaning of Life” – build on this style to excellent effect. The way the lilting string lines build and become more elaborate, and the way the piano often mirrors the strings in symmetrical patterns, is quite impressive, further illustrating just how much Djawadi has matured and grown as a composer since the early days of things like Iron Man and Mr. Brooks.

To capture the action adventure moments Djawadi moves away from the classical elegance of the main theme and breaks out his synths, adding a series of sometimes quite abrasive and aggressive textures to the orchestral mix. Cues like “They Can’t Hear You” use the orchestra in a much more frantic and aggressive way, while cues like “Flare Gun” become quite dissonant and challenging as Djawadi attempts to really drive home the danger of the situation the two protagonists are enduring.

Other cues of note include the ethereal “Rule of Three,” which makes interesting use of what sounds like a glass harmonica and a more lush orchestral palette featuring hints of woodwinds and brass to increase the tension. He combines these textures with the main theme in subsequent cues like “Finding the Cabin,” broadening the scope of the score further. Later, in “Where Is the Dog,” Djawadi goes for a contemporary sound, augmenting his ensemble with a small bank of acoustic and electric guitars. Some of the middle-album cues are a little repetitive and redundant and could have been pruned away without damaging the album listening experience, but for the most part the score remains enjoyable throughout.

The Mountain Between Us is a good score driven by a strong and poignant main theme that strengthens the film’s central romance, and an impressive amount of subtlety and self-control when dealing with the story’s more kinetic moments. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also a sign of how Ramin Djawadi is developing into an interesting, accomplished composer who can tackle multiple genres with skill. His work scoring Game of Thrones has clearly allowed him to develop a much more elegant, classical sound than was apparent in his early career, and this new approach is very apparent here. Anyone anticipating 1990s style sweeping melodrama or action music histrionics may be disappointed with the score’s overall subtlety and rather subdued nature, and I love those types of scores too, but I nevertheless found this to be an appealing work worthy of exploration.

Buy the Mountain Between Us soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Mountain Between Us (6:10)
  • Don’t Say Anything (2:18)
  • I’m Sorry (1:39)
  • Rule of Three (3:27)
  • Finding the Cabin (3:57)
  • I’m Scared (1:14)
  • They Can’t Hear You (0:45)
  • 1% of Something (2:14)
  • Trust Your Instinct (1:30)
  • The Photograph (1:46)
  • Flare Gun (2:04)
  • Little Recorder (2:10)
  • The Mountains (3:07)
  • Separation (3:24)
  • Not Today (2:15)
  • I Feel Alive (2:39)
  • Where Is the Dog? (1:28)
  • Just Me and You (2:11)
  • The Heart Is Just a Muscle (1:07)
  • Meaning of Life (3:46)

Running Time: 49 minutes 21 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2017)

Music composed and conducted by Ramin Djawadi. Orchestrations by Stephen Coleman. Recorded and mixed by Chris Fogel. Edited by Peter Myles. Album produced by Ramin Djawadi.

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