Home > Reviews > THE MIRACLE SEASON – Roque Baños


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The very curious American phenomenon of turning schoolchildren into sporting heroes has resulted in some fine films, but the whole concept is still somewhat alien to me. When I was growing up in the UK, there were (more or less) three team sports which dominated the national consciousness: football/soccer, cricket, and rugby. Of those, soccer is really the only equivalent sport which Brits follow with a level of passionate interest that is similar to the way Americans follow their big four sports here – American football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. Some of you may be interested to learn that I played ‘high school soccer,’ both at ymy school, Newfield, and for my boy scout team, St. Paul’s, and knowing that American readers may now be imagining that I played in front of crowds of hundreds, possibly thousands, in the same way that ‘high school football’ or ‘high school basketball’ players do in the States. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the almost religious zeal with which people in the UK follow professional sports, their college and high school equivalents mean absolutely nothing – no one watches, and no one cares, because we are children, simply getting a bit of exercise and having some fun playing an organized sport, and are viewed as such. We don’t make the news. We don’t sign multi-million dollar contracts at age 14. We’re kids. The biggest crowd I played in front of was probably 30 people, most of whom were the parents of players. It is for this reason that films like The Miracle Season still feel slightly ridiculous to me.

The Miracle Season is based on the real-life story of a girl’s volleyball team from Iowa City, Iowa, which in 2011 suffered a tragedy when a popular and important member of the team was killed in a moped accident as she was coming back from seeing her cancer-stricken mother in hospital. Despite this loss the girls – under the guidance of their inspirational head coach – play so well in honor of their fallen teammate that they make it all the way to the Iowa state championship finals. Although I’m sure it was tragic for those who directly lived through it, this story was for some reason deemed inspirational enough for writers David Aaron Cohen and Elissa Matsueda to want to make a film about it, for director Sean McNamara to agree to make it, and for Oscar-nominated actress Helen Hunt to star in it. Remember, this is a story about a girl’s volleyball team from Iowa. Pardon my cynicism, but the fact that this story was at all newsworthy outside the actual school where it happened is utterly astonishing to me – but it grossed $10 million at the US box office anyway, so what do I know? As such, I’ll be pitching my semi-autobiographical screenplay about Newfield’s triumphant 1991 football victory over bitter rivals Gleadless Valley soon. I’m recommending that the teenage version of me be played by either Tom Holland or Harry Styles.

The score for The Miracle Season is by the great Spanish composer Roque Baños, and from here on in you will notice that my sarcasm stops and my sincerity begins. I’ve been an admirer of Baños’s music for years – at least since the mid 2000s when I discovered so many of the great scores he wrote for domestic Spanish movies. I was delighted when he first started scoring American movies regularly towards the beginning of the 2010s, but in my opinion his career in Hollywood has never taken off the way I feel it should have. There have been moments of brilliance – Evil Dead remains one of the best horror scores in years – but on the whole American Baños seems to have been stifled somewhat, as if the writing style that made him so great in the first place has been overwhelmed by the needs of the Hollywood studio system. As such, I am delighted by the fact that The Miracle Season is finally – finally – the American score which has given Baños the opportunity to let his thematic flag fly. It’s as if the director said to Baños: “Go be Jerry Goldsmith when he was scoring Hoosiers or Rudy. Go be James Horner at his most triumphant. And throw in a little of John Powell’s Drumline for good measure.”

Those are lofty heights to aim for, to be sure, and in truth Baños never quite attains the level of something like a Hoosiers or a Rudy, but he comes damn close. To capture the different elements of the drama, Baños wrote a trio of recurring themes which are revisited several times as the score unfolds. The opening cue, “The Best Friends,” introduces the first one, a pretty, wholesome, solid, dependable piece that acts as a recurring representation of the girls in the team and their enduring friendship. Baños uses piano chords, lively dancing strings, effortlessly charming woodwind lines, and warm brasses, and gives the whole thing an appealing emotional sweep that has more than a hint of James Horner in the harmonies and the chord progressions. This theme returns later in “Back to Training,” which presents a heartfelt statement of the Friendship theme for oboe, returns to the lively dancing string motif from the opening cue set contrapuntally against the Friendship theme on woodwinds, and ends with a gorgeous duet for solo violin and solo cello.

The more deeply emotional side of the story relating to the death of the girl, and the effect it has on her family and her team mates, sees Baños making excellent use of more sensitive orchestrations: tender piano melodies with soft string harmonies, harp glissandi, occasionally more fulsome horns. “Found Family” is intimate and gentle, but a little bittersweet, while “The Terrible News” presents a sorrowful version of the main theme for solo piano, searching strings, and mournful trumpets, augmented by gauzy-hazy electronic sound design textures which emphasize the pain and confusion of the tragedy. Later, “Missing Caroline” is full of sentimental strings and piano, tinged with remembrance and regret, while “A Tribute” is similarly sentimental but perhaps a little wistful, with a lovely statement of the theme on strings.

Finally, there is a great deal of rousing and upbeat sports music which accompanies the girls during their victories on the volleyball court. “Coach Goal” introduces the idea via some jazzy writing for a more prominent percussion section, and groovy piano chords, before the whole thing kicks off in earnest during “Home Coming Game”. Here, Baños plays around with more James Horner-esque harmonic ideas full of depth and emotional courage, before introducing one of the score’s more unique elements – the Drumline-style rapped marching band snare drums which, when offset by staccato brass phrases, give the whole thing the air of an American school pep rally. The final theme, the heroic ‘Victory’ theme, emerges at 3:29, and from here on out the score is a blast.

Subsequent cues such as “Win for Line,” “State Finals,” and “Final Game Starts” return to the Drumline percussion writing frequently, adding energy and pizzazz to the volleyball game sequences. There’s a fantastic action setting of the main theme in “Win for Line,” urgent and intense, before an explosion of relief and catharsis in its brassy finale. “State Finals” showcases an interesting orchestration choice through the inclusion of a xylophone texture into the rhythm section; there’s also a throbbing, urgent, raspy brass variation of the main theme, and a resounding statement of the Victory theme during its conclusion. Similarly, “Final Game Starts” is endlessly funky, upbeat, and anticipatory, with a slightly more contemporary, almost urban feel to the rhythmic drive.

The final two cues are powerhouses. “Win for Yourselves” adopts a sense of dramatic destiny, and slowly builds to its rousing finale through a parade of horns underpinned by tremolo strings, and superb trumpet harmonies, to which tubular bells add gravitas. A resounding whoop from the trumpets leads into the unmistakably Horner-esque conclusion, a clattering snare drum extravaganza with increasingly insistent brass phrases and sparkling string runs. The conclusive “The Victory” offsets the clattering Drumline action against bold and thrusting brass writing, and crescendos into an enormously satisfying and sweeping finale, before a final statement of the Friendship theme from the opening cue reminds us exactly what – or who – they were playing for. Teenage girls playing volleyball has never been so inspiring.

I’ve been waiting for quite some time – at least since 2013 – for Roque Baños to be given the opportunity to write music like this for a mainstream Hollywood movie, and now that he has, he hasn’t disappointed. Baños is so talented, and has written so much wonderful music for films back in Spain, but I was beginning to wonder whether he would ever have the chance to show what he is really capable of to a wider audience, and (perhaps more importantly) finally prove to people that I wasn’t dreaming when I waxed lyrical to them about how great he is. The Miracle Season might be a minor movie about one event happening to minor players of a minor sport, but this is a major league score in every sense of the word, and will likely be right up there in the mix when I come to make my list of the best scores of 2018 at the end of the year.

Buy the Miracle Season soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Best Friends (1:57)
  • Found Family (2:48)
  • The Terrible News (4:34)
  • Back to Training (4:56)
  • Coach Goal (2:21)
  • Home Coming Game (5:30)
  • Win for Line (2:06)
  • Redemption (3:17)
  • State Finals (2:52)
  • Missing Caroline (2:39)
  • Play with Joy (3:27)
  • A Tribute (2:36)
  • Final Game Starts (2:11)
  • Win for Yourselves (3:29)
  • The Victory (4:44)

Running Time: 49 minutes 32 seconds

Meliam Music (2018)

Music composed and conducted by Roque Baños . Orchestrations by Ginés Carrión. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Nicholas Fitzgerald and Jon Mooney. Album produced by Roque Baños .

  1. May 25, 2018 at 10:26 am

    I actually thought his score for “In the Heart of the Sea” was great! Of course it had some typical modern blockbuster-tropes, but It was incredibly well orchestrated and had a very memorable main theme. But this one sounds really good as well. I will check it out.

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