Home > Reviews > THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE – Roque Baños

THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE – Roque Baños

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 1989 writer-director and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam began to develop the screenplay for a film called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which he was co-writing with British scribe Tony Grisoni. While Don Quixote was being finalized Gilliam and Grisoni made Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas together, and then returned to Quixote to begin shooting in 2000, with Johnny Depp and French actor Jean Rochefort in the lead roles. What transpired would eventually become one of the worst examples of ‘development hell’ in the history of cinema, as Gilliam had to abandon production an astonishing three times between 2000 and 2016, due to various issues ranging from financial mis-management to legal wranglings to actor illnesses, and even a flood which destroyed much of the set. The story of Gilliam’s tribulations while making the film even became an acclaimed documentary, Lost in La Mancha, which was released in theaters in 2002. Eventually, against all odds, the film was finally shot and completed in 2017, with Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, and Olga Kurylenko eventually being the ones in the lead roles.

Driver plays Toby, an advertising director and former student filmmaker who returns to Spain to visit the village where he shot an adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote many years previously. There he encounters Javier (Pryce), an ageing shoemaker, who played the role of Quixote in his film; however, Tony soon comes to realize that Javier really believes he is Quixote, and has spent many years of his life trapped in a ridiculous delusion that has affected the entire village. Javier/Quixote mistakes Toby for his trusted squire Sancho Panza, and together they embark on a series of surreal comic adventures which tug at Toby’s grip on sanity and reality. The film premiered to general critical acclaim at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but – true to form – the legal wranglings surrounding the film have continued even further, to the extent that the North American theatrical release remains up in the air.

The one thing that seems to have been largely unaffected by the drama is the film’s score, which is by the outstanding Spanish composer Roque Baños. Gilliam has worked with numerous composers over the years: Michael Kamen scored Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; George Fenton received an Oscar nomination for scoring The Fisher King; Mychael and Jeff Danna scored Tideland and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; the late Paul Buckmaster worked on Twelve Monkeys; and the great Dario Marianelli wrote one of his best scores for The Brothers Grimm. However, as much as some of those scores are really very good, I personally think that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is the best score ever written for a Terry Gilliam film.

The whole thing is rich, romantic, sweeping, and passionate, performed by a mostly full orchestra augmented by various choirs and a number of interesting regional and ethnic instruments, all performing with overtones of high fantasy and adventure. There is a main theme which runs through a great deal of the score and is present in many of the cues, but it never really asserts itself as a truly dominant presence. Instead Baños concentrates on the textures, the orchestrations, and the emotion, and the score’s brilliance emerges via that detail. One thing that’s notable about the score is its rapid changes in fashion – through its running length it jumps around from style to style, from tone to tone, from romance to action to suspense to comedy and back again, often within the same cue.

Some may feel that this gives the score a somewhat schizophrenic lack of focus, and under normal circumstances I might agree, but in this specific instance the disjointedness actually makes the music come alive. There’s something deliciously vibrant and unexpected about the whole experience, so you don’t know where it’s going to go next. This lack of clear musical direction mirrors the strange circumstances Toby finds himself in as he follows Javier/Quixote around on his adventures, jumping from one crazy encounter to the next. It keeps everything fresh and innovative and surprising.

The first cue, “I Am Don Quixote,” is a perfect example of this stylistic abandon. It begins with a sequence of music for what appears to be a gaita bagpipe, an ancient-sounding instrument native to central Spain. After 30 seconds or so the melodic line is taken over by a religioso male voice chorus, serious and dramatic, which then gives way to some gorgeously romantic Miklós Rózsa-esque string progressions augmented by Spanish guitar, and which have an air of El Cid about them. At the 1:47 mark the piece becomes a throbbing action cue, a flurry of string figures bolstered by a rousing adventure theme for brass; it then concludes with a rich and deeply romantic dance for flamenco guitars and hand-clap percussion, which is evocative of the region, and which fans of James Horner will enjoy.

As the score develops it generally moves between statements of and variations on these core ideas – the main theme, the romantic theme, the interludes for Spanish guitar, the religioso choral writing, and the action music. For example, “The Shoe Maker” is a bittersweet version of the main theme for strings and harp and restrained Spanish guitars, which eventually develops into a lilting romantic theme for woodwinds, while the finale of “Return to Los Sueños” reprises the theme on an iridescent piano.

“A Marvelous Day for Adventures” is another one of those ‘everything’ cues – it begins with a comedic little march for clarinets and pizzicato strings, charming but bumbling and a little ungainly. The middle section features a lush string theme underpinned with appropriate Bolero-style rhythmic touches. The finale is action packed – racing strings, bombastic brass – but it is bisected by brief interludes for the male voice choir and an elegant medieval-style love theme for oboes. This love theme re-appears in both “Angelica’s Love” and “A Slap Dance and Kiss,” which provide a pair of interesting variations. The former is a beautiful rendition for guitar and harp over a warm string wash, with a statement on strings towards the end that is a little tortured-sounding. The latter features more tender and passionate guitar writing, but then becomes livelier and more contemporary, with a modern-sounding percussion beat to accompany the guitars, the accordion, and the flamenco hand claps.

However, with me being me, I found myself especially drawn to the action music, which is wholly superb. The aforementioned “Return to Los Sueños” begins with some sunny writing for guitars and strings and ethnic percussion, but action overtakes it as the cue progresses. The action writing here, and through a lot of the score, has a hint of Michael Kamen to it, circa Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or The Three Musketeers; the bold percussive undercurrent is layered with swirling string and brass contrapuntal writing in a way similar to what Kamen often used to do. The orchestrations in the subsequent “Quixote Vive!” are worthy of special note, especially the woodwind section, where Baños appears to be using a whole host of unusual regional Spanish wind instruments – contrabassoon? ocarina? dulzaina? tabor pipe? – to give his action music a significantly different flavor. The same can be said for “Release the Prisoners,” the finale of which embraces some stunning Flamenco-style guitar licks, magnificently flamboyant trumpets, and percussive accents from castanets and tambourines.

Another action cue of note is “The Knight of the Mirrors,” which features patriotic brass, aspirational strings, and warm oboes, before heading off to perform more action hi-jinks in the Kamen style. The writing style is agile and fluid, built around a rapid 6-note rhythm, and increases in intensity all the way up through its massive finale, where huge throbbing brass fanfares, racing strings, and outbursts from the full chorus are the order of the day. I also found “Escaping from the Castle” to be wonderfully entertaining; it has some notably vibrant cello rhythms driving the cue along, a set of superb James Horner-esque snare drum riffs, and an outstanding tragic finale full of weeping, searching strings.

Some cues are notable for their uniqueness. “The Lost Kingdom of the Moors” once again brings out the ancient ethnic woodwind textures from “Quixote Vive,” but places them in evocative combinations with guitars and muezzin-style Arabic wailing. “Waltz at the Castle” is a rich classical waltz with vaguely comic undertones, a feeling which is helped by the slightly bulbous, pompous nature of the orchestrations. It feels like Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite waltz may have been Baños’s inspiration here, which pleases me greatly as I have adored that piece for years. The subsequent “The Ride to the Moon” is possibly the most unusual cue in the score; it’s an aggressively primal, tribal piece for clattering percussion and a range of vocal ideas ranging from chanted voices to soothing female oohs and aahs.

The score’s conclusion begins with “The Ritual” which opens with the most bold and obvious return to the male voice choir, and which here has unmistakable liturgical overtones with its tolling bells and kyrie eleison lyrics. The cue ends with a return to the bold, energetic action style, and finishes with a huge minor key outburst of the main theme. “He Will Never Die Nor – Will Giants” is possibly the best showcase for the main theme, as Baños offers several arrangements of it, including one at the beginning for warmly sentimental strings and lush guitars, and one at the end during its action packed finale, where the theme is accompanied by moments of great whooping bombast and vivid orchestral extravagance. The conclusive “A New Beginning” allows the score to end on a warmly optimistic note, featuring some especially lovely oboe writing, some deep and emotional strings, that superb Rózsa lilt in the chord progressions, and rich flavors provided by the guitars.

Michael Kamen told me once that he felt his score for Gilliam’s 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was too baroque, too ornate, and saw him too eager to impress. Much of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote feels like an unofficial sequel to that score – perhaps as if Gilliam gave Baños the same instructions he gave to Kamen thirty years ago, but where Baños was able to reign himself in to produce something a little more coherent than Kamen’s great but disjointed epic. In fact, the fact that Roque Baños was able to make something this good out of production that was – and is – so troubled is enormously impressive. Baños is having a truly outstanding year in 2018 overall, having already written excellent scores for both The Miracle Season and The Commuter, and with the score for the Dragon Tattoo sequel The Girl in the Hornet’s Nest due in November. As good as those scores may be, though, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will take some beating when it comes to being his standout work this year, and it will certainly be in the hat when I start thinking about my own Score of the Year choices.

Buy the Man Who Killed Don Quixote soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • I Am Don Quixote (2:59)
  • The Shoe Maker (2:47)
  • The Boss’s Wife (2:04)
  • Return to Los Sueños (3:22)
  • Quixote Vive! (4:35)
  • Release the Prisoners (3:28)
  • A Marvelous Day for Adventures (3:08)
  • Spanish Gold (2:35)
  • The Lost Kingdom of the Moors (3:36)
  • The Knight of the Mirrors (4:10)
  • Who Wrote This Ending! (4:33)
  • Angelica’s Love (3:49)
  • Waltz at the Castle (2:55)
  • The Ride to the Moon (3:34)
  • A Slap Dance and Kiss (3:08)
  • Escaping from the Castle (3:56)
  • The Ritual (2:12)
  • He Will Never Die – Nor Will Giants (5:23)
  • A New Beginning (2:09)

Running Time: 64 minutes 31 seconds

Meliam Music (2018)

Music composed and conducted by Roque Baños. Orchestrations by Ginés Carrión. Recorded and mixed by Martin Roller. Edited by Graham Sutton. Album produced by Roque Baños.

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  1. June 21, 2018 at 8:54 am

    I think Kamen was being far too hard on himself. His Munchausen score is amazing!

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