Home > Reviews > RIM OF THE WORLD – Bear McCreary

RIM OF THE WORLD – Bear McCreary

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Rim of the World is a sci-fi action adventure film for children, written by Zack Stentz and directed by ‘McG’. It tells the story of four misfit friends attending a summer camp in the mountains above Los Angeles – when all of a sudden the Earth is invaded by aliens. Somehow, these four intrepid teenage adventurers find themselves in possession of a key which holds vital information about how to stop the invasion, and must trek across through the wilderness, down the mountain, and deliver the key to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, before the aliens find them first. The whole thing is a fun, kid-friendly adventure that has proved to be a popular success since its premiere on Netflix in the summer of 2019.

The score for Rim of the World is by the increasingly in-demand composer Bear McCreary, who somehow managed to cram this assignment in while also working on Season 4 of Outlander, Season 9 of The Walking Dead, and the movies Happy Death Day 2U, The Professor and the Madman, and the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Child’s Play. Quite how he manages to work so much is astonishing – the man must never sleep – but what’s even more astonishing is that, despite his chock-a-block schedule, the quality of his music never diminishes one iota. Everything McCreary has written in 2019 to date has been out-of-the-box superb, and Rim of the World is just the latest score in his increasingly impressive musical portfolio. Much like the film itself, Rim of the World is a nostalgic throwback to the ‘gang of kids’ adventures that were so popular in the 1980s; it has a great deal in common with things like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, and Explorers, not necessarily in terms of how the music sounds, but instead in terms of how it feels.

McCreary himself says that he was personally inspired by composers and scores he grew up loving – he name-checks Goldsmith, Williams, Silvestri, and Elfman and many of their adventurous big orchestral thematic scores. However, long time fans of McCreary’s music may find themselves being reminded of the fantastic stuff he wrote for the short-lived TV series Human Target back in 2010. The main theme, as presented in the opening cue “Rim of the World,” is especially noteworthy, a flowing, memorable piece that oscillates between a rhythmic A-section featuring a 9-note central riff, and a more lyrical and carefree B-section, before eventually playing them simultaneously for the full orchestra. The instrumental arrangements in the theme are luscious: he makes use of guitars alongside the beefy orchestral core, and is careful to highlight a number of specific textures, including fluttering flutes, xylophones in the percussion section, and brassy horns. The theme is punctuated with interludes for more pastoral woodwind writing, string led-emotion and drama, bouncy synth-enhanced light comedy, and even a bit of ominous tension and light horror featuring more throaty brass, giving a full overview of most of what the score has to offer.

Interestingly, the biggest and boldest versions of the main theme are put on the back burner for most of the score, and are instead replaced with a more playful version for guitars and piano, which appears to act as a recurring leitmotif for Alex, the ‘leader’ of the gang of children. The ‘Alex Variation’ on the main theme is first heard in the eponymous cue “Alex,” a happy and upbeat refrain which characterizes Alex as a cheerful young kid, unaware of the amazing adventure about to befall him. The Main Theme Alex Variation gets another significant performance during “Welcome to the Camp,” and then again in “Alex Meets Zhen Zhen,” for when Alex meets a quiet Chinese girl who is also attending the Rim of the World summer camp, and who becomes a part of the central quartet. Here, the theme is wistful and light, with more emphasis on flutes and strings; it develops a real sense of magic in its second half, with chimes and high strings and the wholesome guitar doubled with chipper woodwinds.

Much later in the score cues like “The Truth from Dariush” and “Zhen Zhen and Alex” offer more emotional versions of the Main Theme Alex Variation. The former sounds a little despondent, as it accompanies a moment of honesty and reflection from another one of the gang, a spoiled rich teenager to whom there is more than meets the eye; the latter is a beautiful piece for tender flute and string writing, and is one of the score’s emotional high points.

The other recurring idea that runs throughout the score is a more comedic-sounding motif for synths and oboes which first appears a minute or so into “Alex,” but gets its first real prominent performance in “Welcome to the Camp”. This motif is one of the few moments in the score that is heavily influenced by something else – in this case, Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Explorers – and it appears to be a sort of secondary idea for the Rim of the World gang as a whole, underscoring their more child-like and innocent antics. It appears again prominently in “Alex Meets Zhen Zhen,” and in the first half of “Explosions in the Atmosphere,” but afterwards, once the meat of the action material kicks into high gear, it makes just fleeting guest appearances: you can spot it shooting across the speakers in “The Dragon Capsule,” “Follow the Leader,” “Dariush the Great,” and several others, where it successfully reminds the listener and viewer that these earth-saving heroes are still kids. I like the motif a lot.

The rest of the score is action and adventure all the way, and is sure to please McCreary’s most ardent fans. We actually get a brief taste of the score’s action writing in the second cue, “ISS SOS,” which features some ominous brass writing that grows in intensity as the cue develops, and which also introduces the recurring 2-note motif for the alien invaders who drive the story along. Things start to kick off during the second half of “Explosions in the Atmosphere” – tension and dissonance, abstract chords for flutes and strings and brass, the brutal Alien motif – before the first big action cue arrives in “The Dragon Capsule”. This cue is really a primer for the entire score’s action material; McCreary makes superb use of flashing strings, meaty explosions of brass, and heavy percussion rhythms. The orchestrations are dense, and the technical writing is impressively complicated, often employing clashing rhythmic ideas to drive the action along, as well as extended performance techniques such as my favorite flutter-tongued brass. Throughout all of this there are regular statements of the Main Theme (both the A-phrase rhythm and the B-phrase melody), the Alien motif, and the Comedy motif.

Many of the subsequent action cues are enormously impressive, not just because of the relentlessness of the writing, but for all the times McCreary does something fun and interesting – either a new variation on one of the themes, or a new instrumental texture, or a new rhythmic idea. I love the heraldic, militaristic trumpets and snares at the beginning of “Follow the Leader,” and the wonderfully nostalgic Horner-style tapped woodblocks towards the end of the same cue. I love the excitement and dynamism of “Riding Bikes,” especially the adventurous statement of the Main Theme when it switches from guitars to brass, underpinned with swirling strings.

I like how the military motif returns in “Military Evacuation,” a mass of pulsating strings, howling brass, and cymbal crashes, and how it all gives way to a heavy statement of the Alien motif in the second half of the cue, intense and epic and with a more prominent synth pulse. I love how “Men in Masks” is so dark and ominous, with a brooding version of the Alien motif that builds to a big finale, throbbing like some of Gustav Holst’s best moments. I love the frantic, rapid fire action in “Car,” and the guest appearance of another James Horner staple – crashing pianos!

The finale of the score, which begins once the kids reach Pasadena and deliver the key to the NASA scientists there, is a fun ride featuring yet more prominent performances of the main thematic ideas. “JPL” has a sense of relief to it, with pretty flutes, a wholesome version of the main theme, and a sense of determined busyness and can-do spirit. “Four Heroes” features a big performance of the main theme with a beefed-up electronic undercurrent, plis a lovely emotional bridge for flutes and guitars. Both “Cryptokey” and “Firing Excalibur” are exciting and theme-filled, with the latter piece again making the bubbling synths much more front-and-center to give it a contemporary kick. The conclusive “Pretty Brave After All” offers a final version of the Main Theme Alex Variation that gradually becomes bolder and more expansive as it develops, eventually culminating in massive, heroic fashion with full brass flourishes, darting woodwinds, and magical chimes.

Rim of the World is a really outstanding score, and one which will surely appeal to listeners who, like Bear McCreary, grew up on the fun adventure music written by Williams, Horner, Goldsmith, Silvestri, and others in the 1980s. It has a strong and memorable main theme – something which is sorely lacking in too many of today’s scores – that makes itself open to multiple variations. There are a couple of interesting secondary themes, and a whole bunch of dense and complicated action music that is both fun and exciting, but also musically compelling from a technical and intellectual point of view. In summary, if you share my musical taste, there’s really nothing about this score that you can criticize – a rare thing indeed. And Bear McCreary’s climb to the top levels of the film music hierarchy continues unabated…

Buy the Rim of the World soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Rim of the World (4:56)
  • ISS SOS (1:44)
  • Alex (2:52)
  • Welcome to the Camp (3:18)
  • Alex Meets Zhen Zhen (3:46)
  • Explosions in the Atmosphere (2:18)
  • The Dragon Capsule (6:58)
  • Follow the Leader (2:28)
  • Riding Bikes (1:36)
  • Into the Wasteland (4:40)
  • Military Evacuation (3:29)
  • Gabriel’s New Family (2:35)
  • Men in Masks (4:23)
  • The Truth from Dariush (2:37)
  • Zhen Zhen and Alex (2:30)
  • Car (1:07)
  • Dariush the Great (3:33)
  • JPL (4:35)
  • Four Heroes (2:54)
  • Cryptokey (6:12)
  • Firing Excalibur (3:14)
  • Pretty Brave After All (2:41)

Running Time: 74 minutes 33 seconds

BMG Music (2019)

Music composed and conducted by Bear McCreary. Orchestrations by Sean Barrett, Benjamin Hoff, Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek and Henri Wilkinson. Recorded and mixed by Jason La Rocca. Album produced by Bear McCreary.

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