Home > Reviews > SUPERINTELLIGENCE – Fil Eisler


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the funniest (for me) films of 2020 was Superintelligence – an action sci-fi comedy directed by Ben Falcone, and starring his wife Melissa McCarthy. She plays Carol Peters – the most average person in the world – whose life is turned upside down when her phone, her apartment, and eventually her life is taken over by a super-intelligent artificial intelligence which adopts the voice of comedian James Corden, as he is her favorite celebrity. The AI wants to study Carol and her interactions with other people as a way to learn about humanity; it manipulates her life to the extent that she becomes a multi-millionaire overnight, and tries to help her re-connect with her ex-boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale) before he leaves to take a job overseas. However, it soon becomes apparent that this ‘superintelligence’ may have some less-than-altruistic intentions, and before long Carol is knee deep in an action caper with the National Security Agency of the US Government. The critical consensus of the film has not been kind, but I actually enjoyed it a lot, especially for the comic interaction between the AI and the increasingly exasperated Carol.

The score for Superintelligence is by the talented Czech-born British-raised composer Fil Eisler, whose career to film music was a circuitous one involving a stint working and touring with great pop stars like Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue in the 1990s, before moving to the United States in the early 2000s to write music for hit TV shows like Revenge, Shameless, and Empire. His movie career has been focused mostly on high-concept comedies like How to be Single, CHIPS, and Life of the Party, although perhaps his most important work was curating the soundtrack for the 2016 documentary Newtown, about the terrible school shooting in Massachusetts in 2012. Stylistically Eisler is a composer who reminds me of people like Theodore Shapiro, or perhaps a modern version of a Robert Folk or a David Newman, who writes sophisticated orchestral music for comedy films that (mostly) don’t deserve it. Superintelligence is one of these.

Eisler’s work is a fun blend of tropes from the musical worlds of sci-fi, action, and comedy, built around a couple of recurring themes and ideas that run through the entire score. The opening “Overture” is not really one at all (perhaps that’s the joke?) as it consists mostly of brass-led spacey crescendos and mysterious string textures, setting the scene for the mystery of the omnipotent artificial intelligence which comes to Earth seeking answers about the nature of humanity. The second cue, “End of Days/Saving George,” begins with a series of dark orchestral textures – moody string figures and low brasses backed with harp glissandi, a light choir, and a sense of impending doom – while also introducing what appears to be a repeated 3-note motif for the AI itself. Eventually the whole thing explodes into a terrific fully-orchestral action sequence full of triplet-heavy brass writing, militaristic snare licks, and adventurous rhythms, all anchored by a sweeping heroic theme. This is some of the best music I have heard Eisler write to date, and makes me look forward to the prospect of him scoring a serious action-adventure movie that requires more of these sort of bold musical strokes.

The most obvious recurring theme is the romance theme for Carol and George, which first appears in the third cue, “Hit the Bricks,” and is a sweet, sentimental theme for strings and piano. Thereafter the score mostly offers variations on these core ideas, with a few fun deviations. “Play Hooky With Me” and “It’s Not The End Of The World” contain lovely versions of Carol and George’s Theme, as does the penultimate cue “Boozehounds and Barcodes”.

The AI motif goes through several different iterations, cleverly altering its tone and emotional intent as Carol’s relationship with it changes. In “Toaster Takedown,” for example, the motif is surrounded by light horror textures and orchestral stingers, for the scene where AI takes over all the appliances in Carol’s apartment, making her think it is somehow haunted. “Lead Foot” is fun and light, and appears to be a more upbeat arrangement of the AI motif filled with choppy strings and bubbling brass, as it takes over driving Carol’s newly-acquired Tesla and chauffeurs her around the city. Later, “Superintelligence Meet Carol” is tonally all over the show, placing the motif in a variety of situations ranging from vaguely sinister to lightly comedic and caper-like, amid a mass of inquisitive, prancing strings. These caper-like textures recur later in cues like “Synaptic Activity” and “Octagon Soup,” which are cute and playful and feature plucky pizzicato textures and dancing xylophones over low woodwinds and rhythmic strings.

The aspect of the score which relates to Carol’s interactions with the NSA and its various agents tends to be scored with serious militaristic music, cleverly juxtaposing their imposing front against the clueless chaos behind the scenes, which has been technologically stripped-down to counter the AI threat. Cues like “Carrier Pigeons,” “Operation Sahara,” and “The Last Line of Defense” remind me of the type of music classic composers like Jerry Goldsmith and, more recently, Michael Giacchino might write for something like this. Eisler uses unusual rhythmic writing that jumps around from the strings to the percussion, especially snare drums, in a variety of fascinating ways; for some reason it reminded me of a combination of something like Capricorn One and the Medal of Honor video game series, in the way that the rhythmic cores of the cues never seen to progress in the way you would expect. “The Last Line of Defense” is especially emphatic in this regard. Meanwhile, both the two “Abduction” cues, which pair McCarthy on-screen with her husband/director Ben Falcone as an inept NSA interrogator, briefly revisit the fantastic action from the ‘Saving George’ sequence, but end up being somewhat chilly and sinister.

After an explosion of dissonance in “Apocalypse Later” the finale of the score comes in “New Digital Overlord,” which is actually more of an overture than the actual ‘Overture’ cue as it revisits the action riffs and the militaristic material, briefly returns to the dark AI motif, but then affords some warm and emotional orchestral swells, a final blast of the heroic theme, before concluding amid a mass of sweeping strings, powerful brass, and even a choir.

The movie Superintelligence was released on HBO Max back in November 2020, but the soundtrack was only released belatedly at the end of February 2021, which is why I’m reviewing it now, somewhat after the fact. I didn’t want people to miss it. I personally think that Superintelligence is the best score of Fil Eisler’s career to date, and had the category not been massively over-stacked in 2020 with the likes of The Personal History of David Copperfield, Emma, and Wild Mountain Thyme, it would certainly have figured strongly in my conversation for the best comedy score of last year. It’s a fun blend of heroic action, comedy, romance, and militaristic drama which shows a great deal of compositional sophistication, and several moments of real excitement that bely the film’s tone. As Elmer Bernstein proved over and over, if you score comedy with serious music you make the jokes funnier, and Fil Eisler proves that truism here again. I’m eagerly anticipating the next opportunity he has to write big, old-fashioned orchestral music like this somewhere down the line.

Buy the Superintelligence soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (1:01)
  • End of Days/Saving George (4:01)
  • Hit the Bricks (Carol and George’s Theme) (1:41)
  • Toaster Takedown (1:52)
  • Carrier Pigeons (1:38)
  • Play Hooky With Me (2:05)
  • Synaptic Activity (1:22)
  • Lead Foot (0:49)
  • Operation Sahara (1:50)
  • Superintelligence Meet Carol (4:09)
  • It’s Not The End Of The World (1:36)
  • Make Things Right (1:29)
  • Abduction, Pt. 1 (2:51)
  • Sentient Intelligence (1:39)
  • Octagon Soup (2:11)
  • Abduction, Pt. 2 (1:52)
  • The Last Line of Defense (2:02)
  • Apocalypse Later (0:37)
  • Boozehounds and Barcodes (0:50)
  • New Digital Overlord (Finale) (3:28)

Running Time: 39 minutes 11 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2020/2021)

Music composed and conducted by Fil Eisler. Orchestrations by Tim Davies, Lorenzo Carrano and Jeremy Levy. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by Ronald J. Webb. Album produced by Fil Eisler.

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