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RUMBLE – Lorne Balfe

January 11, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Rumble is a CGI animated action comedy based on the graphic novel ‘Monster on the Hill’ by Rob Harrell, directed by Hamish Grieve. The film is set in a world where monsters and humans peacefully co-exist, and where one of the most popular sports is monster wrestling. After the shark-monster Tentacular, who represents a small town called Stoker, becomes the new world champion, he suddenly announces his retirement. The townspeople are later told if they do not find a new wrestler to represent Stoker, they will lose the town’s stadium and its resultant revenue. This prompts a wrestling enthusiast named Winnie Coyle to search for a new monster representative for her town – which ultimately brings her into contact with Steve, the son of former champion wrestler Rayburn, who despite being a talented athlete in his own right lives in his late father’s shadow. Circumstances lead to Winnie and Steve eventually teaming up, training, and fighting, culminating in the underdog Steve having a shot at Tentacular’s title, with the future of the town on the line. The film features a voice cast including Will Arnett, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Terry Crews, and was supposed to premiere in cinemas in July 2020, but it was moved no less than four times due to the COVID-19 pandemic theatrical release debacle, and eventually premiered on the streaming channel Paramount+ in December 2021.

The score for Rumble is by Lorne Balfe, and is his last score of a spectacular 2021 wherein he wrote music for films like Black Widow, The Tomorrow War, and Silent Night, as well as the fantasy TV series The Wheel of Time. Balfe has always shone when writing music for animated films – some of his earliest and best work was on things like Megamind, Penguins of Madagascar, Home, and The Lego Batman Movie – and I have often felt that he is at his best when he is writing the sort of tuneful, memorable, upbeat music that films like that often need. Rumble is another score like that; it is, in short, a ton of fun. It blends loud and boisterous orchestral action music with elements of rock, pop, and heavy metal in a way that is anarchic and at times completely bonkers, but is never anything less than outrageously entertaining. It has the same sort of sound and feel as WWE Entrance Music, those rousing and anthemic rock tracks that accompany the wrestlers on their way to the ring. If you can get yourself in the right mindset to appreciate that approach, then Rumble will prove to be a massively engaging way to spend 45 minutes, but be warned: if you find yourself unable to connect with that style, then it is likely to drive you to distraction instead.

The score is built around three recurring themes: one overarching wrestling theme, one for Steve/Rayburn, and one for Winnie. The opening cue, “Hometown Heroes,” is very much an encapsulation of the entire score – sweeping orchestral lines, big rock drums and guitars, 1980s-styled ear-worm electronica, and a performance of Steve’s theme on a jazz saxophone, which first appears at the 45 second mark. What I like about this style of electronica, as opposed to other types, is that it absolutely knows what it is, and revels in it. There’s no trying to hide its origins, no trying to be something its not, no trying to be a flute, or strings, or whatever. This is electronic music written for keyboards by someone who actually knows what they are doing, and who leans into that joyous, upbeat, catchy sound with no irony whatsoever. You are invited to love it, with no pretentions and no self-awareness, and that’s all there is to it.

The wrestling theme is introduced in the second cue, “This Is Monster Wrestling,” which plays like a classic Bill Conti sports movie fanfare, heroic and rousing, with a full orchestra backed by rock percussion, and then eventually female vocals and an epic choir to add yet another layer of excellent cliché to the proceedings. Some of the writing in this cue, and others which also feature the wrestling theme, share some similarities with early John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams scores, especially things like Antz and Chicken Run, as well as some of the Kung Fu Panda scores – it has that same sort of aspirational tone, with its heart in the right place, and even some of the chord progressions and rhythmic patterns feel like they were pulled from the same source. It’s so much fun, with no affectations of anything other than to be entertaining.

“Pride of Pittsmore” is initially a little more muted and bittersweet, with glittery percussion adding a sense of nostalgia to the tender strings and soft warm horns, but it becomes more anthemic and hopeful with a rousing performance of Steve’s theme in the second half of the cue. “Monster on the Hill” brilliantly combines undulating synth percussion with renaissance-style brass flourishes, rampaging stomping beats, and soaring female vocals, in one of the highlight tracks of the entire score. As a totally out of left field comparison, the theme in “Monster on the Hill” reminds me very much of Richard Harvey’s main theme from the 1980s British children’s sci-fi TV series Terrahawks, so much so that I wonder whether it was an in-joke on Balfe’s part – he is of the same generation as me, and grew up in the same country, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t a little homage to a childhood favorite written by a some-times colleague.

The subsequent “Winnie McEvoy” then offers the score’s most prominent performance of Winnie’s pleasant theme, which features guitars and doo-doo female vocals, and is optimistic, perhaps a little naïve, perhaps a little whimsical. Fans of the score for His Dark Materials will note some pleasing tonal similarities to the Scholastic Sanctuary theme from that score.

The rest of the score is basically more of the same, blending the orchestra and the electronics and the rock music elements with numerous performances of the catchy melodies, usually in big bold statements. “Round One” has some funky saxophone flourish references to Steve’s theme, and some electronic ideas that enter the realm of dubstep. “Rayburn and Steve” is warmly sentimental, and features an arrangement of Steve’s theme for saxophones and wet electronic textures, backed with light piano and string accents. “Tentacular” is a frenzy of loud and riotous action music, mostly orchestral, but with whizzing electronic scales, techno touches, and a triumphant conclusion.

I really like the version of Steve’s theme that appears in “Dad’s Playbook,” which is initially arranged for soft, intimate strings, but then becomes more purposeful. “The Takedown” features some flashes of ‘Rule Britannia’, possibly as an acknowledgement that the voice of the King Gorge character is provided by the former British middleweight world champion boxer Chris Eubank; it swiftly becomes a surprisingly intense action sequence built around dark dramatic drums, pulsating strings, imposing brass, and elements of techno, electronica, and dubstep.

The finale of the film, and the score, begins with the “Fight for Stoker Stadium,” which initiates the final bout between Steve and Tentacular. There is a sense of destiny and purpose in the surging strings, and this leads directly into “Rayburn-Ramarilla Match,” which opens with dramatically extending strings bolstered by meaty timpani hits, and then develops into a knockabout fight sequence. The orchestrations in the cue are notably outstanding; Balfe and his team give the sequence a real richness and an instrumental depth which overachieves massively – the big orchestral and choral moments feature some terrific descending brass cascades and interludes for Steve’s saxophone, while also combining with shredding electric guitars and dance music riffs.

“A New Plan” features both Steve’s theme and the Wrestling theme in dramatic, strident arrangements, accompanied by a bubbling strings/electronics combo, and becomes gloriously rousing during the last minute or so. The conclusive “The Underdog” is defiant and heroic, perfect music for battling against the odds, and feature Steve’s theme on brass backed with Eminem-style chugging guitars (echoes of “Lose Yourself”) and surging strings. A timpani rumble ushers in the tremendous Rocky-style finale, which is replete with saxophones, unexpected Latin spices, heavy rock flair, and extravagant keyboard scales.

The score for Rumble was recorded remotely during the first COVID lockdown in early 2020, with all the various instrumentalists and soloists performing independently of each other in their home studios, and then being mixed together afterwards in post-production. Enormous praise should go to Balfe and his music editing team of Brent Brooks, Vicki Hiatt, Curt Sobel, and Sebastian Zuketa, for simply getting the logistics of all this down, and making the end result as coherent as it is – truly a triumph of technological acumen in near-impossible circumstances.

In the end, Rumble is a score which will either delight you or drive you potty, depending in your point of view – and as you can tell, I am of the former persuasion. Rumble is just plain, old fashioned fun – a tremendous combination of big orchestras, big choirs, big themes, lots of rock music, and lots of 80s electronica. The stylistic echoes to early John Powell, as well as to certain scores by people like Trevor Rabin and Steve Jablonsky, means it will appeal enormously to a certain sub-set of film music fans, and if you appreciate it with that sort of surface level satisfaction, then that’s probably enough – I enjoy it like that too. But Rumble also has two other things going in its favor.

The first, as I mentioned earlier, is the fact that electronic ideas feel authentic. Far too many synth scores find themselves simply pretending to be orchestras, or are written by people who don’t really know how keyboards work or what they can do – Maurice Jarre was a perfect example of this, an old fashioned orchestral composer who tried to write orchestral music for synths in a way which really didn’t work. This is not what Balfe does here – the keyboard and electronic ideas sound entirely faithful to the instruments themselves, and I love that. The second is the level of un-ironic sincerity that is often missing from contemporary film music. There’s no tongue-in-cheek nodding or winking to the audience, as if to say that Balfe knows this is cheesy, and has invited you to share in the joke. There is no joke. This music is simply there to be heard and felt and enjoyed for exactly what it is. Rumble is a sheer delight, and caps off what I believe to be the most impressive year in Balfe’s career to date. The Lornaissance continues!

Buy the Rumble soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hometown Heroes (3:49)
  • This Is Monster Wrestling! (4:35)
  • Pride of Pittsmore (2:07)
  • Monster on the Hill (3:34)
  • Winnie McEvoy (4:33)
  • Round One (1:47)
  • Rayburn and Steve (3:24)
  • Tentacular (3:18)
  • Dad’s Playbook (2:08)
  • The Takedown (2:22)
  • Lady Mayhem (1:52)
  • Fight for Stoker Stadium (3:16)
  • Rayburn-Ramarilla Match (2:20)
  • A New Plan (4:05)
  • The Underdog (3:15)

Running Time: 46 minutes 16 seconds

Paramount Music (2021)

Music composed by Lorne Balfe. Conducted by Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Harry Brokensha, Gabriel Chernick, Sam Jones and Adam Price. Additional music by Max Aruj, Steve Davis, Sven Faulconer, Mike Ladouceur, Dominic Lewis and Stuart Michael Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson, Jason La Rocca, Scott Michael Smith and Stephen Lipson. Edited by Brent Brooks, Vicki Hiatt, Curt Sobel and Sebastian Zuketa. Album produced by Lorne Balfe.

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  1. January 21, 2022 at 9:01 am

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