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THE LOST CITY – Pinar Toprak

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Lost City is a fun throwback action-adventure romcom directed by the Nee brothers Adam and Aaron, who co-wrote the screenplay with Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, from a story conceived by Seth Gordon. It’s an intentional homage to 1980s movies like Romancing the Stone, and stars Sandra Bullock as Loretta Sage, a depressed romance novelist who is kidnapped by a multi-billionaire played by Daniel Radcliffe; he believes that her latest book contains genuine archaeological information that will help him locate a long-lost treasure, missing for generations on a remote island. However, Loretta’s airheaded book cover model Alan (Channing Tatum) – who adopts a Fabio-esque persona and the pseudonym Dash McMahon – tracks Loretta to the island and embarks on a daring rescue mission that takes the mis-matched couple on an epic journey through the island’s jungles. The film is a light, breezy, funny, entertaining romp, featuring some terrific physical comedy from Bullock, and a hilarious cameo from Brad Pitt as an ex-Navy SEAL turned CIA operative hired to help Alan find Loretta. It received popular acclaim from audiences and critics, who mostly enjoyed the central relationship between Bullock and Tatum, and praised their screwball chemistry.

The score for The Lost City is by Turkish composer Pinar Toprak, who broke ground in 2019 when she became the first woman to score a major studio superhero movie – Captain Marvel – and the first woman to compose for a film that grossed more than $1 billion at the box office. She has since followed that up with work on several high profile TV shows, including Krypton and Stargirl, and now The Lost City is her first major theatrical score since Captain Marvel. Toprak says that she wanted to pay homage to classic adventure films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark with her music, and as such wrote several themes, including motifs for both Bullock and Tatum’s characters, and one for the movie’s McGuffin, the lost Crown of Fire. Within this, Toprak also had to balance the film’s often rapid tonal shifts between action, romance, and humor, as well as capturing the essence of the film’s tropical setting – the latter of which she accomplished by visiting the shooting location in the Dominican Republic and spending five days in the jungle herself.

The score starts with a bang with a sweeping statement of the rousing, adventurous main theme in “The Lost City of D,” the misleading opening scene in which Loretta imagines the latest adventure of her literary heroes in her head, before dejectedly deleting it all in a fit of self-loathing and low confidence. The opening theme also introduces Toprak’s enticing motif for the mythical ‘Crown of Fire,’ a moody orchestral piece augmented by pan pipes and a haunting female vocal performed by Baraka May that gives the concept a sense of mysterious romanticism. Cleverly, the ‘Crown of Fire’ motif continues to swirl in the background of numerous subsequent cues, calling to Loretta and inspiring her writing, and providing the impetus for a lot of the film’s subsequent plot.

The main theme is incredibly malleable, and undergoes some significant and impressive transformations as the score develops; there is a lilting comedy variant for pianos and jazzy percussion heard in “Pinot Grigio on Ice”, ”Book Tour,” “Gotta Go Up,” “Hands Out, Butt to Butt,” and elsewhere, and then later in cues like “The Island” and “Ruins Revealed” the theme briefly rises to grand, sweeping proportions. The theme for Fairfax, Daniel Radcliffe’s eccentric villain, is introduced in “The Only Clue,” and is a dark, menacing, swirling theme for strings that has an air of sophisticated panache and perhaps a touch of Alexandre Desplat about it.

Toprak’s action music is energetic and creative, blending the rich orchestra with an array of vocal effects and tribal percussion items which rattle, clatter, hoot, whistle, huff, and puff in all manner of inventive ways. Cues such as “You’re Safe Now,” the second half of “The Island,” the thrilling “Highly Trained & Very Dangerous,” and the terrific “Alan Gets a Moped” are especially entertaining – the latter underscoring the hilarious chase sequence where Alan chases down Fairfax’s armored tank on a hugely underpowered Vespa, accompanied by a vibrant Toprak tarantella, all flashing guitars and brass fanfares. This is counterbalanced by the perky comedy stylings in cues like “People Eat Cake,” and the more tender string and oboe writing in the lovely “Contoured Scenery,” the latter of which explores the hesitant romantic relationship between Loretta and Alan that develops in adversity.

The finale of the film – which sees Loretta, Alan, and Fairfax trying to infiltrate the caldera of a no longer dormant volcano, find the lost treasure, and then rapidly escape from said volcano before they are all engulfed in lava – sees Toprak in fine action form. Toprak has always been great at action music, as her score for Captain Marvel, plus earlier works such as The Wind Gods and Tides of Fate, attests, and the thrills and spills continue throughout much of the seven-cue 20-minute sequence. Toprak offers statements of all the main themes in a variety of impressive settings, and surrounds them all with vigorous string rhythms, intense brass writing, and a percussive drive that keeps the energy levels high. The knowing statement of the ‘Crown of Fire’ motif in “It’s Not a Metaphor” is excellent, the dissonance in “Watch Your Step” is unexpectedly dark and menacing, the use of sung Latin vocals in the soaring “The Tomb” is powerful and majestic, and the striking statement of Fairfax’s theme in “Fairfax Escapes” is one of the highlight performances of that idea.

The penultimate “Got Your Back” has positive echoes of both John Powell and James Newton Howard in the thematic structure of the piece, and even in the tone of some of the orchestrations, while “A New Adventure Beginning” celebrates the romantic coupling of Loretta and Alan with a reprise of the main theme that begins in its light and playful jazz guise, but becomes lush and passionate during its conclusion.

The album is rounded out with a brilliant instrumental version of the classic 1986 rock song “The Final Countdown” by Europe – which is used in the film as Dash’s walk on music, and then later as a brilliant in-joke underscoring one of Alan’s hero moments – plus a trio of original Spanish-language folk songs written by Argentinian composer and songwriter Cheche Alara, one of which – “Lágrimas Sin Fin” – plays an important role in furthering the plot.

The Lost City is a great score, fun and playful but with just the right amount of heart and excitement and energy to appeal to a broad cross-section of film music fans. The thematic density within the score is impressive, as is the frequent use of regional ethnic instrumentation and the judicious use of vocals and choir. More than anything, though, I’m just delighted that Pinar Toprak has been able to leverage her groundbreaking success on Captain Marvel, and secure more projects that suit her talents. With this score, her recent gig conducting for Billie Eilish at the Oscars, and her upcoming score for the Jason Momoa vehicle Slumberland, 2022 looks to be turning into a great year for her.

Buy the Lost City soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Lost City of D (2:32)
  • Pinot Grigio on Ice (1:39)
  • Book Tour (1:35)
  • The Only Clue (2:07)
  • You’re Safe Now (1:55)
  • The Island (1:02)
  • Ruins Revealed (1:21)
  • People Eat Cake (1:47)
  • Gotta Go Up (2:25)
  • Highly Trained & Very Dangerous (1:47)
  • Contoured Scenery (2:24)
  • Hands Out, Butt to Butt (1:16)
  • Alan Gets a Moped (1:44)
  • Hammock Extraction (1:16)
  • Set Your World on Fire (2:49)
  • It’s Not a Metaphor (1:25)
  • Watch Your Step (4:01)
  • The Tomb (3:36)
  • Fairfax Escapes (2:00)
  • Dulcius Ex Asperis (2:16)
  • Got Your Back (2:53)
  • A New Adventure Beginning (3:22)
  • The Final Countdown (written by Joey Tempest) (1:13)
  • Danza de Dos (written and performed by Cheche Alara) (2:28)
  • Bolerito de la Isla (written and performed by Cheche Alara) (1:33)
  • Lágrimas Sin Fin (written by Cheche Alara and David Aguila, performed by Cheche Alara feat. Cecilia Noel) (2:23)
  • Stage Mishap (0:44) BONUS
  • Book Trailer (1:41) BONUS

Running Time: 57 minutes 32 seconds

Paramount Music/La-La Land Records (2021)

Music composed by Pinar Toprak. Conducted by Anthony Parnther. Orchestrations by Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek and Henri Wilkinson. Additional music by Emir Isilay, Antonio di Ioro and Tyler Durham. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Maarten Hofmeijer. Album produced by Pinar Toprak and Shie Rozow.

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