Home > Reviews > THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING – Tom Holkenborg


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Three Thousand Years of Longing is a new romantic fantasy film from Mad Max director George Miller, based on the 1994 short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by English novelist A. S Byatt. The film stars Tilda Swinton as Alithia, a British professor, who travels to Istanbul for a conference and inadvertently frees a genie from his captivity; the genie – played by Idris Elba – offers Alithia the traditional three wishes in exchange for his freedom, but this proves problematic because, as Alithia’s academic specialty is mythology, she knows all about the cautionary tales of ‘wishes gone wrong’. The djinn pleads his case by telling her fantastical stories of his past – dating all the way back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – and eventually wins Alithia over, with surprising results. The film is an impressive visual masterpiece full of sweeping vistas, elaborate sets, and romantic tenderness, which stands at odds with Miller’s gritty and uncompromising work on his most famous films.

The score for Three Thousand Years of Longing is by Dutch composer Tom Holkenborg, who is reuniting here with Miller for the first time since Mad Max: Fury Road, although the resulting soundtrack couldn’t be more different from that breakthrough work. It’s interesting to note how my opinion of Holkenborg’s music has changed of late; when he first appeared on the film music scene in 2014 I mostly found his music to be intolerable – noisy, simplistic, bordering on the annoying – but over the past few years he has widened his palette and style significantly. Many of his most recent works – beginning with The Dark Tower in 2017, and continuing on through scores like Mortal Engines, Alita: Battle Angel, Sonic the Hedgehog, Scoob, and parts of Godzilla vs. Kong – have featured a much more sophisticated sound, with more emphasis on richer orchestral textures, and more nuanced emotional content, and this very much continues in this score. The thing that makes Three Thousand Years of Longing stand out is that it contains, by far, the most beautiful romantic theme of Holkenborg’s career to date, and this is something worth acknowledging and praising.

In talking about the score, Holkenborg says, “This movie spans 3,000 years, and George [Miller] wanted a score that could move from the ancient to the contemporary, while capturing all the emotions the characters experience in this film. This is really apparent in the main melody, which took two years to create! The goal was to compose something that sounds like it has always been here, and always will be. Music is essential to George’s vision, and the arrangements had to be incredibly precise to convey the feeling captured on screen”. This main theme receives its first performance 20 seconds into the opening cue, “Djinn Theme,” where it is carried alternately by plucked strings, a harp, a ney flute, and a tinkling cimbalom, but it really comes into its own in the third cue, “Raucous Skies and Song of Transference,” which begins as a solo for what sounds like a rababa middle-eastern cello, before melting into a sweeping, swooning bank of traditional strings.

This melody is gorgeous – haunting, evocative, lyrical – and perfectly encapsulates the sense of isolation and longing the djinn feels during his millennia of captivity, especially the times when the wishes he grants cause him to fall in love, and then lose that love in the most tragic of circumstances. Subsequent performances of the theme in “A Djinn’s Oblivion,” “Three Years Later,” and the conclusive “Song of Transference and End Credits” are just as superb, and as I said before I don’t think I would be over-stating things if I said that this was the most traditionally beautiful thing Holkenborg has ever written.

When this sensational theme is absent the score, almost inevitably, suffers in comparison, but even here there are still some interesting ideas to be found. The 10-minute “Two Brothers” is mostly an exercise in percussive rhythm augmented by abstract electronic textures and moody string figures, and at times feels a little like some of the Furiosa music Holkenborg wrote for Mad Max: Fury Road, although here the approach is less overwhelmingly intense and is instead more rooted in world music tribal rhythms that speak to the djinn’s ancient origins. Some of these ideas return later in “Ceaseless Game of Power,” which becomes quite intense as it develops, and uses the woodwinds in a manner that suggests otherworldly voices.

Elsewhere, cues like “As a Consequence of Zefir” and “A Djinn’s Oblivion” have an interesting new-agey vibe, and are mostly typified by light, airy synth textures punctuated by tapped percussion, passages for moody and unusually-rendered ethnic flutes, and vivid, yearning solo strings, the latter of which often perform fragments of the main theme.

The final track, “Cautionary Tale,” is actually an original song, written by Holkenborg with lyrics by George Miller and co-screenwriter Augusta Gore, and which is performed by Italian tenor Matteo Bocelli, son of the light classical superstar Andrea Bocelli. The song is based on the main theme and is just superb. The lyrics switch from Italian to English half-way through the song, and are interesting and poetic. Matteo Bocelli’s voice is as rich and powerful as his father’s, and the jazzy elements with the solo piano and brushed snares are an unexpected twist; it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t contend for the Best Song Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is probably the best, most sophisticated, most instrumentally interesting, and most emotionally complex score of Tom Holkenborg’s career, and it’s anchored by one of the most glorious romantic themes of the year to date – the inclusion of which more than makes up for the more low-key and abstract synth and percussion material that comprises quite a bit of the score’s middle section, and which some people may find less interesting. I personally found the whole thing fascinating, and I can only marvel at how, over the past couple of years, Holkenborg has gone from someone who used to make me groan whenever he was hired, to someone from whom I now look forward to every new score. His progression as a film composer continues.

Buy the Three Thousand Years of Longing soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Djinn Theme (1:32)
  • Two Brothers (10:00)
  • Raucous Skies and Song of Transference (3:06)
  • As a Consequence of Zefir (8:12)
  • Ceaseless Game of Power (2:08)
  • A Djinn’s Oblivion (4:30)
  • Three Years Later (1:27)
  • Song of Transference and End Credits (2:26)
  • Cautionary Tale (written by Tom Holkenborg, George Miller, and Augusta Gore, performed by Matteo Bocelli) (3:50)

Running Time: 37 minutes 11 seconds

Milan Records (2022)

Music composed by Tom Holkenborg. Conducted by Christopher Gordon. Orchestrations by Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek and Henri Wilkinson. Recorded and mixed by Craig Beckett. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Tom Holkenborg.

  1. A Parry
    September 7, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    Yes the music is gorgeous but have a listen to Innocent by composer Joe Hisaishi and you will see that the underlying melody is almost identical to this. Watching the film tonight my first thought was that Hisaishi had composed this score.

  2. Dan Keefer
    March 3, 2023 at 5:19 pm

    Excellent review of a wonderful story, with really great music that captured the essence of it. I’m very impressed by the efforts and artistry of all involved in this production.

  1. January 28, 2023 at 10:00 am

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