D 6: MISS
They say that Hollywood is running out of ideas. That there is such a massive hole in the scriptwriters minds that they have had to resort to adapting mythical television series, best sellers or comic book superheros to fill this gap in. Personally I find it hard to believe since veterans such as Martin Scorsese are at his very best, new and imaginative minds such as Christopher Nolan are challenging the audience and with both Pixar and James Cameron bringing to us impressive technical advances. By all means, its true that a famous name with an already established massive fan base is a trump that the producers don’t want to let slip away and seven years ago Steven Spielberg discovered a new gold mine by buying the rights to adapt Hasbro’s popular range of games, Transformers. This lead to the production of three films (the last one grossed over a billion dollars worldwide), a new cartoon series, video games and all of the merchandising imaginable. It should come as no surprise that, with being such an enormous success, we have seen other Hasbro products on the big screen such as G.I. Joe ( of wich we will see the sequel to this summer) or that we deal with herein, the popular board game of Battleship.
The plot behind Battleship is, of course, a simple excuse for an expensive fireworks: NASA scientists discover the first planet on which aliens may be living in. Hopeful and excited they transmit a signal to the recently named Planet G (omg) to communicate with their possible residents and to say “hi” to them, but unfortunately the aliens are having a bad day and they decide to make a ferocious attack against the earth. This time the battlefield will be the sea, but don’t worry as we have two heroic brothers, Alex and Stone Hooper, enlisted in the Navy and who will fight with their enormous war vessels to save humanity from extinction or submission.
Original? Not at all, but it need not be because the idea was to repeat the success that the director Michael Bay had with his saga of giant robots. They were so keen to “clone” such films that even alien vessels’ design is similar, the toughie director Peter Berg (Very bad things, Hancok) copies shots and the sense of humour of Bay and borrows from his “fetish composer”; Steve Jablonsky.
Steve Jablonsky has turned into one of the most succesful exponents of Hollywood blockbuster music . To understand why we must go back to almost a decade, when in 2003, Trevor Rabin was hired to score Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II. Due to production difficulties, Rabin had little time to finish the musical score, so he had no other choice than to resort to additional composers in order to complete the job. One of those chosen by him was the promising student of Hans Zimmer, Steve Jablonsky, who composed around half an hour of material for the film. At the end of the process, Bay was so surprised and delighted with the music of Jablonsky that from then on he appointed him as his everyday composer, for both films that he directed as well as those that his recently inaugurated company produced.
However, the music of Jablonsky for Bad Boys II was an extension of a transgressor piece called Synchrotone, composed by his master for the film by Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down, and it must be said that the music of the German composer has set the stone for the sound of the great Hollywood productions in the last years. The heroic hymns of King Arthur, the string ostinato in The Da Vinci Code or Batman Begins, and finally the dramatic sound effect of Inception, all of these have been used as temp tracks and required by the producers for their films. Jablonsky, familiar with this sound, has been able to grasp all of these elements and to include them in a more or less obvious way but always brilliantly done in his soundtracks, whilst he developed professionally and perfected his own electronic elements, both rhythms and textures, which would give him a homogenous base as a whole and would differentiate him from the remaining composers who stuck to recycling or copying the music that they were required to do. In this way, the composer found his own voice and created a «high-tech» sound.
Just like the majority of the Jablonsky compositions, Battleship can be more associated with a sound design rather than melodic phrases per se. However, this design is almost always backed up by themed ideas, which are not few in this case: the motive for the aliens, an electromagnetic sound of energy, not being able to be described in a better way, introduces a creaky and worrying two notes on the way between that created by John Williams for The War or the Worlds and Kevin Riepl for the video game Gears of War; The concept used for Planet G, a similar sound effect to that of world-war alarms leading to a feeling of danger and desperation; and lastly, a more «traditional» tune, that of the brothers, played by bagpipes which symbolise the freedom and ingenuity of the leading character with his philosophy of acting first and thinking afterwards. Besides these three main ideas we will find others, such as the battleships and the one associated with the Navy Officers but as Jack the Ripper would say, “Let’s break this down”.
The album beings with the «First Transmission», a track for the sequence of the prologue which is very similar to that which started at the beginning of the film Transformers: The Dark Side of the Moon and which Jablonsky deals with in a similar way: a percussive ticking and a string ostinato give a feeling of a race against time, making us part of the first communication towards Planet G, whilst a dark tune seizes us, leading us to believe that what could be a hopeful discovery could turn into a nightmare. The track ends with vibrant martial rhythms and the tremendous burst of a three notes motif that Jablonsky will turn to for situation shots each time that the location is changed.
The following track is the powerful «Art of War» where electric guitar riffs and taiko drums take us to the most memorable of the main themes, that of the battleships, a solemn and a mighty melody just like those machines which navigate in the ocean. Trombones and tuba, standing out as an exemplary way over the electronic, they will interpret this “power anthem” that, many times, will be complemented with the subject of the Navy officers and Hooper, both with less solemnity and more heroism. In that way, we will listen to them working as a team in the adrenaline «It’s your battleship Now» (amazing taiko drums mixing, again), «Water Displacement» ( with a synthesizer touch that reminds me to the one heard in Tears of the Sun ), «Thug Fight» and «Battle on Land and Sea».
The Alien invasion would also mean an invasion of the album, with major doses of metal sounds and electronic loops created especially for the occasion. «Full Attack» a delirium of combined distortions of all types and hybrid percussion in which the motif for Planet G will continue playing with during 4 minutes, never being boring but fascinating; «Object Make Impact» an aggressive first contact with the two notes alien motif; «Beacon Project» with a delicious industrial touch reminiscent of the 80´s techno and which involves an update to the creation of pioneer groups in the subject such as the Germans Kraftwerk; and finally «Shredders», with amazing cyclical metallic effects which seem to emulate the spherical and revolving way of lethal alien toys which destroy everything that they come in contact with.
«Bouy Greed Battle» deserves to be mentioned separately, a particularly clever track, used in an excellent moment of tension where the scriptwriters manage to make their own particular tribute to the board game that they are adapting. Jablonsky balances the use of rhythm bases with that of the ambient music design in order to create suspense in a scene without special effects nor action, where only the setting up of the shots and the music are the only elements which are responsible to making this work.
The final climax in both the CD as well as the film starts with «We Have a Battleship», in which a trumpet solo plays the theme of the vessels at its very best and leads to the subject of the Navy officers, in one of these Media Ventures/Remote Control moments that usually remains good in one shot at slow motion, and which appeals to the most basic instinct of the spectator, making them feel like being a soldier and saving the world. So therefore, let’s get on with it and with the rock artist «Super Battle», from the guitarist Tom Morello, we get ready for this. Jablonsky will use Morello himself in the following track, therefore giving stylist continuity and a yobbish touch to a fight in the oddest way in «Thug Fight», where we will listen to variations of the main themes with electronic guitar and pop-rock drumming.
Finally the composer will retake his most heroic side in «Battle on Land and Sea» where we will listen to surrenders from all of the main themes for the final battle of the film, and «Silver Star», in which bagpipes, redoubles of drums and piano plays the theme of Hooper and that of the Navy officers leaving us with a sense of victory and satisfaction.
The album ends with the suites for the three main themed ideas and which put a perfect end to this generous release from Varèse Sarabande.
E6: HIT AND SUNK
To conclude, Battleship is a soundtrack which the fans of Steve Jablonsky high-tech sound will like, however those hoping for the style of more traditional works such as Steamboy or the lovely Your Highness will be disappointed. For the undersigned, Battleship is one of the most thought out music scores of this composer, with thematic richness and well-defined sound ideas, compact, homogenous and without any type of cracks with a perfect aggressive tone for each alien invasion. Perhaps it doesn’t have themes which stand out as those written for the Transformers trilogy, but it makes up for it by developing them much better thanks to not being limited to a hasty edition on behalf of the director. Finally, I must highlight the recording where, once more, Jablonsky knows how to make each one of the elements stand out just at the right time, never giving the sensation of something which is too full or overdone, mixing the electronic with the same clarity as a taiko or trombone.
Risking oneself to loose respect (if I ever had some ) on behalf of film music purists, and for the reasons mentioned beforehand, this score is a strong three and a half stars 😉