Film scores

Soundtrack review: Godzilla (Alexandre Desplat – 2014)

godzilla

When they announced that Alexandre Desplat was going to score the new Godzilla movie I must admit I was disappointed. Not only do I have a hard time connecting with his music usually, but this movie was supposed to be epic, powerful, crushing and Desplat’s generally easy going light compositions didn’t have anything to do with feelings like these. Besides I am a big fan of David Arnold’s amazing score for the 2008 movie and I didn’t think anything could top it. I went to the theater to see the movie and absolutely loved the approach the director took. This wasn’t your usual monster movie where the big bad creature terrorizes the world and is finally defeated. No. This time Godzilla was here to help the people defeat another creature born of nuclear experiments. It came, it helped and it went back into the ocean once its job was done, with everyone grateful. Brilliant movie. The music did a good job as well but that was nothing new. My problem with Alexandre Desplat wasn’t how his music did in the context of the movies (it was always brilliant) but how it worked as a standalone listen.

The main theme has all the power and darkness this mysterious being needed. It also has a slight urgency and magnificence in the sound which makes me realize that Godzilla has been around for ages in film and film music and we needed a little something to remind us of how ancient this creature is. Desplat found that something and introduced it in this wonderful opening, along with the furious strings which evoke the grandeur of Godzilla and the immense danger this creature poses.

The movie kept the creature hidden for more than half the time. Godzilla finally appeared more than one hour into the movie. Until then it was all about the threat of Godzilla and what its possible existence and arrival did to the ones in its path. It was a brilliant way to do the movie and the composer took that hidden danger lurking somewhere below water and put in the music. The score for Godzilla is dark and aggressive. When it’s not aggressive the suspense is almost horror like, so there is no escape. Alexandre Desplat makes it clear in his composition that the creature will arrive and it will wreak havoc when it does.

“The power plant” is the first very complex cue of the score. It hides horror, tension, beautiful melody and those furious strings in its layered bowels. I remember the scenes vividly and recognize every feeling the composer included in there. “The Q zone” is just a minimalistic distant pounding doubled by a cunning string motif which hides in the shadows and makes its presence felt every now and then. This cue is the very definition of fear and worry making the heart beat at a different pace.

We need a break after these intense moments so we get “Back to Janjira” which opens with a sweet and quiet piano motif that flows like a couple of surprise tears down someone’s face, brought on by a sudden memory. It’s just an illusion because the Japanese woodwind instruments arrive furiously followed by the percussion. The instruments come in waves and you can’t stop them all. This cue is a well-organized attack by the composer who also experiments with a quirky motif at the end. “Back to Janjira” is all Japanese and is as precise and relentless as you would imagine the army of that country. This is another very complex cue for which you discover more layers the more you listen to it.

The movie ends with Godzilla quietly submerging once again back in the ocean. I noticed that many of the cues have a similar ending, no matter how aggressive they were. At the end just the music just quiets down and dissolves as if it went back underwater. But that is just the end… The cues are violent and sharp, stabbing at the listener with pointy instruments and sounds that just keep coming as if in swarms. “Muto hatch” is almost unbearable with its percussion and brass and I feel like the monster is chasing me with a speed I didn’t think it was capable of. Wow, what a rush this was! And once again, it ends quietly.

“In the jungle” feels a bit synthetic. Here I feel as if the illusion was gone and I saw the props. I don’t know what made me feel this way (maybe the opening percussion?) but I found the cue a bit artificial. “The wave” also loses some of the aggressiveness the previous tracks had. Good thing “Airport attack” comes because the sound is one again monstrous. There are a few more cues where I find something strange about the electronic percussion. Maybe it was a conscious choice by the composer to make it sound like that.

“Ford rescued” is the most melodic piece from “Godzilla”. It’s still aggressive but it feels warmer than the rest of the cues. “Following Godzilla” is neurotic and epic in the same time. This time we are not the ones being chased and it feels good for a change. Some of the more aggressive moments from this score make me think of Michael Giacchino’s usual brand of horror / menacing music. For me he patented those stabbing strings.

“Let them fight” is superb. I remember the scene from the movie when they decided to let the two creatures clash and the cue is just brilliant. It’s a very short but powerful statement which goes from suspenseful to stormy violent in a second. This is monstrous music at its best, again with the strings and the insane Japanese percussion.

The final touch of brilliance is the quiet yet so powerful “Godzilla’s victory”. This is precisely what I liked about the movie’s end… The wordless acceptance of the humans of what this creature had done for them and the quiet admiration as it went back into the water, hurt. The music expresses all this and every time I will want to remember that ending I can just play this cue.

Even if I didn’t expect it, “Godzilla” won me over. Alexadre Desplat wrote this score in a unique and precise sound that was just what the movie and legendary character needed. This score is very different from David Arnold’s effort which still is my favorite for the franchise, but equally rewarding. I enjoyed the grandeur and pure violence of Desplat’s composition. If Arnold’s composition is better as epic action music, this one does more justice to the character itself, just like the movie…

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 40 / 60

Album excellence: 66%

Highlights:

Godzilla!

Following Godzilla

Godzilla’s Victory

The Power Plant

To Q Zone

Back To Janjira

Muto Hatch

The Wave

Ford Rescued

Let Them Fight

Two Against One

Last Shot

Back to The Ocean

 

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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