Soundtrack review: Mars (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – 2016)


“Mars” is National Geographic‘s six-part global event series that predicts an international crew of astronauts’ critical, maiden mission to Mars. It is executive produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Michael Rosenberg of Imagine Entertainment and directed by Everardo Gout. Mars is a very lovely and empty planet so I think it’s right that the composers chosen to write the score are my favorites Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who have taken writing music for deserted western wastelands to a form of art. Any new composition by them goes straight to the top of my priority list.

So earlier this month my other favorite pair of film music composers that includes a musician who has marked my life for the past 20 years with his voice as well, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross participated in a documentary score where i had the surprise of hearing Trent’s voice again; and now the “Mars theme” opens with Nick Cave’s dark and fascinating voice lamenting and it’s a beautiful thing; it’s a nod to how I got to know Nick Cave, one of the most haunting and poignant voices in the world. He comes back to close the score and make me rush to listen to the latest Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds album.

The special thing about the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis composition for me is that the more things stay the same the more I want to hear. Their style rarely changes; it’s minimalistic, string based and lonely and a cue like “Daedalus” is representative for how they view film music. Still with every new score I hear from them I get more addicted and I travel deeper into the meaningful wasteland they’ve created. Every time I listen to a new score by them I feel the need to listen and write about their past scores which I haven’t heard.

And yet “Mars”  is different. Space is a mystery…Mars and looking at Earth from there is dreamier than a western landscape and the composers add a little light and joy in cues like “Earth” or “Mars”; it’s as if the lack of earthly confinement has made them want to loosen the grip on the music and make it move a bit faster and freer.

The outer space also ironically diminishes the musical distances  between Nick Cave and Trent Reznor as this score is closer to the experimental sound of the other pair; a cue like “Voyage” with he mix of drone sounds and warm piano peaks into the other room and I love it. Even if it might sound strange when you will listen to the score this is the most joyful and optimistic composition from Cave and Ellis yes. They have added new elements to their soundscape and they’ve made their music more complex. Strings are joined by piano and electronics; the score is more industrial than I’m used from them.

Then I get cues like “Space station” and “Planetarium” which have the tender and melancholic beauty of “The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford”; the instrumentation and sound send me back to my the Cave / Ellis score I love the most with it’s quiet chimes. I love reflective music like this.

And then there is the 10 minutes long “Symphony of the dead”. This track is one of the most ambient they have ever written and   I get wonderfully lost in this space exploration. I can close my eyes and see elements drifting around me, asteroids exploding every now and then somewhere far away and images so beautiful that they seem unreal.

More varied, warmer and more hopeful than their usual compositions, “Mars” shows Nick Cave and Warren Ellis embark on a new musical journey and expand their musical universe with a star filled sky. Give this one a listen.

Cue rating: 97 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 48 / 53
Album excellence: 90%
Mars Theme
Space Station
Symphony of the Dead
Towards Daedalus
Life on Mars

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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