Soundtrack review: Transformers – The last knight (Steve Jablonsky – 2017)
Ten years ago, in 2007, Michael Bay brought to the screen for the first time the “Transformers” franchise in movie format. He brought it in his unmistakable balls to the walls no limits to the point of the ridiculous explosive style which I am not ashamed to admit I love. But the best choice he made about the franchise was to bring Steve Jablosky on board to write the scores. Steve was born to write these scores, it was written in the stars. In the first album he introduced themes as strong as the characters they were written for and just as historic and immortal. “Transformers – the score” was just hit after hit with themes for the autobot, deceptions, Optimus prime, the all spark and the now legendary “Arrival to Earth” and “No sacrifice no victory”. Almost each cue there was a proper theme, something to be remembered and hummed and for me, few compositions are as addictive and pleasurable. 10 years later those themes still ring or pop up in my head just as fresh and motivational as the first time I heard them. I know each of you have songs or cues that are sort of permanently in your head and you hear them without even thinking and for me, the “Transformers” themes are it.
Then came “Revenge of the fallen” and to this day it’s the score that brings me the purse joy; there’s no other word to describe how I feel when I hear my favourite cues from this second part. It’s joy and inspiration because few themes are as purely heroic as the “Transformers” themes. They make me rise out of bed, run faster, smile wider and believe that everything is going to be alright. I can be in the darkest of places and in the deeper of holes and if I play one theme from this score the light is back on. The third part, “Dark of the moon”, was not as rich in themes while the fourth one “Age of extinction” brought a change in sound and an almost perfect score with its powerful cues so electric and pulsating that sparks were coming out of my headphones when I listened to them.
“Transformers – The last knight” is the fifth film of the series. Autobots and Decepticons are at war, with humans on the sidelines. Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. As usual the plot is almost meaningless, in fact I couldn’t tell you the plot of any of the films as I only go to the cinema to see the two and a half hours of explosions and spectacle and to hear the score in context and I’m still having as much fun as I did 10 years ago. Steve Jablonsky this time wanted to match Michael Bay and wrote a 129 minutes long score. It’s the second score this long of the 107 block buster season after Brian Tyler’s “The mummy”. The music in context was just hair rising epic and I couldn’t wait to hear it separately.
The score starts with “Sacrifice”. Steve Jablosnky, you sneaky devil… here I am expecting to rise up to fight right next to you the minute I hear an epic heroic theme and instead I get the most emotional cue of the franchise so far; sure, we had “Infinite white” or “Matrix of leadership” back on “Revenge of the fallen with Lisbet Scott’s unmistakable voice but this cue goes to another level. There is an emotional buildup that is both heroic and heartbreaking in the same time and I can’t imagine a better composition to serve the title “Sacrifice”. The soft choir, the poignant percussion, this could have been the end titles suite and I would have been happy. Instead it’s only the beginning and there’s two more hours to go.
Now that I am tender because of that opening cue the next one is more effective as it’s dark and pulsating. “The coming of Cybertron” literally scares me with nothing but pulsating percussion and a choral buildup that ends in a thunder. The whole medieval arc in the beginning of the movie, which also includes “Merlin’s Staff”, is treated very carefully by Steve Jablonsky who separates the past from the present but going dark and emotional for a period that will irremediably weigh on the further development of the movie. The past is also remembered for the heroic and legendary moments that with time only grow in weight and the music of this prelude makes me feel all this with beautiful cello motifs.
The music of “Transformers” has matured extraordinarily in these 10 years and it’s refreshing to hear a beautiful cue like “Stay and fight” that blends soft emotion with the traditional pulsating “Transformers” sound. Love the buildup here and this cue has a “Man of steel” sound to it, the “General Zod” parts, mixed with the emotion the first flight. Absolutely one of the best cues from the franchise so far, so complex and meaningful.
I mention in this review nuggets, pieces of music that stand out for me and are different from the rest but this doesn’t mean that the epic and heroic sound that makes these scores so fantastic isn’t there; to put it simply, every cue that I don’t mention has it and “The last night” is a powerful and addictive action score that shows that 10 years on Steve Jablosnky can still blow this into the skies and beyond.
We get new themes for new characters and “Izzy” is a personal favourite with what I call the “Transformers” piano which fans will recognise from past movies blended with a soft, lovable and yet heroic motif. This is the kind of love theme that you find in other Michael Bay movies with other composers as well and it brings back nostalgia of “Armageddon” as well. “Quintessa” is another fascinating character theme with woodwind instruments that evoke how ancient and out of our world this character is. Her theme develops just as mysteriously as the character without getting loud but still showing power. “Vivian” gets a theme that’s piano and string based and as elegant as the character itself. Yes, there is elegance in a “Transformers” score and I’m sure nobody was expecting that, as I’m sure a scene coupled with a cue like “I had my moment” (no spoilers) is just as big a surprise and a reward for listeners of the score.
What makes “The last knight” special and different are these emotional themes. Steve Jablosky had two hours to fill and quite often he put the thunderous action music in the background and wrote pieces like “Purity of heart” that have that unmistakable “Zimmer buildup” that never fails and might be one of my favourite things in film music. This cue starts slow and touching with the cello and grows into something powerful, percussion driven before the wave breaks again into the cello motif. Masterful film scoring right here from a composer who is so much into his element and in the zone with this score that he can do no wrong no matter what he might try; the confidence that comes from four great previous scores gives him super powers so among the explosive action cues I was expecting I find treasures like these emotional pieces, a proper rock tune like “Megatron negotiation”, gorgeous Celtic inserts that get to me instantly in “Seglass Ni Today” and in one of the most stunning pieces of the score “Sir Edmund Burton”, an elegiac and inspiring motif that opens “The greatest mission of all” and reworks of older “Transformers” motifs like we get in “Your voice”, “Did you forget who I am” and “Calling all autobots” which almost gets me misty eyed; can I use the word awesome in a review? It might sound too fanboy but I recognise that I am. This score is awesome and has it all and nothing is to be missed in it.
As always with the “Transformers” scores and movies, the real goosebump fest is at the end; the finale always is the most epic and brings a speech in Optimus Prime’s booming voice and no matter what happened before, I am in. The final three cues, “We have to go”, “Calling all autobots” and “Sir Edmund Burton” bring the score full circle as they match the first three in emotional intensity. Like I said, no matter what happens in the movie up to that point, good or bad, if it’s a mess or not it’s all being tied in the final scene and the music is the wind that lands all the pieces into the same place and even if I might not be entirely sure of the plot of the movie I am inexplicably connected to it and ready to rise up and fight side by side with the characters when the end comes. The music is heroic, warm and emotional in the same time and each time a Transformers movie ends, those final moments make me want to come back for more.
“Transformers – The last knight” might be the best score Steve Jablonsky has written so far; for a movie that’s considered as shallow as this one is by the critics, the composer delivered a complex and well rounded score that goes to depths unimagined. It’s my favourite of his and a score for the ages, an album that covers the much expected action moments as well as the surprisingly many emotional ones that he brings forth much more clearly than Michael Bay does in the movie. Certainly the most emotional oriented of the “Transformers” scores, “The last knight”‘s length provided Steve Jablonsky with the canvas he needed to develop and explore all his ideas. Rarely have two hours been used so well by a composer; there are no filler moments and the score is a joy to listen to from start to finish; it’s an ode to heroism in all its shapes, obvious or hidden, and I can’t wait for the next one.
Cue rating: 98 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 115 / 129
Album excellence: 89%
The Coming of Cybertron
Stay and Fight
Purity of Heart
Today We Hunt
Running out of Tomorrows
You Have Been Chosen
Seglass Ni Tonday
Vivian Follows Merlin
The Greatest Mission of All
Prime Versus Bee
I Had My Moment
Did You Forget Who I Am
We Have to Go
Calling All Autobots
Sir Edmund Burton