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Soundtrack review: Troy (expanded) (James Horner – 2004)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Troy (expanded) (James Horner – 2004)

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Troy was an ambitious attempt by writer David Benioff (co creator of “Game of thrones”) and director Wolfgang Petersen to recount the story of the Trojan War stripped of its mythological accretions. Inspired by Homer’s Iliad and, in part, Virgil’s Aeneid, the film features an all-star cast and realistic digital special effects on a scale that would not have been possible even a few years earlier. As the story begins, the ruthless Agamemnon (Brian Cox) has united the fractious kingdoms of Greece, and now sets his sights on the impregnable fortress-city of Troy, ruled by aged Priam (Peter O’Toole). Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) has made peace with Trojan prince Hector (Eric Bana), but the pact shatters when Helen (Diane Kruger), wife of Menelaus, flees to Troy with her lover Paris (Orlando Bloom), Priam’s younger son. Agamemnon seizes the opportunity to besiege Troy, marshaling allies such as wily Odysseus (Sean Bean), mighty Ajax (Tyler Mane) and— most crucially—the legendary Achilles (Brad Pitt).

“Troy” came at a time when my favourite movie genre were historical epics and I just embraced it. Even if, both musically and as a film it didn’t quite reach the emotional heights of “Braveheart”, “Legends of the fall” or “The last samurai” it still meant a lot to me. Gabriel Yared had been commissioned to write the music but I guess he wrote something too quiet, too lyrical and the producers asked James Horner to step in and work his magic. Horner didn’t have a lot of time but still recorded one of his longest scores, almost two hours, with his classical long suites. Intrada finally releases the full album and I’ve rewatched the movie as well in preparation to remember the music in context, to get reacquainted with the Oriental vocalisations and with the way the composer inserted his usual recurring motifs.

What separates “Troy” from other James Horner epics is that maybe because of the short time he had to write it and the quantity of music the composer thinned out the emotional content a bit; “Troy” is at times quieter and maybe colder than the usual fire that burns in James Horner scores, sounding close to ambient at times. Right from the start cues like “Brothers at war” and “Call for Achilles” focus on the mystical rather than the epic; I do recognise the Horner choir, his danger motif and I welcome the horn heroism in “Never hesitate” as the true beginning of the score. When Horner gets into this mode he is unstoppable as there’s no better composer to write triumph and sacrifice as him. The ethnic sound of the period is also quite obvious with the female vocalisations and wailing, elements that have stayed with me since the first time I saw the movie.

The “Troy” score is at times more about the tension and preparation than about the epic moments. The overall atmosphere music is darker, that of a constant menace without a release. When the release comes though, when the inspirational heroic motifs that only Horner can write with the horns that nobody controls as well as him come, I get goosebumps and am once again grateful for any unreleased piece of music we can get from him, since nothing new will ever come. The 11 minutes long “The myrmidons” is the first epic suite of the score and it’s powerful and rich and brings in mind one of my favourite scenes, the one on the boat when Brad Pitt’s “Achilles” turns to his men and shouts “Immortality is yours! Take it!”.

Everybody knows that James Horner liked to reuse his motifs and themes from one score to the next; I had no problem with that since the music is so beautiful that I can’t get enough of it over and over again. “Troy” is special because the main heroic theme, the inspirational horn based centre of the score is unlike any other theme Horner has written; I can say it’s one of my favourites and I can instantly recognise it as being from “Troy” and as often in his case the vocal theme is also very attached to the identity of the score. Yet as much as I love this score my major complaint would be the lack of truly emotional moments like the one that bring tears to my eyes in “Braveheart” or “Legends of the fall”; there were emotional scenes like Hector’s farewell, Priam’s begging and yet I don’t hear that in the music as James Horner keeps the tone quiet an almost elegiac instead of going full epic.

As always the end suite, with its bold title “The Sacking Of Troy And End Credits (Through the Fires, Achilles … and Immortality)”, almost as good as “Alfred, Tristan, the Colonel, the legend” is worth alone the price of the album; this is where there are no limits to the emotional impact and to the orchestral might of James Horner. For his fans this release is a must be.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 73 / 106

Album excellence: 72%

Highlights:
Call For Achilles*
Brothers At War*
Never Hesitate*
Dawn Alarm**
The Myrmidons**
Briseis Taken*
River Styx And Gates Of Troy*
A Trojan Victory**
Achilles Saves Briseis*
Mistaken Identity (The Trojans Attack)
Hector Suits Up*
Priam Pleads*
Priam Takes Briseis*
Hector’s Funeral
The Wooden Horse**
The Sacking Of Troy And End Credits (Through the Fires, Achilles … and Immortality)

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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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