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Soundtrack review: The man who killed Don Quixote (Roque Banos – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The man who killed Don Quixote (Roque Banos – 2018)


“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is a 2018 adventure-comedy film directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, loosely based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It is widely recognized as one of the most infamous examples of development hell in film history, with Gilliam unsuccessfully attempting to make the film many times over the span of twenty-nine years. Gilliam started working on the film in 1989, but was unable to secure funding until 1998 when it entered full pre-production with a budget of $32.1 million without American financing, with Jean Rochefort as Quixote, Johnny Depp as Toby Grisoni, a 21st-century marketing executive thrown back through time, and Vanessa Paradis as the female lead. Shooting began in 2000 in Navarre, but a significant number of difficulties led to a sudden suspension of the production and its subsequent cancellation.

Gilliam made repeated attempts to relaunch production between 2005 and 2016, which included Robert Duvall, Michael Palin, and John Hurt as Quixote, and Depp, Ewan McGregor, Jack O’Connell, and Adam Driver as Grisoni. However, all ended up being cancelled for various reasons, such as failing to secure funds, Depp’s busy schedule and eventual loss of interest in the project, and Hurt being diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually result in his death. After yet another failed attempt, it was unexpectedly reported in March 2017 that filming had finally started, with Driver still attached as Grisoni, Jonathan Pryce as Quixote, and Olga Kurylenko as the female lead. On 4 June Gilliam announced that the shooting of the film was complete, 17 years after it originally started. I’ve know about this movie since he started talking about it, being a Monty Python fan and all, and especially after I saw his “12 monkeys”. I am happy that Gilliam finally managed to finish this project and the movie saw the light of day.

“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” tells the story of a deluded old man who is convinced he is Don Quixote, and who mistakes Toby, an advertising executive, for his trusty squire, Sancho Panza. The pair embark on a bizarre journey, jumping back and forth in time between the 21st and magical 17th century. Gradually, like the infamous knight himself, Toby becomes consumed by the illusory world and unable to distinguish his dreams from reality. The music was written by Roque Banos and he is one of those composers I always get excited about no matter the genre of the movie as he is just as excellent in horror, thriller or epic adventure. This particular project falls into religious maybe, with the devotion and insane faith the main character has, and it starts with a monk like chant in “I am Don Quixote” but fear not, Roque masters this particular genre as well as he proved with “Risen”. The music quickly gains some Spanish guitar traction and it’s a combination of flamenco and western that delights me right from the start. The first section of the score sees the composer cleverly make his music match the duality of the story, real vs imaginary as sweeping orchestral motifs are intertwined with quieter, more tense passages. I enjoy the solo acoustic guitar in “Return to Los Suenos”.

What’s great about this score, and about any Roque Banos score really, is how the composer shapes his music to match the story; he’s one of those composers where almost no two scores are alike which shows that he treats each story, each project with the same care and goes all in without bringing mannerisms into it. Each movie is a new clean slate and this one can even count as experimental as that haunting Spanish guitar blends with sound effects and dark non orchestral motifs to give this score a unique atmosphere. The music is fascinating both when it’s tense and when it gets a stride. The score is an adventure in itself and makes me feel as if I am part of the two heroes’ weird and hallucinatory journey. The traditional element in the music also brings mystery and I never know what to expect from one cue to the next.

As “The man who killed Don Quixote” progresses the music makes me feel as if I am watching an opera, or an experimental theatre play. The essence of great film music is the ability to capture in notes the experiences and emotions of the characters and I get that in Roque Banos’ composition, the uncertainty, the insanity that builds, the illusions, the hopes because he manages to write all these tiny musical puzzle pieces and put them together and I get the frantic mind, the chaotic pace, the dissolving reality, the time jumps, everything. There are moments of apparent coherence as well, like “Spanish gold”, which I imagine is one of the scenes where Quixote is happy and is where he wants to be. This is where a chivalrous horn motif appears.

“The man who killed Don Quixote” is quite a journey, a wonderfully weird and meaningful composition. A story like this and a movie like this, born of so much suffering, could only have a score like this one and Roque Banos must have made Terry Gilliam a happy man by putting this half sweet, half bitter cherry on top of his labour of love. Fantasy, delusion and even insanity rarely sounded better.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Return to Los Sueños
Quixote Vive!
Who Wrote This Ending!
The Ride to the Moon
A Slap Dance and Kiss
He Will Never Die – nor Will Giants
A new beginning

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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