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Soundtrack review: The dark tower (Tom Holkenborg – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The dark tower (Tom Holkenborg – 2017)


“The Dark Tower” is a 2017 American science fantasy western film directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel. A continuation of Stephen King’s novel series of the same name, the film stars Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, a gunslinger on a quest to protect the Dark Tower – a mythical structure which supports all realities – and Matthew McConaughey as his nemesis, Walter o’Dim, the Man in Black.

Intended to launch a film and television franchise, the first instalment combines elements from several novels in the eight-volume series, and takes place in both modern-day New York City and in Mid-World, Roland’s Old West-style parallel universe. The film also serves as a canonical sequel to the novel series, which concludes with the revelation that Roland’s quest is a cyclical time loop; the presence of the Horn of Eld, which Roland carries in the film, indicates that this is the next cycle. I have read a lot of Stephen King but not The Dark Tower yet so for me the movie will be as an introduction to the franchise.

The music was written by Tom Holkenborg a.k.a Junkie XL and for me this is a reason to get excited; Tom has gotten a lot of heat from film music critics who almost always dismiss his music but for me he is one of the best composers working today. His range is getting wider and with scores like “Brimstone” or “Black mass” he stepped away from his more synth or electronic oriented compositions. Still nothing beats “Mad Max; Fury Road” which remains one of the best scores from the past five years.

The main theme that opens the score is surprisingly tender and melodic; the few louder, more heroic moments are just how every fairy tale or story score should start. After listening to the first cue I feel as if I’m entering a different world. Just like it happened with the orchestral composition for “Brimstone”, Tom manages to pleasantly surprise me right away with the beginning of “The dark tower”: the music is dark but quiet, minimalistic and scary at times. The entire score seems to build up from nothing and even if I am used to loud and frantic Tom he can do quiet and frightening just as well. The music is more atmospheric than anything else in the opening part and this is my favourite kind of music.

“Getting a toothbrush” is the first classic Junkie XL cue, neurotic, aggressive and bursting with percussion. The composer seems to have drawn the division between the action cues and the reflective ones very clearly as right away comes another quiet piece, “Dutch hill”. I am mesmerised by these ambient melodies and excited about the action ones that get Michael Giacchino level orchestral like in “Guardian”. “The dark tower” is a tale of parallel universes? Tom Holkenborg serves us a perfect duality in his music as if to make that clear even to a listener to hasn’t watched the movie yet. The key word here is “dark” and this is what connects the two musical worlds.

As this score goes on it plays more like a fantasy movie score and I love it; it has the heroism, the pitfalls and the quiet tense moments that precede moments like those. Thinking back at his career I think it’s the first time Tom Holkenborg morphs his music into a dark fantasy score and the result is very entertaining. The horror elements throughout “The dark tower” are not exaggerated as the entire composition falls on the subtle side. The charming fairy tale cues only complete the fantasy element and make this score an exciting story to listen to. I can almost see Idris Elba with his quietly determined behaviour and his unique voice when I hear cues like “Sea across worlds” and “There’s always another battle”. I just love how the composer subdues his music in cues like these as if it was a furious horse in need of a break. And then he lets the harnesses go in the very next cue “A chicken, a goat and one bullet” which channels the adrenaline filled Mad Max vibe once again.

When at the end of a score it’s hard for me to choose what I enjoyed more, the quiet, emotional moments that made me care, the action pieces that made me turn up the volume and jump from my seat or the heroic moments that inspired me, I am very happy and ready to listen to it again. Tom Holkenborg keeps growing as a composer and this is his first full fledged fantasy score. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and I can’t wait to hear it context and like it even more.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 42 / 67

Album excellence: 62%

The Dark Tower
The Face of My Father
Getting a Toothbrush
Dutch Hill
Arrival in Mid-World
Something Got Out
Manny Village
See Across Worlds
There’s Always Another Battle
A Chicken, a Goat and One Bullet
The Creed
Tall, Dark and Handsome
Full Package as Advertised
It Will Fall
Collateral Damage
Hot Dogs
Roland of Eld (Main Titles)




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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