Oblivion’s score, while effective, is a familiar work that rarely transcends in the way it should.
Composed by Anthony Gonzales and Joseph Trapanese
April 9, 2013
In the winter of 2010, Joseph Kosinski brought us the sleek and stylized Tron: Legacy, which stumbled in the storytelling department, but undoubtedly excelled from a musical perspective thanks, in large part, to Daft Punk’s highly publicized involvement. Kosinski has taken a similar approach with Oblivion, bringing Anthony Gonzales, head of the electronic band M83, and Joseph Trapanese, who arranged music for Tron: Legacy and M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, aboard to provide music for the film. This proved an exciting prospect, as M83’s vast walls of synthetic sound have always been inherently cinematic.
While this match was finally made, it sadly wasn’t nearly as heavenly as it should have been. Oblivion’s score operates in the way one would expect a sci-fi actioner’s score to operate. It’s more than competent, and at times it’s downright gorgeous, but unfortunately much of it sounds entirely too familiar to scores that have come before it and rarely manages to transcend in the way these composers’ work has in the past.
The score opens promisingly with “Jack’s Dream”, a contemplative track that begins with ambient strings and horns that eventually give way to a lone, melancholy two-note theme on piano, variations of which are heard thematically throughout the score. It’s a simple piece that reflects the isolated nature of the film’s protagonist and places the listener in the correct headspace for the rest of the score’s gauzy tone. The following track “Waking Up” features steadfast percussion and string work that rhythmically builds to the prolific, sonic blast made iconic in Hans Zimmer’s Inception. It’s an undoubtedly rousing track, but the musical familiarities are undeniable. This is an issue with much of the score, which is sufficient, but doesn’t surprise you enough to ever be completely satisfactory, especially considering the talent involved.
There are moments, however, when M83’s presence is felt. “Tech 49”, after venturing through unsettling territory with warped horns and sinister percussion, bursts forth with a spirited restatement of the two-note main theme accompanied by an echoing drum kit. This prominent use of drums can also be heard amongst uplifting, synthetic ostinatos in “Earth 2077” as well as the frenetic action set piece “Canyon Battle”. These instances of musical texture refreshingly signify the band’s involvement and aid in giving at least select tracks their own identity.
Despite reservations about the score’s originality, there are certain cues that are far too beautiful to ignore. These pieces boast varied, yet equally strong, restatements of the score’s simple, effective main theme. “Raven Rock” does so with elegiac grace, showcasing resonant French horns and warm strings while “Fearful Odds” goes for a much more forceful and invigorating interpretation, reincorporating M83’s signature drums, providing a more modern sound amidst traditional composing. Comparisons to Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line are as inevitable as they are astute, but there’s enough magic in these tracks to transport the listener regardless.
The score’s shining moment, however, is heard early on in “StarWaves”, a piece constructed around a hazy electronic melody that begins with an assured tranquility before slowly building on itself. After the piece takes time to breathe, drums kick in and the melody soars, evolving into an immersive wall of sound that, as it fades away, leaves synthetic tonal waves in its wake. It’s one of the score’s truly transcendent moments, but mostly stands alone amidst writing that tends to veer towards the generic. However, M83 fans can rejoice in the titular song that closes the soundtrack, passionately performed by Norwegian artist Susanne Sundfør, containing all the epic exuberance the band’s popular for.
Oblivion isn’t a complete misfire, but after listening to the score in its entirety, and hearing the promise that was definitely there, it’s difficult to tune out the nagging sensation that these composers could have done so much more. It isn’t clear whether there was hesitation to divert too far from any traditional path, this being M83’s first foray into film, but even Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy, which at times bore familial ties to much of Zimmer’s past work, still maintained an identity that was clearly reflective of the French outfit’s sound. I hold out hope that there’s still an M83 score out there, yet to be written, which fully taps into the band’s unabashed sensibilities, and as a fan I’ll be here, waiting…