I saw the new James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ yesterday and I have to say it’s an amazing film. I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers, but let’s just say that there are surprises in the film and it definitely strays away from the typical Bond movie formula.
Sam Mendes directed the 23rd outing of James Bond on the franchise’s 50th anniversary and brought in his usual collaborative composer Thomas Newman, meaning that for the first time since 1995’s GoldenEye, a Bond film score has been composed by someone other than David Arnold, who up until now seemed to have made the job his own.
Thomas Newman has written scores for films like The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty and Road to Perdition. I was really excited about the possibility of hearing a new composer’s take on a Bond score.
First of all I have to say, it’s nice to see a Bond Soundtrack release that’s more or less complete. Buying the CD or getting a download from iTunes will give you 30 tracks – the most so far on a released Bond soundtrack.
The soundtrack itself relies on many atmospheric textures, predominantly orchestral but with occasional use of electronic/synthesised sounds that brings the sound into the 21st century. The Bond theme itself, is used very sparingly, but this seems to go in hand with the style of this Bond film (There are a lot less action scenes than usual).
The opening track, ‘Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’ uses ethnic instruments impressively, tying it in nicely to the orchestral sound without it seeming like an afterthought. ‘Voluntary Retirement’ has a lovely horn introduction which if you were to change the music to a string section, wouldn’t be out of place on a Hans Zimmer score. ‘New Digs’ sees the return of some ethnic instrumental sounds heard in the opening track.
The next few tracks seem to have a John Barry feel to it, especially the flute introduction on ‘Brave New World’. One of my favourite tracks on this CD is ‘Close Shave’ which features some lovely pizzicato strings with interesting harmonic progressions occasionally topped with a xylophone part. This is probably the closest to ‘American Beauty’ you’ll get on this soundtrack.
‘Tennyson’ is another great track which combines fantastically with the onscreen action. This is one of the great moments of the film, moving from poignancy to genuine tension in the film.
The tracks ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Deep Water’ have some great atmospheric sounds and are certainly tracks you can appreciate more after you’ve seen the film. ‘Mother’ features the horn theme heard in ‘Voluntary Retirement’ which represents the saddest moment of the film. Poor Daniel Craig has certainly been through the emotions in his Bond outings so far…
I’ve basically just summed up the highlights of the film score so far without necessarily passing a critical eye (or ear) over it. This is one of those scores that you have to watch the film to fully appreciate. The main difference between Newman’s score and the last few scores by David Arnold is that Newman relies a lot less on motif ideas and melodic recycling, choosing to travel down the path of atmosphere and harmonic development. The result is a soundtrack that is exceptionally pleasing on the ear, but without the typical gung-ho approach. The understated style of this score reminds me of Eric Serra’s score to ‘GoldenEye’ and I guess once you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand why this is so.
I think it’s an excellent score and definitely up there with my more modern Bond score favourites ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.