The Great Wall

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Ramin Djawadi (2017)

 

Why You Should…
If the thought of worn percussive stomping masking a decent thematic score by Ramin Djawadi is enough for an hour’s worth listening experience. 

Why You Shouldn’t…
If the latter statement makes you recoil away just as effectively. 

Release Date: 6th January 2017 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Ramin Djawadi
Length: 62:07
Recorded By/At:
Label: Milan Records

Additional Information:
Additional Music By: Brandon Campbell
Supervising Orchestrator: Stephen Coleman

Zhang Yamou’s epic historical fiction action-adventure monster film, THE GREAT WALL greatly benefits from a surplus of international input from select allies in Hollywood, including producer Charles Roven, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and even Edward Zwick as storyteller. The casting of Matt Damon was an intriguing choice, if only to address the numerous whitewashing complaints as to be expected, though far more overlooked was the complete aversion of Willem Dafoe as a cast member from this issue. A European mercenary group on the search for black powder/gunpowder are relentlessly pursued by Khitan bandits in the Song Dynasty. Seeking refuge in a cave doesn’t seem to be ideal, however, when a mysterious monster ambushes them from within, and they soon discover this monster orchestrates a routine invasion every 60 years. Mixed reception hasn’t prevented curiosity from international audiences regarding the film, however, the film reportedly being the most expensive of the sort to be purely filmed in China. Ramin Djawadi seems to have procured a solid reputation for himself at this point in his ever-expanding career, now crossing to foreign waters with this ethnic fusion score.

The main theme is presented in “Nameless Order”, opening with warm ethnic chanting and specialty flutes as a repeating cell block motif, to harmonically satisfying results, another demonstration of the Remote Control action style proving successful. Tempo accelerates to bizarrely co-ordinated cello lines with mild counterpoint. “Prologue” uses the Warcraft-inspired hollow percussive palette with interesting textural effects, and rollicking cello swashes. A motif of sorts presents itself on standard low brass fanfare with enough regal pomp. “What A Wall” uses very simplistic structure to enunciate string lines of tension with enough ethnical implements to entertain, with pipas fading as shakuhachi flutes howl, using the fanfare from the previous cue as a pseudo-motif for the wall itself, perhaps more inclined for the Chinese soldiers. The former is confirmed in the next cue, “The Great Wall”, as the brass motif is handed to strings with rambunctious percussion and the cue cycles through both the Great Wall idea and the main theme, unearthing a myriad of minor-major progressions that may serve as guilty pleasure for some listeners. Rapidly fluttering tremolo violins and cellos provide a stirring contrast when the main theme returns on the rousing ethnic vocals. Taiko drums permeate the rhythmic body of “First Battle”, with a glorious statement for the Wall on horns and rippling complementary trumpets, and more vocal inclusions for the main theme. Whilst the identity itself is fine, the awkward placing of the staccato cello lines serves as a minor detraction. Shades of Goldsmith are resurrected in the middle portions of the cue, with ambiguous minor key exploration of wayward brass, offering some complexity in the form of shifts in meter and instrumental exploration. The flutes return in “Captive Heroes”, offering mild respite and tranquility, and the Wall theme is deconstructed in “A Clean Start”, truncated to few notes, before a wash of the main theme arrives. Some stirring work on the guitar is of note, with taut cello staccato adding more rippling Sherlock Holmes-esque tension.

Cues such as “We Are Not The Same” essentially toy with the instrumental range, filtering the themes through the array collected for the ensemble. An oddly amusing Enya-vibe is given in “Xiao Long, General”, despite some momentary beauty. The score comes back to life in “Foggy Loyalty” with dissonance, and more brass growling and Taiko drum stomping, though by this point in the score, the repetitive drum rhythms become tiresome. “Fog and Fire” begins with a sonic palette of the Wall motif and clicking effects as the ensemble prepares for performance, before pausing to take a breath of introspection in “The Greed of Man”, conveying appropriate solemnity. Djawadi gains acknowledgement for control over his motifs, appropriately delineating them and reforming them in moments of solitude and action. This percussive monotony truly has lost its novelty by the time you reach “Fools and Thieves” in the score’s narrative, the density all too thick and the clarity rather flat. Some soul is given courtesy of the vocals in “The Great Experiment”, Djawadi progressing the chords melodically rooted in minor key to highlight the risk the army take against these monsters. A misleading title confuses listeners in “Bianling Boogie”, any semblance of infectious rhythmic nor melodic movement absent from the equation. The main theme vocally strikes again, just about managing to shine over its muted ensemble. Some energy in the percussion is flashed in “Tower Tactics”, the more dynamically pronounced orchestral presence refreshing, and the switch to more heroic bravado is greatly welcomed. “Powder Rangers” pokes fun in title at the children’s superhero franchise of the same name, offering more expressive performances of the theme on vocals and high strings, before a gratifying crescendo reprise on strings and flutes. The ending “Xin Ren” offers lonesome performances of flutes and cellos in homophonic texture, backed by eerie ambiance, before a final statement of the Wall theme on melodramatic strings for the homeward procession. Much like Warcraft last year, Djawadi remains in his comfort zone for the most part, only veering out minimally to extend some stylistic connotations. It’s a serviceable score with a handful of ethnic highlights, but the overall monotone percussive palettes shamefully bring this score down, unfortunate given the melodic loyalty shown here.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:
(all music written by Ramin Djawadi)

1) Nameless Order (4:27)
2) Prologue (1:49)
3) What A Wall (3:46)
4) The Great Wall (4:30)
5) First Battle (7:39)
6) Captive Heroes (1:38)
7) A Clean Start (2:27)
8) We Are Not the Same (3:17)
9) Funeral Song (3:01)
10) Foggy Loyalty (3:02)
11) Fog And Fire (3:01)
12) The Greed Of Man (1:57)
13) Fools And Thieves (3:16)
14) The Great Experiment (2:54)
15) Bianling Boogie (3:43)
16) Tower Tactics (4:20)
17) Powder Rangers (3:27)
18) Xin Ren (3:55)

Awards:

Nominations:

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