By Charlie Brigden
In space no one can hear you scream. Famously used as the tagline for Ridley Scott's classic ALIEN, it's a saying that's based in actual scientific fact. Yes, it's true, there is no sound in space. This means no explosions, no spaceship rumbles, no nothing. But it does leave a lot of room for musical score, something composer Steven Price takes advantage of for GRAVITY.
For those not in the know, GRAVITY is a science fiction thriller about two astronauts - Sandra Bullock and George Clooney - whose space shuttle is destroyed by debris while on a space walk, forcing them to make their way through space alone while being chased by the murderous flotsam and jetsam. It's been getting rave reviews, with people like James Cameron saying it's the best space movie ever made. Clearly he never saw THE CREATURE WASN'T NICE.
As usual with these reviews, I haven't seen the film as it doesn't open until November 11th in the UK. Thusly, I have to try and piece together the storytelling of the score along with the track titles in order to ascertain what happens, or at least my interpretation. Some scores make this harder than others. GRAVITY doesn't make it particularly difficult (I think, I could be totally wrong), but it's not always an easy listen along the way. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as we have to remember the number one rule of a film score: it absolutely has to serve the film. All other objectives are secondary.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the album has to mirror the film score. It's common amongst film score soundtracks for composers to sequence the albums in a way that reflects the isolated listening experience they want to convey, mixing cues up chronologically and editing bits together. While creating the album for recent horror SINISTER, Christopher Young created new parts to make it a more satisfying listen away from the film. That said, it doesn't sound particularly like GRAVITY does this (again, I could easily be wrong). What it does do however is make you feel like you're listening to a horror film.
Price uses two distinct voices for the score, two opposing forces. The first represents the antagonist of the film, the destruction, the debris. This is created through a mad concoction of menacing electronics, loud pulsing, a cacophony of scratchy violins, a sound of machinery. Like an AT-AT's footsteps crossed with Aphex Twin and Penderecki. It's very loud, very oppressive, and can be very overbearing to listen to, which seems to be the point, especially in contrast with the second.
Following this is what seems to represent the human element. Here we have the kind of sounds you would imagine; warm strings, tender piano melodies, ambient sounds, a delicate theme repeated along with wordless solo vocals. At times, it washes over you like Vangelis in that breathtaking way that makes you feel like you are truly floating alone, with only the majesty of the stars for companionship. Also Sandra Bullock.
That said, there are a couple of moments where it sounded like I was listening to Vangelis' BLADE RUNNER, to the point where it must have been used as a temp track. Some of the little electronic ambient noises feel like a homage to Vangelis' score, with some others having a little bit of a feel of the music from another Ridley Scott film, PROMETHEUS (which is a much better listen away from the film than in).
But one thing I can say about GRAVITY is that it's a grower. Whenever I review soundtrack albums, I try my best to listen to them a couple of times, as I've experience numerous times previous where one listen is not always enough to properly appreciate a score (although there are also many times when it immediately seems like the best thing since Erich Wolfgang Korngold). I've listened to GRAVITY about four times now, and it gets better every time.
But what I really find impressive about the score is that it has a sense of scale, an idea about the enormity of the film's concept. And as a listening experience, it's very pleasant because there's a balance between the two voices, with the first half very much based on the chaos while the second is almost meditative, although ambient is maybe being too passive a word for some of it. But it's a fine, fine album - and experience.
GRAVITY is out now from WaterTower Records in the US and Silva Screen in the UK.