Musings About Music In Film

The Imitation Game


By Karol Krok The_Imitation_Game_starring_Benedict_Cumberbatch_gets_a_UK_release_date

The latest film revolving around the War World II Enigma code-breaking causes significantly fewer controversies than 2001 film directed by Michael Apted. The Imitation Games focuses mostly on Alan Turing, the man who broke the sophisticated code and created a very first computer in the process. His turbulent personal life is also in focus, an aspect which created a great opportunity for Benedict Cumberbatch’s widely praised central performance (among other fine actors’). A strong response from critics almost certainly guarantees some level of spotlight during the upcoming award season.

Alexandre Desplat is clearly a workaholic. He composed his nth score in the past dozen months for this film and this isn't even the busiest year in his career. The genre range of this French musician expanded considerably since he first was brought to our attention a decade ago. After scoring a throwback war film (The Monuments Men), another Wes Anderson production (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and the monstrous blockbuster (Godzilla), it’s time for him to venture into a more muted and less showy territory of historical drama and biography, a genre he knows quite well – both his fabulous scores to The Queen and The King’s Speech serve as excellent examples.

What’s interesting about his latest work is that it’s not exactly theme-based. There is a simple idea introduced in the opening track (‘The Imitation Game’) which is built pretty much on simple chords only. It can be heard in several tracks throughout the album (‘Running’). Only in ‘Mission’ does this “theme” develop its shape into something more melodically satisfying. It is not what helps to facilitate the musical identity of The Imitation Game, however. That honour would go to looped minimalistic figures that seem to represent the mechanical and controlled nature of Alan Turing’s work. The same elements, coupled with longing string accompaniment, could as well illustrate main character’s sense of entrapment and isolation in his private life. There’s a certain Philip Glass feel to some of those moments, especially when Desplat repeats his basic motifs ad infinitum in some later cues (‘Becoming a Spy’ and ‘End of War’).

The film, being partially of spy genre, offers Desplat some opportunities to create interesting suspense music. He usually doesn't rely on simple droning of contemporary thriller tropes and, instead, turns the attention to his trademark perpetual movement techniques in woodwinds. This section is sometimes used in its lower registers to a haunting effect (‘Alan’), often coupled with both piano and synthesised keyboard. There’s a playful quality to glockenspiel application in ‘Crossword’ that brings back fond memories of composer’s excellent The Ghost Writer. The tense plucked strings in ‘Enigma’ vaguely recall David Shire’s Zodiac.

The percussion is also an important, if sparingly used, element that Desplat applies carefully throughout The Imitation Game score. The ticking effects add a lot of tension to ‘U-Boots’ while the low rambling piano brings a sense of old-fashioned coolness. With both ‘Decrypting’ and ‘The Machine Christopher’ we enter a proper thriller genre territory - composer employs synthetic rhythmic pulse that wouldn't be out of place in such scores as The Hunt for Red October or other films of that era. Those effects, coupled with motoric strings and circling piano figures, create a truly dizzying feel in the latter cue.

The emotional side of The Imitation Game is explored with weighty strings of “Carrots and Peas’, but, for the most part, the score doesn't overscore character-based moments with larger ensemble. ‘The Headmaster’, for example, is a dialogue piano and oboe for the most part. The vast majority of this quiet material is concentrated in the final portion of Sony Classical album (‘The Apple’, ‘Farewell to Christopher’ and ‘Because of You’). With ‘Alan Turing’s Legacy’ we’re coming back to the main theme material and that enjoyable reprise serves as an appropriate bookend for this score and disc.

The Imitation Game is not going to enthral the listeners in the same way Godzilla, The Monuments Men and The Grand Budapest Hotel did earlier this year, mostly due to its more muted nature and less pronounced thematic material. However, the exquisite level of composer’s craft is at full display here as well. And because of that intelligence present throughout his compositions, the album is worthy of investigation…. and decrypting.

The Imitation Game will be out on the 10th of November from Sony Classical