Exodus: Gods and Kings seems like a strangely dated product to come out in 2014. Not only does it arrive at least a decade too late but its studio does a really lousy job at promoting it. On top of that, casting Christian Bale in the role Moses seems like a bizarre choice. In any case, critics are not exactly kind to this new opus from director Ridley Scott. A sole surprising aspect of this films’ production is the decision to recruit Alberto Iglesias to provide a musical accompaniment. As soon as his involvement was confirmed, many people started to joke how they were looking forward to the replacement work by another composer. Strangely enough, nothing like this happened. Not quite, anyway.
The approach filmmakers took with the score is both interesting and frustrating. On one hand, there’s a lot of thoughtful and precise writing that recalls the works of Danna brothers and Dario Marianelli and this helps to establish a more mature tone for this Biblical epic. On the other hand, all the instrumental usual suspects turn up as well: duduks, electric cellos, big drums, big chanting choirs. It’s almost too easy to dismiss Exodus: Gods and Kings as a derivative, uninspired and outdated score straight off the bat. And, indeed, the very opening is not exactly most promising (‘Opening + War Room’). However, about halfway through this piece vintage Golden Age-like orchestral writing takes over. And, indeed, this one track encapsulates what a potential listeners would be subscribing themselves to.
Following yet another delightful passage for brass, the primary theme is introduced in the second track, titled ‘Leaving Memphis’. It’s a relatively simple Semitic tune is used quite a few times throughout the duration of this album and it’s malleable nature allows Iglesias to weave it into different types of musical settings – from mythically biblical to action-oriented.
Where Exodus: Gods and Kings impresses the most is the emotional orchestral writing. ‘Goodbyes’ is a lovely cello-led theme. The choral accompaniment helps to push it into a more biblically epic territory and this piece ends on yet another rendition of main theme. There is a decidedly more human quality to the pieces like ‘Alone in the Desert’ where the stress is put not on the ethnic gimmicks but more traditional orchestral instrumentation. The almost Wagnerian ‘I Need a General’ brings a lot of class to this stylistic melting pot of a score. Wonderful sensitive woodwind passages, quite rare for this genre in its modern incarnation, take centre stage in ‘Ramses’ Insomnia’ and ‘Ramses’ Own Plague’.
Harry Gregson-Williams was brought on the project to provide the film with a more typical and expected action elements. Three of his cues are represented on the soundtrack album. Both ‘Hittite Battle’ and ‘Tsunami’ moves us way back in time and recall his Kingdom of Heaven. This material is significantly more masculine as compared to Iglesias’ more restrained writing but, at the same time, there is an attempt made to at least bridge the two by incorporating main theme within the fabric of this action music. The disparity between Jusid’s material and Iglesias’ is somewhat less pronounced. The young Spanish composer honours both fellow musicians in their respective stylistic choices - Alberto’s emotion (‘The Coronation’) and Harry’s contemporary propulsion (‘Rameses Retaliates’, ‘Ramses’ Orders’ and ‘The Chariots’). It is also in Federico’s cues that we can hear a memorable secondary theme – it appears in such tracks as ‘Lamb’s Blood’, ‘Moses’ Camp’ and ‘Into the Water’ (although, it does also appear in Iglesias' own 'Exodus').
After its extended action-packed Red Sea sequence, the score reaches its emotional climax with both ‘Sword Into Water’ and ‘The Ten Commandments’. The latter is an especially strong piece that reaches once more for truly biblical epic feel. The one last grand statement of its principal theme for full orchestra and chorus helps to leave a strong final impression, especially after the eclectic stylistic mix that preceded it.
The gargantuan 78-minute long soundtrack album offers about 48-minutes composed by Iglesias only and another half an hour of material from Jusid and Gregson-Williams. While it certainly represents their work well, the resulting listening experience won’t be the smoothest. The parts done by primary composer certainly offer the best material and they’re certainly worth checking out. The complete product, however, is uneven and often frustrating. But then, one shouldn’t feel discouraged from investigating Exodus: Gods and Kings. Clichéd and overlong it may be but not without merit.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is out now from Sony Classical