Musings About Music In Film

In Context: Jupiter Ascending

By Charlie Brigden incontextjupiter

Jupiter Ascending. Wow. I mean, it's ridiculous. Totally ridiculous. A Chicago janitor inherits the title of queen of the universe, and is subsequently targed for assassination by space romans. Tasked with saving her is a half-man, half-wolf with anti- gravity rollerblades, and then there's Sean Bean.

It's fucking crazy but I dug the hell out of it. It's just a big mental science fiction hoedown taking threads from all sorts of areas from cloning to capitalism to bees, and mixing it up with space battles and giving reasons for all sorts of phenomenon such as alien abductions and why the dinosaurs died out.

Talking about the music in this one isn't as easy as you might think, mainly because a huge portion was written before the film was made. Instead of scoring exclusively to the movie, Michael Giacchino wrote around eighty minutes of the 103 minute album by himself, based on descriptions of characters and events given to him by Lana and Andy Wachowski. The album is actually broken up into two sections, with the first four tracks belonging to 'Movements' which give a broad taste of the score and the themes. For clarity's sake, I listened to the album a few times before seeing the film.

Both the film and score are sprawling works with a lot of details contained within, perhaps necessitating multiple experiences - this was certainly true of the score by itself. But with the film, you unlock a greater meaning for much of the music, even when it is not necessarily meant for the scene it's attached to. Thematically, there is a lot going on, but you can really distill it down to two opposing themes.

The theme for the House of Abraxas is quite dominant, an oppressive six-note piece that not only conveys the sinister dealings of the family but also their rich legacy in the ruling of the galaxy. It's used all the way through and is mostly huge, really big and bold and illustrating the grip they have on everything and giving a sense of desperation. It actually gives the players of the house a greater sense of villainy than they actually show on screen as they're quite restrained, happy more to trade in lies and wordplay than actual violence (they leave that to their flying dinosaur henchmen).

Opposing this is Jupiter's Theme, an appropriately beautiful and hopeful theme that reflects the heart of Jupiter herself. Often rendered in huge choral notes, it underscores the more emotional moments as well as parts of the galaxy as we expand our knowledge through her eyes, and is a wonderful scene setter for the great visuals the film gives us, such as the huge station-world of the Aegis. It's a long theme, and has a broad regal quality that allows it almost to drape over the film.

Amongst the strange concepts and machinations of the Abraxas family, there is a ton of action, most of it revolving around hero Caine rescuing Jupiter from various situations, and Giacchino's score really holds it together. It's almost the opposite of the bullet time sequences from The Matrix, it moves so fast that it's hard to take it all in, so the music at least helps grip hold of the emotional side of things to assist with the visceral.

The final act is where it really takes hold, as both Jupiter and Caine have their own fights, Jupiter against the final Abraxas and Caine against a huge lizard with wings. Giacchino's scoring is frenetic here, with woodwinds and brass going hell for leather as we swoop around a giant industrial space cathedral that's exploding building by building. But while there is the action material, there's also some dramatic reprisals of both Jupiter and the Abraxas theme that gives the finale the emotional edge.

In terms of sound, the score is given a surprisingly good volume in the mix, with some scenes where it's given priority over everything else, and it's not surprising. The score is a great foundation for the film and acts as its glue at times, providing a sense of coherence when the film tends to go overboard in its action scenes. Giacchino's writing is ever more impressive and mature, but I will say that it's not perhaps as effective as other scores because of the way it's been used in the film. It doesn't feel as linearly developed as something like Star Trek or John Carter, and perhaps not as direct. But this is all after one screening of the film and multiple listens of the CD.

Still, Jupiter Ascending is a film where the music is allowed to play a big part. It's a fun movie, honest in its genre roots and aspirations, and with those it uses Michael Giacchino's score to great effect. Like the album, it may take a couple of viewings to inhale it all, but I think it'll be worth it.

Jupiter Ascending is out now from Warner Bros. Pictures

Read our review of the soundtrack here