CS Score Reviews Ludwig Göransson’s Tenet and Elmer Bernstein’s Wild Wild West
Hey there, film score lovers! This week on CS Score we dive into Ludwig Göransson’s score to Christopher Nolan’s action extravaganza Tenet and take a look at Varèse Sarabande’s deluxe edition for Elmer Bernstein’s Wild Wild West. As a special bonus, we sat down with music editor David Klotz to discuss his Emmy-nominated work on Stranger Things and American Horror Story. Let’s do this.
Hey guys, we got a new soundtrack to review — and it’s a doozy! Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is a hard hitting, albeit often confusing time travel spectacle that emphasizes spellbinding action sequences and enormous set pieces over anything resembling character development. The film is certainly entertaining as a visual spectacle — indeed, it truly is one of the better action pics in recent memory — but also leaves a lot to be desired in terms of providing an emotional connection for audiences, though such quibbles might subside after another screening or two.
As such, the music to the film likewise offers up an impressive array of propulsive electronic beats but lacks a true soul. As written by Academy Award winner Ludwig Göransson, who steps in to replace Nolan’s longtime collaborator Hans Zimmer, the music moves between kick ass action rhythms in tracks like “Rainy Night in Tallini” and “Freeport” to quieter (but still propulsive and often dramatic) underscore in tracks such as “Windmills” and “Betrayal.”
Think the “Mombasa” track in Zimmer’s Inception albeit dialed up to about 15. Göransson even employs the same foghorn sound used in that score in tracks like “747” in which the film’s protagonists crash a giant plane in order to create a diversion.
Keep in mind, none of this is a bad thing. If you’re into electronic soundtracks in the vein of Zimmer’s Dunkirk, Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy or Mark Mothersbaugh’s synth-heavy Thor: Ragnarok, you’ll get a kick out of Göransson’s style. Though, fans seeking the lush themes and driving beats of the composer’s Oscar-winning score for Black Panther may come away disappointed at the rather one-note nature of his work here.
At any rate, Tenet offers a unique listening experience as Göransson utilizes everything from drums, synths and even human breathing to mostly successful results. Indeed, the FX heavy style works rather well in the film where it often stands as its own character driving the action beats, but can be a bit jarring when separated from Nolan’s images, particularly in tracks such as “Trucks in Place” and “Retrieving the Case” in which Göransson mixes his sounds in such a way that all but disorients the listener — which is, of course, the point as the music as heard in the film emphasizes the confusion inherit during moments in which characters move forwards and backwards through time.
When compared to other scores in Nolan’s oeuvre, Tenet, with all of its bombast and eerie ambience, falls short of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises and Inception mainly due to its lack of a clear theme and strong ideas. In fact, you might describe Tenet as Inception without that powerful piano theme or Johnny Marr’s impressive guitar work. That said, Göransson’s score still offers an exciting bit of electronic musical engineering that will surely entertain modern soundtrack enthusiasts and all but overwhelm traditional film score lovers.
Purchase the original Wild Wild West (Original Motion Picture Score)
Ah, the western. Hollywood has long produced films revolving around the Old West that in turn led to some of the finest movie soundtracks ever produced — Max Steiner’s The Searchers, John Barry’s Dances with Wolves, John Williams’ The Missouri Breaks, Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, and Ennio Morricone’s The Good The Bad and The Ugly, to name a few. This cowboy flick met an abrupt end in the 1970s though numerous directors and producers have tried to rekindle interest with films like Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma. Except, for every Unforgiven or Maverick, we get disasters like Barry Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West.
Released in 1999 during the peak of Will Smith’s successful box office streak, Wild Wild West tried to replicate the successful formula used in Sonnenfeld’s Men In Black two years prior; and even paired Smith with another straight-faced counterpart in Kevin Kline. Unfortunately, where MIB generated over $589 million worldwide, resulting in two sequels, an animated series and a quasi-reboot with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, Wild Wild West, based on the TV series of the same name, flatlined at cinemas with a dismal $222 million worldwide take against a $170 million production budget. Critics tore the film to shreds with only 17% rewarding it a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences offered only a C+ grade in exit polls.
One positive takeaway from this colossal disaster was Elmer Bernstein’s wildly entertaining score. Infusing western rock with his more classical style, Bernstein managed to capture the weird nature of Sonnenfeld’s film whilst providing a genuinely thrilling standalone listening experience. And while the work doesn’t come close to his own Magnificent Seven or even Ghostbusters for that matter, it still serves up enough pizzazz to merit mention alongside some of his more memorable works.
The original 1999 score album featured 10 tracks comprised of 30 minutes of music, which meant fans of Bernstein’s work had to sit through the laborious 106-minute film in order to hear the music in its entirety (unless they were savvy enough to find bootlegs). Thankfully, Varèse Sarabande’s has produced a brand-new deluxe edition that features 47 tracks and 76 minutes of music, including all new music by Peter Bernstein and alternate cues not heard in the final film.
As the press release notes, Bernstein, who had spent a majority of the 1990s working on serious works such as The Age of Innocence and The Rainmaker, was drawn to Sonnenfeld’s comedy mainly due to his love for Men In Black. “When I got a chance to work with Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith, I thought, cool, I’d like to do this. And when I met Barry, I really liked him and we had a great relationship,” Bernstein said.
Even now, the score feels oddly refreshing, particularly in the wake of the largely electronic-fused landscape. Listen to the tracks “Tin Man/Four of a Kind” and marvel at its powerful blasts of orchestra and bombastic themes, or “Last Fight,” which offers a wonderful blend of comedy and action/adventure and try not to smile. This is a classic film score reworked for an overblown 90’s comedy, and a fine argument against those who believe such scores could never work in modern motion pictures — even if the cheesier “hip” aspects sometimes get in the way.
Highlights of the album include “The End (Rise the Spider),” which features a rendition of the central love theme as well as fun reiteration of the main theme that itself is very reminiscent to Bernstein’s aforementioned Magnificent Seven as well as his score for The Great Escape; “Waltz First Mansion,” which, obviously, wraps the love theme in a waltz-inspired melody; “Polka,” a fun, classic bit of bouncy Western music; “Reeling,” which features everything from trumpets, fiddles, and toe tapping to great effect; and “Tank to Catch,” one of the grand action cues on the album.
All told, Bernstein’s Wild Wild West is a wonderful throwback to the classic motion pictures of yesteryear when Hollywood was entranced with the Old West and a must have for film score collectors.