When you prepare to listen to a new Elliot Goldenthal composition, particularly one with this kind of potential, it’s easy to become excited. After his mesmerising work on Titus (1999), he is very much a composer I look to for great things and it’s the anticipation of scores such as this that makes film music so compulsive and rewarding. But of course, with that also comes the potential for huge disappointment. And for me Goldenthal’s work here just does not deliver what I had hoped for. Admittedly expectation is a dangerous thing and who am I to argue against a composer’s artistic choices. But in the final analysis I find I respond to music on a simple emotional level, whether that be sadness, apprehension or awe. And it’s in this telling area that I felt somewhat let down. Which is not to say that there is nothing here to admire.
‘The Spirit Within’ has big, forceful brass with the composer’s familiar choral effects, leading into a grand, operatic string arrangement, although the melody itself is unfortunately a sub par Batman Returns like motif. And the majority of the score walks a similar path with much bluff and bluster. There are solid action and suspense cues like ‘Code Red’ and an attempt at subtle poignancy on ‘The Kiss’ with its reserved piano theme, but really this is a frosty work, best represented by pieces such as ‘Toccata and Dreamscapes’ with unsettling brass and percussion, reminiscent in places of something like Krzysztof Penderecki’s music from Kubrick’s The Shining. Indeed there is a kind of modern classical sensibility to much of the score, particularly on commanding pieces like ‘Music for Dialogues’, while at other times the remarkable Bernard Herrmann is recalled on the tracks ‘Zeus Cannon’ and ‘Blue Light’. Also deserving of a brief mention are ‘Flight to the Wasteland’, which ends with a simple but affecting motif (more like this would have been welcome) and ‘Adagio and Transfiguration’, where finally a real melody breaks through, but while it’s serviceable and the broad strokes of brass in the finale are formidable, it is never really quite as inspiring it hopes to be. Two songs complete the package but both are fairly redundant; the bland pop ballad ‘The Dream Within’ as performed by Lara Fabian and the rock song ‘Spirit Dreams Inside’ by one of Japan’s top pop acts, L’Arc-en-Ciel.
Where this score fails for me is in the melodic department. The style is all there, grand, imposing, even thrilling at times. But it’s mostly a case of technique lacking true heart and soul. The very finest film music elicits an emotional reaction of some kind, bereft of its images. Here so much is austere and remote. Which is probably by design and in keeping with the story it was written for. Like a machine it functions extremely well but ultimately remains detached.
So did I dislike this work? Absolutely not. And I think my own heightened expectations are to blame in part if I seem reluctant with my praise. But this is still a commendable soundtrack It has real scope and demands appreciation and attention. I just wish I had been moved a little, that’s all.