May 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /May01/


There are probably some unkind critics who might call Nick Glennie-Smith the poor man's Hans Zimmer. And in some ways it could be said that this is Glennie-Smith's answer to Gladiator, so I dare say more will be written on the subject. But really the comparisons ultimately mean very little. If the music itself is appealing and effective do these issues really matter? Thankfully in this case the quality of the score transcends such question marks over stylistic originality and Attila stands in its own right as an enjoyable and entertaining work.

The six and half minute 'The Legend' is a good starting point, incorporating as it does many of the key motifs found within the score, it's an engaging enough piece with a mixture of styles, moving swiftly from romantic to rousing to almost mystical elements and then onto some rugged action work. From here we get a chance to explore individual themes in more detail, firstly the subtle 'Galen's Theme', then the key 'Attila the Man' with the introduction of a big, imposing 'Attila' theme that figures predominantly throughout, through 'N'Kara's Theme', a folksy, then more sombre, almost biblical piece and 'Ildico's Theme', with its gentle, low-key Middle Eastern flavour (later reprised on 'Wedding Night' with some suspenseful variations).

Apart from these distinct themes the majority of the score is dedicated to stirring action music, first encountered in full force on 'Battle', which displays its Gladiatoresque credentials quite openly, the almost obligatory Planets influence unmistakable. Now, I didn't mind this too much and it works perfectly well, but I expect some will find it a little irritating. Set aside this criticism though and it's compelling stuff. And the same can be said for 'To Rome', its rather fetching choral work giving a real sense of the grandiose to the proceedings. A change of pace occurs with 'Ballet of Hedonism', featuring some unexpected modern drum work, something which I rather enjoyed. Personally I have no problem with mixing musical styles (one of the reasons I admired Gladiator) and I actually appreciate this kind of innovative approach. Of course, it's risky, it's bold and some may balk at it, but anything that pushes film music forward and attempts something new deserves to be greeted with at least an open mind. In contrast, other more traditionally scored highlights would include the tense and dramatic 'Duel to Death' and 'Attila the King', a more thoughtful, noble rendering of the main 'Atilla' theme.

But it's almost certainly the action music that will cause most discussion with 'Battle of Orleans' featuring such a heavy Planets influence that it led me to wonder if maybe it was all some kind of in-joke concocted with Mr. Zimmer! Whatever the case, both this and 'Preparing for Battle' really do have some overt Planets/Gladiator flourishes, so make up your own mind. The only thing that is certain is that these cues work very well indeed, so I have no real complaints. Finally 'The King is Dead' sounds the death knell for both the story and the CD and has a nice choral lament version of the 'Attila' theme. All very satisfactory.

What I really liked about this score was its sheer scope, both thematically and dramatically. There is such a wide range of styles and motifs on offer that it puts many other contemporary soundtracks to shame. Of course, how much you get out of this will be dictated by your own personal tolerance to composers taking 'inspiration' from existing works. But from a personal standpoint and after all I'm the only one I really have to please, good film music should speak of drama and emotion and here, allowing for the limitations that every composer faces when it comes to influences and borrowings, Glennie-Smith has fashioned a grand work of real breadth, with enough variation to satisfy even the most jaded soundtrack fan. So I say forget your cynicism and simply enjoy a good old-fashioned film score that firmly holds the interest from beginning to end.

Mark Hockley

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