The spate of ancient world epics which began with Ridley Scott's Gladiator and this year has given us Troy and King Arthur finally reaches Alexander. Being an Oliver Stone film we can expect a good deal more seriousness, to say nothing of all round controversy, than the summer's blockbusters offered. As for the music, well Stone's approach to the scores for his films has varied from the traditional – John Williams for Born on the Fourth of July, JFK and Nixon – through to the ridiculous mishmash of cut and paste cacophony apparently ladled at random over Any Given Sunday. For Alexander Stone has turned to Vangelis, the famed Greek composer for whom this is the first English language feature film score since crafting the soundtrack to Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise in 1992 – (incidentally a far better epic than Gladiator, and Scott's equal best work along side Blade Runner, which Vangelis also scored).
So the question is, can Vangelis do for Oliver Stone what he did for Ridley Scott, namely deliver work to match two of the very best film scores of modern times. Well we'll have to see how the music works with the finished film, but on the evidence of the album, if you like Vangelis you'll like this, but it doesn't offer the groundbreaking originality of sound of his best work. The opening 'Introduction' might as well be the main title music to some hypothetical Blade Runner II.
Perhaps more than anyone Vangelis defined the template for the modern electro-acoustic film score – though let us forget his dreadfully out place Oscar winning music for Chariots of Fire. Two things always made his music unique – his very particular use of electronic sound design (no off the shelf patches for Vangelis) – and his genuine flare for developed melodic composition (no banal synth doodling allowed). His best scores could have been by no one else. Of course his huge success led to many imitators, with many second rate features sporting inferior Vangelis clone scores, and even Ridley Scott following the electro-acoustic root with collaborations with Jerry Goldsmith (Legend) and then regularly with Hans Zimmer. Indeed, it was on Gladiator that Zimmer combined elements of the classical epic score with Vangelis' more contemporary approach to forge the sound for the modern revival of the Hollywood epic, an approach he demonstrated once again this year for King Arthur. Ironic then that the current album, while harking back to aspects of Vangelis' past glories – there are hints of Blade Runner, 1492, El Greco and Mythodea here – should also embrace fashions set by those who have followed in the composer's wake. Hence the rightly compressed sound, battle music filled with Gladiator-esque drums, duduk and the obligatory wailing women (see everything from Gladiator to Troy).
That said, perhaps somewhat flippantly, the action music is rousing and the tender sequences are touching. 'Titans' is suitable majestic and filled with regal splendour. The cue 'Roxane's Veil' is even in hyped with a promo video – I've been sent one apart from the album – and features the solo violin of Vanessa-Mae. It's an attractive fusion of new and old, but 'One Morning at Pella', featuring the harp of Maria Bildea is more striking. Elsewhere there is a raw power to the massive percussion and vocal writing in a sequence such as 'The Charge' which is truly exhilarating, surely evoking the ancient world far more vividly than any 'Hollywood' composed score is likely to do.
Given the symphony orchestra is just as alien to Alexander's time as synthesisers and samples, whether or not electronics have any place in this score is surely a mute point. Certainly Vangelis the Greek is a more appropriate composer for the task (even if Alexander was Macedonian) than was James Horner with his borrowings from the Russian composer Prokofiev for Troy (replacing a more apposite score from Gabriel Yared). If in the end the result is a little underwhelming, it is perhaps a matter of over familiarity with Vangelis style, and the expectation of something really special for his return to epic cinema following the magnificent 1492. In its own right it is a fine piece of work and certainly leaves other recent efforts in the genre in the dust.