Beowulf: Original Soundtrack

CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart

True to its impossibly larger-than-life subject matter, this is without a doubt the biggest, loudest, most unapologetically macho movie music I've heard since Basil Poledouris' legendary score for Conan The Barbarian. If you want subtle, nuanced themes with rich subtext and delicate tonal structures, you have sooooo come to the wrong place. Next to this stuff, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen comes off like Meet Me In St. Louis. If soundtracks were vehicles, Beowulf would be one of those five-story-tall ore hauling trucks that you have to climb a scaffold to get into.

As long as that's what you're looking for, you'll have a blast listening to this CD, especially if you've already experienced the insane glory of Beowulf in IMAX 3D, because these bombastic themes will bring it all back. Much like the film, it's a no-nonsense score that starts out huge and doesn't let up, save for a couple of sweet ballads performed by Robin Wright Penn (and also sung onscreen by her unsettlingly realistic CGI counterpart). The rest is a rapidly boiling soup of hearty testosterone, spilling over with operatic pomposity and near-psychotic delusions of grandeur... which is exactly what it aspires to be. Again, just like the movie.

That being said, this is quality work from a composer who knows a thing or two about epics: Oscar-nominated composer Alan Silvestri has decades of acclaimed high-concept projects to his credit (I'm partial to his beefy, martial music for the Predator films) and previously worked with the same production team ? including director Robert Zemeckis ? on their previous CGI motion-captured feature The Polar Express... probably the creepiest animated movie ever targeted at kids.

Silvestri gets right down to business in the main title theme, opening with a synthesizer motif and chugging guitar riffs (emphasizing the 21st-century spin on this ancient tale), then immediately begins layering brutish male war chants, booming timpani, warlike horns and Valkyrie soprano sections to a climactic level before unceremoniously cutting the whole thing short (the moment the title is off the screen).

This theme is restated and built up a bit later in the fourth track, ?What We Need Is A Hero? ? where the rhythms accompany Beowulf and crew as they navigate their long ship through an apocalyptic storm ? and with more regal pomposity, appropriately enough, in ?I'm Here To Kill Your Monster.? Even faster rhythms drive action sequences (?I Did Not Win The Race?), but Silvestri kicks out all the jams for a mountain of sound ? symphonic, operatic and electronic elements piled layer upon layer ? in the climactic ?Beowulf Slays The Beast.?

Heroic themes like this are well-balanced with dark, brooding passages addressing the hero's inner conflicts (?King Beowulf? and ?Full Of Fine Promises?), and some genuinely terrifying strains underscoring the tormented fury of mutant troll Grendel (the first and second ?Grendel Attack? themes). Lush, sensual arrangements describe the sensual powers of the film's real villain ? Grendel's red-hot mom ? in two bookend ?Seduction? themes.

As I mentioned earlier, Penn's vocal talents add a gentle period counterpoint with her sweet, lyre-accompanied ballads ?Gently As She Goes? and ?A Hero Comes Home? ? both of which are a nod to the ancient saga tradition by which the legend of Beowulf was passed down through the centuries in song. The latter is reprised in big, noisy fashion (along with a gigantic brass section) for the end titles, this time belted out by Broadway star Idina Menzel (of the hit musical Wicked), turning it into the ultimate power-ballad.

By this point, I had just about overdosed on all the bombastic hugeness, and although I generally had fun throughout, I was glad the total runtime was a lean 46 minutes (most of the cuts here are under three minutes, which is fairly unusual for a symphonic score), otherwise my brain would have collapsed under a big chunky pile of pomposity.

If you like big, manly scores that make you want to march around the house swinging a golf club like a mighty broadsword, scaring the cat with loud warlike statements like ?Tremble before me! I am (insert your name here)!!!" then this is the music for you. It's okay, you're among friends. You know you want to.