Dull. That’s what this score is. It’s a shame (and strange), considering that it’s the same guy who composed the wonderful Black Panther score at the start of this year. What on earth happened, Mr. Goransson?
Venom as a movie was pretty much doomed from the start. Even right when it was first announced, there were collective groans from pretty much everybody (myself included). As I recall, Twitter’s general reaction at the time was “A Venom movie without Spider-Man? What a ridiculous idea!” And it was. Spider-Man is heavily involved in the origin story of Venom, and it would be very difficult to do a movie about that without the famous webslinger. All-in, the movie just seemed like Sony desperately trying to cash-in on the MCU Spider-Man’s success. Venom couldn’t be anything but bad. And sure enough, when the movie released in cinemas this week Sony managed to prove nearly everybody right. The majority of critics either heavily disliked or didn’t enjoy Venom at all. There was also no mention of Ludwig Goransson’s score in any of the reviews, which is never a good sign. I didn’t exactly have high expectations when I first listened to it this week, and honestly I’m glad I didn’t. It’s awful. Venom easily has one of the worst movie scores of 2018, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating. It’s been quite a while since I’ve disliked a score as much as this one, and so I have used it as a bit of an example. Do enjoy.
Goransson’s score to Venom pretty much represents everything wrong with the film score industry nowadays. A lot of scores now are created (or at least heavily influenced) by the studios behind the films, who either temp-track a lot of older music in and get the composer to copy it, or ask for generic ambient/nothing music instead, leaving the composer with very little creative control. Venom as an album contains little to no thematic content and a hell of a lot of boring “background” music, which are big signs that it was studio controlled rather than composer controlled. Themes are pretty much a central idea to most good scores, as they can represent characters as well as locations, events and other important elements of movies.
Good scores should be able to give you a pretty good idea of the story they’re representing, and for that you need themes. Now, before I upset too many people I will say that there are some exceptions to this, and one that immediately comes to mind is Blade Runner. That is much more of an atmospheric score, and so doesn’t contain many recognisable or any recurring motifs. Vangelis instead uses gentle synth notes and rhythms to establish the dystopian setting in which the film is set, and primarily uses mood to convey the story. However, despite a lack of themes Blade Runner tells it’s story very well through it’s world building (similarly to how some of Hans Zimmer’s scores work). Venom however does neither of these things. It has basically no thematic content, and no real atmospheric setting either (other than generic “ooo scary strings”).
The film as a whole (based off reviews and Sony in general) also seems to be a standard Sony box-ticking exercise – essentially another springboard movie to launch a franchise from (think The Amazing Spider-Man 2) at the expense of actual storytelling and interesting characters. It makes sense therefore that the score received similar “who cares” treatment by the studio. I don’t want go as far to say that Goransson’s Venom score is completely unlistenable, but honestly it pretty much is. Certainly as an album experience it’s very unenjoyable, with basically nothing theme or even motif wise to latch on to. No epic or memorable, no sad or tear-inducing, nothing. This of course does also make it a pain to review, hence why I’m mainly talking about the score as a whole here rather than doing my usual track-by-track analysis.
I will pick out a couple of tracks however, just to give you an idea of how uninteresting this score is. Let’s take Space Exploration, for instance. It’s the first piece of music on the album, and right off the bat it’s very…dull. There are some fairly standard high pitched strings to elicit a scary mood for the first minute and a bit, so nothing particularly exciting. Goransson then makes a rather odd (and actually painful) move. Have a listen to 1:25 through 1:40 here:
That hurts. Like, it actually hurts. Not only is it an incredibly odd decision music-wise, it’s just an unpleasant noise to listen to. That’s how I would describe it, a noise. Not an instrument, not a note, just noise. The only thing I can think of as to why Goransson decided to do this is to sound different for different’s sake, just so that he could say Venom has a unique and possibly even recognisable sound (recognisable for being a pile of excrement, I might add). Hans Zimmer does do a similar thing sometimes with his scores (Man Of Steel, for example) but his is much more controlled and less in-your-face, as well as actually being in a key that doesn’t hurt your ears.
The rest of the score follows in a similar manner, being mainly a combination of generic horror strings/vocals and that horrific (dubstep?) wailing. The only piece of music that wasn’t completely horrendous was Pedal To The Metal, where the composer introduces what sounds like an electric guitar for some frantic rock-style action music, and honestly in combination with the scary vocals and rapid strings it doesn’t sound half bad. This musical idea however pretty much lies and dies here, with a smidge being heard in only one other track (Battle On The Launch Pad). It’s also only really OK in the context of the rest of the album, and so doesn’t really hold a candle to…well anything. Not worth picking up the album for this one track, basically.
Overall, Ludwig Goransson’s score to Venom is weak. It’s bland, boring and contains very little in the way of themes or even just recognisable motifs. I tried and tried, and the only thing I could pick out was a short little series of notes that crop up every so often, presumably representing the Venom symbiote judging by their ominous nature. I had to really try to find it though, and that sort of defeats the point of a theme (it’s also so hidden away that I’m not entirely sure it actually is a theme, maybe I just made something out of nothing). The action is boring, being either generic or physically painful because of the Zimmer imitation, and the scary is standard rapid strings. All-in, I can only assume that the score was mainly studio controlled, judging from Goransson’s excellent other scores (Black Panther, for example) and how Venom pales in comparison. Honestly, it’s a disappointing score to represent a film that shouldn’t really exist anyway (come on, a Venom origin movie without Spider-Man? Seriously?), so I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.
Just let Venom fade into the cesspool of horrendous studio composed scores. It’s what it deserves.
Standout Cue: 10. Pedal To The Metal