Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) has composed some of his best thematic work yet with Mortal Engines, however for much of the score these fantastic compositions are sadly buried under a considerable amount of loud, generic action music.
I won’t lie, I was pleasantly surprised with the score to Mortal Engines. Tom Holkenborg doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for good film scores (though Mad Max and Batman V Superman were massive exceptions to this), so I must admit I didn’t really have high hopes when I first began listening to this album. That all changed however when I started up the first track on the score; London Suite In C Major.
The first thing you hear is the sound of Big Ben. The famous, loud bells combined with just a hint of electronics set a very interesting tone right off the bat, and they also work surprisingly well with the rest of the music that begins a few seconds later. The bells start to increase in frequency and strings begin to build in the background, until a loud and dramatic brass statement suddenly begins and instantly drowns everything else out (I had to frantically turn the volume down it was so loud). Shortly afterwards, the brass then sounds out an epic (and deafening!) rendition of the main theme for London. In all honesty, when I first heard this I was absolutely blown away. This theme is amazing. It’s very militaristic, in a sort of “soldiers marching” kind of way. It feels almost like a national anthem, and listening to it I definitely felt like I should be saluting.
The brass then quietens down for a short while, playing a rather melancholic series of notes before then returning in full volume to the stunning military might of the London theme. Strings then appear in the background, and the music takes a more frantic and almost fear inducing turn – presumably representing how the people of a small city would feel as the gigantic London chases after them. The theme is used in a much darker and more threatening way here, and in places it sounds very much like Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries in terms of style (some inspiration for the London theme was definitely taken from that piece of music, that’s for sure).
Almost six minutes into the suite, the London theme then fades into the background and we are treated to a wonderful new theme (having not seen the film, I’m guessing it’s for main character Hester). This one almost seems like a counterpoint to London’s, being a rather beautiful and almost melancholic strings-based composition. It’s a slow and sweeping piece, with vocals frequently appearing in the background to add to the fairly sombre mood. After a good two minutes of this breathtaking theme, brass then slowly starts to creep back in and before long the London theme then comes back in full swing – this time in a much more proud and triumphant fashion. Holkenborg goes all out here, using vocals, strings and honestly pretty much everything to blast out this fantastic piece of music. After a little while Hester’s theme then joins the frey in a similarly noble style, and the track then comes to a rather spectacularly classical-sounding finale.
Wow. That’s what I and I imagine pretty much everyone else thought when the London Suite drew to a close. It’s such a great composition, and the score gained a place in my regular listening playlist just for this track. It made me so excited for the rest of the album, which as it turns out – was somewhat premature. There’s a reason why much of this review just talks about the London Suite – it’s the standout cue, by far. The majority of the remaining nineteen tracks are just pretty standard synthetic sounding generic action tracks (ones we’ve heard a thousand times before) with the two themes appearing very sparingly. It’s a massive shame.
Thankfully though, not all of them are like that. Ms. Fang for example has a pretty fantastically epic rendition of the London theme played out by loud brass and dramatic vocals. It’s a sadly short track, but what we did get was breathtaking. The subsequent cue In A Sea Of Clouds then takes things in a much slower and more solemn direction, with woodwinds and strings taking the forefront. This track is a welcome break from the loud brass and percussion that forms much of this score, and does a good job of illustrating that the composer can do much more than just the empty action style he is known for. If only more of this appeared on the album…
Strings make a pretty spectacular appearance in Shan Guo, where they team up with brass to form a grand and rather heroic piece of music (I would say theme, but this particular set of notes doesn’t appear again on the score). Once again vocals are used incredibly well, and this combined with the almost masterfully used brass makes Shan Guo overall a highly enjoyable three minutes of score. Alive And Together then closes out the album, and like most of the more interesting tracks here it is a much slower and more solemn piece in comparison to much of the score. Hester’s theme also makes a welcome appearance, though this time in much sadder and woodwinds-based form.
All-in, Mortal Engines is a decent score. The London Suite at the start of the album is absolutely fantastic, and honestly worth the price of admission just on its own. The main themes that Holkenborg has composed are also excellent, though unfortunately they are used so sparingly it feels like a bit of a waste. Much of the album also succumbs to the standard generic action music trap, which is such a shame as the suite promised so much and the remaining tracks just don’t deliver. There’s a lot of wasted potential here, but on the upside there are also some truly amazing compositions, and I feel like a whole new world has been opened up with Tom Holkenborg. I will certainly be keeping much more of an eye on his scores from now on.
God, I love the London Suite.
Standout Cue: 1. London Suite In C Major