Despite ditching most of the established themes and shifting significantly from the tone of the previous scores, Steve Jablonsky manages to make some of his best Transformers work yet with Age Of Extinction, an album that has since become one of my favourite movie soundtracks of all time.
Transformers: Age Of Extinction was a bit of an oddball when it was first released. One thing that became very clear as the film came out was that it was a bit of a soft reboot, as other than a select few of the core Autobots (and one particular Decepticon), no characters from the previous three movies would be returning. As a massive fan of Steve Jablonsky’s previous Transformers scores, the biggest question on my mind at the time was how this “reboot” would affect the music. The answer of course, was a lot.
Before the full album came out, Steve Jablonsky released an “extended play” (or EP) via iTunes that consisted of the four overarching themes; Hunted, Tessa, Autobots Reunited and Lockdown. Hunted is the main “battle” theme for the movie overall, with Tessa representing family (Cade Yeager and co. specifically), Autobots Reunited being the new motif for the Autobots, and Lockdown bringing up the rear as the villain theme. It was a spectacular entrance for the new score, as these four tracks do an excellent job of showcasing what Jablonsky has to offer with Age Of Extinction as well as shining a bright light on just how different this one would be from his previous compositional entries to the franchise. None of the previously established themes featured on the EP, and judging by the darker and more dramatic tone the music had, I didn’t have much hope for them in the full album either. With this new musical direction that Jablonsky appeared to be going in, the original themes just didn’t feel like they’d fit.
The full album release then rolled around, and feeling more than a little bit of dread I sat down and listened to it. In hindsight though, I really needn’t have worried. Fast-forwarding to now, I must have listened to the score about a hundred times. It may not have had the thematic continuity I wanted (well, not enough of it anyway) but Age Of Extinction is easily one of Jablonsky’s best works for the series.
Decision opens the score, and one thing that it does incredibly well is setting the scene; getting across the darker and more serious tone expertly as well as letting you know that this is not the Transformers world you knew. Light percussion greets you at the start, slowly getting louder and more prominent until a piano kicks in and begins playing the opening notes of the main “battle” theme of the film. Strings and more percussion then appear in the background, and the music then really begins to rise as brass then takes the forefront, playing the main theme once again but this time in a far more epic and heroic style. Frantic percussion then takes over briefly before the track then ends.
The family theme (or Tessa) then makes its first appearance on the score in Best Thing That Ever Happened, a primarily vocal piece that as a result is probably the most noticeable musical shift in comparison to Jablonsky’s previous three entries. The track is rather peaceful and relaxed, comprised almost entirely of slow, pensive strings and calming vocals that primarily just sing out the notes of the family theme. My only issue with this cue is that it simply isn’t long enough, being only a minute or so in length. Tessa from the EP is a far better representation of this frankly beautiful theme (being a good five minutes long), and it’s a big shame that it doesn’t get much in the way of recognition on the full album.
His Name Is Shane And He Drives is our first proper look at the more action-oriented side of the score, and like with the main themes it is drastically different to previous Transformers action cues. It also seems to take a bit of inspiration from Hans Zimmer’s Man Of Steel, having rather similar sounding loud and rapid drums at various points. The main “battle” theme makes a few cameo appearances, with a few notes cropping up here and there as the action rages on. Another action cue entitled Punch Hold Slide Repeat is fairly similar in this regard, having the same fast-paced percussion and brass that is then combined with one of the four main themes, this time however being the Autobots motif from Autobots Reunite. It is interesting to note as well that this is the one and only track on the full album that the new Autobots theme features in, which is daft considering how good it is. Come on Steve, use your themes please.
Thankfully, all is not lost when it comes to thematic continuity. Although their role is reduced to pretty much the bear minimum, previous themes from the franchise do make a return. The first appearance is in Have Faith Prime, where the opening notes of Optimus’ theme from the first movie are played via piano in a rather pensive and melancholic manner. It’s a sadly short rendition (lasting literally a few seconds) but still a welcome throwback. We then get a far more prominent cameo in The Legend Exists, where the Arrival To Earth motif (again from the first film) gets a loud, dramatic and very heroic brass-based rendition. It’s a simply glorious track, and one that sadly ends as quickly as it began.
Hope is not lost though, as the standout cue is up next (I wonder if that was done deliberately?). Dinobot Charge begins with a similar tone and set of instruments as Decision, except this time it ups the percussion, cranks up the volume and brings the brass immediately as we get a truly epic rendition of the main “battle” theme. The music then slows down a tad for some rather sorrowful-sounding piano notes before then rapidly ramping back up for an incredibly dramatic and percussion-heavy return of the “battle” theme. It truly is a fantastic motif, and finally after a great deal of teasing througout the album, here it is allowed to truly shine – and it really does.
Honor To The End and Leave Planet Earth Alone then close out the album. The former opens with some very dramatic percussion and brass, keeping up the same momentum that Dinobot Charge set all the way to the finale. Rather interestingly, we then get something I didn’t expect at all; an appearance from the band Imagine Dragons as they sing a few lines from Battle Cry, their single for the film. Surprisingly, the song actually works really well here, adding a fresh and quite exciting level of drama on top of this already pretty epic track. The music then fades nicely into Leave Planet Earth Alone, where we are treated to another welcome vocal rendition of the family theme, which is then followed closely by percussion and brass as the main “battle” theme gets one final playthrough before the score then draws to a close.
All-in, Steve Jablonsky’s score to Transformers: Age Of Extinction is a breath of musical fresh air that we didn’t know the franchise needed. The decision to drop most of the previously established themes wasn’t exactly a popular one, but I actually think it was for the best here. It allowed the four new motifs to really shine on their own, and that coupled with the slightly darker and more serious tone made for a genuinely different and really interesting Transformers score.
Standout Cue: 18. Dinobot Charge