Review: 300 (2007)

Composer: Tyler Bates

Label: Warner Bros.

Catalogue Nr.: 101272-2

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The Comic adaptation 300 was the surprise hit of 2007 with a box office result that equalled those of comparable movies by the likes of Gladiator (2000) or Troy (2004). Zack Snyders digitally produced blue screen stage play offered the audience exactly what makes a movie successful: lots of great visuals and gore. 300 didn't really need anything else to be successful. The film basically lives from the tons of digital blood floating through the air (but fading out before ever hitting the ground! Watch out for it! It's so annoying once you have noticed it!) making up for the lack of an interesting story or some sign of depth. 300 is essentially a propaganda movie about Spartan king Leonidas who goes against all rules and takes 300 of Spartans best warriors to fight a Persian army of a million. The whole concept comes along as appropriately awkward but ingeniously well executed on a technical level and the actors even seemed to be into it as well with some noteworthy moments especially from Gerard Butler as Leonidas. Never before in any film have greatness and complete awkwardness been closer together than in 300.

The score:

In a way, the same applies to Tyler Bates' score though it's probably more awkward than great. The composer's previous collaboration with Snyder on Dawn of the Dead (2004) lead to a solidly fitting but overall unimpressive score for a zombie slasher movie. Outside of that, Bates is also known for some of the most terrible of current film music ever for some of the most terrible of current films: The Devil Rejects (2005). However, I think that there is some amazing talent sleeping within this young composer that just needs to be awakened. Just too bad that 300 isn't exactly showing much of Bates' talent for composing good original film music but his talent for adapting a temp track well (though he already showed that ability very well already in his score for Slither (2006) with a pretty obvious quote of Silvestri's theme for Predator (1987)). We get re-arrangements of Elliot Goldenthal's "Victorious Titus" from Titus (1999) in tracks like "Returns A King", "Come And Get Them" as well as "Remember Us", some modernistic rock material taken right from Hans Zimmer's Black Hawk Down (2001) in "To Victory", as well as the obligatory wailing female voice that was used in so many similar pictures for so many similar situations. Particularly this female wailing is so boring and clichéd as it became some sort of comfort zone for whoever writes music for epic movies dealing with ancient settings these days ever since Lisa Gerrard moaned in Gladiator (2001). You just don't have to do much except putting a singer in a recording room and just let her go at it. It's quick, it's time and cost effective (you don't need to book orchestra sessions or a large team for a lengthy emotional piece with dramatic depth) and it's popular with the masses but on the other hand it's so damn cheap musically and totally void of class. It's another one of those odd contemporary new age influences that are not used because they are effective but because they are used for the purpose of just being there and into your face as much as possible, making you aware that there is actually a soundtrack that you can purchase.

Well, enough about the female orgasmic sounds. Let's find out what good things actually come out of the small bit of Bates' original work. There is some solid handling of ethnic percussion and instruments representing the army of Xerxes as well as good, powerful choral writing for an entirely male ensemble with Latin lyrics. Unfortunately, the choir is often buried under noisy structures of unnecessary rock elements which mostly make it impossible to hear the lyrics at all such as in the first track "To Victory". It's sad, because judging from what is left of my Latin skills it seems to me that a lot of work went into these lyrics to actually give them some sense. The overall concept however does not really work out. Getting to these bits of greatness isn't easy either because you have to work through a lot of inexpressive, atmospheric mush with occasional noisy swelling such as "The Adoge", "The Wolf", "Submission", "The Ephors", "What Must A King Do", "No Sleep Tonight", "Tree Of The Dead", "The Hot Gates" or "Fight In The Shade". These tracks really don't offer enough of a musical structure or colour to be of any further importance for either the narrative of the movie or the excitement of the soundtrack listener. Unfortunately, that's already 50% of the entire soundtrack.

"Cursed By Beauty" has some interesting percussion and ethnic colours and it's also one of the very few moments where the wailing female voice is somewhat appropriate in the film. In "Goodbye My Love" however, it is clearly not. An emotional centrepiece such as this should have more dramatic depth than what Bates offers here. The orchestral writing that can be heard within the piece is a good basis but too restricted in favour of the female solo to be really effective. Thankfully, there is some choral power at the end of the track that kind of saves it from becoming unnecessary. "No Mercy" is basically more atmospheric mush that surprisingly develops into a noise fest with some decent ethnic colours and rhythms occasionally shining through. "Immortals Battle" is probably the best of the action tracks since it offers a nice, insane brass race moment and an excellent use of the male choir. "Fever Dream" is probably more appropriate at a wrestling festival and brings back memories of John Debney's e-guitar mayhem from The Scorpion King (2002). Thankfully the ethnic percussions and instruments return once more for "Xerxes' Tent" where they rise insanely. If only one could mute the annoying female voice again. "The Council Chamber" is probably the only purely orchestral track with string and horn colours that rise for two and a half minutes. However, this stuff often sounds pretty damn close to Gladiator (2000) however it's not as terrible a rip-off as the "Victorious Titus" tracks.

"Xerxes' Final Offer" carries more ethnic percussion and a great choral moment at the end. The last action track is "A God King Bleeds" which combines ethnic percussion, orchestral writing and choral force into an entertaining ride that is at times more Hans Zimmer than Tyler Bates. The CD ends unimpressive with more Titus rip-offs and wailing women moments.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 55%

Score as heard on CD: 31%

TOTAL: 43%

 

The presentation:

It's really odd how Warner decides which scores receive a nearly deluxe treatment from their own label and which go completely unreleased. 300 is well represented on CD with almost 60 minutes of score but 40 minutes could have easily been enough in this case. I am usually rooting for complete releases but in this case it's not only unnecessary to have a lot of music but also hurts the experience. The practice of releasing two albums, one being a deluxe edition with additional collector's items, but with the same musical content has already become a typical trademark of Warner Records. It's strange that the least deserving scores always seem to receive the best treatment. Good for Bates it certainly is but who really needs 60 minutes of his music from 300?

Presentation by the Label: 75%

 

Summary:

Too bad that creative freedom has become an unknown term when it comes to scoring epic films these days. The problem with Tyler Bates score for 300 is not so much that this is a temp track score per se but that the remaining original tracks are rather unimpressive save for a couple of exceptions such as "Cursed by Beauty", "Xerxes' Tent", "Xerxes' Final Offer" or "A God King Bleeds". As I see it, there are temp tracks and then there are temp tracks. Some manage it well to take an original piece and turn it into something original while still maintaining the piece's basic structure. However, that's clearly not the case here and the director who was clearly responsible for the temp track can only thank the Olympus of film gods that the average Joe won't notice the insane temp tracking while watching the film anyways. However, film score critics certainly do notice and I only wonder what Bates might have done with more creative freedom. Maybe next time we will hear what he can really do.

 

Tracklisting:

01. To Victory (02:34)
02. The Agoge (02:24)
03. The Wolf (02:10)
04. Returns a King (02:24)
05. Submission (02:40)
06. The Ephors (01:59)
07. Cursed By Beauty (01:41)
08. What Must a King Do? (01:05)
09. Goodbye My Love (03:22)
10. No Sleep Tonight (02:33)
11. Tree of the Dead (02:25)
12. The Hot Gates (03:00)
13. Fight in the Shade (03:17)
14. Come and Get Them (02:05)
15. No Mercy (02:23)
16. Immortals Battle (01:53)
17. Fever Dream (02:33)
18. Xerxes' Tent (03:20)
19. Tonight We Dine in Hell (01:15)
20. The Council Chamber (02:34)
21. Xerxes' Final Offer (02:39)
22. A God King Bleeds (02:16)
23. Glory (01:44)
24. Message For the Queen (02:31)
25. Remember Us (02:56)