Dario Marianelli didn’t have a good start this year. He got kicked off the high-profile Pan and many of his fans (including this writer) were profoundly disappointed. But it’s time to dry our tears for there is still the IMAX action/adventure Everest from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. It's a dramatic portrayal of the infamous 1996 Mount Everest disaster in which eight people lost their lives. While not exactly a smashing hit, the film managed to make some money during its theatrical run and get some decent reviews. A strong cast, led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson, is arguably its strongest asset.
Musically, Everest isn’t exactly the type of score that you’d expect from Dario Marianelli and fans of his classical style might end up being slightly disappointed with the general approach composer took for this unlikely project - largely textural eclectic mix of traditional and new with increased presence of large percussion and some ethnic elements. It’s nothing you’d be particularly craving to hear, especially after over a decade of similar scores plaguing bigger film productions. But bear with me...
As with almost anything, devil is in the detail and what matters is not so much what you do, but how you do it. Marianelli is not exactly renowned for breaking the form or introducing radical stylistic choices. What he does is taking some idiom and exploring it, adding layers and different shades. He is a master of creating a layered and elegant scores, even in the most tired of styles. Make no mistake, Everest is hardly a masterpiece of musical expression. Pretty far from that. But it’s yet another vehicle to showcase Dario’s versatility and intelligence, even when approaching a seemingly uninteresting concept.
The music itself seems to be an amalgam of various styles present in film scoring over the past decade or so. It has the ethnic sensitivity of Danna brothers, big drums of Remote Control family, twinkling melancholic piano of Thomas Newman. The noble deep prass passages help to establish the dangerous landscape and the respect it builds, while the ever-present drums (aided by electronic percussion) build some sense of testosterone-fueled excitement. It’s effective, in a slightly cliched way. Lengthy sequences like ‘Time Runs Out’ are built around those elements and results definitely solid..
No modern score can do without haunting female vocals and Dario Marianelli introduces his own early on (‘Someone Loves Us’, Beck Gets Up’). They are used quite sparingly, thankfully, and help to evoke the human element and its struggle against the unforgiving desolate nature. Composer himself stated his intent was to represent both the mountain itself as well as the voice of destiny. This approach is, again, hardly original. But certainly effective enough.
The tone of Everest is mostly earnest, despite all its modern thriller genre ingredients. Even the busier cues, like ‘Chopper Rescue’, fail to break that solemn and contemplative mood. For most listeners, the piano-led ‘Epilogue’ will be probably the only track to be regularly revisited. It is where Marianelli’s score feels the warmest - the cello and violin solos coupled, once again, with female vocals (performed by Melanie Pappenheim) bring the entire soundtrack album to a fairly satisfying closure.
The album from Varese Sarabande is well balanced in terms of listening experience and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Might not strike you with any particularly memorable material but will surely impress with solid and thoughtful execution. Dario Marianelli once again proves he can adapt to different genres and won’t stick to yet another period drama akin of Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre. Not revolutionary or even essential to composer’s discography. But a well executed and elegant exploration of seemingly tired tropes. Take it or leave it, depending on where you stand with those.
Everest is out now from Varese Sarabande