When Universal announced that M83 was attached to produce the score for Oblivion, I was on cloud nine. A friend introduced me to Gonzalez’s work during Before the Dawn Heals Us and I was hooked, working backwards through to their self-titled debut, then forward to Saturdays = Youth and beyond. Weird, right? Apparently director Joseph Kosinski was listening to M83 while writing the film and had to bring him on. It makes sense! M83 should be doing a lot more work! Unfortunately, I feel a little shorted by the final product.
There are many a director and film fan who feel that the soundtrack of a film should always “fill in” the space and never become a character of its own. I call bullshit. I think that leads to rack after rack of incidental string arrangements that are an absolute bore to listen to on their own. I like my scores to be loud and memorable. John Williams’ bombastic themes for Star Wars made those movies what they are. Alan Silvestri’s use of the Synclavier made Flight of the Navigator one of the most memorable movies of my childhood. People remember these pieces – the bass crushes and warps of Hans Zimmer’s Inception, the deep Blaster Beam twangs of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. When you hire someone like Daft Punk or M83, you’re bringing a very exclusive set of musical sounds to the table.
I enjoyed Tron Legacy‘s soundtrack, but I felt there was something lost in Joseph Trapanese’s orchestral conversion. There’s nothing wrong with a sea of strings, but while it was a functional collaboration, Daft Punk alone would’ve been sufficient for the film. They didn’t need an orchestra to muffle their sound. Kosinski probably wanted a more traditional film score texture, I don’t know. Thomas Newman is pretty good at that – check out his unique scores for Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, or Wall-E. He’s even been nominated eleven times for an Oscar and never won. What I’m saying is that there’s a reason why the remixed version of their score worked so well: that score was born from electro and should’ve been cast as electro.
M83 isn’t funky like Daft Punk, but he has a bombastic eighties pop sound perfect for a score. Most know him for more recently for “Midnight City“, but this is the guy who also brought us “Car Chase Terror“. His work for Oblivion is definitely bombastic, but his trademarks are strangely lost here. Gonzalez spares his rapid-fire synths (or really, his synths at all) for his single-ready theme. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it seems like a bummer to have to wait for the end credits for his M83-ness to really open up. It’s hard to tell how the exact collaboration between Gonzalez and Trapanese happened, but while Gonzalez gets away with some erratic tempos – even throwing in his drumset at a point – the score ultimately resolves to the wish-wash string tugging of Epic Film Music far too often. Maybe this is how M83 sounds like on more classical equipment, but I don’t buy that. Maybe I envisioned something far closer to the pop music sprinklings in Drive. Fuck, that would’ve been perfect.
Sure, I’m disappointed, but I’m sure it enlivens the film. This isn’t even bad work, a moniker you could almost give his first score for Black Heaven. I can’t take any of these tracks and put them in my rotation and that’s a shame.