Paul W.S. Anderson is popcorn personified when it comes to such muscular entertainments as EVENT HORIZON, SOLDIER, RESIDENT EVIL and DEATH RACE getting powerful scores by the likes of Michael Kamen, Joel McNeely and Paul Haslinger that have ranged from heroic strings to terrifying electronica and twisted metal. But while his latest work might have turned to ash at the box office, POMPEII stands for me as Anderson’s most ambitious, and purely enjoyable old-school film, a blazing mash up of GLADIATOR and WHEN TIME RAN OUT that sought to achieve an epic dramatic quality amidst its historical disaster film arena. A major, explosive aid to Anderson in achieving his artistic goals for POMPEII definitely goes to the most symphonically impressive, and strongly thematic score to grace one of his multiplex-ready efforts, as delivered by composer Clinton Shorter, who ascends a new pinnacle in conjuring thrilling sound and fury – as well as humanity.
A versatile composer who should be getting a much bigger blockbuster workout, Shorter arrived on the scene with the tribal-alien action of DISTRICT 9 before going onto impress with the stealth action of CONTRABAND and the enjoyably twangy buddy cop takeoff score to 2 GUNS. Yet you might not expect the grandeur of POMPEII from these, as Shorter shows that he knows his way around a GLADIATOR-esque musical arena without ripping off sword-swinging Zimmer-isms. For given a revenge-lusting hero with a similarly pillaged past, a sympathetic female voice and bold, brass percussion are the only natural way to go when in POMPEII Shorter attacks the challenge with the benefit of contemporary, rhythmic power and a rousingly traditional orchestra, with militaristic might becoming the imperious evil of Rome. There’s thrilling, musical testosterone to spare in Shorter’s battle music, which hits levels of fever-pitch desperation while trying to outrun Mount Vesuvius, whose pounding, impressively angry roots of its big choral-symphonic blast also go right back to Gustav Holst, but in a way that’s Shorter’s own.
As terrifically exciting as the composer’s bang-a-volcano music might be, what helps set POMPEII apart is its feeling of lovers-in-the-face-of death tragedy, not to mention the oncoming fate of city full of thousands-to-be entombed people, both good and bad. It’s a truly affecting sense of the inevitable that’s carried in Shorter’s impressively melodic approach, one that knows the best disaster films resonate because you actually care about the characters, the score reaching a quiet level of intimacy to sock in the emotion amidst the effects. It’s perhaps the biggest reason the spectacle of “Pompeii” stands out in Anderson and Shorter’s repertoire as both keep a firm, identifiable grip on the human scale amidst the exhilarating destruction, all while revealing an impressive new scale to Shorter’s abilities.
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