Clash of the Titans: Rosenthal vs. Djawadi

I’ll admit that the title of my post is a bit deceiving. Rosenthal and Djawadi are not comparable… unless you’re willing to consider Hans Zimmer the Nadia Boulanger of our times (which he very well may be… a much more superficial and shallow Boulanger). Nor are either of these men titans among film scorers, although one is closer to that than the other.

But I’m not here for that, I’m here to write a little bit about the new Clash of the Titans film score. Which was released today; 7.99 on Amazon.com, and 9.99 on iTunes.

The original was scored by Laurence Rosenthal, a product of the Eastman School of Music. He has had two Academy Award Nominations, 12 Emmy Nominations (winning 7), and two Golden Globe Nominations. The newer score is by Ramin Djawadi. He is a composer of Iranian descent who has scored a few films (Mr. Brooks, and Iron Man to name a couple). He has also worked as an orchestrator for Zimmer on films like Pirates of the Carribean and Batman Begins.

Clash of the Titans by Ramin Djawadi

First off, I’ll say that the Media Ventures (Hans Zimmer Studio) sound is very prominant here, and why not… Djawadi is a disciple of Zimmer. A lot of percussion, strings that are pretty simple. Tons of rhythmic and melodic ostinatos. Big Brass. This score is definitely a product of Zimmer alumn.

This ‘flavor’ comes through almost right away in the third track “Perseus.” It starts with a string section melody and soon adds in a santoor. Soon, it begins to build up to a more epic sound, extending the range of the strings and adding in some percussion. Then enters the choir and a string ostinato. Now another string line to weave into the rest while adding in even more, louder percussion.

Sidebar: I will say that I really appreciate the Santoor (as I have written two pieces that include that instrument, and am fortunate enough to have a friend who is awesome on the Santoor. So awesome in fact that she won a concerto competition and will be debuting with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony in June!)

Another track that is massive: “Scorpiox.” I think we’ve all seen the trailer with the huge scorpions running around and stabbing the ground trying to kill some people… well, this cue fits the bill perfectly. Huge in sound combining a big string texture with pounding percussion and beefy brass sounds.

In other tracks the heavy metal influence isn’t even disguised as the distorted guitar is layered on top of the pounding strings. Other cues have a less epic, huge sound. A cue that falls under this category would be “Pegasus.” The magical side of this fantastic story is easily perceived with the metallic percussion sounds and the tremelo strings. Also the Oud (wind instrument) and female voices lend themselves to a very otherworldly and majestic feeling. If this plays during the Pegasus’ entrance in the film (which it should… I mean look at the title), I think it will work very well… and not a bad way to be introduced either.

A track that caught my attention immediately was “Djinn,” which begins with a Tuvan throat singer. This was such a brilliant choice, because a djinn is essentially a genie, or more specifically a supernatural being able to take a human or animal form and who can exercise influence over people. The sound of the singer and the other instruments totally make me feel a supernatural vibe and make me want to see this djinn!

Most of the other cues follow suit to to those already discussed, and are, I imagine, very complementary to what they’ll be underscoring on film. These cues are definitely orchestral heavy metal. Unfortunately, with that come a sense of shallowness. It doesn’t mean I don’t like it, because I do. But I think it means that the amount of material to study is not comparable to a score by someone else (like Goldsmith or Williams). The nuance seems to be surface level (if any exists at all), and although it makes for great ear candy, it doesn’t satisfy the need of having been touched deeply by a piece of music. It’s funny, but I found that this score is making my appreciation of what James Horner did with Avatar grow.

I think one can attribute this scoring attitude to the times, and the general attitude of what sells. Big, epic things; bright lights, huge ‘splosions, and huge, in your face, instrumentation (which can potentially lead to a lack of orchestration). To me the obvious reason why Djawadi was brought on to this film was because he proved he could do things like that from Iron Man. But I must say that I find this score superior to Iron Man as I feel it has a little more depth (if even just a little.)

Clash of the Titans by Laurence Rosenthal (1981)

This score is very 1950’s with it’s orchestral sound. Honestly, it sounds like a scaled back Lawrence of Arabia. When I listen to it, without having seen the movie, I imagine lots of fantastic things happening in a desert-like place.

I wouldn’t imagine there being a lot of action in this film as the music isn’t always epic in its grandeur, but rather subtle in its narrative. I presume that this follows how films were also made at the time. With less shaky cams and fast cuts and a lot more character.

The cues he writes depend a lot more upon the orchestra to create the sounds. I’m not saying the Djawadi’s didn’t (but he was able to use samples and create a much more precise sound through the ability to EQ everything bigger). What I am saying is that everything Rosenthal wrote is within the achievable dynamic of the orchestra. There aren’t any electronic elements, and there aren’t any exotic instruments. The exoticism comes from the themes he wrote and the orchestration of those themes. Quite brilliant really. Where I would expect to hear Djawadi’s score in a Rock venue, I would expect to hear Rosenthal’s in the concert hall.

My favorite thing to do, was to combine the scores in a playlist and listen to them together on shuffle. What was amazing (or not amazing at all) was that they work so very well together. Where one was lacking in subtlety, the other made up for, and while that one didn’t contain the expected high octane action cues, the other covered. It seemed as if each score was a different side to the Clash of the Titans coin. Together, they are awesome. Apart, they are almost incomplete, however… they each respectively get the job done!

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