Classical Music in Pop Culture: Immortals

by: Raine

At the bequest of fellow blogger and my most bitter buddy, Becoming Bitter, my next installment comes from the American film, Immortals, due to be released 11.11.11. Although the score for this film isn’t considered classical in the categorizations of musicologists, its technique and execution come from a long school of classical composition.

What makes film scores good fodder for discussion is the fact that it is widely consumed by the masses. When one watches Harry Potter, it is often the case that one will also purchase the CD. (Or, as is common this days, the mp3s from sites such as itunes.) In the case of Immortals, hopefully the film score by Trevor Morris will inspire CD purchases.

Trevor Morris’ music finds its basis in classical forms but his style is very distinct. It is grouped under the umbrella term “New Age” music. (This is not to be mistaken with the classical music category “New Age,” which refers to the music of those such as Stravinsky and Prokofiev – early 20th-century reactionary composers.)

The “New Age” music found in film scores incorporates classical instruments such as piano, as well as electronic instruments (synthesizers), and Eastern instruments like the sitar. There is a lot of choral work in the style of modern Celtic choirs. “New Age” music is a primary source for incidental music, or background music, in film and television.

I take issue with the fact that the words “incidental music” are used. The score is not merely incidental – it is a vital part of the movie experience.

But that is neither here nor there.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Morris for this post. He has worked with some of the greats in film score composition such as Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Dark Knight, Sherlock Holmes, Inception).  I’ve also learned a lot about film music and it’s been my pleasure to write this for my 14th-century Bitter friend.

Immortals is an epic tale based upon Greek legend. It is directed by Tarsem Singh, written by Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, and starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke and John Hurt.

The synopsis, according to IMDb, is as follows:

Theseus is a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity.

The Immortals trailer hints at sweeping cinematography, masterful CGI work, passionate men and an epic score, written by acclaimed composer Trevor Morris. This man wrote the music that elevates this trailer from visually appealing to emotionally captivating.

The music for this aesthetically impressive trailer is as sweeping as the visuals and beautiful as the muscle-bound men. Director Singh ask for a score that is “big” and “grand” to get the viewers “really invested” in the story. In order to do that, Trevor Morris focuses on building anticipation, even in the naming of each track –  “War in the Heavens” and “Immortal Combat” certainly conjures images of immense battles.

Morris makes great use of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, arguably the best orchestra and choir in the world, to hook the listener and draw them into the mythical world of Immortals. I’m sure he hopes that after listening to his moving score, one would go out and pre-order tickets to the movie. After listening, I think I might just buy them for the music. It is quite ingenious.

The trailer begins with a still of a warrior accompanied by low, rumbling instruments playing an intense, accented rhythm at a quiet volume. It makes the listener immediately pay attention in his attempt to hear what is going on. A drum hit signals the addition of wispy pipes that soften the sound for the entrance of a stunning woman in red. Violins sneak in on a long note and gradually get louder to introduce a low, droning chant by male voices to accompany the army that appears on the screen. It sounds like music for a sacrifice, which it is. The sacrifice of men’s lives for their cause.

Each addition of instruments or voices signals a change in the visuals. Lofty, angelic vocals enter when a man witnesses a woman with a knife to her throat and when a leader is encouraging his troops. The stronger vocals add an intimate, human element that can be juxtaposed with the chanting that emphasizes the grandeur of the army. As warriors enter, the music gets faster, again, to build anticipation.

When the fiery whip is posed to strike, the music suddenly pauses, leaving a tense silence. The ear is hanging the remnants of the previous notes, waiting for the whip to make contact.

When the whip finds its victim, the strings jump in with an intense, repeated rhythm, pushing the action forward.

The fighting gets well underway and with each new scene change the volume drops, as do the number of instruments, in order to leave the listener bereaved of sound; then the music grows again, adding one instrumental or vocal line.

This pattern repeats, rising and dropping, slowly building in musical texture, slowly increasing in speed. The range between notes from high to low increases, creating a huge musical space for the full orchestra and choir to fill with thick harmonies, driving rhythmic strings,  and low brass chords to overwhelm the listener.

Finally, the full power of the orchestra and choir envelope the visuals and the listener in glorious sound as a gigantic army is shown preparing for an epic battle. Huge drum hits signal scene changes and an increase in tempo.

Suddenly, the full orchestra cuts out and leaves the audience in unexpected silence.

Thin, rhythmic strings creep in and the ethereal pipes from the beginning of the trailer lead to an abrupt end to the music and a blackout.

Coming soon to a theater near you.

Related Posts

Classical Music in Pop Culture: Introduction, Libertango, Sumi Jo

6 thoughts on “Classical Music in Pop Culture: Immortals

  1. Min says:

    I find the use of the term “incidental music” as insulting to the composers and to the musicians, since it seems to devalue the work that went into creating the backbone of the movie – if a movie has a crappy soundtrack that doesn’t fit with the movie theme then it really breaks the movie for me no matter how well acted it is- so if that is so (and I’m guessing not just for me) how is that music “incidental”? right?

    Oh and thanks for enlightening me about a movie I hadn’t even heard about! (I know- where do I live right? but I do have a good reason not to know – I’m not in the state and in Mexico we end up seeing the movies about a month or so after it’s US premiere 😦 )

    • Raine says:

      No importa, Min-ah. Gwaenchanha! Thanks for reading! I really love writing the music posts. (And about PSH….) Heck, I love writing all these posts!

      Anyway, I agree. The soundtrack makes the movie. Ever watched one on mute? It’s totally not as powerful. Especially horror. It loses all meaning almost.

  2. Becoming Bitter says:

    I don’t think my comment conveyed my gratitude properly. Please understand that I’m grateful for the time and effort you spent researching and writing this. It really warms my bitter heart. *Huge Bitter Hug for you*

    • Raine says:

      Your welcome my 14th Bitte. I keep finding bits to edit, but I’m glad you enjoyed it! You gave me my second piece to write about so I’m stoked about that. I was really worried about it being difficult to understand. I had no idea about a few words like ‘crescendo’ and ‘tempo’ which I think I ended up not using.

      *hugs back*

  3. Becoming Bitter says:

    Thank you so much! This was a beautiful and extremely well written post. I *love* Hans Zimmer’s work. What’s best is that you covered the pertinent information and described the music in a way people with zero musical intelligence like myself would understand.

    I’m going to be re-reading this post a couple of times. I already wanted to watch this movie, but now I can’t wait.

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