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Ender's Game by Steve Jablonsky

Ender's Game

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Ender's Game (Soundtrack) by Steve Jablonsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ender's Game (Soundtrack) by Steve Jablonsky

Ender's Game
Composed by Steve Jablonsky
Varese Sarabande Records (2013)

Rating: 4/10

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“Nowhere in this score are the nuances of Ender’s emotional development addressed. And perhaps we have the film to blame for that, taking what is essentially a character piece and transforming it into yet another slice of Hollywood, slam-bang, genericism.”

Oh Bugger.
Review by Edmund Meinerts

It’s taken long enough, but Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel ENDER’S GAME – about a school where gifted children are trained to become ruthless commanders in a war against an alien menace – has finally made the leap to the silver screen. The film has had to struggle through a thicket of production problems, not to mention controversy over the author’s, shall we say, less than enlightened politics. One thing you often see when a film is going through issues like this at a late stage is a rejected score, simply because it’s one of the last things to be completed on a film and is therefore one of the only things that can still be changed. And that is apparently what happened with ENDER’S GAME, with JAMES HORNER leaving the project (ostensibly before he was able to record any material) and being replaced with one of the film score community’s favorite whipping boys, STEVE JABLONSKY. Reactions to this news were, to put it mildly, rather displeased.

Not all of the criticism heaped on JABLONSKY has been entirely fair – he is undoubtedly a talented composer, as his outstanding score to STEAMBOY continues to prove – but he is so rarely allowed to use the full extent of his musical muscles. He is the epitome of hit-and-miss, and with each score he puts out, you simply have no idea whether it will be a hugely enjoyable, thematic guilty pleasure along the lines of TRANSFORMERS, or rather a vicious, noisy, intellectually bankrupt assault on the ears a la BATTLESHIP (we can take STEAMBOY out of the equation as it looks less and less likely that JABLONSKY will ever revisit that sort of writing, sadly). ENDER’S GAME exists somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum, but unfortunately it resides far, far closer to the latter than the former.

Things start out deceptively well in “Ender’s War” (1), with JABLONSKY presenting his main theme in the typical anthem format, a solo cello carrying the portentious melody over the propulsive strings, with percussion, powerful brass and choral backing added as it goes along. Entirely predictable, but the sort of thing JABLONSKY has always seemed to do so well, better than most of his peers at Remote Control. Unfortunately, it is by a good length the score’s highlight. The theme (for Ender, presumably) reappears somewhat fleetingly throughout (the pared down rendition towards the end of “Ender Quits” (12) is quite nice) before it is sent off in “Ender’s Promise” (20) in essentially the exact same style as the opening cue.

The score’s only other recurring motif is introduced at 1:30 in “Salamander Battle” (7), and you’d better like it, because JABLONSKY irritatingly reprises it with little to no variation at least half a dozen times thereafter (“Dragon Army” (9), “Mazer Rackham” (13), “Graduation Day” (16), “Commander” (21)… okay, so maybe just four times). It essentially consists of two alternating chords with a pseudo-Bachian cello figure over the top. It feels like the backing to a melodic line that never appears, and is generally inoffensive but oddly unsatisfying. “The Battle Room” (5) is in the same vein, but swaps the cello for a violin and also seems to imply that Ender has taken a break from his own game and tried his hand at that of thrones instead.

The action music in ENDER’S GAME – for the various training exercises and simulators Ender goes through – is largely a disappointment, being very much in the vein of BATTLESHIP (and, inevitably, featuring those accursed low brass blasts…INCEPTION has a lot to answer for, and it’s way past time that this particular musical trend dies a quiet death). The music sets a constant pulse in the percussion and endless string ostinatos and sticks stubbornly to it for minutes on end, with few to no apparent synchronization points or tempo changes…it’s not so loud and obnoxious as to be hard to stomach on album, but it’s completely dull and devoid of excitement. By far the worst offender is “Final Test” (17), an absolutely pivotal scene in the story in which Ender makes a decision with staggeringly enormous consequences…nowhere in the music do we hear that addressed, no increase in agitation leading up to the decision, no musical acknowledgement of it whatsoever. The cue plods along for six minutes at the exact same, unvarying tempo and then stops. For those who know the story, how beautifully ironic would it have been to blast a triumphant version of Ender’s theme at that point, only to have it turn sour once the truth about his victory is revealed?

And that, more than anything else, is where JABLONSKY’s music utterly fails as accompaniment to the story of ENDER’S GAME. Card once said that he felt the story to be unfilmable not because it is too violent, but because the vast majority of it takes place in Ender’s head. It is essentially a psychological examination of a brilliant child who is being trained and drilled into becoming a brutal, cold general. Nowhere in this score are the nuances of Ender’s emotional development addressed. And perhaps we have the film to blame for that, taking what is essentially a character piece and transforming it into yet another slice of Hollywood slam-bang genericism. At this stage, it’s hard to know who to blame, but no matter what, it’s a deeply dissatisfying situation. JAMES HORNER’s music may not have been any more original than this, technically speaking, but it’s safe to say that the emotionally inclined HORNER would at least have made a stab at addressing the character side of the story.

As for the album, well, it’s not a complete loss. There is a surprising amount of low-key droning, dissonance and/or sound design to contend with, cues like “Stay Down” (2), the two “Mind Game” parts (6, 8) and “Bonzo” (11) that throw a wrench in the otherwise smooth listening experience. And even as a guilty pleasure, even if you take out those difficult portions, the score is seriously lacking; there are simply so many other scores in this vein but with far more memorable and satisfying themes, first and foremost among them JABLONSKY’s own TRANSFORMERS scores. It’s yet another sad development in the downward spiral of JABLONSKY’s once-promising career, the latest in an increasingly lengthy parade of misses. There’s only so much faith I have left for you, Steve…

Rating: 4/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Ender's War 3:27  ****
2 Stay Down 2:42  **
3 Battle School 1:56  ***
4 Move it, Launchies 0:57  **
5 The Battle Room 3:04  ***
6 Mind Game Part 1 2:24  **
7 Salamandar Battle 3:34  ***
8 Mind Game Part 2 3:55  *
9 Dragon Army 2:44  ***
10 Dragons Win 3:54  ***
11 Bonzo 1:32  *
12 Ender Quits 6:18  ***
13 Mazer Rackham 2:28  **
14 Enemy Planet 3:45  ***
15 Command School 2:38  ***
16 Graduation Day 1:29  **
17 Final Test 5:55  **
18 Game Over 2:37  **
19 The Way We Win Matters 6:15  **
20 Ender's Promise 5:07  ***
21 Commander 3:34  ***
  Total Running Time (approx) 35 minutes  

 

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