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Soundtrack Review: Cowboys & Aliens

August 4, 2011

By Erin V.

The new Jon Faverau directed summer action flick hit theatres last Friday, and the Western/Sci-fi cross serves up exactly what you would expect and hope for from a film with that title.  Although Cowboys & Aliens could be targeted as just a lot of noise, the story is engaging enough and the action fun.  Plus, the actors all do well in their roles, playing to true Western style.

The hero – or maybe anti-hero – of the film is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), the stranger who rides into town with a mysterious weapon attached to his wrist.  When aliens invade and snatch people from the town, he is reluctantly employed by rancher Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and others in the town to help take down this new threat and try to attempt a rescue.

The soundtrack opens with a track called ‘Jake Lonergan’ the piece giving us an instant feel for the film.  The track has a cool and contemporary Western sound, in parts mysterious, eluding to the fact that this man is connected to the aliens through the strange weapon attached to his wrist.  In fact, the whole score is laden with mystery.  We really have two character introductions on the CD – one being for Jake, and the other belonging to Dolarhyde, although more than individual character themes, the themes really belong to the whole story here.  The aliens are also given a distinct sound, at times a bit strange, sometimes with choir vocals, which provides a cool mix between older and newer sounds, without becoming jarring to hear.  The genre mixing is evident in track 4 as an example (Attack & Abductions) – which is the first time we are truly introduced to the Sci-fi side of the film.

The classic Western ride music and sci-fi action music somehow fits together.  Track 5 is weirdly awesome in its transitions.  After this track, we move more into the alien than Western territory of sounds, although rarely taking a complete break from Western to play as just complete sci-fi.  What I found quite interesting here, were the rhythms used.  The percussion comes in strongly, but then backs off at times, illustrating how once something becomes established as being there, to take it away has as much power as adding more in.  I found this is what allowed the transitions between the film’s two styles to blend.  The pace and rhythms.

While some action scores become bombastic noise with not much variation to speak of, this one slows down to a sleepy old West pace at times, and always remembers its melodies.  I like listening to action music sometimes, and this one seemed to gauge the right balance.  I found that it fit very well with the mood and pacing for the movie, providing the right level of score to match the scenes throughout, without overtaking them.  Playing at the climax of the film, Track 14 is probably the biggest sci-fi action ‘set-piece’ of the score, almost becoming reminiscent of Tron or Inception at times (in the patterns and rhythms).  But the soundtrack is well put together, with the tracks never staying on too much of the same.  Like the film, the musical styles/tracks run very circular.  From complete Western, to total Sci-fi, and back again for the final tracks.

Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony, this orchestral score written by Harry Gregson-Williams is one of the things that upped my enjoyment of the film Cowboys & Aliens.  I liked the themes – they are memorable, but not annoying.  In some ways, listening to the soundtrack, the music seems to tell the story by itself.  The two really do go hand in hand, with the music very in tune to the film.

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The Cowboys & Aliens soundtrack was released by Varèse Sarabande into stores August 2nd, 2011.

The soundtrack has 17 tracks and runs for 57 minutes, 23 seconds.  The original score is composed by Harry Gregson-Williams.

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