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The Maze Runner (John Paesano)

September 23, 2014

Cover_TheMazeRunnerTHE MAZE RUNNER

John Paesano, 2014, Sony Classical
21 tracks, 62:57

“The Maze Runner” looks interesting and, despite its relatively low budget, is proving a huge success. For composer John Paesano this could be his break-out score. And what a way to break out…

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“The Maze Runner” tells the fantastical tale of Thomas who is deposited into a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they are all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow runners for a shot at escape. The film is based on a book by James Dashner and is directed by Wes Ball. He has many technical credits to his name, including a few for directing short films, though this appears to be his first feature. Made for the relatively low budget of $34 million, it’s already a huge success, making over £30 million dollars in its opening weekend alone! The score is composed by John Paesano whose credits go back some fifteen years and include mostly television work such as “Dragons: Riders of Berk” (which won him an Annie Award), “Hirokin: The Last Samurai” and the recent “When the Game Stands Tall”.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with “The Maze Runner” which introduces racing strings, plenty of percussion and harsh (but not overbearingly so) synth sounds. From the very start Paesano hints at his main theme, and as the cue progresses he adds more detail and draws more attention to it. As we enter the second half of this track, the main theme is a fully fledged call-and-answer type theme for horns, whilst strings, synths and rousing percussion provide a perpetual rhythmic drive. It is one helluva opening cue and it seems to owe a bit to the likes of Jerry Goldsmith or (perhaps even more so) James Horner – especially from a harmonic and thematic point of view.

What follows is an action-thriller score that, whilst following a familiar formula and sticking to current trends, is incredibly satisfying. It’s a well-balanced yet fast-paced album. A cue like “My Name is Thomas” uses strings and piano to create an almost homely feel, though synths and percussion soon replace it with a sense of dread and alienation. A distant horn, that superficially reminds me of Marc Streitenfeld’s “Prometheus”, adds nobility. Other tracks like “Why Are We Different”, “Chat with Chuck” and “Goodbye” rely on similar orchestrations and offer reprieve from the action. Speaking of which….

Paesano’s score house a number of action set pieces. “Ben’s Not Right” utilises taiko percussion; whilst “Banishment” unleashes the string section in a mad whirlwind of rising arpeggios. “Maze Rearrange” relies on swirling strings and a flurry of brass stabs and ostinatos, not unlike something a John Williams or a Jerry Goldsmith would come up. I guess it also reminds me of James Newton Howard a lot. “The Final Flight” pulls all the stops with strings and brass ostinatos, pounding taikos, military snares and a totally insane (and very Goldsmithian) finale. The only thing missing here is the main theme – it would’ve provided the action material with an emotional core that is… I don’t want to say it’s missing, but it’s not strong. It is very exciting stuff, but I think working the main theme into the fabric of the action material would’ve given it more of a personality and make it truly epic.

Is it any good?

John Paesano’s “The Maze Runner” is a very solid and enjoyable action-thriller score. The writing and orchestrations are of a high standard; and so is the synth programming. The track sequencing gives this album a nice flow. To be honest, I had not heard of John Paesano before, though his credits (mostly tv-based) go back nearly fifteen years. I am pleasantly surprised to find “The Maze Runner” to be a largely orchestral score – and a very mature one at that. The composition is satisfyingly complex and the overall sound  is clear, but has a really nice ‘weight’ to it (other might call it gravitas) thanks to the expert orchestrations of Pete Anthony, Jason Livesay and Nolan Livesay. If anything, it’s not a terribly original score. It’s fairly straightforward and especially the moody synthesizers sound rather familiar (at times Zimmeresque, at others Thomas Newmanish). It could also have done with a more memorable theme (not sure if the film needs a stronger theme, but it would have made for a slightly more engaging album). That said, this is not a non-thematic score. The are in fact various themes and motifs that recur throughout the album; they are merely of a subtle nature. Elsewhere there is plenty of breathtaking action material to be found. The score houses some really interesting writing and some very cool rhythmic passages. I can easily see this leading to more prominent projects for Paesano – and I certainly do hope so!

Rating [3.5/5]


01. The Maze Runner (2.49)
02. What is This Place? (3.03)
03. My Name is Thomas (3.15)
04. Ben’s Not Right (2.41)
05. Banishment (3.14)
06. Waiting in the Rain (1.50)
07. Into the Maze (2.36)
08. Griever! (2.40)
09. Going Back In (2.31)
10. Why are We Different? (2.01)
11. Chat with Chuck (2.18)
12. Section 7 (5.14)
13. Maze Rearrange (2.07)
14. Griever Attack (3.55)
15. Trapped (2.07)
16. WCKD is Good (1.56)
17. Thomas Remembers (3.35)
18. Goodbye (2.08)
19. Final Fight (2.43)
20. WCKD Lab (5.57)
21. Finale (4.17)



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