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The Martian (Harry Gregson-Williams)

October 6, 2015

Cover_TheMartianTHE MARTIAN

Harry Gregson-Williams, 2015, Columbia Records
17 tracks, 51:42

Ridley Scott returns to space; and returns to Harry Gregson-Williams. His work here is understated, but very stylish.

Review by Pete Simons

WINNER 2015 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards

What is it?

Based on the book by Andy Weird, and directed by Sir Ridley Scott, “The Martian” sees astronaut Mark Watney stranded on planet Mars. With any rescue mission years away, Watney has to ‘science the s***’ out of his situation in order to survive.

Matt Damon stars as Watney, delivering a believable, loveable and surprisingly funny character. Sir Scott directs with confidence, resulting in a stunning film – arguably amongst his best. And though he litters the film with disco songs (I guess this was dictated by the book), he allows for a stylish and coherent score from frequent collaborator Harry Gregson-Williams.

What does it sound like?

“Mars” opens the album in a moody, desolate manner. There is an almost “Alien”-like atmosphere, courtesy of slow strings, ambient synth pads and, more so, an echoing motif for woodwinds. The main theme is presented from 0:50 onwards. It’s a slow, see-sawing line for guitar (or: guitar-like synth sound). It’s very simple, almost disappointingly so, but it certainly captures the loneliness and the vast emptiness of the red planet.

One of very few action cues, “Emergency Launch” uses short, recurring crescendos for tremolo strings and brass. It’s quite an understated cue, and yet there is something relentless about it. Also, it reminds a little of Steven Price’s “Gravity” and Hans Zimmer’s “Interstellar”. Towards the end, dramatic strings signal the leaving-behind of Mark Watney. Again, there is something rather Zimmeresque about it.

Gregson-Williams often resorts to synthesizer arpeggios to represent ‘science’ and Watney’s out-of-the-box problem-solving skills. Great examples are “Making Water”, “Science the S*** Out of This” and “Hexadecimals”. At times it may remind of Cliff Martinez, yet elsewhere it almost sounds like ‘science documentary’ music.

Cues like “Spotting Movement”, “Watney’s Alive”, “Pathfinder”, “Work the Problem” and “Build a Bomb” rely on low rumbling electronic percussion to build tension. Elsewhere, “Message from Hermes”, “Reap and Sow”, “Crops are Dead” and “See You In a Few” offer reflective moments, courtesy of strings, cello, stylish synths and sometimes choir. The main theme, as introduced in the opening cue, does recur occasionally. Particularly noteworthy is the lovely, heart-warming and strangely old-fashioned “Sprouting Potatoes”.

Strings and brass get a rare chance to really soar during the second half of “Crossing Mars”, which reprises the main theme at its most glorious, capturing both the emptiness of Mars’ surface and Watney’s phenomenal achievement in crossing that immense red desert. The score concludes with “I Got Him”, which sees the music building to near-epic proportions through racing strings and lush brass, augmented with synth sweeps that again remind a little of Zimmer or even Vangelis.

Is it any good?

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score to “The Martian” is a largely understated affair. For the most part it seems to accompany Mark Watney’s diary entries and, as such, almost sounds like documentary music. It underscores the science, the problem solving and the loneliness. In the film itself, director Ridley Scott employs disco songs for the more comedic or adventurous scenes. Watney has Donna Summer of Gloria Gaynor blasting out of his Rover’s stereo. As a result, the score may underwhelm some listeners, though personally I found it quite beautiful. It’s a very stylish score with each cue feeling like a nicely rounded piece of music. The composer effortlessly mixes orchestral and synthesized textures to create a very human, yet very alien atmosphere. It suits the film to the ground, and makes for a beautiful, new age-type album.

Rating [3.5/5]


1. Mars
2. Emergency Launch
3. Making Water
4. Spotting Movement
5. Science the S*** Out of This
6. Messages from Hermes
7. Sprouting Potatoes
8. Watney’s Alive!
9. Pathfinder
10. Hexadecimals
11. Crossing Mars
12. Reap & Sow
13. Crops Are Dead
14. Work The Problem
15. Leaving Mars
16. Build a Bomb
17. “I Got Him!”


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