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In the Heart of the Sea (Roque Banos)

December 31, 2015


Roque Baños, 2015, Water Tower Music
22 tracks, 88:51

Ron Howard’s latest film is an ambitious re-telling of the story about Moby Dick. The score by Roque Baños is equally ambitions. But will the music fare any better than the, sadly, ill-fated movie itself?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Ron Howard, “In the Heart of the Sea” is a re-telling of a New England whaling ship’s sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby Dick.  It stars Chris Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland and Ben Whishaw. The film looks spectacular, but sadly didn’t perform too well at the box office (that’s me politely saying it ‘sank’). At the time of this writing it’s made around $11m, only a tenth of its production costs.

Scoring the movie, and first time working with Howard, is Spanish composer Roque Baños. I am so pleased that Baños got a chance to score this movie and I sincerely hope it will lead to many more. From the early days of “Cocoon” and “Backdraft” all the way through “Apollo 13” and “Rush”, Ron Howard has always managed to get the very best out of his composers. And “In the Heart of the Sea” is no exception. Exactly why Howard didn’t re-team with Zimmer I don’t know (not for sure anyway), but Baños stepped up to the plate and delivered!

What does it sound like?

There are a few moments where the quieter parts of “Pirates of the Caribbean” come to mind. The mysterious opening with the breathy flutes brings back memories of the Black Pearl emerging for the mist. The same goes for “A Thousand Leagues Out”, with its arpeggiated pan flutes (or something similar).

There is plenty of action music here, with driving ostinati and percussion. One might say it’s a little bit Zimmer-ish in that department. The action material first comes to the fore in “Essex Leaving Harbor”, and continues in “The Knockdown”, “Blows”, “Lower Away”, and the tense “The Attack”. These cues display a rather typical Hollywood approach to action scoring, whilst infused with Baños’ melodic sensibilities.

The earlier cues, such as “Chase Walking Nantucket”, the piano-and-strings driven “Farewell” or “Young Nickerson”, with its female vocal lines, offer thematic content, sometimes a little Hornerish, but it’s not until the last third of the album when things become truly memorable.

“Abandon Ship” is an energetic piece, courtesy of racing strings with melancholy undertones. This music screams ‘drama’, as you can feel the heart-ache of having to abandon ship. With “Separations” the album begins its 25-minute climax – an emotional powerhouse. The cue offers the beginnings of an elegiac melody (what’s later called “The White Whale Chant”); a simple tune, almost folk-like that revolves around four notes. Strings add warmth, vocal adds humanity, synths and flutes add loneliness…. piano adds heartbreak.

For a minute or two “Stand Off” delves into dark, menacing sounds bordering on horror, before the chant returns on strings. “Homecoming” also briefly deviates before it turns melodic. This cue highlights a theme with an ‘americana’ character. Judging form Ron Howard’s gushing liner notes, this is Owen Chase’s theme. And by golly… it is beautiful! There is a brief interlude for sparse piano and faint synth sounds, a la Thomas Newman, before Baños offers a lush performance for strings and solo cello that pulls on every heart-string possible.

Soft trumpets add a Horner-like nobility to “The Story is Told”, which is so understated, yet so powerful. My heart can’t help but sink a little, when Chase’s theme is passed from solo clarinet to a warm string section. And it’s not just the melody… the harmonies are gorgeous; again quite Thomas Newmanish. These last few cues all build towards what it arguably the score’s ‘obvious’ highlight: “The White Whale Chant”. A simple melody, performed by wordless vocals back by rich string harmonies. Baños gradually adds percussion and counterpoint horns and steadily moves towards an understated but rewarding climax, before carefully dismantling the track again. For me, the highlight is not just that one cue, it’s the whole journey to get there. These last six cues (from “Abandon Ship” through to “The White Whale Chant”) are worth every penny. The rest… is icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. Rather tasty icing, needless to say!

I must address the ‘bonus track’ situation, because it really doesn’t sit well with me on this occasion. There are six of them, totalling just over fifteen minutes. I don’t mind a bonus track, but I don’t understand the point of having six of them. What is ‘bonus’ about them? Someone still has to pay for the rights. It’s not like they’re free. With the exception of the “End Credits (Alternate Version)” they are atmospheric and, at this late stage on the album, add nothing to the listener’s experience. The album, sans bonus cues, works towards a beautiful, powerful, and melodic finale that’s really quite epic in its own ways. To add half a dozen nondescript cues at the end of it, totally undermines the musical journey.

Is it any good?

Roque Baños’ “In the Heart of the Sea” is a magnificent film score. It’s melancholy, its sweeping, it’s epic; and it’s got a beautiful sound palette. Baños orchestrated the music himself, though there additional credits for James Brett, Ginés Carrión and Adam Langston. The ‘bonus track’ situation aside, the album makes for a wonderful and rewarding listening experience with a distinct beginning, middle and a fantastic finale (sadly followed by a redundant aftermath of various filler cues). It’s an ambitious score for an ambitious film – and it’s simply put one of the very best scores of the year.

Rating [4.5/5]


01. Arriving Nickerson’s Lair (2.51)
02. Chase Walking Nantucket (2.05)
03. Farewell (2.47)
04. Young Nickerson (2.15)
05. Essex Leaving Harbor (3.06)
06. The Knockdown (6.15)
07. Blows (7.07)
08. A Thousand Leagues Out (3.23)
09. Lower Away (3.54)
10. The Attack (5.48)
11. Abandon Ship (6.09)
12. Separations (4.29)
13. Stand Off (3.10)
14. Homecoming (7.32)
15. The Story Is Told (6.41)
16. The White Whale Chant (4.38)
17. Meeting Old Nickerson (Bonus Track) (2.26)
18. The Second Attack (Bonus Track) (4.19)
19. Lost at Sea (Bonus Track) (2.50)
20. Desert Island (Bonus Track) (3.44)
21. Finding The Dead (Bonus Track) (2.04)
22. End Credits (Alternate Version / Bonus Track) (1.17)


Review (C) 2015 Synchrotones


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