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Hacksaw Ridge (Rupert Gregson-Williams)

December 1, 2016

cover_hacksawridgeHACKSAW RIDGE

Rupert Gregson-Williams, 2016, Varese Sarabande
16 tracks, 53:46

From Bee Movie to A-listers… Rupert Gregson-Williams hits the jackpot with Hacksaw Ridge.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Marking Mel Gibson’s comeback as a director, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa. He refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to win the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. The film has received rave reviews; though its soundtrack faced a few obstacles. The late James Horner was originally scheduled to write the score; and John Debney seemed to have got the job after Horner’s passing. Whether or not Debney even wrote anything, or why he left the project is not known (not to me, anyway). Ultimately, Rupert-Gregson-Williams landed the gig. It’s arguably his biggest assignment to date. Having recently scored The Legend of Tarzan and having bagged himself Wonderwoman, he’s certainly hit a career high!

What does it sound like?

It’s a fairly conventional epic/drama/action score, yet I find it a very satisfying one (for the most part). The opening cue “Okinawa Battlefield” at once reminds of Braveheart, Thin Red Line and Black Hawk Down. There’s a sense of longing and sadness; and of anticipation. It reminds me of the opening to Braveheart, though it is much more low-key. It’s quite beautiful, with a yearning theme for solo violin; but I do feel it’s marred by the (brief) appearance of the electric cello.

Now, the score frankly meanders on for quite a while. The main theme for violin recurs frequently, but the music borders on minimalism, pace is slow and the tone is sombre. It’s not bad at all, it’s just not hugely interesting. The album takes a turn for the better from title-track “Hacksaw Ridge” onwards. That cue itself isn’t all that interesting either, but it slowly builds tension through percussion and numerous ominous sounds.

The album really kicks into live with “Japanese Retake the Ridge”, as rattling percussion and agitated string arpeggios take the lead. The following cues prominently feature the score’s second main theme: a heroic anthem – or you might call it ‘power anthem’ – reminiscent of Media Ventures’ glory days. Sure it’s predictable and probably still carries traces from Thin Red Line as well as Inception, but I like its unashamedly manipulative nature. “I Can’t Hear You”, “Rescue Continues” and “Praying” are at worst guilty pleasures, and at best amongst the most powerful music I’ve heard from Rupert Gregson-Williams to date. Interestingly, the composer also employs a heroic version of the first main theme. You can hear this in “One Man At a Time”, “A Miraculous Return” and “Historical Footage”. It’s stirring stuff, though reviews of the film note that the music is somewhat overpowering.

Is it any good?

The harsh critic in me would have to point out that Rupert Gregson-Williams’ Hacksaw Ridge is a pretty straight-forward and typically Remote Control-like action score. There’s a heroic power-anthem, plenty of rattling percussion, fast-paced ostinati, some electronics, and traces from older scores (as mentioned in the review). Yet, it all comes together in a really neatly produced package. I like this power theme, I like the yearning theme, I like the percussion and I like the racing strings. The second half of the album excites me, and I revisit those final cues frequently. We know that James Horner was scheduled to score this film, and it’s an immense loss. We know that John Debney was attached to the project; and it’d be interesting to hear his take on the subject. In the end though, I am pleased that Gibson turned to Rupert Gregson-Williams and gave him a monumental opportunity. I dare say that Hacksaw Ridge is RGW’s most impressive and perhaps most enjoyable score to date.

Rating [4/5]


1. Okinawa Battlefield
2. I Could Have Killed Him
3. A Calling
4. Pretty Corny
5. Climbing For A Kiss
6. Throw Hell At Him
7. Sleep
8. Dorothy Pleads
9. Hacksaw Ridge
10. Japanese Retake The Ridge
11. I Can’t Hear You
12. One Man At A Time
13. Rescue Continues
14. A Miraculous Return
15. Praying
16. Historical Footage

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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