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Ready Player One & The Avengers’ Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

May 20, 2018

Oh what a year to be an Alan Silvestri fan! We’ve had two massive, orchestral scores back to back; one of which was for a Steven Spielberg movie. Yes! Spielberg, you read that correctly. And if nothing else, there is still the fantasy-drama The Women of Marven for frequent collaborator Robert Zemeckis to come. For now, let’s focus on Ready Player One and The Avengers: Infinity War. Both are quintessential, big, bold and brash Silvestri scores. Yet, it’s got to be said that one is a lot more enjoyable than the other.

If you don’t know yet that Ready Player One is directed by Steven Spielberg and features an original score by Alan Silvestri (which is remarkable because, really, Spielberg only ever works with John Williams), well then you must have been living on Mars for the past year. Okay, so it’s not the first time Spielberg hired someone other than Williams (Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman; The Color Purple, Quincy Jones) but it is a rarity. The Spielberg-Williams relationship is almost sacred, so to ‘fill in’ for Williams is a big deal. Also, Spielberg knows how to make a great movie; and he understands what a film-score can do. He’s a film music fan and he’s said in the past that he’d be a composer if he wasn’t a director. He knows how to get great music from his composer; so it’s a terribly exciting gig.

Williams wasn’t available for Ready Player One, and so steps in Alan Silvestri. It is the most logical choice for a number of reasons. The film features a couple of references to Back to the Future, which are reflected in the music. The film has numerous references to ‘pop culture’ from the 80s and 90s; and when it comes to the sound of cinema in the 80s it was largely shaped by 4 or 5 composers…. Williams was too busy, Goldsmith, Poledouris and Horner are gone, which leaves Silvestri. And there’s an indirect relationship through Robert Zemeckis who’s a long-time friend and collaborator of Spielberg. So, no surprise really, but for a life-long fan, like myself, it’s practically a dream come true.

The album (and indeed the film itself) opens with “The Oasis”. It’s an Adiemus-inspired piece for foreign-sounding vocals, soft strings and light percussion. It caught me off-guard when I first heard it (before seeing the film) and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But when you see the film, it all makes sense. Same for that Bach quote at the start of “Hello, I’m James Halliday”. That cue continues to introduce the main ‘players’ theme (albeit it still fairly subdued at this point) as well as the theme for Halliday’s alter-ego Anorak. So far it’s all perfectly pleasant.

At this point, the film offers it’s first (and in my opinion probably the strongest) action scene: a race through the oasis. It’s initially un-scored, featuring retro songs instead. When our hero Parzival figures out how to win this race, we get to see it all again, from a different perspective and with a rousing cue (“Why Can’t We Go Backwards?”) from Silvestri. As a side-note I’d like to say that the entire film, but this sequence in particular is utterly bonkers-crazy brilliant. It’s a long film, it’s pretty much non-stop action and it’s a total onslaught on the senses. The film carries on at breakneck speed, and there is so much happening on-screen that it’s impossible to see everything – even on a big cinema screen. This is certainly not a movie to be seen on a small telly. Again though, it’s brilliant in its madness.

Aside from the two aforementioned musical references, there are also nods to Back to the Future, 1941 (for reasons I can’t quite understand, but I’m not complaining) and Godzilla. The score is performed by a large orchestra, choir and synths. I believe electronics have always been Silvestri’s weak-point, but he has been getting better with them; and the use of them in RPO is outstanding. What’s particularly exciting about this score is that Silvestri was allowed to be himself. He wasn’t asked to sound like Williams and I don’t think he even remotely tried to. It’s vintage Silvestri goodness. We hear his distinct rhythms, his distinct use of brass, his distinct sense for melodies and harmonies.

There is some truly outstanding music to be found here (“Looking for a Truck”, “This is Wrong”, “What Are You?”), but the one cue that manages to stand-out amongst a very strong album is the “Main Title”. This is a fanfare as powerful and memorable as anything Silvestri has ever written. Just like the Captain America March or the Back to the Future theme it is ridiculously awesome – a perfect main theme. I wish it featured a little more strongly throughout the score. It’s there but not as in your face as I’d have liked for this movie. Both the movie and its score are excellent, but I think a more prominent use of that main theme could’ve really catapulted both movie and score into ‘all time classic’ territory.

The Avengers: Infinity War is a slightly different kettle of fish. Having scored the very first of these Marvel movies, Iron Man, as well as Avengers: Assemble, it makes sense that Silvestri makes a return to the franchise. But it’s a troubled franchise, musically speaking. There are currently 18 movies, I believe, most of which have music by different composers. And it’s not even one composer per Marvel character. Thor‘s had three composers, Iron Man has had three; and Spider-Man has had five, though not all within this particular line-up of movies. And not only do we have all these different composers… they all brought their own theme to the character. There is no musical continuity. Which leaves Silvestri in a bit of a pickle. If he does his own new thing for Infinity War people will carry on complaining about the lack of thematic continuity. But… if he tries to unify this bunch of films, which Thor theme should he pick? Doyle’s, Tyler’s or Motherbaugh’s? And which Iron Man? Djawadi’s, Debney’s or Tyler’s? You can’t win either way. Sure, we’d all love to hear a big mash-up of themes, but it’s such a mess by now, where do you even begin to untangle it all? I understand the filmmakers’ decision not to reference all the existing themes, and at a logical level I think I might even agree with it… but really, I’d have really wanted to hear a big mash-up!

Again, Infinity War is a very strong score. It allows Silvestri to show off his muscular action writing, as well as some more emotional writing. In fact, the score carries more emotion that I expected. In terms of themes, Silvestri makes great and frequent use of his two general Avengers themes and introduces a third one for Thanos. The score sounds big and bold, typically Silvestri. Is it as good as the first one? I’m not sure. I think Silvestri’s first Avengers score was arguably more swashbuckling… a little closer in style and sound to The Mummy Returns or Judge Dredd. Over the last decade-or-so Silvestri has done a number of action scores that tried to be more modern and sadly I didn’t much care for them – for example GI Joe, The A-Team, Red etc. I believe Infinity War is definitely better than most of his ‘recent’ action scores, but I’m not sure if it’s better than the first Avengers movie and it’s certainly no match for his classics from either the 80s, 90s or 00s.

Whilst I understand the decision not to reference any of the previous characters’ themes, the problem it creates is that the action music ends up sounding rather anonymous. Sure, it’s well written but it could be written for any ol’ action movie. The use of themes would likely have given it more character, more gravitas and would probably have helped the story-telling aspect of the score. Subsequently it would probably have justified the incredibly long running time – the deluxe edition contains just shy of 2 hours of music, which frankly is way too much. I’ve not heard the ‘short’ version, so I can only comment on the deluxe edition, which is over-long and feels like it’s dragging along, in spite of a strong start and finish.

What we’ve got here are two very strong film scores from a composer who seems to really enjoy what he’s doing. Infinity War is a solid action score, one of Silvestri’s better ones from the last 10-15 years; but it lacks a bit of character due to the decision not to include any previous characters’ themes. Silvestri’s own Avengers themes and the new one for Thanos are subsequently thinly spread over a 2-hour score. Ready Player One is equally big, bold and epic (if not more so) and features a superb main theme as well as various musical reference. Whilst I believe the RPO main theme could’ve been utilised even better than it has, the score is full of excitement, wonder and fun.

Ready Player One, Alan Silvestri, 22 tracks, 84m, Watertower 2018. [4.5/5]
Avengers: Infinity War (deluxe edition), Alan Silvestri, 30 tracks, 116m, Disney 2018. [3/5]

Review by Pete Simons (c) 2018 Synchrotones

  1. Pieter Boelen permalink

    Nice review; thanks!

    One note though: Silvestri wrote the music for the first Captain America; not Iron Man…

    • *face palm* thanks for the correction, what a silly mistake! 🙂

      • Pieter Boelen permalink

        I reloaded the page twice; looks to still be there?

        Anyway, you’re welcome. Good write-up either way!

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