But Godzilla is as much a beloved pop icon as he is a chillingly effective piece of commentary. Since Honda's first entry, Godzilla has appeared in nearly thirty films, playing the roles of the unstoppable terror, the scaly guardian, even the loving father figure from time to time. But Gareth Edwards' new Godzilla brings the monster back to his roots. He's a fierce, lumbering "great equalizer", who rises from the depths to dispatch of two monstrous creatures terrorizing humanity, leveling major cities and feeding on our nuclear energy. As a lifelong fan of the big guy, I must say that this is the Godzilla film I've been waiting for, one which manages to reframe the series in a new light yet still remain respectful towards its Japanese roots. Few have contributed as much to those roots as Japanese composer Akira Ifukube, who scored the series off and on from 1954 until the original monster's death in 1995's Godzilla vs. Destroyah. Creating not only the series' memorable main theme but also the monster's trademark roar, Ifukube managed to compose grand, operatic scores for Godzilla well into his eighties. Just as Star Wars would not be the same without the contribution of John Williams, or James Bond without the contribution of John Barry, Godzilla's legacy is one inextricably linked to the tremendous talents of Akira Ifukube.
I don't think anyone could have predicted with any kind of surety who would be chosen to succeed that legacy. Gareth Edwards' sparse filmography certainly didn't suggest many worthy candidates. So when prolific French composer Alexandre Desplat was announced to score the film, some heads rightfully turned. Desplat? The King's Speech Desplat? Moonrise Kingdom Desplat? Him? Indeed, Godzilla was like nothing the composer had ever attempted before, the lumbering beast calling for something a little more forceful, violent, and, well, big than what was typically associated with Desplat's style. But if there's one thing I have in Desplat it's confidence, and he takes the "difference" of this project in stride, resulting in what is one of the most forceful, brawny, and downright massive monster scores in years. What's remarkable about Godzilla is that the composer manages to tackle the project without ever compromising his own distinct style. Like in many of his scores, there is a strong, pulsating bass presence, and the precision and complexity of his orchestral writing is all here, but the scale of it is just through the roof! The brass section is doubled, the string section is doubled, and he spaces these elements out in the recording to produce a wonderfully immersive stereo experience. Playing off of each other, string sections alternate during the action cues, while brass clusters blare at you from every direction. It all makes for a very dynamic, very engaging listen.
The main Godzilla theme, heard most prominently in "Godzilla!" and "Last Shot", is a relentless force of nature. Desplat even seems to take cues from Akira Ifukube's iconic identity for the monster with this theme, grounding the idea on three descending notes that repeat in a relentless, propulsive fashion, not unlike Ifukube's march. Couple that with some of the most vicious brass clusters you'll ever hear, some fierce percussion, and an unusually high-pitched wail, and you've got yourself a monster theme.
Perhaps more than any other score this year, Godzilla can be regarded as a true roller coaster ride. After the thrilling "Godzilla!", the music settles briefly in "Inside the Mines" before embarking on its gradual build up to the score's mighty conclusion. As much of the film takes place in Japan, there is certainly a respectful ethnic element to the music, predominantly signified by the use of heavy percussion, including taiko drums, and Japanese woodwinds. The thunderous brass melds with these elements in "The Power Plant", and "To Q Zone" merges deep percussion with a recurring theme of mystery derived from the chord progressions of the Godzilla theme, a highlight of the score. Occasionally, a minimal choral element is also explored, as in the thrilling set-piece "Back to Janijira" (which also features some of the score's most stunning brass work) and in an unreleased choral performance of the mystery theme heard during the film's opening. Shrieking strings meant to represent the villainous "Muto" creatures take center stage in "Muto Hatch", a thrilling piece that is the first of many to push Desplat's stupidly big orchestra to its limits. Look up "fortissimo" in the dictionary and this is what you should find!
"In the Jungle" bears a passing resemblance to Christopher Young's Sandman material from Spiderman 3, before things go manic and flow into "The Wave", a thrilling cue accompanying Godzilla's first stroll ashore. The sequence continues with "Airport Attack", another massive action piece that concludes with a choral reference to György Ligeti's "Requiem" for Godzilla's big reveal. While not included on the album release, Ligeti's otherworldly "Requiem" also features prominently in the film's most visually arresting sequence, in which a group of soldiers Halo jump into an apocalyptically darkened cityscape. The action of "Missing Spore" and "Vegas Aftermath" rises and falls as if building up to something immense, each cue exploring a brass motif over a whirlwind of churning strings. Desplat then flexes some dramatic muscle in "Ford Rescued", a highlight of the score that allows the orchestra a rare chance to execute a shimmering crescendo of harmonic beauty. "Following Godzilla" employs the composer's trademark bass to propulsive effect in a cue that feels like another homage to the scores of Akira Ifukube. A jolting transition at 0:34, though, stands as a bit of an odd misstep in an otherwise superb score.
The building havoc of "Golden Gate Chaos", brooding mystery of "Let Them Fight", and taut thrills of "Entering the Nest" gear us up for the score's brilliant finale. Simply put, the album's concluding cues represent some of the most awe-inspiring music of Alexandre Desplat's career! "Two Against One" moves at a swift pace, with thunderous percussion lending a gigantic sense of urgency to the proceedings. Godzilla's theme then takes center stage toward the end of the cue, leading into "Last Shot", an absolute powerhouse piece of music. Here, Godzilla's theme barrels forth in all of its unrestrained glory. The strings hack away, percussion slams forcefully, and brass clusters blare with unfathomable ferociousness, and it's downright exhilarating to behold. Triumphant horns definitively blazon the winner in "Godzilla's Victory", bringing us to the album's conclusion in "Back to the Ocean". After pensively swirling strings, brass, and piano induce some chills, the cue builds to a stunning crescendo, at once brawny and beautiful and entirely appropriate for the King of the Monsters' celebratory exit. Surely, nothing more clearly states "I've won this battle and guess what... I'll be back!" than this.
In Godzilla, Desplat has constructed a true roller coaster ride of a score, a thrilling journey that approaches one of cinema's most iconic antiheroes, Godzilla, with a great deal of reverence and class. So put any doubts you have about The King's Speech Desplat, Moonrise Kingdom Desplat, that Desplat aside, because this is a whole shade of the French composer you've never seen before! It's bold, vicious, massive, and you guessed it, downright monstrous. Anyone who says otherwise? Yeah, they're all but asking to get stepped on.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Godzilla!", "To Q Zone", "Muto Hatch", "Ford Rescued", "Last Shot", "Godzilla's Victory", "Back to the Ocean"
Label: Watertower Music
Availability: 20 track edition