SOUL SURFER, the true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton’s recovery from a shark attack, seems tailor-made for the movies. But not for this viewer. I can only see one loss-o’-limb film (127 HOURS) in any 12-month period. Thankfully, Marco Beltrami doesn’t suffer from my weak constitution, composing an exciting and moving score that rides the waves with musical agility.
The lovely main titles weave together some haunting Hawaiian chanting before the piano plays the memorable main surfing theme. With its flowing melody, the theme seems to float on the water in free abandonment.
Whether used for dramatic punctuation or in a more prominent role, percussion plays a big role in the score. Timpani rolls and staccato strings convey the heart-pounding thrill of “Turtle Bay Surfing.” In exciting cues such as “Trying to Get Out” and “Big Drum Competition,” the percussion overlays have more prominence. Hawaiian chants accompanied by wooden percussion bring musical force to the “Paddle Battle.” In the propulsive, percussive “Shark Attack,” syncopated brass/piano/timpani chords take frightening bites out of the orchestra. Sustained strings hover in horror over grunting chants as the harp sinks into the briny depths along with a young girl’s dreams.
For all its exciting action cues, the score truly excels in the quieter human moments. “Homecoming” features a tender solo piano rendition of the surfing theme (reprised in the heartbreaking “Bethany and Dad”) followed by celebratory ethnic percussion and chanting. A lovely guitar solo strums the tender secondary theme in “Hymn for Bethany.” Strumming ukelele and steel guitar add a little authentic Hawaiian feel to “Half Pint Boards.”
The score leads up dramatically to the inspirational “Bethany’s Wave.” A cello solo gives voice to the surfing theme before being taken up by the French horns and strings. The strumming ukelele, steel guitar, and chanting return for one final appearance in “Bethany Gives Thanks.”
The standout cue for me, among many, is “Back in the Water.” Forceful brass chords, reminiscent of the earlier shark attack chords, create real drama as Bethany’s return to the waves. But the optimism of the surfing theme takes over, soaring in the strings accompanied by a joyful French horn countermelody.
SOUL SURFER quickly drifted out to sea at the box office, but the score is thankfully gaining traction among film music fans. Beltrami conjures up some real excitement and emotion, while the chanting and percussion supply a subtle Hawaiian atmosphere far from the likes of Don Ho. On the strength of its memorable main theme and its honest emotion, Beltrami’s score cuts through the general wipeout so far of this year’s film music. By all means, catch this wave!