What’s that I hear coming over the horizon? Could it be? Yup, that’s an 8-bar phrase as sure as I’m sitting here. How did that sneak into modern film scoring?
Gabriel Yared‘s score for AMELIA, the biopic of American aviator Amelia Earhart who disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to make a flight around the world, is a grand return to the kind of sweeping orchestral writing that is all too rare in today’s film scores.
As you’d expect from the Oscar-winning composer of THE ENGLISH PATIENT and COLD MOUNTAIN, Yared’s score flies on the wings of Earhart’s story with soaring themes. Nearly all the seeds of the score can be found in the first track, “Introducing Amelia.”
The track begins with an oscillating descending 3-note motif that leads into the ravishing main theme in the strings. When the French horns take up the theme, you feel the majesty of flying among the clouds with only the ground far below and God up above. The track continues with a triplet accompaniment for drama and syncopated pizzicato strings that sound like Morse code. I defy you to listen to the crescendo that follows into the secondary theme and not get goosebumps.
Yared contributes an ethnic flavor to the score by using percussion, Indian flutes, and the arghul, a double-tube Arabic wind instrument that combines a clarinet’s reedy sound with a bagpipe-like drone. The music takes a dramatic turn in tracks like “No Longer a Passenger” (which ends with a delicate, chirping duo flute accompaniment), “Hawaii Crash,” and of course Earhart’s legendary “Final Flight.” Yared’s lovely piano playing enhances the score throughout.
Yared’s score for AMELIA stands out if for nothing else than its retro use of long, melodic themes that once used to populate film music. I hesitate to say that the composer and filmmakers were brave for choosing such an old-fashioned sound (and I mean that as a compliment), even if the film’s period lends itself to it. But in today’s Hollywood, “brave” it sadly is.
AMELIA is the kind of score that would have been an Oscar shoo-in in the old days. I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. The film’s poor box office will hurt its chances of a nomination. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed nonetheless.