I didn’t go into the new Bond film/score with any particular expectations other than being an admirer of Thomas Newman and director Sam Mendes. SKYFALL as a film is a thrilling entry in the franchise and a major return to (the new) form after the disappointing QUANTUM OF SOLACE. In addition, Mendes and his screenwriters have raised the bar for future entries by creating an exciting thriller with particularly compelling performances and an unexpected emotional core. For film music fans, the question becomes whether Newman honored the Bond musical tradition while retaining his distinctive voice.
From the startling opening two-note brass motif, Newman makes it clear that he will be handling the traditional Bond musical elements in a different fashion from his predecessors. Newman forgoes outright quotes of the classic themes, dissecting them instead for rhythmic/melodic motifs and chord progression.
Newman honors the franchise’s traditional musical elements and gives the score the proper Bond feel. Bond trumpets wail in “Grand Bazaar, Instanbul.” The majestic GOLDFINGER chord progressions populate “The Chimera.” And the Bond theme signals a “Brave New World.”
Thankfully, Newman didn’t have to supplant his distinctive style. The Middle Eastern aura of “New Digs” has the syncopated rhythms and unorthodox orchestrations reminiscent of scores like AMERICAN BEAUTY. The pizzicato strings and vibraphone of “Close Shave” and the furious sixteenth notes of “Health & Safety” also bear his hallmarks sound. Adele’s theme song was not included on the album (a sore point with many fans). But Newman works the melody into “Komodo Dragon,” underscored by the four notes of the classic guitar riff. The two “Sky-fall” notes make their way into “The Bloody Shot”.
As the story propels to its inevitably violent and surprisingly emotional conclusion, the score creates a nail-biting sense of drive. From the Turkish strains in the Grand Bazaar to the shrieking that accompanies Silva’s (Javier Bardem) trek across the moors, it’s a thrilling musical ride.
But there is more to the score than action cues. The brass chorale at the heart of M’s “Voluntary Retirement” and “Mother” gives the score gravitas. A heartbreaking theme for the doomed “Severine” and the haunting musical mists of “Skyfall” allow the score room to breathe.
For those of you missing more quotes of the quintessential “James Bond Theme” on the album, don’t worry. David Arnold’s arrangement of the theme (“Breadcrumbs”) appears sparingly in a couple key spots in the film for maximum effect. No doubt, Newman incorporated it at the behest of the powers that be.
Unless the film is going for camp, no Bond score will ever sound like John Barry again, nor should it. To place those expectations—and restrictions—on the composer, even from a fan perspective, does him (or potentially her) a great disservice. Thomas Newman has honored the Bond musical tradition while creating a thrilling contemporary action score on its own. And that is as it should be.