Tag Archives: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Soundtrack Review: Stowaway (2021)

With Netflix recently releasing the soundtrack for their new film Stowaway, I had the opportunity to sit down and listen to the film’s official soundtrack. The music was composed by Volker Bertelmann (The Old Guard, Lion) and recently made available digitally.

The film’s synopsis is as follows:

In Stowaway, on a mission headed to Mars, an unintended stowaway accidentally causes severe damage to the spaceship’s life support systems. Facing dwindling resources and a potentially fatal outcome, the crew is forced to make an impossible decision.

Says Bertelmann of the Stowaway soundtrack:

“Working on Stowaway and collaborating with director Joe Penna was a special experience in many respects: Joe, who is a musician himself, gave me a lot of freedom to explore different sounds and we had a joint understanding of the purposes the music should serve. This facilitated the compositional process, which was extremely helpful given the considerable amount of music the film needed. The music for Stowaway is one of my favorite scores so far.”

Given what’s at stake in Stowaway, I was surprised at how low-key and passive a lot of the music is. There’s an underlying sense of tension of course, most notably in ‘How Much Oxygen’ but for the most part Bertelmann’s soundtrack is almost perfectly serene. The biggest exception to this comes in ‘Solar Flare’ which covers what is undoubtedly one of the climax points of the film. But even then, there’s still a polished smoothness lingering in the music that takes some of the edge off what might otherwise be a raw piece of action music.

All of this smoothness and serenity in the music confused me until I considered where the film is set. Stowaway is set entirely in space, aboard a ship bound for Mars, and it could be that Bertelmann had it in his mind to back up the interstellar background of the film with music that fit the location. After all, there’s something about space that can generate a lot of musical grace and beauty, and this film is surely no exception. It could also be that the composer wanted to remind viewers that in the grand scheme of things this conflict is barely a blip in the cosmos (or I could be overthinking it entirely). Most likely of all the options is the possibility that Bertelmann wanted the score to backup the story, but not overwhelm it with sheer depth of volume, as some film scores have been known to do.

I really enjoyed listening to the soundtrack for Stowaway. It really subverted my expectations for what I thought this movie would sound like but in the end it was really enjoyable. In some places it actually reminded me a little bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey with some of the more quiet tracks. If you get the chance to listen to the Stowaway soundtrack separate from the movie, I highly recommend doing so.

Track List

  1. Earth Rise
  2. Regaining Consciousness
  3. Favorite Spot on the Ship
  4. How Much Oxygen
  5. Setting Up the Algae
  6. It’s Literally My Job
  7. Can I Take His Place?
  8. I Was in the Fire
  9. Can You Talk?
  10. What Did You Do?
  11. The Algae Are Dead
  12. Climbing the Tethers
  13. On the Kingfisher
  14. More Than Enough Oxygen
  15. Solar Flare
  16. I Will Go
  17. Climbing the Tethers Alone
  18. Into the Solar Storm

Let me know what you think of Stowaway’s soundtrack (and the film) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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My thoughts on: Sunshine (2007)

Sunshine is a notable science fiction film for several reasons. For one, it has one of the best scores you will ever hear in the genre (it even gives Interstellar a run for its money). For two, it’s actually built on a fairly realistic premise; like Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Icarus II is a believable-looking ship with plausible technology onboard. Unfortunately, the third thing that makes it notable is that the entire plot goes to pieces in the last act (more on that in a little bit).

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The plot of Sunshine takes place in 2057 and centers on a plot to restart the sun after it begins to die, slowly freezing the Earth in the process. The plan is to launch a massive nuclear bomb into the Sun with the goal of bringing the star back to life. The Icarus II is the Earth’s last chance, as the Icarus I mysteriously disappeared seven years earlier. Predictably, the second Icarus discovers the first Icarus and things become weird once they link up with the other ship.

The fact that the ships are called Icarus should be a pretty big clue that things are going to end badly for the crew. In Greek mythology, Icarus was the sun of the inventor Daedalus, who could build all kinds of amazing things. In order to escape captivity, Daedalus built two sets of wings using feathers and wax. While flying away, Icarus flew too close to the sun causing the wings to fall apart and Icarus fell to his death.

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Just like in the myth, the Icarus ship gets right up to the sun and in the end, everyone dies. But it’s how the story gets to that point that bothers me. The thing is, up until the last act begins, Sunshine is a fantastic science fiction film with no real problems to speak of (it even includes Chris Evans in a pre-Captain America appearance). But when the film addresses what happened to the crew of the Icarus I…that’s where things go sideways in a hurry. In a matter of minutes, Sunshine goes from a reasonable sci-fi story to a slasher horror film where a mysterious killer picks off the crew one by one (the ones who don’t die by the killer’s hand perish due to a number of reasons, the most gruesome being exposure to the vacuum of space). I could almost forgive this sudden shift in the film were it not for the fact that it comes almost completely out of left field. There’s a small piece of footage early in the film that hints at a problem, but no real indication that the plot will go in this direction. It’s almost like the writers hit upon a great concept but weren’t able to come up with a satisfactory ending so they copped out and went the sci-fi/horror route. And this is why I will always say Sunshine is a good film that could’ve been great.

Despite its less than perfect ending, I still recommend Sunshine to anyone who hasn’t seen it before. Trust me when I say the music will blow you away. The cast also does an admirable job with what they have to work with.

What do you think of Sunshine? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film/TV Reviews

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Film Music 101: Compilation Score

Unlike an original film score, which is composed specifically for the film, the compilation score consists of background music that is assembled entirely from pre-existing material.

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Copyright © 1967 by Embassy Pictures

Using Simon & Garfunkel songs for the score had a big impact on later film music

Compilation scores really took off in the mid-1960s after the 1967 film The Graduate featured a score consisting entirely of Simon & Garfunkel music (including “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson.”).  Compilation scores can also be known as pop scores if the pre-existing music consists of pop songs.

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Another example of the compilation score is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Most infamously, Stanley Kubrick rejected composer Alex North’s original score at the last minute and retained the film’s temp track (consisting of classical pieces) as the film’s final score.

 

The advent of compilation scores led older film composers to bemoan the growing belief that the classic film score (as created in the 1930s) was “dead and buried.” While this appeared to be true for a time (as compilation scores became exceptionally popular), original film scores never fully stopped being created, they were merely placed on the back burner for a decade or so until John Williams stepped up with his earth-shattering score for Star Wars (1977).

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See also:

Film Music 101: Borrowing

Film Music 101: Arranger

Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound

Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Mickey Mousing

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

Film Music 101: Underscore

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score

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Film Music 101: The Temp Track

Occasionally, while putting a film together, the director might wish for the composer to emulate a specific style of music. To that end, a temp track will be assembled to go with the rough cut of the film, to give the composer an idea of what the director wants.

A temp track is essentially a temporary soundtrack, someone in the technical department has found sound recordings that match the style the director wants and they’ve paired it up with the film. To give a few examples, part of the soundtrack from Ben-Hur (1959) was used as a temp track for Star Wars (1977), excerpts from a Howard Shore piece were used for Gangs of New York (2002) and, most (in)famously, 2001: A Space Odyssey used a temp track assembled from Strauss waltzes, Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss and Atmospheres by Ligeti.

2001: A Space Odyssey is so notable because director Stanley Kubrick actually REJECTED the score composer Alex North had created in favor of the temp track! Think about it, many of the scenes in that film are iconic because of the selections of classical music, but we (the audience) were never meant to hear it like that!

Interesting to consider what might have been…
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See also:

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Montage

Film Music 101: Mickey Mousing

Film Music 101: Compilation Score

Film Music 101: Leitmotif

Film Music 101: Orchestration and cues

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

Film Music 101: Who owns the music?

Film Music 101: Underscore

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score

Film Music 101: Borrowing

Film Music 101: Arranger

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂