By Karol Krok
Few high-profile franchises managed to establish a truly unique sound in 21st Century film scoring. In the light of Media Ventures’/Remote Control’s rise to power, perhaps only Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings and John Williams’ Harry Potter series managed to create something memorable and recognisable. The third series that achieved just that would be the orchestrally challenging The Matrix trilogy. And while those scores are less musically attractive for casual listeners, due to their demanding and oppressive nature, there is no question they represent the very best of s-f scoring modern era has to offer. The films themselves were less successful with each entry, but the composer never dropped a ball. Quite the contrary, he flourished as the canvas grew bigger.
Don Davis got an incredible opportunity to create his own sonic world, grounded in the 20th Century concert world techniques. It is such an unique match for pictures, that the separation of composers’ contributions from films might be hard to imagine. He follows the visuals with mechanical precision, accentuating gestures and movement in a way that borders on mickey-mousing, but, instead being phony and silly, this approach enhances the action and helps the audience to immerse themselves in the experience. The third entry comes back to a more darker tone of The Matrix, as opposed to brighter and more eclectic The Matrix Reloaded, but elevates it to truly operatic and epic proportions. The score starts off relatively slow, but once the story reaches the central conflicts, it never lets go. Thanks to the new expanded album, we can examine the score in detail.
The Matrix Revolutions opens, just as its predecessors, with the iconic Matrix motif. In every new film, it is played at the slightly higher pitch – a real challenge to the brass section players, to be sure – and seems to represent Neo entering a new level of consciousness and understanding in his quest. This familiar material soon segues into the brief orchestral suggestion of apocalyptic ‘Neodammerung’ as we see the the title card – a sign of things to come.
One of the most consistently developed elements of this series is the love theme for Neo and Trinity. Originally, every full-bodied performance was scrapped from the first film and the melody made only few fleeting and subtle statements throughout – almost impossible to spot by a layman. It got a much more prominent role in the second film, especially in the scene where Neo resurrects Trinity. But, even then, it remained somewhat obscured by overwhelming orchestral and choral arrangement. In The Matrix Revolutions, however, it is stated in the most straightforward manner (‘Das Banegold/The Bane Revelation’). And for once, just before their ultimate separation, both characters are granted the most unobstructed and bare romantic moment, the one that achieves a sense of resolution. Driven by tears and loss, but still (‘Trinity Definitely’).
The menacing Agent Smith music from previous films, supported by synths, makes an appearance in ‘The First Goodbye/The All-Knowing Oracle’. The Merovingian and Persephone ominous material also makes a comeback (‘The Road to Hell’), in an even darker guise than previously. It’s interesting to note that this theme was first introduced by Davis in WARRIORS OF VIRTUE, where it accompanied the villain Komodo. It’s a perfect embodiment of the devil in its most dangerous and alluring.
Unlike its predecessors, The Matrix Revolutions is primarily a war film and Don Davis approaches it accordingly. He introduced a Zion martial material in The Matrix Reloaded, in a scene where Nebuchadnezzar enters the underground city. Here, this music comes back with even more force (‘Men In Metal’) and Davis continues to weave it into the ensuing 17-minute battle sequence. Some of his action material is probably the most brutal and bold orchestral music heard in any action film of the past 20 years – with the swarming Sentinel music clashing martial drums at very high volumes, often with the aid of shrieking voices. According to composer, it was one of the loudest scores ever to be recorded at Fox’s The Newman Score Stage. The fateful ‘Neodammerung’ music comes back yet again, this time accompanied with wordless chorus, as Nebuchadnezzar heroically saves the city from certain doom. A daunting, but fascinating musical onslaught, indeed.
The film and score soon arrive at their operatic conclusion. The infamous apocalyptic choral chanting (the passages from Upanishads were chosen for this very purpose) and anvil crashing of ‘Neodammerung’ punctuate the epic final stand-off between Neo and his nemesis Agent Smith. The confrontation is soon followed by more conversational underscore of ‘Why Mr. Anderson?”, which ends on the loudest orchestral and choral outburst in recent memory (somewhat recalling Philip Glass’ vocal writing of Koyaanisqatsi). As the main character’s lifeless body is lowered onto the ground, the mournful chorus intones a variation on a Medieval plainchant Dies Irae, the text of which is sung in ancient Sanskrit. The same motif is suggested once again in ‘Bridge to Immortality’ in a much subtler guise, before getting a major mode statement for boy soprano and chorus – celebrating the victory of The One as he’s been is taken away. A slight suggestion of resurrection, perhaps?
The score and trilogy end on a bright and optimistic rendition of its, previously menacing, minimalist ideas – a refreshing and surprising turn of events. The b-section of love theme is appropriately used as trilogy’s coda. The particular section was previously unused in the original film and has only recently been restored and reinserted for the purpose of The Matrix Live live to projection performances around the world. Here, it is “reprised” in an even grander and triumphant fashion. The less optimistic and more ambiguous alternate is also presented on the new disc in “For Neo – extended ending’.
Just as in the case of the previous score, Don Davis worked with Juno Reactor in order to create a techno/orchestral crossover. This time, the collaboration came more as an afterthought and some of the electronic music has been layered on top of composers’ own cues, more or less, in the picture (‘The Trainman Cometh’ and ‘Tetsujin’), thus not allowing for a more experimental approach of The Matrix Reloaded. Early version of one of those piece, without the aid of Ben Watkins’ overlays, can be heard in the bonus section of new album. It is one of many new highlights. A most unique result of this partnership has to be the end credits piece called “Navras’, a lengthy remix of ‘Neodammerung’ encrusted with some quasi-Indian ethnic touches – both instrumental and vocal.
The latest La-La Land album joins last years’ The Matrix Reloaded and Varese’s expanded, regrettably incomplete, The Matrix: Deluxe Edition, in a celebration of Don Davis grand masterpiece. Complete work plays at a slightly more relaxed pace, as compared to the relentless 2003 album programme. Listening to that previous release was a sonic equivalent of being hit in the face by a brick. Mike Matessino’s level-headed mastering helps to resolve those issues. Tom Grieving cover both making of the film and the scoring process. The composer himself shares some thoughts and remains modest when it comes to his legacy. Dan Goldwasser’s expert production and handsome design completes the, already successful, package.
The three works, while each having their own unique personal traits, create a homogeneous whole and sense of coherence that are really hard to come by these days. With the devilish cleverness of orchestrations, the scores skilfully navigate through films’ thick sound design and manages to make their own stamp on it and imprint on audiences’ collective subconscious. On top of that, they have personality, a gut to do something else – far removed from current trends. Overall, The Matrix Revolutions offers a challenging, and extremely loud, listen, but one that has plenty of merit. Highly recommended!
The Matrix Revolutions is out now from La-La Land Records