Debney is probably one of the most typecasted composers working in Hollywood today, scoring mostly lightweight comedies like Bruce Almighty
and Cats & Dogs
. He's also very prolific, often scoring an unusually large number of movies every year. And he's talented and very versatile, with excellent and even great scores like Cutthroat Island
and Hocus Pocus
on his résumé. But he has yet to become an A-list composer. Even if it's very possible he just became one, thanks to the score for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
. The movie is a big success and the soundtrack album has sold in large numbers, placing it high up on Billboard's charts. And the score is exactly the kind of score that gets talked about a lot and noticed in the industry. It's large, bombastic, emotional and hard to miss while watching the film.
Compared to Jeff Danna
's The Gospel of John
, another recent score for a film about Jesus, John Debney
's score is a lot darker and much more dramatic. Danna's music is more romantic and beautiful, while Debney's piece features a large number of suspense cues, such as the uneasy "Simon is Dismissed", with its pounding drums and dissonant ethnic instruments. The score isn't especially thematic, mostly relying on texture instead. There is, however, one theme that overshadows the otherwise rather underscore dominated music - the one for Mary, Jesus' mother. According to Debney himself, he suspects that Mary herself had something to do with the birth of the theme. Now, this is a very nice theme, but I don't think Mary should give up her day job and become a full time composer. It lacks the, well, divine power I expected her to deliver. There's also an OK main theme, even if it isn't quite as memorable as the one for Mary and a couple of other minor themes.
Debney's score relies a lot on voices. To support the orchestra and give more power and weight to the music the composer uses a full choir and soloists, all singing in Arameic. Often coupled with percussion - both electronic and real - this creates a sound that is perfect for this kind of movie, while also giving it a more modern and updated twist. Debney also uses ethnic instruments throughout the score, which at times creates a sound similar to Hans Zimmer
's Gladiator score. Especially when the duduc, the Armenian flute and apparently very popular among Hollywood composers at the moment, is used.
The Passion of the Christ
includes, without doubt, some of the best music Debney has ever written, even if it at times is a little too dominated by underscore. Debney, a devoted Christian, reportedly took this project very seriously and it certainly paid off.
The film itself is of course a very hot topic and has caused a lot of debate among religious people. As an atheist I couldn't actually care less. It's just a movie, for crying out loud. But Debney's score is wonderful, even if I find it hard to take it completely seriously when thinking about Debney's little story about how he almost battled Satan - in a parking lot - while writing it.
Read other recent reviews by Andreas Lindahl: The Rocketeer
, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
, The Phantom of the Opera