For Sylvester Stallone, Rambo proved to be the character that catapulted him into an iconic movie hero. Rocky was certainly an incredible character — perhaps epic — but he wasn’t even close to the mega-explosive, action-hungry Rambo. The first installment of the Rambo series, First Blood, introduced us to a character that suffered from psychological entrapment due to his experiences in the Vietnam War. Unquestionably, First Blood still stands as the best film in this series due to the seriousness of the subject addressed, great balance between action and drama, and the incredible character and script development. More importantly, First Blood was given a beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith, which included a magnificent theme that is both heroic and melancholic.
Rambo (2008) does not have a solid script or incredible characters, making the film somewhat ordinary. Surely, the action sequences are unbelievably violent and realistic, but again, the storyline is incredibly weak. For this final installment of Rambo, Brian Tyler was chosen to compose the score. Thankfully, Tyler honored Jerry Goldsmith by making extensive use of his wonderful main theme in the score. Goldsmith’s theme is an important part of the new score but it’s not the only theme. Fortunately, Brian Tyler comes up with his own theme that is equally powerful. Arguably, the theme provides a sense of resolution and fulfillment. After all, Rambo (2008) tries to give the audience a final chapter in the life of an iconic movie legend. Nevertheless, aside from Tyler’s new theme and the use of Goldsmith’s old theme, the score offers little originality in the arrangements, orchestrations, and music.
The score starts with 'Rambo’s Theme,' a beautiful track that incorporates Goldsmith’s original theme from First Blood. (This theme also developed into a song titled ‘It’s a Long Road’ in the original First Blood movie). Moreover, this first track introduces the magnificent six-note motif composed by Tyler. Admittedly, I found this theme to be a great representation of the emotionally deprived modern John Rambo, who is battling thoughts of reconciliation, justice, and peace, while still being controlled by brutal violence.
In the second track, ‘No rules of Engagement,’ Tyler conclusively sets the stage for what will dominate this score: Atmospheric sequences that evolve into percussive mayhem, accompanied by fast string ostinato patterns, driving guitar leads, and brass motifs used sporadically but appropriately. As usual, all of the action-packed percussive sequences can be heard throughout this piece; some of which offer interesting breaks and evolving progressions. This really becomes an integral part for the rest of the score. Tracks like ‘The Rescue’ and ‘Hunting Mercenaries’ are based on bombastic rhythms, yet lack brilliant orchestrations. Certainly, this is the standard action sound commonly found in movie trailer music which gets the adrenaline flowing, while, unfortunately, offering very little new material in terms of musicality.
Evidently, a major problem in this album is the extremely long duration of some tracks that could be characterized as mere background and atmospheric pieces. For example, ‘Searching for Missionaries’ is over seven minutes long, yet contains about six minutes of ambient textures and sounds with the sporadic use of certain percussion hits. Moreover, even the rapid pace at the end of the track contains nothing more than harmonic string techniques relying extensively on heavy drums. ‘Crossing Burma’ suffers from the same problems, although, luckily, Tyler did incorporate more fragments from some of the major themes, making it less of an atmospheric piece. On the other hand, cues like ‘Prison Camp’ and ‘Searching for Missionaries’ work very well in the film, helping emphasize the tension and suspense experienced by the characters, but they are not very entertaining when listened outside the movie. Again, the atmospheric textures are hard to appreciate without good instrumentation supporting them.
I cannot emphasize enough just how powerful Tyler’s theme for this film really is. Thus, in order to really appreciate Tyler’s glorious six-note motif, I recommend listening to ‘The Village’ and ‘Attack on the Village’, both of which provide the best performances of this great theme. These pieces could be categorized as the best in this new score.
Undeniably, Brian Tyler appears to be influenced by the Media Ventures style, which has become the absolute dominant style for film music in the 21st century. For example, ‘When you are pushed’ contains sonic elements that appear to mimic the ones found in the Distorted Reality sample libraries. More importantly, the panned, reversed sample drum/cello hit sequence made famous by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard in Batman Begins can be clearly heard in this track. In ‘Battle Adagio,’ the choral textures are reminiscent of those used by Zimmer and Gerrard in Gladiator. Thus, in some instances, unfamiliar listeners with Tyler could conclude that the music comes from Zimmer or from one of his “disciples.”
Generally speaking, Brian Tyler creates a score that works well with the film in terms of adding tension and suspense to the movie. Nevertheless, apart from both main themes, the score does not act in accordance to the elements being depicted on screen. The gruesome acts of violence deserved more seriousness and consideration by Tyler. Providing action beds and sequences comparable to the ones found in Marco Beltrami’s score for ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ seems to be an irresponsible choice by Tyler. Well, arguably, this movie can be seen as nothing more than action sequences glued together in order to magnify Rambo’s hero status, and thus the violence and terror experienced by the villagers and missionaries does not necessarily deserve any thoughtful or solemn score; nevertheless, based on the tone of the film, the latter is more likely an alternate interpretation to Stallone’s original understanding of this movie. Brian Tyler creates a beautiful and memorable theme capable of stirring emotions on movie viewers of all ages; however, Tyler fails to capture the true essence of this film by providing a generic action score that lacks any true emotion or understanding of the dramatic elements shown on screen.