Recently, I've found myself looking forward to Marco Beltrami scores rather than grimacing at the prospect of another Scream retread, a trend that I hope continues. Recent efforts such as I, Robot and Hellboy have been fine and showing that he can apply his somewhat skittish style to a broader canvas and make it work. I rather suspect the only reason anyone has heard Frank DeVol's score to the original Flight of the Phoenix is because it appears with Jerry Goldsmith's Patton and while not quite a lost masterpiece, is certainly well worth hearing beyond just being paired with a Goldsmith classic. That the precedent isn't a sacred, iconic achievement in the annals of film scoring (had this been a remake of Patton, for instance, the scrutiny would have been intense) does mean that Beltrami can go his own way without it being vital to live up to the original.
When one considers the film, several of the more obvious traits one might expect are surprising absent. Foremost the lack of any musical depiction of the crash that sets up the story - of course, such sequences are often heightened by remaining unscored. The first two tracks are certainly not obvious openings, but do set the rather barren and unnerving tone for the score as a whole. While, at first, it may seem counter-intuitive, the approach is claustrophobic rather than epic. The desert here is not the endless, beautiful space of Laurence of Arabia, but an impenetrable barrier between the characters and civilization. Although the typically vast listing for the Hollywood Studio Symphony is included, there is an almost Thomas Newman like emphasis on smaller groups of percussion, some discrete synths and, as the liner notes put it, 'other assorted ethnic instruments.' Moments of warmth are rare, but when the strings enter during Men Hugging, the sensitive humanity is most welcome.
The slice of action for the finale is curiously brief, notably in Wing Crash, but less extended than some of the action earlier on, fine examples including the end of Nomad's Alive and Electrical Storm. Nomad Surprise is a little more optimistic to start, but turns a little more frantic and a fine, exciting high point. Homeward builds on the material from Men Hugging, but pushing a gentle theme into more heraldic territory makes it seem a little thin, but does at least close the score on an upbeat note, if not quite the surge of euphoria one might have hoped for. By necessity, creating an unsettling atmosphere does not always mean enjoyable music and several of the central cues are better on atmosphere than melody. However, repeat listens reap rewards and even if it's not quite up to the level of Beltrami's recent level of work - at least on album - it's a well wrought effort.