The Island had a huge buzz around it. It was a Michael Bay film and whatever he does, from Bad Boys to Pearl Harbor to Armaggedon seems to turn into a hit. The casting of Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson was seen as a good choice by many, they were hip, off the back of respective successes of Star Wars and Lost in Translation and ready for a big sci-fi flick. They play clones who escape their chambers in order not to be killed when their human opposite in the “real world” needs a spare body part, for example. The bad guy is Sean Bean, which means he’s gonna die (see Goldeneye, Lord of the Rings, Equilibrium and 12 other movies – fact). So the job of scoring this massive action movie was given to Steve Jablonsky. He decided a techno taste with a flattering underneath score of choral voices and orchestra was a way of showing technology on-top, and human emotion seeping through underneath. It’s a good idea, but nothing new.
Steve Jablonsky is still a relatively unknown composer to the majority of soundtrack collectors. So when he was signed on to score Michael Bay’s next major action movie, it may have raised a few eyebrows. My first introduction to Steve was while listening to the 2002 Tears of the Sun soundtrack…by Hans Zimmer. The highlight of that soundtrack was a pounding action track called no other than “Jablonsky variations on a Hans Zimmer theme”. So, put pounding action and Hans Zimmer influence together and you’ve got a clear image of what The Island sounds like.
Steve Jablonsky is clearly a “Zimmerite”. Someone who has mastered his trade under Hans Zimmer / Media Ventures, and his scoring is of the same nature. What Jablonsky has ahead of other composers, though, is an innate ability to score interesting action scores that don’t completely bore after 30 seconds like the majority. There’s certainly a large enough range of percussion, and percussion players, to keep you interested. Jablonsky also has a keen eye for pace, once he gets you going on an action track, he keeps you going and pays off with a decent climax. That said, the soundtrack album itself doesn’t lend itself well to showing off Jablonsky’s ability to organise structure. Some tracks such “I’m not ready to die”, “My name is Lincoln” come in with a long, boring drone sound. Yes you could suggest it’s like technology, it sounds a bit futuristic and it probably works for the film. Though, it’s not going to excite many soundtrack fans and you end up having to skip the first 30 seconds of tracks just to get to any scoring of real capability.
Jablonsky is simply not subtle in his scoring for this soundtrack. This seems like the perfect match for director Michael Bay. There are times when sounds or even, yes, 50 cent lyrics, seem forced without an ounce of subtlety. When there does seem to be a bit of subtlety used, Jablonsky’s scoring ability shines through. One of the best individual pieces comes in the track “Mass Winnings”, before the percussion kicks in and choral voices and percussion joins together in harmony. It’s appropriate for the movie - the future (tech/percussion) meets the human element (choral voices). The problem is, I’ve heard it all before, far, far, far, far too many times. This style of scoring is out of the Media Ventures manual, it could have been part of Hans Zimmer’s King Arthur, The Rock or Gladiator soundtracks. Or more appropriately a nod in the direction of fellow “Zimmerite” Harry Gregson-Williams’ Spy Game and Metal Gear Solid soundtracks.
The Island drastically falls short on delivering a key theme. A theme that would resonate in beauty throughout all the tracks was none to be found. In-fact the ending piece “My Name is Lincoln” is probably the closest Jablonsky gets to creating a theme and by then it’s too late! The audience of the film and the CD have nothing to refer back to, and instead of this being a rounding off of the theme to bring us back to our equilibrium, we’re left feeling why wasn’t that at the beginning. And this is when it gets interesting. In the film, the equilibrium at the beginning is not a comfortable equilibrium, and the ending is supposed to seem like a new beginning, which is why a main theme is probably left until the end in order to feel the “beginning is at the end”, if you’re following me here people. What this leaves you thinking is that Steve Jablonsky is certainly a composer with the solid ability to score a motion picture, but based on this performance, he’s not going to leave you with a big theme and great soundtrack to listen to afterwards. With his next soundtrack he’ll have to prove me wrong…
The whole soundtrack is in your face, which if you simply like action music full stop, this might be your bag. Otherwise, listen to a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, like the “The Rock”, or Harry Gregson-Williams’ “Spy Game”. They’re similar, but better.