My brain always has an interesting response when I hear a film is bad. The immediate answer is usually a ‘damn’, maybe some stronger language depending on how much I was looking forward to the film. But in the back of my mind, I can be often found doing a happy dance. Because according to many soundtrack enthusiasts, if a film is bad it more often than not has a good score. Thusly, A Good Day To Die Hard is – by all accounts – dreadful. But do its cuffs match its collar?
Marco Beltrami is currently the keeper of the flame when it comes to the Die Hard series, having previously scored 2007’s Live Free and Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0) which I haven’t either seen or heard, mainly due to being clinically allergic to Len Wiseman. But the previous three films were scored by Michael Kamen, who was in a class of his own when it comes to action film music. Kamen was nothing more than a genius, and was able to write nail-biting music with an inflection of emotion and humanity, as displayed in music like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. My deepest memory of Lethal Weapon is Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs running hell for leather down Hollywood Boulevard with a machine gun, Kamen’s wild music scoring his primal rage.
Now I feel for Beltrami, because it’s essentially like taking over Star Wars from John Williams. The series had a particular style and feel to its music, and the decision must have been hard on how much to homage Kamen and keep that feel, at least without feeling like it was just a facsimile. So how did he do? Pretty well. It’s definitely one big tribute to Kamen – this is made blatantly obvious by the opening cue, which apes Die Hard’s Beethoven infusion.
I’ll be honest though, I don’t see a lot of Beltrami in here, and when I do the score is less exciting. But he’s done such a solid Kamen impression that I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, because it’s just so good to hear Kamen’s voice again, even if it’s essentially a cover version. I guess the thing is, I’m a bit tired of a lot of modern action music. Don’t get me wrong, there are still great action scores being produced, but there are an awful lot that use the bare minimum of the orchestra’s power.
The great thing about Kamen was his use of brass, it was one of his signatures to play these massive blasts from the brass section which gave the scenes he scored a sense of scale and danger, very important in the films he worked on (for the record, Kamen also scored one of the most popular James Bond movies, Licence To Kill). Many modern action scores seem to ditch the brass and stick to the strings, which is sometimes suited to the tone but often fails to leave a sense of individuality to the score. Thankfully, Beltrami recognizes this crucial fact and applies it liberally throughout the album.
However, there are some interesting parts that come from Beltrami himself, including the Russian flavour of some of the tracks. He also uses electronics in small doses, and interesting instruments (including harmonica at one point), and has good control of the string section. This all works relatively well until the final three tracks, which kind of screw the pooch a bit. ‘It’s Hard To Kill A McClane’ features some really over the top emotional scoring that just doesn’t feel like it belongs in the score, sounds idiosyncratic for the sake of it and recalls Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes music, and finally ‘McClane’s Brain’ sounds like someone infamous pop hit ‘Hear The Drummer Get Wicked’ and threw some jazz noodling over the top. Hmm.
But I can’t really dock it too many points because the rest of the score is a fine tribute to Michael Kamen, showcasing some of the great scoring techniques that defined him as one of the greatest action movie composers ever. Long may we remember him and his massive contribution to the Die Hard franchise, as well as composing as a whole.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is out now from Sony Classical
Words: Charlie Brigden