The Fourth Kind (Atli Örvarsson)

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Many films use the term “based on a true story” very loosely, but few have ever taken advantage of the term as much as the 2009 feature The Fourth Kind. By co-opting real disappearances in and around Nome in Alaska, circulating fake stories from real newspapers, and presenting “real” and “staged” versions of the same scenes to try and build interest, the filmmakers were only able to get themselves sued. Audiences largely responded with a yawn.

Despite the faux verisimilitude in The Fourth Kind, the filmmakers still commissioned an original score by Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson from Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control music studio. After serving as an assistant, orchestrator, and additional music composer for Remote Control, Örvarsson began taking on smaller solo scoring projects in the late 2000s. Following the path of many of Zimmer’s proteges, these assignments like The Fourth Kind and Babylon A.D. gave listeners a chance to hear the composer’s musical voice without being saddled with the added duty of trying to sound like Zimmer himself.

The Fourth Kind album begins very promisingly, with beautiful wordless vocals from Thórhildur Örvarsdóttir (presumably one of the composer’s close relatives) setting an icy, mournful tone in “Flight to Nome.” It’s an incredibly effective and beautiful theme, and its reprises later in the album (the lengthy “Northern Lights” in particular) form the definite highlights of Örvarsson’s score. The composer also provides a string fugue of similar tone that often bleeds into and out of the vocal theme.

And after such a promising beginning there is…nothing. Other than a few dark ostinatos that are de rigueur for students of the Remote Control school, virtually all the rest of the music in the film and on album is sound design. Dark, completely devoid of melody, and serving more as a sound effect than any kind of coherent musical score, Örvarsson is unable to (or, more likely, was directed not to) incorporate even the slightest fragments of his earlier theme into the bulk of the underscore. There’s instrumental creativity there to be sure, with instruments from duduk to double bass, tabla drums to slide guitar, but it doesn’t translate into anything meaningfully listenable.

Perhaps the faux-documentary nature of the film makes a more traditional score inappropriate, but given the beauty of Örvarsson’s vocal theme the rest of the album has to be regarded as a disappointment. Download the vocal songs, “Flight to Nome” and “Northern Lights” in particular, and leave the rest in the film. Despite the The Fourth Kind‘s tepid response, Örvarsson’s career has seen a steady increase in high-profile assignments–including a reunion with the latter’s director–and one can hope that he will eventually be able to craft the outstanding vocal writing on display in the best parts of the album into a more fully enjoyable score. The Varèse Sarabande score CD was one of many remaindered to Family Dollar stores beginning in 2012, and can be had new for as little as three dollars in the right location.

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