Dredd

Paul Leonard-Morgan

 
" Is this the future? I certainly hope not. "

Written by Alan Rogers - Review of the regular release

Dredd 3D (shouldn't that read Dreddd?) is a grim, gritty and – by all accounts – a particularly violent second-attempt at bringing the iconic 2000AD comic character Judge Dredd to the big screen. A huge, sprawling and violent metropolis where criminals rule, Mega-City One's law enforcement lies with the “Judges” who act as combined judge, jury and immediate executioner. Judge Dredd is challenged with ridding the city of a drug epidemic where users of “Slo-Mo” experience reality at a fraction of its normal speed. In his own words, Scottish-born composer Paul Leonard-Morgan's score is inspired by the tone of Dredd director Pete Travis' film. Mega-City One is a claustrophobic urban sprawl, raw and brutal in the extreme where the battle between crime and The Law plays out in constant semi-darkness with any light briefly cutting through the shadow in the form of explosions and fireballs rather than from sunlight. Leonard-Morgan's resulting soundtrack (I hesitate in calling a “score”) eschews melody in favour of acting more as a component of the film's sound design, providing almost subliminal pointers geared to enhancing Travis' dystopian vision. More in keeping with the sound palette he used for the BBC TV drama Spooks (called MI-5 in the US) and, more recently, in last year's Limitless, the composer concentrates on delivering a series of cues based around rhythms, textures and soundscapes rather than bringing anything remotely like a traditional dramatic, theme-centred score.

In interview, Leonard-Morgan is keen to point out that, as well as being inspired by the look of the film and the central character of Dredd himself, he wanted music that was not tied to any specific time period but at the same time it had to feel like it could be music that will be around some time in the near future. In order to achieve this, “traditional orchestral music” was an early casualty and what the composer came up with was “a cross between a modern dance track and evocative soundscapes”. The end result is a series of tracks that assault the senses, centering around rasping/grating electronica that battle with industrial rock band elements such as prominent, pounding drums/percussion and thumping bass lines. Surprisingly, it is where Leonard-Morgan uses these various elements that the album is at its most interesting; angry electric guitar, hyperactive drum patterns and insistent bass lines melding to produce catchy industrial rock-styled compositions. Tracks such as “Taking Over Peach Trees” (the album's highlight) with it's growling electric guitar licks and drum kit rhythms, “She's A Pass” (strong drum and bass rhythms plus powerful siren-style electronics) and “The Plan” (with a great growling guitar riff) are all tracks that seem well put together. However, musically, they do not develop in any obvious way once the composer has established the basic idea for the track. I am sure that they function well in context, delivering appropriately aggressive soundscapes or propulsive energy to a scene (the filmmakers have been quick to acknowledge the music's presence on the film). But as a listening experience on album, these tracks come across as a series of rather noisy instrumental rock band B-sides or sweaty dance tracks. Even when latching onto “Anderson's Theme” in the track list in the hope of hearing something more melodic (a theme perhaps?), what we actually have is a theme being defined as a change in the tempo (i.e., the slowing down of) and a change to a different soundscape.

Save for these handful of tracks that rely on the guitar-drums-bass combination referred to above, the remainder of the album amounts to a series of electronic soundscapes relying on various (and at times off-putting) electronic tones (e.g., “Undefined Space”) and rhythms that may aid the feel of the film but, again, as a separate listening experience are not particularly interesting. Some verge on being unlistenable for any length of time (“Undefined Space”). Several tracks (e.g., “Cornered”, “You Look Ready”) even include what can only be described as the electronic feedback humming noise that you hear when you haven't set up your home sound-system properly. The listener is worn down by track after track of electronic tone soundscapes that are just not particularly interesting to listen to. The presence of ethereal electronic vocalisations in “It's All A Deep End” and “Ma-Ma's Requiem” do offer a bit of variety from the weary soundscape tracks but when they arrive it is too little and far too late.

Filmmakers are increasingly turning to the electronic score that delivers sound design and broad brush-stroke soundscape for their films and the recent success of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo seems to have increased Hollywood's love for the “ambient score” (Harry Gregson-Williams' Total Recall anyone?) Leonard-Morgan's Dredd is another example of this developing love affair for these soundtracks where the role of the music seems to be more as a broad-stroke support of the on-screen visuals, reinforcing the environment of a scene or the propulsive energy of a chase rather than dissecting the more emotional side of the film (admittedly, Dredd may be in short supply in the latter). There is no denying that after having listened to the album and having read the original 2000AD Judge Dredd comic-strips, Leonard-Morgan has gone some way in capturing the feel of Mega-City One and the brooding aggression of Dredd himself. His score for Dredd is certainly not a horror from start-to-finish. There are some tracks that are worth repeated listens, but the majority of the album is quickly – and thankfully – forgotten. Paul Leonard-Morgan is a talented, though little-known composer. If there were to be any take-home message from this review it would be to become more familiar with composer's work not by listening to this but by seeking out his impressive (and orchestral) score for A History of Scotland.

Track Listing

1. She's A Pass (3.16)
2. Mega City One (3.13)
3. The Plan (2.37)
4. The Rise of Ma-Ma (1.55)
5. Anderson's Theme (2.37)
6. Lockdown (2.46)
7. Cornered (2.17)
8. Kay Escapes (3.17)
9. Mini-Guns (2.02)
10. Undefined Space (1.17)
11. Bad Judges (2.03)
12. Judgment Time (1.52)
13. Hiding Out (2.23)
14. Order In The Chaos (1.16)
15. Slo-Mo (1.27)
16. Taking Over Peach Trees (1.27)
17. It's All A Deep End (2.20)
18. Judge, Jury and Executioner (2.18)
19. Any Last Requests? (3.25)
20. You Look Ready (1.38)
21. Ma-Ma's Requiem (3.37)
22. Apocalyptic Wasteland (2.24)

Total Length: 51.27
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(total of 17 votes - average 2.18/5)

Released by

Metropolis Movie Music/Fontana International (regular release 2012)