James Horner

Apocalypto

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Apocalypto was Mel Gibson's semi-controversial follow-up to his very controversial film The Passion of the Christ. While some critics praised the film, about the fall of Mayan civilization, for its sweeping vistas, period details and overall visceral experience, others skewered it for its relentlessly savage violence and called it a pretentious, indulgent exercise in overkill. James Horner's soundtrack is evocative of something ancient, with its echoey woodwinds, pounding jungle drums and droning synthetic rumbles, but whether it's an accurate evocation of the time and place depicted in the film is anyone's guess -- one would have to be fairly well schooled in Mayan culture to know that. Ultimately a soundtrack has to stand on its own anyway, and Apocalypto does. Using vocal solos from Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, nephew of the legendary Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as well as ominous throat singing, the music mostly trickles under the surface, periodically punctuated by bursts of excitement, making for a mostly passive listening experience that turns into a participatory one once it gets charged up. It's a shame, really, that a piece of largely ambient music as dynamic and sensually thrilling as this had to be attached to a Gibson project; because of the baggage the director's name carried at the time of the film's release, anything associated with it was guaranteed to be met with preconceptions. But Horner's soundtracks have never been about making a grand statement, but rather enhancing the larger work, and Apocalypto succeeds at that.

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