Marco Beltrami began working his way into the highly competitive world of American film music in the '90s with his scores for Wes Craven's Scream trilogy, then did a few science fiction scores like Terminator 3 and I, Robot and a couple of supernatural thrillers like Hellboy. Beltrami hit the big time in summer 2007 with his score for Live Free Or Die Hard, the fourth in Bruce Willis' Die Hard franchise, and the score for James Mangold's prestige remake of 3:10 to Yuma. What's the key to Beltrami's success?
As this soundtrack to Live Free Or Die Hard shows, the key is Beltrami's supremely effective combination of minimal but memorable themes, simple but striking harmonies, orchestrations emphasizing screeching strings, keening winds, and blasting brass along with a percussion section roughly the size of Texas. Imagine Bernard Herrmann meets Dmitry Shostakovich with Hans Zimmer supplying the percussion and you'll have some idea what to expect. Beltrami's scores aren't meant to stand by themselves. They're meant to enhance the effect of what's on the screen, like an aural production designer or a musical foley operator, and they are a perfect example of form following function at the service of popular entertainment. The Hollywood Studio Symphony plays with extravagant passion and extraordinary power, Beltrami conducts with immense gusto and enormous panache, and, as far as it's possible to tell, Beltrami produces with all the levels set deep in the red. As a piece of pure music, the score for Live Free Or Die Hard is pretty negligible. As a soundtrack for a Bruce Willis picture, however, it doesn't get any better. And, after all, isn't that the point?