The Cloverfield Paradox
The Cloverfield Paradox (abbreviated hereafter as Paradox) is the third film of the Cloverfield franchise, detailing the events directly preceding the New York monster attack from the first film. Super Bowl fans and film enthusiasts alike were taken by surprise as the unlooked for anthology issue, produced by J.J. Abrams, was released immediately following the game. The score is composed by Bear McCreary, who had previously scored the second installment of the series, 10 Cloverfield Lane, best known for his scoring work in television. His score for the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica in particular, universally praised by fans and critics alike, has contributed greatly to his present status as a television scoring rock star. McCreary's work on Paradox is nothing short of his finest film score to date. The interplay of styles composed to suit a myriad of situations, whether they be rooted in action, horror, or affection, and to write them with such conviction as to constantly astonish the listener, is a rare feat. Due to the burgeoning genre confusion throughout the series the score for Paradox diverges enormously from either of the previous chapters. The first Cloverfield, being a found footage film, was completely devoid of any original compositions with exception to the end credits where Michael Giacchino supplied the cue "Roar!", conceived as a tribute to the early Godzilla scores of Akira Ifukube. Following this 10 Cloverfield Lane endured copious musical suspense as a psychological thriller, using a full-size orchestra beside a yayli tambur and a blaster beam. Barring these unique instruments it can be said that much the same orchestration was used across 10 Cloverfield Lane and Paradox, with the additional use of a choir. Bearing in mind McCreary's work on Battlestar Galactica, I had thought he might take another turn at the unorthodox and still exceptional use of ethnically influenced music prevalent in the show. What he wrote instead, while decidedly more stereotypical of the science-fiction genre, is by no means diminished in quality as it perfectly perseveres the musical integrity of its predecessor. The score begins with the "Overture", performed atop a montage in which we meet the crew of the Shepherd space station and witness their attempts to trigger a stable particle beam that will provide unlimited energy to the suffering billions below. A considerable amount of time - nearly two years - elapses over the course of the montage, moving very quickly from optimistic resolve to disquieting hopelessness. The music mirrors these sentiments, beginning with thunderous attacks from the lowest registers of the orchestra, demanding success from the crew and painting the gravity of the situation. The strings move rapidly and insistently as more and more failed attempts transpire, counting down the clock and only pausing to make way for an earnest melody. The theme, first heard in the cello, is an impatient, near mercurial sixteenth-note curlicue, flaring erratically with every call and response and declaring its disapproval. A repetitive pattern much in keeping with the time constraints sensed by the audience is performed in the strings above, amplified further with added harmonies. The music maintains complete auditory dominance over the montage, without interruption from dialogue or sound effects, and is matched so well to the shifting visuals one can assume the director adapted his shots to synchronize with the score. The cue "Ava and Michael", entering toward the end of their conversation, introduces Ava's theme, the emotional headliner of the score and the most sublime contemplation of the pneuma to be heard in film for some time. Throughout the scene we learn about Ava's deceased children, granting a sympathy to the character that resonates within the contemplative melody. To mirror this the theme begins in a serene G Major, altering all too soon in the second phrase with a forlorn diminished chord. Like the overture, the theme is comprised of several musical elements. Foremost, the gesture at the outset of the cue repeats with a cyclical nature, taking a full beat at the end of each bar to create space and breathe. One of McCreary's greatest strengths is that he is not afraid to meditate on ideas such as these, allowing them to take root and occupy our subconscious before proceeding. The gesture is soon joined by the principle melody, performed on a bass flute and married with a counter melody in the strings on the recapitulation. Both the cyclic motif and the counter-melody are often doubled by a minor third. The third refrain exhibits an elegiac choir, arriving as the camera moves away from Ava's apartments and we take in the entire space station for the first time. The choir in this moment serves two functions often witnessed in film scoring. The first is the more immediate relationship the human voice achieves in the context of an orchestra, creating a direct musical accord with the characters of the film by serving as their inner voice and distilling the melody into pure emotion. Secondly, using a choir in this circumstance is emblematic of science-fiction scores for its ability to evoke human transcendence, in this case connoting an angelic relationship with the divine. The Abyss, scored by Alan Silvestri, and Galaxy Quest (a personal favourite), scored by David Newman, both come to mind here. Ava's theme is a wonderful example of the modern style of multimedia scoring. Most film scores today, while distinctly tonal, do not conform to the systemic boundaries of the Western classical system. They seek to explore the narrative condition organically, changing spontaneously to suit the needs of the film. The use of stratified textures and enharmonic modulation, such as we see here, create a musical scheme that allows the composer to constantly reshape their music to the form of the film. And it is worth noting that each layer, be it repetitive or melodic material, is fully capable of thriving independently. One of the biggest challenges film composers face on a regular basis is writing something both malleable and stable, and McCreary accomplishes this with effortless grace. A more complete setting of Ava's theme has been provided to offer an idea of what this style of scoring might look like when written out.
"Converging Overload" begins once again with the overture motifs, quickly moving into a new texture, more nimble and sinuous than any of the former figures as running strings guide the successful collision of the particle accelerator. Atop the strings bursts an elated melody; sonorous, triumphant, and ultimately short-lived, interrupted when a sudden power surge teleports the station to an alternate dimension. It is here that the score leaves behind the better part of its flourishing tonal principles until the final act, moving ahead with apprehension and dread. The last semblance of musical concord perceived prior to the horror elements of the score take form with Tibetan throat singing ("Drifting in the Dark"). An inimical male choir, opposing the angelic chorus heard before, erupts from the bowels of space as though incantations are being sent from the void. Faced with colliding realities the Shepherd suffers a series of bizarre events, followed closely by probing strings, aleatoric flutes, and sudden bursts of anxiety from every division of the orchestra. The musical turbulence is led by a very hollow siren of sorts, though I have yet to place the instrument. It can be heard at the beginning of the "Mutant Space Worms" cue, providing a truly haunting effect inside the empty cabins and passageways of the station. A percussive ticking effect is also prominent in several cues as a reminder of the limited time the crew faces ("Mutant Space Worms", "Jensen", and "Airlock 6"). McCreary's use of dissonance is such that it paralyzes the viewer in these sequences. It rarely, if ever, jumps out at us for mere shock value, waiting patiently instead; biding its time and drawing us in closer until it is too late. The discordant orchestra only begins picking itself up with the triumphant return of Ava's theme as the gyroscope is recovered and the crew reestablishes their coordinates. With every passing minute the station suffers further accidents, spurring the overture motifs as well as a new string ostinato heard throughout "Spacewalk", desperately pleading for a victory. The score is given a reprieve as Ava sends a message to her alternate self, warning her of the doom that has befallen her children in her own dimension. This cue, more than capable of standing on its own in a concert setting, is given astonishing depth in the context of Ava's journey and marks the unmistakable emotional climax of the score. The running strings return to bring Ava and Schmidt home, with a final statement of Ava's theme and the overture to guide their landing. These last twenty minutes of the score effectively constitute a suite of the most notable musical features throughout Paradox, closing the film on a high note. McCreary's score invariably made this film, loaded with science-fiction cliches and confusing inconsistencies, a more enjoyable experience. His musical expression and orchestration methods strike one as a sleek blend of Danny Elfman and David Newman, and yet they are objectively unique, without any danger of of plagiarism. A fourth and final film in the series, Overlord, is scheduled to release in October of this year, and we can only hope it will uphold tradition by preserving McCreary's position as the series composer. Every now and again a score comes along that connects with us viscerally, and I am thrilled to have found such an experience so promptly into the new year. Since I began writing reviews for film scores some eight months ago there have been many nostalgia trips, but this is the first new score in all that time to which I have had a deeply powerful and emotionally charged reaction. It gives me great joy to delve into a score like this - to take the time and come out the other side with a renewed enthusiasm for a continually developing art form - and I am certain I will look back fondly on this score as an important step in my exploration of film music.