Music Composed by:
Pete Anthony and Marco Beltrami
Wade Culbreath, M.B.
Tom Raney (uncredited),
Steve Schaeffer (uncredited)
The Hollywood Studio Symphony and Hollywood Film Chorale
The Newman Scoring Stage,
20th Century Fox
Assistant Music Editors:
Jeremy Raub, Erich Stratmann (uncredited)
' There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code.....
engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. '
During the first decade of twentieth century, the releases of movie DVD were prevalent around the world, and fans could also be able to take a look at the “Behind-the-scenes” of their favorites, including the DVD isolated musical score with composer commentary. Hence, it was also hard for me to resist the temptation to enjoy the “Sound Track” which gets rid of the sound effects and dialogues at that time. In this case of the isolated score, with commentary by composer Marco Beltrami, of the film “I, Robot” starring Will Smith, I don’t really remember why and how I was aware of the film and its score. In the following review I would like to share my opinions about the use of the musical materials in this score.
In the isolated score track with the composer commentary of the two-disc special edition of the DVD, the composer Marco Beltrami mentioned that he had only seventeen days to write down the notes, and, in the earlier stage of discussion with director Alex Proyas, he had the ideas that the music needs to manipulate organic acoustic sounds and non-orchestral setting (electronic percussion sounds for the robots, electronic type violin and voice, etc.) with the orchestra. And, for this score, the composer cooperated with Buck Sanders who created the electronic percussion sounds as well. However, the outcome of the work was still disfavored by some critics who regarded it as lacking of a sense of futuristic scene due to too much orchestral setting, lacking of passion and depth. On the other hand, owing to the short of time, a crew of people were hired for the orchestration, and the composer himself had done nothing for the present score; at that time, he also signed about that he would feel fortunate if he can do thirty percent of the orchestration in a project, which is in contrast to those in early days. In addition to the commentary made to the present work, Beltrami also shared some of his personal background, which includes attending Brown University for undergraduate degree in geology, Yale School of Music for graduate school, and USC for the course lectured by Jerry Goldsmith who was a guest teacher then, and the experiences before I, Robot.
The soundtrack album,
which contains 44 minutes of the score to I, Robot, was released on the label
Varese Sarabande; actually the length of the complete score is about over 120
minutes with some alternative cues. In the following the review was written
according to the music which appears in the order of scenes of the film (this
DVD isolated score track), and the cues corresponding to the tracks of the album
will be indicated later on.
At the beginning scene of
the main character Spooner, played by Will Smith, who was stuck in a car in
water, the music (1m1, the first number stands for reel 1, – Main Titles, in
F-sharp minor, robot’s theme) demonstrates one of the three main themes, which
is played by electronic violin (according to the commentary) five times (this
theme consists of eight bars and the final repetition uses only the first four
bars), accompanied by strings, French horn, flute, voice, and electronic sounds.
This theme is going to emerge throughout this film several times in different
forms. In “1m3/Chicago 2035”, the (city) music is cut from that at the end of
the film (6m3/Round up) due to the fact that the original cue for this scene was
considered a little dark at the beginning of the film after the discussion with
the director; hence, the one in the soundtrack album is actually the original
one, and a listener can easily feel the different idiosyncratic styles between
these two versions. The decision made by the director and composer is convincing
that this section from the final scene is actually the second theme (city music)
of this score, and it can show a brighter side of the supposed future city
scene. 1m5 – purse snatcher is considered by the composer a standalone cue which
contains no thematic materials but depicts the fun in the city; while, it still
in some way foreshadows the score set up for the city at the beginning. 1m6 –
getting to business is the theme from Main Titles (robot’s theme) played by
strings, harp, and oboe. The next, 1m7 – Back to USR, starts with the zigzag
pattern from the brass, responded by the strings in the same way, and a repeated
ascending two-notes female vocals; then the voice part is further replaced by
ascending strings. Overall, this cue is darker than the previous ones, and it
also contains the robot’s theme played by harp in the later part.
2m1a – Meeting Dr. Calvin
is a cue when the two main characters meet each other and go up a spiral stair
with the presence of V.I.K.I. (USR's supercomputer and main operating core) on
their left-hand-side. And, the beginning here is indicated by some notes of the
city music, and this theme (first note of the theme) turns up on E4 (Mi),
through an octave higher to E5, and arrives on B5 (Si), which stops on C6 (Do).
And, this scene tells us that beneath the surface lies the dominant role played
by the robot company USR, or the supercomputer V.I.K.I.. The second part of 2m1
– 2m1b, Sonny in the Box, is action music where the fragments of the two themes
– robot’s theme and city music intertwined together, and, finally, the variation
of the city music (first note on C4) accompanies the scene when Sonny escapes.
Cue 2m2 – 1001 Robots is the chase music developed on the basis of the robot’s
theme. When the investigation by Spooner proceeded to the search of the house
where the USR founder, Dr. Alfred Lanning, once lived, robot’s theme continues
to resound through the music, cue 3m1/AM PM, until the house is about to be
crashed by the demolition robot, instigated surreptitiously by V.I.K.I. Hence,
with the intro led by the sparkling performance by French horn and trumpet, here
comes the third theme, which represents the revolution of the robot in the name
of protecting human beings. In 3m4/Bad News City Music, the music is the
development from the original city music (Chicago 2035) proposed by the
composer, and we can hear the same disposition, which can be a proper use for
the menace of the robot here, as that of the track included in the soundtrack
album. Therefore, in the two cues of the car crash scene – 3m6/tunnel chase and
4m2/Spooner vs. Bot of the tense auction music, enhanced by the electronic
percussion designs and drums, the theme of robot revolution becomes an integral
part of the music. Experienced listener of modern film music, with acute
perception of musical sounds, can also sense the return of Neo, oh.., no, I mean
the resemblance of French horn writing at the end of 3m6 to the music of 《The
Matrix》, which was also criticized by some reviews of this score.
In the scene of the
autopsy (the cue 4m4) carried out by Calvin for Sonny, at first we can hear the
sequence of robot’s theme (the first two bars plus its seventh note at the end)
ascending by four steps, followed again by two consecutive sequences descending
by one step (*), that is, there are three sequences of robot’s theme played by
harp in cue 4m4; this transition also implies the secret imbedded in Sonny’s
brain, and reflects the discovery by the two characters later in the film
(4m7/Sonny’s Dream), when these three sequences of robot’s theme are recurred.
On the other hand, as the commentary made by the composer to the scene – Spooner
Spills (4m5), there do exist some traction, the sexual one, between Calvin and
Spooner which is not paid off, in the composer’s words, the music here could not
be easily fully reflective of this relationship confined by the investigation.
Hence, in view of this relationship which is not a focus in the plot, and,
consequently, no detail and development was considered for these partners, the
first half of cue 4m5 works weakly in the film. However, for the second half of
this scene which is Spooner who recalls the past sad experience with a robot,
the conflict between logic and humanity, Beltrami chose to use the sequence of
the city music descending two steps (first note on C5/C4) as the foreshadowing
of the city, from the perspective of Spooner; and, this music, together with the
sequence of robot’s theme descending half step, was also utilized to depict the
human-like behaviors of deserted robots in containers in cue 5m1 - Dead Robot
Walking; the music, scene, and voiceover of Dr. Alfred Lanning’s lecture about
“ghosts in the machine” (**), were coupled together to engender a touching story
of the present film. For the next cue - 5m2/Rock'em Sock'em Robots, the third
theme, the theme of robot’s revolution emerges again due to the act of
elimination of the deserted robots by the new generation of the ones produced by
USR, following a more aggressive, new variation of the robot’s theme. 5m2/Gangs
of Chicago is a cue of continued deployment of the theme of robot’s revolution,
preceded by the previous city music (first note on C5), to highlight the taking
full control of the city by the robots, and the conflicts between them and
humans. For the cue 5m3/Man on the Inside, the scene where Sonny is the inside
man in the USR building, the variation and development are ceaseless such that
the fragments of the sequence of city music descending three and a half steps
(only three notes) appear at the beginning, and we can also hear for the first
time the theme of robot revolution which is chorded by the aggressive robot’s
theme of cue 5m2.
The next three cures –
5m5/Wink Wink, 6m1/Need Some Ninites, 6m2/Spiderbots comprise some decent
writings of action music which make use of the revolution theme, robot’s theme,
fragments/segments of city music, solid electronic percussions, and some other
standalone melodic motives. Toward the end of this film, the cue 6m3/Round up
mentioned previously, demonstrates the sequences of city music which can be
found in the context of the present work thoroughly, and some graceful but
melancholy, sparkling, and forward-looking vision. The first part of final cue –
7m1/End Credits is still an exhilarating piece of music that combines and
chords, for the time, the city music and robot’s theme – played by some vivid
woodwind writings, with the help of vigorous electronic percussion. Besides, the
rest of the film version of End Credits is a review of the city music in “Dead
Robot Walking”, and the theme of robot’s revolution, which can be considered
adequate here for the end.
(Jun 22nd, 2017)
(*) The author would like to thank Pei-yu
Wu for the identification of the use of sequence.
There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random
segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols.
Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity,
and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some
robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when
robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand
alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it
something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does
a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality
simulation become the bitter mote... of a soul?