Quick Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

A Good Day To Die Hard
Music composed by Marco Beltrami
Score programmed by Buck Sanders
Orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Jon Kull, Dana Niu, Rossano Galante, Andrew Kinney
Score conducted by Pete Anthony
Die Hard Theme by Michael Kamen
Album time: 64 minutes
Available on Sony Classics

And another franchise continues.  Bruce Willis returns as John McClane in this fifth installment.  Michael Kamen provided the groundwork for the series, composing the scores for the first three films (Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance).  Marco Beltrami took over the reins for the last film, Live Free or Die Hard (2007), so he was the natural choice to continue.  Beltrami also scored director John Moore's previous films: Flight of the Phoenix (2004), The Omen (2006) and Max Payne (2008).   

Beltrami is versed in action scoring, and bombastic orchestral pieces.  The score fits the film well, with its never-ending action and orchestral/electronic forces.  

The album begins with a quote of Beethoven's Ode to Joy (a nod to the original Die Hard) in the track Yuri Says, “привет”.  From there, the pulsing rhythms start and continue through tracks like Getting Yuri to the Van.  The electronics at this point are very supportive of the live orchestra, allowing a buildup of tension.  This track builds on the odd-metered rhythms, which give the orchestra a nice edge.  Jack Makes the Call begins with the pulsing electronic rhythms and muted brass.  Added in is the balalaika  giving a bit of an Eastern flavor, and a harmonica.  The electronic loops take over completely in odd rhythms as the orchestra crescendos to the end of the track.  Everyone to the Courthouse builds with a large brass exclamation and chugging string section, not uncommon in most action scores.  

The track Court Adjourned begins with a bang, featuring large amounts of percussion.  This track sounds more like some past Die Hard scores.  Truckzilla (Act 1) builds on chugging string ostinatos.  This track goes out all, and is just plain pounding action.  This, combined with the next few tracks are the real highlights.  The lighter action sound of Yippie Kay Yay, Mother Russia! reminds me of bits of Kamen's earlier scores.  The end of the track ends with a flourish of brass, with wailing trumpets.  The orchestral craziness continues in Truckzilla (Act 2).  The unrelenting rhythm is something Beltrami pulls off well, starting in a meter of 7 before switching between 7 and 5.  The strings have an ostinato pattern while the brass deliver heavy blows.  A motif gets delivered instrument to instrument throughout the track.

Father & Son gives us a moment of relief from the action, with the strings taking over.  Of course, this being a Die Hard film, the sentiment doesn't last long and the action picks up in To the Safe House.  Regroup is a tension-filled track, mainly low-sounding underscore before getting picked up again.  Leaving the Safe House gets us back to the big action and electronics heard earlier in the score.  Getting to the Dance Floor sounds almost like a spy thriller, with a bit of intrigue as they find Irina.  Too Many Kolbasas on the Dance Floor is a largely dissonant with the tension rising slowly.

A low brass motif begins What's So Funny?, another semi-mysterious cue which eventually takes off.  It also features my personal favorite French horn rips.  McClanes Get the Bird features the same string sound heard in Truckzilla, with the low brass motif added in.  Scumbags gets us a bit more rising and falling suspense, with hints of the balalaika melody from earlier. Entering Chernobyl and Into the Vault is both eerie cues, full of rising suspense and lingering high strings.  Rubbed Out at the Spa brings the building orchestra back and features a great moment near the end of the track.       

Sunshine Shootout reminds me of moments in Michael Giacchino's Mission Impossible scores.  Get to the Choppa! (yes, another goofy track title...speaking of Giacchino...) has nice string rhythms and ends with a flourish.  Chopper Takedown is a bombastic cue, with snare drums, bass drums, cymbals and anvil getting a lot of work.  The strings and brass take over with the uneven meter.  It switches to a short quiet moment before the action picks back up.  It's Hard to Kill a McClane is another great track.  (Perhaps the non-action standout).  It begins with a sweeping melody in the violas and cellos that gets passed through the orchestra and built upon.  It has a heroic nature to it and features piano and swirling woodwinds before fading away.  

The last two tracks are almost like bonus tracks, first being Triple Vodka Rhapsody.  It's a fast fun tune, with an Eastern flair.  McClane's Brain is a rocking jazz tune that sounds like nothing else in the score. 

Beltrami often layers his rhythms on drones, which just subtly continue under other melodies.  While this score has more electronic elements, it feels more real and orchestral than Live Free or Die Hard.   
I'm not an expert on Kamen's Die Hard scores, but besides a few throwbacks to the theme heard in the score, I can't identify too much more.  Perhaps there are Kamen-isms that lurk throughout the score (like Beltrami did in Die Hard 4), but perhaps others would like to chime in on those.  

Beltrami has become a master of unrelenting action scores.  The score and album hardly let up, and gives the drive to the film.  To describe the score in two words it would be: unrelenting momentum.  It just keeps charging ahead (like the franchise itself).  Is this a score you'll be humming around the house - no.  But what was the last action score that did?  

And one final note - scores don't often get mentioned in film reviews, but A.O. Scott at the New York Times mentioned it as "Marco Beltrami’s bludgeoning score".  I can't disagree, but that's what made this album enjoyable to listen to.

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  1. Good action but not the story! It should start from Die Hard 4 with Justin Long and Mclane's daughter! Quite a bit disappointing!