Composer: Ramin Djawadi
Label: Lakeshore Records
When making a film about two people who fall in love while trapped in a desolate landscape, you need a score that reflects both the struggle to survive and the developing romance. Film director Hany Abu-Assad had to look no further than composer Ramin Djawadi. Djawadi first started out his career working with world-renowned composers Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt and has gone on to be a respected composer in his own right. He has displayed a talent for writing epic and moving scores of many successful soundtracks for TV shows such as Game of Thrones and Westworld, and films such as Pacific Rim and Iron Man.
The Mountain Between Us is a romantic drama about two strangers surviving a plane crash in the snow-capped mountains of northern Utah. It stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet and is directed by Hany Abu-Assad. It was released in the UK on 6 October to poor reviews from critics. It is not a brilliant film and despite beautiful cinematography and an epic landscape, its clichéd script and some obviously signposted twists means it never reaches the potential of its interesting premise. The soundtrack, however, is beautiful. Rather than accompanying the film, it adds to it, elevating The Mountain Between Us into a much more watchable fare than it really deserves to be.
The score is a very classical one using individual instruments to great effect but also a full orchestra. The orchestral pieces are wide and sweeping like the large barren landscape of the film and the piano plays a soft romantic theme emphasising the relationship building between the two main characters. In the second track of the album shades of Ludovico Einaudi’s piano music can be heard in the more intimate tunes played on the piano, while a violin soars and dives like the lark in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending.’ The listener can’t help wondering if Djawadi was trying to convey the beauty of the natural world which can be as deadly as it is awe-inspiring.
Other tracks are both romantic, yet melancholy, the broader sweeps of the melody in strings represent the mountains but the romance is still played out on the piano again and again throughout the entire score. Dijawadi has said in interviews that he used a piano because he believes that sound from the instrument is both cold and warm and he wanted the piano to echo the development of the plot from a survival story to a love story.
Violins are also used to great effect in the score. The strings often play a tune that is twisting and changeable, which is hard for the listener to pin down. Sometimes there is a stabbing rhythm with small bells or what sounds like wind chimes eventually accompanied by strings. The music builds in speed and then suddenly the speed falls away to the intimate notes of the piano again. This all adds to the representation of the tension of a changeable climate and environment and emphasises the minute by minute, hour by hour nature of survival in the wilderness.
Dijawadi is also not afraid to experiment with different instruments in his composing. In the score he uses a vibraphone, which is made with aluminium bars and gives the music a metallic cold sound to emphasise the feeling of snow and clear mountain air. The flutes in the music add a sort mysticism to the score and Dijawadi uses plastic instrumental tubes which once spun by hand give off a sound like a hollow cold wind.
There are some problems with the soundtrack. After a while all the tracks do feel very similar in tone and pace and so listening to the whole score in one sitting can feel less effective than listening to individual tracks on their own. The running order of the tracks is also odd, with some tracks appearing to be from earlier scenes in the film but yet placed after later scenes on the soundtrack. This makes for an odd and disjointed experience if you have actually seen the film and are listening to the soundtrack afterwards. But these are minor criticisms. Ramin Djawadi has composed a lovely score that blends both music and environment, emphasising a beautiful and deadly natural landscape where humans struggle to survive. Through the music has effectively conveyed the intimate internal life of two small characters lost in that big wide natural world.