Hunter Killer is Hollywood’s latest attempt at reviving a long-dormant film genre, creating a modern submarine thriller in the mould of those from the 1990s. Despite the renewed interest in United States-Russia relations, the film under-performed with both critics and audiences, with the most common complaint being that the film offered nothing new or unique. Unfortunately, the same can be said of composer Trevor Morris’ score.
Morris’ approach to Hunter Killer seems oddly trapped in the Remote Control sound of five years ago. Ambient electronics take centre stage for much of the tension-building, while chugging ostinatos and “horn of doom” blasts underscore the action. This approach in and of itself is not a bad fit for the film, but Morris struggles to bring anything fresh or new to the table, making the 47-track album feel twice as long as its 95-minute runtime.
Things actually start off well, with the first quarter of the album providing several tracks of classic blockbuster power anthems. Morris provides the film with two themes at the outset; one the submarine’s captain Joe Glass, and one for the the ship itself. The former is a standard, slow-moving dramatic theme hinted at in “Glass Addresses Crew” before being fleshed out more clearly in “Only Coin I Carry (Glass’ Theme).” The USS Arkansas’ theme is by far the stronger one, announcing itself with verve in “Submerge the Ship (USS Arkansas Theme)” and turning that track into an album highlight as brass blare it out over adrenaline-pumping percussion.
After that exciting introduction, however, the score is theme-less for close to 30 minutes, relentlessly chugging along with grinding synths and synthetic-sounding orchestral hits. This stretch lacks much of note outside of some exciting buildup in the middle of “Remains of Tampa Bay,” making the introduction of some melody in “Glass Sits with Andropov (Brotherhood theme)” welcome despite the tune’s lack of memorability.
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After that, things improve slightly if only because themes are finally reprised. A straightforward rendition of Glass’ theme is heard in “All Due Respect, Just Keep Leading,” while “Enter Andropov” seems to incorporate the Brotherhood theme, and “Engage” turns a motif from the track “Russia” into a generic action theme for the country. Surrounding all of these tracks again is the same monotonous grinding of course.
For the finale, Morris finally brings back the ship’s theme, the best of the bunch, in “Victory -I’m Looking at Him,” where he builds to it from Glass’ theme. The album closes out with two tracks once again independently exploring one those two themes in much the same tone as they were introduced, lacking any perceived development.
Outside of those statements of theme, the score lacks much of anything that will stick in the memory. A majority of this over-long album drone and pound on without any real musicality or attempt to distinguish one track from another. This sound and approach would have sounded tired a couple of years ago, and in an age when Remote Control composers such as Henry Jackman and Ramin Djawadi are branching out into more orchestral sounds and stronger thematic storytelling, Hunter Killer sounds badly outdated and underachieving. When a couple of instances of using sonar pings are the apex of a score’s creative, it probably is not a good sign.
The submarine thrillers of the 1990s provided career highlight works for several major composers, most notably Basil Poledouris’s The Hunt for Red October and Hans Zimmer’s Crimson Tide. While moments of Hunter Killer show promise, Trevor Morris’ score will not be held in the same esteem. He provides serviceable music here that underwhelms in terms of thematic development and composition, which is all the more frustrating given that he takes the time to clearly introduce several themes which are subsequently ignored for much of the runtime. For those who never tire of power anthems, though, a short playlist of the clearly labeled theme tracks plus “Engage” are all you really need from this effort.