When a film revolves around one character and almost no dialogue then you're already asking a lot from the composer. In this case the composer is Alexander Ebert who joins the ever-growing trend of indie rock musicians jumping into the composing world. We've seen a lot of young musicians and songwriters leaving their bands to pursue a solo composing career. They are bringing a new approach to scoring and a fresh sound, which is something that Ebert definitely does with All Is Lost. Whether that approach works is debatable. The score is not big in its ambitions nor does it try to be. You can tell that Ebert is trying to stay in the background as much as possible. The score becomes more of a spiritual awakening than a tangible narrative, and it makes for an emotionally detached score that is more fascinating to examine from the outside.
There is a journey here in this score, but it's not one that is easy to experience just from the music. You can tell Ebert is trying to do something unique with the music and it calls attention to itself in that sense. In the sense that as you listen you ask yourself "Hmm, I wonder what he's trying for with this?" The music definitely leaves lots of room for the film's diegetic sound design to structure the bulk of the narrative. In a similar way Silvestri and Zemeckis opted for next to no music for Cast Away. However, in Cast Away when that theme finally plays you begin to cry your eyes out. Now we know why no music may be better than meandering music that stays behind everything. That is ultimately the unfortunate part of All Is Lost. There is a complete detachment of emotion and a one dimensionality to it that keeps you from getting engrossed by the music. You want it to be more powerful and you want it to be a more emotional endeavor, but in the end the music opts for spiritual dissonance and guitar strums. There is some great groundwork here, but nothing builds to anything substantial.
All Is Lost is a decent effort for a newcomer to scoring like Alexander Ebert given his background. The music sets a tone and lays down a foundation for the film itself to do the heavy lifting. However I'm in the camp of wanting a score to do some big emotional lifting. The music feels like one big long brushstroke instead of intricate brush strokes to paint a more engaging narrative. It's a score that fulfills what is needed for the film, but squanders an opportunity to do something truly special with a canvass that most composers would kill for.
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