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Deepwater Horizon by Steve Jablonsky (Review)

posted Sep 30, 2016, 4:07 PM by Kaya Savas

Deepwater Horizon sees the collaboration between director Peter Berg and composer Steve Jablonsky continue. After tackling Battleship and Lone Survivor with Berg, Jablonsky takes his style and approach to this dramatic adaption of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion from 2010. If you know Jablonsky’s style and Berg’s direction, you’ll pretty much know what to expect from this score. There’s nothing fancy in the approach, but Steve’s talents in building suspense are put on display here as he provides a great undercurrent of tension while highlighting the emotions of the story in all the right places.

Jablonsky is of course known for his big bombastic Michael Bay scores, but on the other end of the spectrum he is extremely capable of designing music to truly heighten suspense within the editing. And that’s what this score does so well. The music is not overly thematic or heroic or bombastic. It opens by establishing the characters and gives us a glimpse at these characters as real people with jobs and families. The score immediately goes into foreboding mode. The music starts building rhythms and loops on these long arcs. The tracks are nice and long so you feel the score working its magic. It’s an interesting structure because each track almost feels like we’re walking up a staircase working our way to the climax. But also, each track feels like it’s own mini arc as well. So we kind of get this unique stepladder progression in intensity until we work our way to the main action and finally the conclusion. In all of this, the electronic soundscape of pulses and rhythms never calls too much attention to itself. There is a very subtle central motif that is essentially 3 tones. These high-pitched tones echo throughout the score here and there underneath the meat of everything like someone ringing a soft bell. The score eases back on anything too heavy in an effort to not be “too heroic”, it keeps it grounded in realism somewhat similarly to how Lorne Balfe scored 13 Hours. We do get some nice big moments though that add that emotional core to the action, and the score is not afraid to go for it towards the end.

Disaster movies used to be big and robust even though they were based on true stories (see Titanic, The Perfect Storm). They weren't afraid to be movies. We saw a shift with disaster films to not make them too “Hollywood” so as to not exploit or disrespect a real-life disaster. Filmmakers were stuck not knowing if they were making a film or a documentary, but thankfully Deepwater Horizon embraces that it's a film. Sure it’s based on a real-life disaster that killed 11 people, but the film is meant to engage and entertain while shining a light on the human spirit that shines through in times of disaster and peril. Thankfully the score isn’t afraid to go for it too. Some of those robust emotions shine through in the action while still being reserved enough to not exploit the story. All in all, a great effort from Jablonsky who adds his signature style to give some heroic action goosebumps while still maintaining the gravitas of the story.