Composer H. Scott Salinas has been laying down one impressive score after another, and his most recent score to the Netflix documentary The Ivory Game is no exception. The documentary is a glimpse of the dark world of ivory trade where the filmmakers filmed undercover for 16 months with operatives and activists to infiltrate the black market trade of ivory and hunt down a notorious poacher. The score is a beautiful yet haunting portrait of the situation, and it displays many of the same successful approaches Salinas brought to his score for Cartel Land.
What H. Scott Salinas does with his doc scores, is he doesn’t treat them as doc scores. Never once do you feel like the music is structured or formulated to be a passive support tool that runs behind talking heads. This is a rather actively engaging score that starts off by painting this sad portrait of the situation at hand. Then the score dives into the narrative. Even though this is a non-fiction story, Salinas finds the story beats to craft a rather emotional narrative tool. We feel like we are traveling to Nairobi, we feel the pain of the elephants, we feel the sadness of the people trying to help, but we also feel the danger. And what makes it echo even more is that you are listening to track like “Tsavo Is Killed” and you can’t stop tears from rolling down your cheeks knowing this music was written to a real death. Nothing about the music is fake or forced, there is a natural and organic struggle that plays out here. The score balances all this pain, all this frustration, and all this danger yet somehow finds this beautiful sense of hope by the end of it all. The track “Ivory Burning” brings in African vocals and reprises the main theme in a way that suggests hope, but still echoes pain.
The Ivory Game is a stunning musical journey. H. Scott Salinas proves once again that his talents as a storyteller can bring a complex and emotional heart to something that most composers might have trouble navigating. We are taken on a deep emotional journey that explores pain, sadness, frustration and danger with a bittersweet finale that still ignites hope. The music never shies away from doing what it needs to, and it never treats the documentary like some infomercial. The score helps build a narrative so we as a viewer can take everything in as organically as possible, and it stays away from making it have that “processed” documentary feel. The Ivory Game is a shining and powerful example of scoring in the doc genre that will stir some deep emotions within.
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