Marco Beltrami's "The Wolverine" A Cut Above Most Action Scores

Aug 27, 2013

As the summer movie season winds down, “The Wolverine” has been a stand out, praised for its attention to details like character development, plot, and a focus on place and setting, despite its comic book action-movie pedigree. Fittingly, Marco Beltrami’s score for “The Wolverine” also escapes some of the trappings of typical action scores.

Beltrami, a previous Oscar nominee (“The Hurt Locker,” “3:10 To Yuma”), opens the score early on with a somber, vaguely Eastern cello line that sets the mood for the film, which takes place in Japan. Woodblock percussion and tuned bells are also used frequently throughout the score. The traditional orchestra is augmented with synthesizers, and even the occasional harmonica.

I often get tired of action movie scores which seem to eschew dynamics and melody in favor of pounding, relentless orchestral sounds. To be fair, there are some tracks in “The Wolverine” that fill that role (for onscreen effect), but several tracks from this release can stand on their own apart from the film. My favorites include “Two Handed,” which opens with the cello, progresses into a chaotic cluster of strings, and then concludes with a simple woodwind and orchestra melody. “The Hidden Fortress” opens with a driving orchestral rhythm and bass piano, punctuated by brass blasts. Then the track quiets, with clicking string bows, and other percussive string effects. A big melody enters at 3:00, depicting the enormity of the titular structure. (Nice nod to Akira Kurosawa with the title, by the way).

“The Wolverine” is a good example of addressing the needs of an action picture in a musical way, not just as a means to pummel the audience during endless fight scenes.