One thing I really love to see is when a young, new composer gets his first chance at the big time, scoring a major movie with huge box-office potential. Brazilian composer Pedro Bromfman is the composer getting that chance in the early months of 2014, having been hired to score the big-budget reboot of one of the great classic 1980s action movies, Robocop. 38-year old Bromfman is best known internationally for his scores for the popular Brazilian action movies in the Tropa de Elite series, which were directed by his old friend José Padilha; when Padilha was hired to helm the new Robocop, he brought Bromfman with him, and – shockingly – the executives at Sony Pictures gave the green light to allow this absolutely unknown composer to score their $130 million investment. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, where careers are launched and great new talents emerge – except, that in this case, the dream turns into a nightmare once you actually hear the music.
The new Robocop is more of a reimagining of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic than a straight remake. It stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy, a tough but honest Detroit cop in the year 2028 investigating organized crime and possible police corruption in his home city. After a car bomb planted by a crime boss destroys Murphy’s body, he is selected by corporate executive Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to take part in an experimental new program which will blend a severely injured law enforcement officer with an advanced robotics technology he had developed, in the hope that its success will allow him to diversify his company from being concerned solely with military hardware and into the domestic law enforcement market. With the help of brilliant scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), Murphy’s remaining body parts are blended into a cybernetic body suit, creating ‘robocop’, a nearly impregnable urban pacification weapon. After some teething troubles, Murphy begins cleaning up Detroit better than anyone imagined – but, before long, Murphy’s efficiency allows him to begin investigating his own murder, which takes him down some unexpected paths…
The score for the original Robocop, written by the late great Basil Poledouris, is rightly regarded as a classic of the genre. As a tip of the hat to his illustrious predecessor, Pedro Bromfman quotes Poledouris’s powerful Robocop March in the opening credits, a 50-second cue on the album named ‘Title Card’. This was both a wise and incredibly stupid thing to do on Bromfman’s part – although it rightly acknowledges the legacy of Poledouris’s music, is also just underlines mightily how superior it is to the music Bromfman wrote for the new version. Poledouris’s score was identifiable, individual, tailored specifically for that film and no other film, with an identity and personality that was clearly and undeniably Robocop. Bromfman’s score does none of those things; it is almost entirely bereft of personality, distinctiveness and individuality. While the individual elements of the score are all fine, on a technical level, and accompany the film appropriately enough, this is the absolute bare minimum level that a film score should attain. Not actively making its film worse is, clearly, a good thing, but when all you can say about a score is that it doesn’t make the film worse, something has gone very, very wrong down the line.
Bromfman’s score features a large orchestra, overlaid with lots electronic enhancements and vaguely industrial synthetic percussion loops, but has no personality of its own that makes it a Robocop score and only a Robocop score. This music could be music for any action thriller movie made in the past decade, written by one or more of a dozen or more composers toiling away in the Hollywood music machine. Cellos churn away in their relentless ostinatos. The percussion thrums and pulses over the top, giving the impression of forward motion, when in reality the music is treading water. The brasses blare extended whole notes when something dramatic happens (I don’t want to write ‘horn of doom’, but there you are). The word ‘generic’ doesn’t even come close.
Picking out highlight cues in this score is difficult, as most of them simply run one into the other, with little to distinguish one from the next. ‘Omnicorp’ has a fun little string motif that jumps around behind the percussion (some of which sounds like the electronic tones you hear when pressing a telephone keypad). ‘Calling Home’, ‘If I Had a Pulse’ and ‘Clara and David’ have a simple, hesitant piano motif and a ground cello line that wants to say something about Murphy’s loneliness and isolation from his wife and son, but aren’t emotional enough to really convey those complex ideas, and is in fact ruined by a load of buzzing, intrusive sound effects.
‘Made in China’ has a insistent, interesting violin rhythm that briefly piques the interest, ‘Going After Jerry’ somehow manages work in an acoustic guitar and some vaguely South American-sounding percussion, and ‘Iran Inspection’ blends some vaguely Middle Eastern-textures into the score (although this cue is massively out of order, chronologically, as this scene is the first one on the film, whereas the cue is second from last). However, these occasional moments are swallowed by the electronic sludge of cues like ‘Fixing Robocop’, the God-awful ‘Explosion’. In reality, probably the best cues on the album are ‘Vallon’s Warehouse’ and the conclusive ‘Battling Robots’, which augment the pulsating orchestra with a large dose of heavy metal, enhancing the strings and brass with a growling electric guitar and intense rock percussion. If the rest of the score had shown this much creativity and personality, this review would read very differently.
I really hate writing reviews like this, especially when the subject is someone like Pedro Bromfman, a composer at the beginning of his career, who was undoubtedly delighted to have the opportunity to write music for a major Hollywood movie. To me, the whole project just has the feeling of a studio and/or set of producers trying to appease a director they very much wanted to work with by allowing to choose his own composer, but who insisted on having that composer walk a very narrow musical path that adhered to tried and tested formulas, and hit certain target demographics. At least, I want this to be the case, because if the composer and director actually sat down and, with the freedom from the studio to be as creative as they wanted to be, actually chose to write music that’s so anonymous, so formulaic, and has so little personality as this, then something clearly went very, very wrong.