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The Bourne Legacy by James Newton Howard

The Bourne Legacy

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The Bourne Legacy (Soundtrack) by James Newton Howard
The Bourne Legacy (Soundtrack) by James Newton Howard











The Bourne Legacy (Soundtrack) by James Newton Howard

The Bourne Legacy
Composed by James Newton Howard
Varese Sarabande Records (2012)

Rating: 5/10

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“...When one of the year’s dullest score albums comes from an action-packed thriller, you know something has gone wrong.”

The Boring Legacy
Review by Edmund Meinerts


Among the most successful action thrillers of recent times are the BOURNE films, starring Matt Damon as the eponymous amnesiac Jason Bourne in a hunt for answers about his own past. The series fundamentally changed the action-thriller genre in two major ways, for better or for worse; firstly, it popularized the hotly-debated shaky-cam style of cinematography that supposedly adds realism to action scenes. Secondly, and more significantly for film score listeners, its scores by JOHN POWELL soon became a reliable temp track staple for any modern chase scene, and with good reason. Though his first score, THE BOURNE IDENTITY, relied a bit too heavily on the electronics, the sequels (SUPREMACY and ULTIMATUM) impress with an extremely smart and appropriately modern blend of electronic loops with live percussion and relentlessly chopping string figures (known as ostinati in musical parlance), employed in remarkably welluctured action cues. SUPREMACY in particular is among the most influential scores of the modern age.

Naturally, the success of the BOURNE films and scores led to a host of imitators, with even DAVID ARNOLD’s later two JAMES BOND scores straying closer to their grittier, more down-to-earth sound than the flamboyant electro-orchestral-jazz mixture he had concocted for his initial three outings. Among the more recent BOURNE soundalikes was JAMES NEWTON HOWARD’s score for the 2010 Angelina Jolie vehicle SALT, a decently enjoyable entry into the subgenre in which a couple of strong action cues and a catchy ostinato of its own managed to overcome the relative lack of originality. HOWARD was therefore a relatively predictable choice for the BOURNE series’ relatively predictable 2012 reboot (though it’s really more of a spinoff, starring Jeremy Renner as black ops agent Aaron Cross, who has to deal with the repercussions of Bourne’s actions in the previous franchise installments).

HOWARD briefly quotes one of POWELL’s themes from the original series, repeating it immediately and almost verbatim in its lonely solo bassoon form in “Legacy” (1) – he also seems to toy with some of POWELL’s secondary motifs in “You Fell in Love” (4) and slight hints of the bassoon continue throughout, but these connections are never more than fleeting. Other than that, the only direct musical connection to the earlier franchise is a reorchestrated version of MOBY’s song “Extreme Ways” (26) at the end of the album. Conspicuously absent is the memorable ostinato that drove most of POWELL’s action cues, and which might be considered the scores’ truly defining heart. It seems a little awkward for HOWARD to choose the bassoon theme rather than the far more memorable action motif as his musical nod to his predecessor; imagine a HARRY POTTER score choosing to quote “Harry’s Wondrous World” or “A Window to the Past” and omitting “Hedwig’s Theme,” for instance. Perhaps HOWARD was making a conscious effort not to simply clone the ostinato style of action music that has become so ubiquitous in modern action music, and that is commendable; unfortunately, he failed to inject any style of his own into the score and the result is so bland, watered-down and uninteresting that it will send you scurrying back to POWELL’s scores (not to mention SALT) in no time. It’s musical wallpaper of the worst kind, so generic you could slather it over any modern action film without noticing the difference; in many ways, it mirrors the concurrent and equally disappointing score HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS gave TOTAL RECALL, another reboot whose predecessor was blessed with infinitely more interesting and unique music.

But back to the score at hand. Its two major action sequences are “Manila Lab” (9) and “Magsaysay Suite” (24), both of which sound sufficiently professional and slick but neither of which manage to generate the excitement of either POWELL’s multiple action cues from the original trilogy or HOWARD’s own “Chase Across DC” from SALT. The sharp, repeating three-note string motif heard at 0:56 in “Manila Lab” (9) crops up in a handful of other cues and is one of the few recurring thematic elements in the score, slight though it is. The bass string chopping and percussion at the outset of that cue, incidentally, is almost identical to the beginning of the cue “Preparing the Chariots” from another 2012 HOWARD score, THE HUNGER GAMES. Other action cues such as “Drone” (2) are sporadic and surrounded by lengthy portions of nothing much happening. When things do liven up, HOWARD is usually content to simply allow his slapping percussion and electronics (with an increased role for electric guitar compared to POWELL’s scores) to add another layer of noise to the film’s sound effects without achieving any further dramatic purpose. Occasionally some orchestral backing of interest will crop up, but this rarely lasts. I hate to keep dragging out the same point over and over again, but compare that to the way POWELL managed to slowly and masterfully build excitement over the course of several minutes in, for example, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY’s “Berlin Foot Chase” or “To the Roof.” It’s a whole different league.

The softer cues in THE BOURNE LEGACY, outside of the POWELL references, are similarly underwhelming. Oddly enough, they are reminiscent of a different POWELL score – THE ITALIAN JOB, or more specifically, that score’s “Bitter Suite” cue, an unspectacular and subdued but surprisingly emotional piece despite being mostly electronic in rendering. HOWARD uses similar subtle synthetic tones in “They’re All Dead” (8), “Wolves/Sick Ric” (10), “Viraled Out” (20) and at the outset of “Aftermath” (25), but the motif they perform is nothing more than a nebulous and very quiet series of drones that remains stubbornly in the background. Only in “Aftermath” (25) is this material finally fleshed out into something that attempts emotional engagement, building slowly into a dramatic crescendo that offers a feeling of both determination and unsurety. Foreshadowed in “Legacy” (1), this is easily the most “HOWARD-sounding” material in the score, and unsurprisingly therefore a highlight.

The greatest crime that THE BOURNE LEGACY commits is that it’s just too boring on an album that is just under an hour long but feels like two. In the film, it no doubt competently serves its basic purpose as a tool to generate excitement and suspense when needed. But whereas POWELL went above and beyond the call of duty to create music that was structured, that flowed from point A to B and served a real dramatic purpose even during the most frenzied of action sequences, HOWARD phoned his score in. He emulated the basic franchise sound with workmanlike professionalism (ensuring that the average cinemagoer probably won’t notice the difference), but never attempted a stab at the same level of quality. The other, riskier option would have been to take the score in a wildly different and unique direction, but that isn’t attempted at all. It isn’t quite GREEN LANTERN levels of bad, fortunately, but you could argue that at least that score was interesting (in a morbid sort of way). For being basically competent and containing few outright unpleasant or unlistenable moments, THE BOURNE LEGACY scrapes a five out of ten, but when one of the year’s dullest score albums comes from an action-packed thriller, you know something has gone wrong.


Rating: 5/10


Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Legacy 2:40  ***
2 Drone 4:15  ***
3 NRAG 0:59  ***
4 You Fell in Love 1:42  ***
5 Program Shutdown 3:00  ***
6 Over the Mountin 0:52  **
7 High Powered Rifle 2:50  ***
8 They're All Dead 2:49  ***
9 Manila's Lab 2:40  ****
10 Wolves/Sick Ric 2:19  **
11 Doctor of What? 4:28  ***
12 Aaron in Chicago 1:32  ***
13 Wolf Attack 2:57  ***
14 Chem Talk 1:35  ***
15 Flight 167 3:30  ***
16 Aaron Run! 1:08  ****
17 You Belong Here 1:17  ***
18 Cognitive Degrade 2:49  **
19 17 Hour Head Start 3:50  **
20 Viraled Out 0:58  **
21 You're Doing Fine 1:18  ***
22 Simon Ross 1:37  ***
23 LARX Tarmac 1:46  ***
24 Magsaysay Suite 3:04  ****
25 Aftermath 2:49  ****
26 Extreme Ways (Moby) 4:51 N/A
  Total Running Time (approx) 63 minutes  


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