When I review a new score, I really have to dive deep into the music to find out what kind of themes there are, what they represent and how they are used. When reviewing a soundtrack of Tom Holkenborg that is not always necessary: Holkenborg does all the work for you in his YouTube show “Studio Time,” which was also the case for Alita: Battle Angel. If I am honest, when I was watching the movie in the cinema, I was not impressed by the score. However, after watching the “Studio Time” episodes and seeing how much thought went into making the music for the film, it really intrigued me, and I decided to have a thorough look at this score myself.
One of the things I took from the “Studio Time” episodes is that, next to creating melodies for a theme or a pattern, Holkenborg also puts a lot of effort into how the melodies should sound. He is able to transform a couple of notes into a strong and powerful theme. A good example of this is the antagonist’s theme that can be heard right at the start of the movie and the album in “Discovery.” The theme is just a couple of simple tones and is more like a motive. That motive is played in all kinds of different sounds and variations throughout the score. In “Nova’s Orders” it can be heard halfway in the track, played by low strings and low woodwinds. The way these instruments make the theme sound is haunting. To contrast this, the same motive can be heard in “You Just Lost a Puppet,” where it is performed by violins with the support of a female choir, giving the theme a totally different vibe. The simplicity and shortness of the theme makes it very easy to use anytime the antagonists need the spotlight.
Alita herself does not have only one theme, she has three of them. The first is her main theme, which can be heard for the first time in “I Don’t Even Know My Own Name,” where it sounds like a melody played on small bells. It is simple and delicate and really represents the teenage girl, who can be sad or determined as can be heard, for example, in the end part of “In the Clouds” where it is played by the whole orchestra and choir. The melody is not complex but lends itself very well to be used in all kind of ways. Her second theme is, as Holkenborg mentions, more of a motive of five notes, representing her mysterious past. The best tracks to hear this motive are “Unlocking the Past” and “Whose Body Is This?” The last theme of Alita is her heroic theme, which can be heard in “Raising the Sword” as the finale of the movie.
For this album, Holkenborg also could turn to his Junkie XL roots with the track “Motorball,” which is a track with a lot of electronics and a heavy beat, but also with orchestra and choir sounds in the middle part. Finally, there is one part in the whole score that I have to mention: In the second half of “Double Identity” there is a beautiful woodwind melody that I enjoy very much.
The rest of the score is filled with support music, done most of the time by the orchestra and with fewer drums than usual with Holkenborg. Action scenes and emotional cues are identified with ease in this score, and sometimes a hint or a full version of a theme will make its appearance in the music. I can happily say that there is no dull moment on the album, where every minute is filled with a melody or a different rhythmic pattern.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, the score did not grab me initially when watching the film, but there is really something there after giving the soundtrack a better analysis. I have listened to Holkenborg’s scores over the years, and I can really see growth in his music. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that after reviewing this score, I will stop listening to it, and it is nagging me that I cannot really pinpoint a reason why that is. The melodies and themes are present in this score, but they do not move me. I do think though that Holkenborg is on the right path and I am quite curious about what kind of sounds and themes he will come up with for his next project.
Listen or buy
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The highlights are in bold.
- Discovery (3:13)
- I Don’t Even Know My Own Name (5:44)
- What’s Your Dream? (3:16)
- Double Identity (1:54)
- The Warrior Within (3:31)
- A Dark Past (1:29)
- In Time You’ll Remember (0:58)
- Nova’s Orders (2:28)
- Jackers Mission (2:36)
- Unlocking the Past (3:52)
- Whose Body Is This? (2:06)
- Grewishka’s Revenge (4:23)
- Broken Doll (2:34)
- With Me (5:41)
- I’d Give You My Heart (3:07)
- You Just Lost a Puppet (2:30)
- What Did You Do? (3:41)
- In the Clouds (3:56)
- Raising the Sword (1:43)
- Motorball (5:14)
Total length: 1 hour and 4 minutes
Milan Records (2019)