Don’t Look Up – Nicholas Britell

We are very fortunate to have streaming services here in the Netherlands. Right now, we are not allowed to participate in any group activities nor can we go to a restaurant or a theater. There are many movies with potentially brilliant scores waiting for me that I am not allowed to see. Services like Netflix are not only perfect for some entertainment in the evening, it also enables me to continue writing reviews. One of the movies that made the lock-down evenings enjoyable for me was the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, with music by Nicholas Britell.

The movie can be seen as a comedy with a lot of satire going on, with its dark story about a couple of scientists who have discovered a huge meteor heading towards Earth and bound to destroy humanity, but no one seems to care. Britell’s approach to writing music for such a movie is to create a score that mainly focuses on one main theme. There is, of course, other music to be found on the album, but the main theme is by far the highlight that needs to be discussed.

What I love about this theme is that you can listen to hints of it in the first tracks before it can be enjoyed in its full glory. In “Discovery” you can hear the theme building up, together with fast synth notes, which represent science. When you are about to hear the theme in full, the track suddenly ends, not giving you that satisfaction. In “Ephemeris” you can hear the science motif again over a walking bass line, with a hint of the theme’s melody on little bells. The theme is performed on a vibraphone in “The Call”  before it transitions into a dense synth piece. In “C-5 Galaxy” the theme starts to take shape with the addition of the drums, organ and brass.

The movie has a long prologue during which all these tracks are being played. In the finale of the prologue, the scientists are about to announce that the world is doomed and the main title of the movie appears on the screen introducing the lineup of high-profile actors who are in this movie. In “Don’t Look Up – Main Title Theme” you can finally listen to the main theme in full in the form of a masterful jazz piece. The piece has a foundation of a fast walking bass line, with a large brass section playing the chords. The melody is performed by two trumpet players, who are playing extremely loud and a bit over the top. The cue fits perfectly with what the movie tries to do: telling a serious story, but with a playful twist.

This jazz version can be heard multiple times after its introduction, for example in “My Boyfriend Broke Up With Me” and “It’s a Strange Glorious World.“ It can also be heard in more detail in “Don’t Look Up – End Credits Suite” and “Don’t Look Up – Main Title Suite.” In some other tracks the melody is present in a non-jazz style, showing how strong the theme is, as it can be used in multiple ways. Those versions can be heard in “The Arrest,” “Kate Goes Home” and in the second half of “The BASH Launch.” 

There are more thematic ideas to be heard, and the second major theme represents launching rockets into space. In “The Launch” you can hear a gorgeous orchestral version of this theme, together with the science motif and a choir for the finale. In “Arrival At The Hangar,” the melody is more like a fanfare, with the melody performed by brass instruments. In “Twenty‐Four Drones Is Enough” and “It All Comes Down to This” you can hear glorious blends of both the orchestral and the fanfare versions, supported by some drums.

There is also some diegetic music to be found on the album. For those who do not know what ‘diegetic’ means: It is a common term used in film music that describes the idea of music that can not only be heard by the audience of a movie, but also by the actors themselves in that specific scene. The biggest example is the song “Just Look Up,” performed by Ariana Grande, who has a role in the movie. Another fun example is “On Hold,” which is the music that can be heard through a phone in the movie. The last example of diegetic music that I would like to mention is the electronic track “BASH Corporate Ident – “Liif”,” played during a presentation of the big tech corporation BASH. The melody is used throughout the rest of the score as a theme for this corporation. “The BASH Presentation” is a wonderful, emotional and orchestral piece with a choir and a gorgeous violin solo. In “FEMA‐BASH Commercial,” another diegetic piece, the theme can be heard on a piano.

More excellent music can be found in the finale of the movie, with “Memento Mori” being my highlight. It is a beautiful waltz with all kinds of little bell sounds, another version of which can be found in one of the wonderful bonus tracks of the score, “Logic Waltz in B major.”
Nicholas Britell’s music is a fantastic match for this movie. I can imagine that writing music for a comedy with such a satirical dark undertone can be a challenge. I think that Britell’s approach to it by writing a semi-serious score was the perfect solution. In addition, not only are the themes Britell has created wonderful on their own, he was also able to transform them beautifully into music to match the scenes. I only started reviewing Britell’s music last year, and both this score and Cruella are excellent. I am looking forward to what he will bring to the table in 2022.

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The highlights are in bold.

  1. Just Look Up (from Don’t Look Up) [performed by Ariana Grande] (3:21)
  2. Discovery (1:21)
  3. Ephemeris (1:05)
  4. On Hold (0:27)
  5. The Call (2:32)
  6. C‐5 Galaxy (1:04)
  7. Don’t Look Up – Main Title Theme (0:51)
  8. BASH Corporate Ident – “Liif” (0:40)
  9. Hyperobject Approaches (0:46)
  10. My Boyfriend Broke Up With Me (0:32)
  11. The Arrest (1:04)
  12. It’s a Strange Glorious World (2:34)
  13. The Launch (3:59)
  14. The BASH Presentation (2:07)
  15. Kate Goes Home (0:59)
  16. FEMA‐BASH Commercial (0:58)
  17. Arrival at the Hangar (0:58)
  18. There Is a Comet (1:17)
  19. The Comet Appears (2:55)
  20. The Prayer for Stuff (0:50)
  21. The BASH Launch (0:43)
  22. Twenty‐Four Drones Is Enough (0:54)
  23. It All Comes Down to This (0:42)
  24. Thanksgiving (Overture to Logic and Knowledge) (4:40)
  25. The End? (2:18)
  26. Memento Mori (1:26)
  27. Don’t Look Up – End Credits Suite (2:29)
  28. Logic Waltz in B major (1:43)
  29. Don’t Look Up – Main Title Suite (4:08)
  30. Ode to Science (3:29)
  31. Second Nature (4:02)

Total length: 57 minutes
Republic Records (2021)

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