IN TIME – Craig Armstrong


Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at maintitles.net)

The idea behind In Time is an interesting one. In the not-too-distant future, the ageing gene has been switched off. To offset overpopulation (rather than just switching the ageing back on) people are genetically engineered to live for just one year past the age of 25. But you can work or exchange time as a currency in order to gain more time to live – theoretically – for ever. Want a cup of coffee? That will be 4 minutes of your life please. Writer and director Andrew Niccol’s (GATTACA, S1m0ne) near-future science fiction yarn, from the various trailers I have seen anyway, seems to be a film with a good idea that soon descends into a run-of-the-mill chase movie. Starring Justin Timberlake. After a bit of a lull in scoring for film, Craig Armstrong takes the helm for this action picture and he does a good job providing a score that focuses more on creating a specific sound and mood for this dystopian world rather than being a crash-bang-wallop action score.

Armstrong’s score is in many ways a “trademark score” for him, adeptly mixing electronic sounds and beats with various orchestral flavours, particularly strings. Having decided with Niccol that in this future people would be listening to music from a variety of cultural sources merged into one “global music” (isn’t that happening now anyway?), Armstrong uses subtle use of ethnic instruments and ethnic styles to flavour his brand of action thriller scoring. The opening “In Time Main Theme” summarises Armstrong’s ideas for the score in a little more than 90 seconds. Long string notes set out the main theme that draws the listener into this world with catchy electronic sounds suggestive of a futuristic setting coming and going. Ethnic woodwinds give an added exotic aspect to the theme that suggests a melding of cultures in this future world (a fusion that seems, with my limited glimpses of the film, to be lacking on screen). This main theme, although interesting because of the various elements described above, isn’t particularly memorable (for memorable Craig Armstrong themes my reference point is usually the excellent theme from The Bone Collector) and even after various references to the theme in cues such as “Giving It Away”, “In Time Choral Theme” and “In Time Main Theme (Orchestral)” the theme is soon forgotten. Ethnic woodwinds and vocals as well as a sliding strings motif (e.g., “Lost Century”, “Zones of Time” and “Whatever We Have To”), that are reminiscent of his score for The Incredible Hulk, add the exotic element to the music throughout. But Armstrong’s use is sparing and this means that they don’t dominate the score, but enhance the score rather than becoming annoying.

Armstrong’s music for In Time stands out when the adrenaline is ramped up during the action cues. The composer has always delivered excellent action scoring blending the aforementioned electronic sounds, techno beats and massed strings in ways that are immediately pleasing to the ear – and frequently make for great trailer music tracks. Scores such as Plunkett & Macleane, The Negotiator and more recently Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps all have examples of how the marriage of these elements can come together perfectly. With In Time, tracks such as “Abduction”, “Rooftop Chase” and “Leaving The Zone” combine percussion, electronic beats and rhythmic/stabbing strings to inject energy and will provide music for trailers of the future. In contrast to these action tracks and the frequent use of prominent electronic beats and percussion, the score also has quieter, more reflective pieces (relatively speaking). Part of Armstrong’s musical palette is his ability to easily impart a sense of longing into his music and this sense of longing is enhanced here by the composer’s focus on setting mood. Do the characters long to be free of the struggle to earn time to live, free of the prospect of every material gain, every enjoyment shortening your life (in this world smoking and drinking definitely shortens your life)? Early tracks such as “Dawn In Dayton”, “The Cost of Living” and “Mother Times Out” rely on various musical devices that serve more as ambient sounds that suggest a drudgery and (particularly in the latter cue) a sense of longing for something better. The inclusion of piano in the likes of “Waking Up In Time”, “Ocean” and “Backseat Love” adds a human feel and a tenderness to the score that’s heightened by being buried in amongst the rest of the score.

A film such as In Time with its central idea of time being used as a currency lends itself well for reviewers (film or film music) to wish to buy back the time that they have spent watching/listening to the film/music if either (or both) were particularly poor. But from a music standpoint I can’t honestly do this. Although this is not Armstrong at his best (that would still be titles such as Plunkett & Macleane, The Bone Collector and The Incredible Hulk), his music for In Time has enough highs for this to be a score worth recommending. It’s always interesting and the action tracks are definitely worth hearing if you like your Craig Armstrong scores action-based. The tracks as heard on the album do tend to be on the short side but as they are usually self-contained pieces that are setting up mood this isn’t too much of a problem. It’s good to see Armstrong back scoring films such as In Time.

Rating: ***

  1. In Time Main Theme (1:35)
  2. Lost Century (1:58)
  3. Dawn In Dayton (1:26)
  4. The Cost of Living (1:40)
  5. Mother Times Out (2:55)
  6. Zones of Time (2:11)
  7. Welcome To New Greenwich (1:11)
  8. Waking Up In Time (0:45)
  9. An Hour Ahead (0:52)
  10. Ocean (1:33)
  11. Abduction (2:24)
  12. Whatever We Have To (2:37)
  13. Mother’s Dress (0:45)
  14. Clock Watching (2:25)
  15. Sylvia Shoots (2:08)
  16. Backseat Love (1:38)
  17. Giving It Away (1:12)
  18. Rooftop Chase (2:52)
  19. You Saved My Life (1:07)
  20. Surrender (1:53)
  21. To Be Immortal (1:53)
  22. Leaving The Zone (1:31)
  23. In Time Choral Theme (3:20)
  24. There’s Still Time (0:45)
  25. In Time Main Theme (Orchestral) (2:24)

Running Time: 45:14

Lakeshore Records (2011)

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