Original Review by Alan RogersPanda

Wastelander Panda: Exile (2014) is an unusual beast. The most recent creation of a larger Wastelander story arc, it’s an Australian 6-part series of 10 minute episodes that follows a family of anthropomorphic pandas across a post-apocalyptic world (think Mad Max) in search of a young girl. Isaac (together with his mother and brother) must find this girl to replace the one he killed at the beginning of the story. Children are a great commodity because of their child-bearing potential and, so that the exiled family can return to Legion (the self-contained human settlement from which they were exiled) Isaac must return with a replacement. So, Wastelander Panda: Exile is essentially a story of a violent panda’s quest to kidnap a human child. Director Victoria Cocks has created quite a dark and violent world where the presence of the pandas is played completely straight. The score is composed by Australian Christopher Larkin.

The score opens with “Wastelander Panda Theme” where Larkin gives a full statement of the main theme. The theme comes across as being quite sad – perhaps a reflection of the fact that no-one seems to be having a particularly happy time. Piano is frequently used for this theme and that choice adds to the theme’s emotional clout (e.g., “Empathy”). In the previously mentioned opening track, “Wastelander Panda Theme”, Larkin uses a prepared piano, giving the piano a weird buzzing tone – apparently to suggest the harshness of the wasteland setting of the film. It’s an interesting sound to an otherwise familiar instrument.

The creation of interesting sounds and textures is a particularly memorable part of Wastelander Panda: Exile. The Chinese stringed instrument, the erhu, is one important score element. The processing of the instrument (played by India Hooi) via pitch shifting and time stretching manipulations and playing the instrument in unusual ways means that the suggestion of the Chinese culture (not appropriate for the film) is largely avoided. Ranging from ethereal textures in tracks such as “Wastelander Panda Theme” and “Empathy”, through to the bleak wailings in “Legion” and “Sacrifice”, this element of the score works really well at creating a feel verging on the otherworldly. Low strings (cello, played by David Moran) adds further to the dark ominous feel of the score, particular when tension (“The Helm Clan”, “The Deal”) and a fuller sound to the action scoring is required (e.g., “Sacrifice”).

When the story demands action scoring, pounding and energetic percussive rhythms and quick string ostinato patterns are brought into play. “Someone’s Home” wouldn’t sound out of place in the recent incarnation of Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road, with its metallic strings and harsh percussive drive. The rawness of this track certainly adds a sense of threat for a scene where a panda fights hand-to-hand with a threatening group of individuals. For the story’s action finale, all the various elements of the score – modified erhu, string ostinato patterns and percussion rhythms – come together for a piece that is both tense and exciting. The final two tracks on the album (“Nothing Left” and “Hope”) feature noble and honourable string passages and emotional renditions of the main theme on strings and brass as the consequences of the story’s finale are realised. These final tracks have a relative lightness of tone to them (compared with the rest of the score) that’s rarely heard elsewhere. The darker tones of the rest of the score mean that these emotional moments stand out all the more prominently both on the album and in the film (another example is “A Rose Amongst Thorns”). Finally, the inclusion of a dialogue-laden track (“Arcayus’ Lament”) isn’t really necessary and I would have instead preferred to hear some of the interesting music that wasn’t featured on the album

Larkin’s score for Wastelander Panda: Exile is certainly one that has a certain sound to it. And the relatively small scale ensemble feel it has is an advantage because, certainly for me, the main characters being pandas were something that I didn’t really buy into very easily. Any music that sounded in any way “over the top” would not have helped in supporting any acceptance I had for the movie. The music did go a long way in giving the film a level of emotional impact and, in that sense, the score worked. Do I recommend Wastelander Panda: Exile? Yes, I think I do. The score is different enough to merit finding the time to listen to it. And, on balance, the film is worth watching – how often do you get to see a drama where the main characters are pandas.

Wastelander Panda: Exile is available to buy at the usual online digital stores and clips can be heard HERE and can be streamed via platforms such as Spotify. The series of 6 episodes can be watched HERE.

Rating: **½

  1. Wastelander Panda Theme (2:20)
  2. Arcayus’ Lament (1:03)
  3. Legion (2:37)
  4. Someone’s Home (1:19)
  5. The Helm Clan (5:50)
  6. Empathy (2:32)
  7. Captured (0:53)
  8. The Deal (2:45)
  9. Obsidian Woods (4:07)
  10. Snake’s Tail (1:11)
  11. A Rose Amongst Thorns (3:44)
  12. Sacrifice (3:42)
  13. Nothing Left (3:52)
  14. Hope (1:41)

Running Time: 37:42

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