It takes a bold soundtrack composer to measure up to the thunderous sound design of new MonsterVerse movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But Bear McCreary, a hero to many from The Walking Dead, God of War and Battlestar Galactica, is that person.
From Godzilla's familiar ear-splitting screech to the three-way roar of Ghidorah, the booming flaps of Rodan's wings to the gentle cooing of Mothra, King of the Monsters movie bustling with all manner of aural chaos. So much so that one might be forgiven for not noticing the score at all.
However, Bear McCreary's richly exciting score is as important a character in the movie as any. And it's also the first MonsterVerse soundtrack, following Alexandre Desplat's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island, to pay lip service to the musical heritage of the Toho Studios Godzilla movies.
Here are all the classic Godzilla music references contained within the King of the Monsters soundtrack...
First and foremost, McCreary reinstates composer Akira Ifukube's classic Godzilla theme from 1954. A grinding, pounding, ominous theme for heavy brass, in its original incarnation the Godzilla theme communicates the dread of the nuclear age.
Given the action-oriented nature of King of the Monsters, it's only natural McCreary re-contextualises the piece as a more energetic, driving force. Adding all manner of symphonic chaos and choir to the music, McCreary both honours the heritage and brings Godzilla kicking and screaming into the new age.
McCreary is pleasingly loyal to the theme, lending oversized personality to the giant lizard as he battles titan rivals Ghidorah and Rodan. It all comes to a head in the utterly spectacular 'Battle in Boston' cue, one of the finest film music set-pieces in recent years.
All manner of disparate musical styles come crashing together in this gargantuan piece, one that underscores the Antarctic battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah. It's the first time these behemoths have clashed within the MonsterVerse, so McCreary unleashes all the stops including symphonic mayhem, elements of death metal, chanting choir, Godzilla's theme and vocals from System of a Down's Serj Tankian (who also provides a cover of Blue Oyster Cult song 'Godzilla').
Listen out from 1:10 to 1:17 for an apparent reference to Shirō Sagisu's 2016 Shin Godzilla theme. And also listen out for Ifukube's 1962 Godzilla vs Kong theme at the 2:45 mark – is this an allusion to the battle in next year's Godzilla vs Kong?
Despite her imposing size, the delicate and endearing Mothra tempers the raucous onslaught of her warring fellow titans. She's been a mainstay throughout the Toho Godzilla movies and many fans cheered her arrival in King of the Monsters. The nostalgic pleasure of seeing Mothra back on screen owes a lot to McCreary's music – he incorporates the character's graceful choral theme to superb effect throughout the score, before unleashing it in full at the end of the album.
Although McCreary's theme for the monstrous, three-headed Ghidorah (the absence of the 'King' prefix is deliberate) is an original one, there are plenty of textural choices that link back to Ifukube's work. To mirror the triple-headed nature of the character, McCreary writes in a time signature of three, accompanied by all manner of ominous Buddhist chanting that gives a chilling mystique to this destructive beast. The savagery of the brass section certainly owes a debt to Ifukube's Godzilla vs King Ghidorah from 1991's Heisei Period.
- Spoilers! What the Godzilla: King of the Monsters post-credits scene tells us about the MonsterVerse
'Goodbye Old Friend'
The 1954 Godzilla movie wasn't intended as a smash-em-up action movie but a sobering commentary on Japan's post-Nagasaki landscape. As a character, Godzilla is emblematic of the nuclear age and Ifukube's score movingly plays off this.
The more tender sections of Ifukube's work are mirrored in McCreary's divine choral majesty of 'Goodbye Old Friend', in particular the Ifukube piece 'Prayer for Peace'. There's also a nice historical symmetry at work: in both instances, the music accompanies a pivotal sacrifice by Dr Serizawa, originally played by Akihiko Hirata, and now portrayed by Ken Watanabe.
Of course, the nuances of said sacrifice are different in their respective movies (no spoilers). Nevertheless, it's more evidence of how music emboldens and enhances our understanding of the Godzilla mythology. There's also powerful overtones in McCreary's work of Ifukube's final Godzilla score, Godzilla vs Ghidorah – we can practically hear one composer bowing down in reverence to the other, honouring the man who established the musical identity of the franchise.
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