The modestly titled Theory Of Everything is the latest astrophysical blockbuster about the life and times of renowned scientist Stephen Hawking. Chronicling his life in both the personal and professional sphere, it needs one of those minimal but ultimately touching soundtracks, and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson steps up to the plate to provide one, creating nuanced but detailed works typical of his style.
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For his new biopic about Stephen Hawking, James Marsh opted to concentrate on the romantic history of the popular scientist, attempting to unveil the beginning, middle and end of his shared life with Jane Wilde Hawking, whose memoir is used as the film’s source material. Johann Johannsson’s soundtrack, then, is a record of fitting emotional intensity. If there’s a neo-classical artist working today more suited to making this kind of score, it’s Johannsson, who has a strange talent for making compositions sound like polaroid pictures, nostalgic snapshots of times passed. Commanding an expansive orchestra of players on everything from celeste to marxophone, he allows flourishes to continually develop and recycle, giving the film’s scenes the same continuum found in the pitter patter of rain. It’s both an urgent, flowing record and an eloquent piece of schmaltz.
‘The Theory of Everything’ is a record of great warmth; the physicality of many of these instruments is felt, especially the piano and celeste, which are produced with a creaky, homely attention to detail. The instruments put to the front are the ones you could just pick up on a rainy day: the plucked guitar of “The Wedding” is intimated closely as the symphony plays in the backdrop. These moments show Johannsson to be an excellent composer of pop classical, providing a score with the same uplift as John Williams’ spry work, but his ambient-influenced side is just as commendable. Johannsson is able to conduct his orchestra to make naturally droning pieces that recall Dustin O’Halloran’s sonatas, but with ten times the musicians -- “A Game of Croquet” is focused on a modest, hypnotic piano performance with occasional supplements on violin. It’s the kind of track that proves Johannsson to be more than just a harbinger of high drama and Big Music; he can double down and offer different perspectives, ones just as fitting to document the heartbreak of a really good physicist.
Like the film it soundtracks, ‘The Theory of Everything’ is a record which evokes every feeling a good romance should -- most of them are pretty devastating.
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