The English naturalist and scientist Charles Darwin was a controversial figure even before he published his seminal work, "On the Origin of the Species", in 1859. Darwin's theories on human evolution and natural selection turned him into a divisive figure, especially in religious circles, to the point that the theological validity of his work remains controversial and strongly debated to this day. Creation, the latest film from director Jon Amiel, is a fairly straightforward biographical telling of Darwin's life, with Paul Bettany in the title role, Jennifer Connelly as Darwin's wife Emma, and supporting performances from the likes of Jeremy Northam, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jim Carter.
The music for Creation is by Christopher Young, who previously worked with Jon Amiel on films such as Copycat, Entrapment and The Core. 2009 was an especially good year for Young, with horror scores such as Drag Me to Hell and The Univited sitting comfortably alongside the jazzy The Informers and the romantic Love Happens, and he starts the new decade as he left the last one: at the top of his game. Despite being known most for his outstanding horror writing, Young has always been a very versatile composer who, when given the opportunity, can write some astoundingly beautiful scores: the likes of Murder in the First, The Shipping News and The Gift all contained some exceptional thematic writing, and Creation is more of the same.
Written for a chamber-sized string orchestra with notable solos for violin and piano, the music has a melancholy, intimate beauty that is prototypically Chris Young, but whereas normally Young peppers his scores with beautiful themes alongside more traumatic horror material, in this instance the beauty lasts throughout the entire running time. It's a very classical, almost minimalist score, standing at odds with the rambunctious outbursts of orchestral power for which Young is best known, and showcases the talents of a composer who is clearly in a creative purple patch. It paints a portrait of Darwin as a thoughtful, intellectual man living in a refined, classical world, and hints at both his illustrious academic career and his tragic personal life, especially his relationships with his daughter and his devoutly religious wife.
The opening cue, "Creation", presents the score's main thematic elements, and somewhat amusingly contains the first of several statements of what is now commonly referred to as `Horner's Four-Note Motif' in the woodwinds; the same motif reoccurs in cues such as "Cunning Gunning" and the lively "The Treatment at Malvern". Much of the score is also underpinned by a very subtle hurdy-gurdy whine, similar to the one heard in The Shipping News, and which gives the score a slightly distant, ethereal feel that is very interesting. There are stylistic references to other scores in the Young canon too; at times the score is reminiscent of the pretty piano-led main title from Copycat, at others it recalls parts of Jennifer 8, but it's never blatantly self-referential, and is never anything less than superb.
While the score retains a general consistency of tone and palette throughout its length, there are several moments of uniqueness worth highlighting. "The Ghost Pavane" has an elegant piano melody in waltz time, while the delicate "Unity in Form" places the main theme amongst a set of diaphanous orchestrations - flute, oboe, glockenspiel, piano, chimes - of great fragility. Later, "Pleasure Perfect" has a superb ground cello part during its second half that gives the score a little dramatic weight, while "To Emma" has a lyrical syncopated piano line which gives the score a flighty, ornate feeling redolent of carefree young love, but which gradually twists into something much more brooding, with the bass woodwinds and the more dejected tone mirroring the faith-fueled collapse of Charles and Emma's relationship.
"Struggle for Survival" is a little more dissonant, pitting buzzing string phrases against scratchy solo violins and disjointed piano chords, to unsettling effect. The wonderfully-titled "The Giant Sloth of Punta Alta" has a lovely, warm duet for piano and glockenspiel, while the first (and only) real hint of brass comes during the delightful "Fuegan Children", a lush and dainty waltz which eventually gives way to an pseudo-ethnic, vaguely Celtic dance piece that showcases the hurdy-gurdy and a bodhrán drum at the top of the mix.
In two cues - "Cunning Gunning" and "Partly Part" - Young does his familiar tribute to two composers he admires, in this case English film composer Christopher Gunning and Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt, although here Young takes it even one step further by making the Pärt cue a barely-disguised homage to the minimalist classical masterpiece Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten, albeit with Young's thematic content layered within it. In the conclusive pair, "Knowing Everything I Now Know" and "Humility and Love", Young pulls out all the emotional stops, resulting in just under 12 minutes of some of the most beautiful sustained music of his entire career. The warm thematic writing in "Humility and Love" is especially magnificent, re-stating the recurring material in broad, rich fashion that is enormously rewarding.
What I hear in Creation is the work of a composer at the top of his creative powers, comfortable in his own skin, writing music which is mature and intelligent enough to impress traditionalists, but which is also tonally appealing enough to be crowd-pleasing while fulfilling its dramatic intent in the film. It's wonderful to see Chris Young in this light; he's always been great, of course, but Hellraiser II was 23 years ago, and despite being attached to occasional prestige projects such as Murder in the First or The Hurricane or The Shipping News, he's nevertheless remained resolutely a composer for horror movies and thrillers until rather recently. Having enjoyed a banner year in 2009 (and although it is technically a 2009 score), Creation starts off 2010 with a bang for Young, and sets a high bar for others to reach.