Just in time for Valentine’s Day (!) comes the fifth poorly-timed vacation with John McClane. A Good Day to Die Hard marks the 25th anniversary of the Die Hard franchise and reminds fans how important the 1988 original was for Bruce Willis. This time McClane is in Russia where he discovers his son is a CIA operative and the two team up to take on the Russian underworld. Marco Beltrami, who seems to be playing the part of Jerry Goldsmith when it comes to these sorts of high-profile action films, returns to ramp up the story musically.
“Yuri Says” opens the disc and in the midst of its string clusters one hears the low strings outlining the familiar Beethoven strain from the Ninth Symphony before the music shifts into some great syncopated action writing the like of which is rarely heard these days. It is quite fascinating to hear how Beltrami pulls in a variety of orchestral sounds to help add further tension to the score. What works so well is that he also incorporates a thematic/motivic thread that helps make all the surrounding rhythmic pulses and orchestral clusters with resulting tense harmonies connect better. There is also a good mix of sequencing along with acoustic percussion in a far more integrated way. Most interesting is to hear the shifts in meter within a cue which keeps everything a bit more unsettled than a straight common time setting with offbeat syncopation. As the score plays out, there are plenty of instrumental colors added including a fun harmonica idea that appears in “Jack Makes the Call” that features a wild electronic line. Both “Truckzilla” tracks are some of the best pulse-pounding music you may hear. But what is also important is that there has to be at least some moment where the music pauses, if only for a moment. This occurs in “Father and Son” which allows for some very brief relaxation in a more lyrical style before we are back to action (in contrast to a darker mysterious style in “Regroup”). “Too Many Kolbasas on the Dance Floor” takes a slightly different approach, stopping the music for slowly unfolding string clusters and occasional orchestral punches over the course of a near 2-minute crescendo which is quite amazing. Even “Entering Chernobyl” uses this same sort of slow build to set up a tense situation. As the score moves along, Beltrami does not just simply repeat the same material instead finding ways to thread thematic ideas or shift where the pulses are coming from in these various action set pieces. The break from all the pulse-pounding music comes just when the ear is beginning to get tired and it makes what follows more effective as a listening experience. “It’s Hard to Kill a McClane” also makes for one of the feel-good musical moments in the score towards the end of the presentation. The final track, “McClane’s Brain,” is a rather odd ending to the whole preceding, however.
Beltrami’s score has more to offer the listener in the first 5 minutes than most action scores deliver in an hour. The overall construction and handling of rhythm and orchestration are simply the finest combinations of traditional action scoring with modern electronics added as an integral part of the ensemble. Sound like anyone you remember? At any rate, A Good Day to Die Hard will likely be a guilty pleasure for fans who have waited for Beltrami to return to traditional action writing and they will not be disappointed here.