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CD: Contagion (2011)
Review Rating:   Very Good  
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September 6, 2011

Tracks / Album Length:

20 tracks / (45:26)


Composer: Cliff Martinez

Special Notes:

On-demand CD-R available via

Comments :    

It’s actually intriguing to compare the variety of scores that have been written for the last spate of virus films. Mark Isham’s The Crazies (2010) reverted back to a sleek, vintage industrial style of electronica that gave the drama a tough, visceral edge, whereas the older Outbreak (1995) was an old-fashioned Hollywood melodrama, goosed with moments of ridiculousness which James Newton Howard felt compelled to capture using a large orchestra with thick bass beats. (Most likely it was director Wolfgang Petersen who insisted on treating his schlocky virus epic with severe, action-oriented gravitas.)

John Murphy’s spin on the 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) diptych was to ground tragedy around a wrenching theme that kept spiraling towards deeper emotional depression, whereas in Contagion Cliff Martinez went for a mélange of impressionistic sounds, and cues which rarely closed with any resolution.

It’s an interesting approach, because while the score’s style frequently wafts between seventies crime jazz (it’s there), orchestral dissonance, and abstract sounds which collectively evoke states of confusion, desperation, or mortal danger, the music weirdly captures an undetermined time period in which humanity is smacked with an invading microbial force. The score also follows its complete assault, evolution, and humankind’s desperate efforts – including the clumsy blunders – to fix a bad problem.

The music of Contagion of about the onslaught, the infiltration, propagation, and massive devastation of the bug, and the sometimes schizophrenic blend of musical sounds suits its evolution, be it the stealth jazz elements, the pulsing electronica, or Martinez’s usual fixation on waves of rhythmic textures and ambient chords (such as the twanging “Bat and Pig”).

Not unlike Drive (2011), Martinez doesn’t score onscreen action per se, but Contagion has a sense of humanity, evident through short theme bits. Simple cues, such as the solo piano intro in “Contagion” gives audiences something to grab onto, but as with virtually every cue in the score, it rapidly morphs into something new: like an evolving virus, solo piano is joined by electronics, rhythmic hits with synthetic feedback, and light orchestral backing.

While not a lengthy score, it’s a nice, chilly little portrait of a lethal, unseen assault.

Read an interview with composer Cliff Martinez regarding the scoring of Contagion.


© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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