Ghost Rider is one of Christopher Young's biggest-sounding scores in recent years, and the veteran genre composer – mostly of horror films – clearly had fun crafting a sweeping work for this big budget comic book flick about a cursed biker with his head smothered in inextinguishable flames.
The familiar (and rather clichéd) biker persona is that of an independent spirit whose capacity for revenge is limitless when a serious wrong has been committed, and Young's opening titles nicely set up the title character: Latin acoustic guitars for that rebel spirit, huge brass and choir for his tormented soul and deep-rooted fury, and eddying strings that drag the full orchestra to a series of increasingly furious crescendi which set in motion one of Young's more interesting ideas – a dominant bass pulse grinding against successive choral and brass waves before the cue switches to a thunderous return of the lament that forms the core of Ghost Rider's theme. It's a fine use of selective colour, with percussion pretty much saved for the cue's final third, propelling the lament into a more complete rendition, and leaving us with an impression of a spaghetti western hero who happens to find himself stuck in the graphic mythology of a Marvel comic.
Young's never shied away from radical shifts of orchestra to electronics, and past works like Vituosity and Swordfish were seamless examples of the composer's action writing. Ghost Rider's mythic character gets doses of hard rock drums and electric guitars in “Blackheart Beat,” which also uses chorals and brass, but like the opening titles, really pushes the limits of bass frequencies.
Just as notable, though unsurprising for the composer, is his integration of experimental concepts that often formed the core of horror scores for The Grudge and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Even with hard rock and heavy metal concepts in play, the switch to orchestral experimentalism feels completely natural – certainly a tribute to Young's brilliance, his expert orchestrators, and sound engineers who make this of his best sounding albums.
Young's consistently able to craft beautiful themes for melancholic characters, and the tenderness in cuts like “A Thing for Karen Carpenter” and the gentle harmonics and use of woodwinds in “No Way to Wisdom” give the score a good mood shift and resting point between the aggressive or bass-heavy cues in Ghost Rider.
Cues such as “Nebuchadnezzar Phase” also demonstrate a kind of orchestral liquidity that Young's refined over the years, with specific tones, metallic shimmering, and piercing frequencies that glide across the orchestra. It's a complex approach, given the score wiggles between several idioms, including occasional nods to the spaghetti western, and has to support the dialogue and dense sound effects that generally come with an action/horror film.
If Ghost Rider is a taste of Young's excitement for the comic book movie, his upcoming work for Spider-Man 3 should be a major highlight this summer.
A real treat for Young's fans, and a score designed for serious subwoofer usage.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan