Music Composed by Patrick Doyle
Movie Genre: Action, Adventure
Movie & Soundtrack Release (CD): 2007
Label: Varese Sarabande Records
Available also as a digital stream/download
“Patrick Doyle composed music beyond every expectation for the film, giving the pulse of adventure and the grandeur of ancient Rome. Its epic dimensions offset the not at all epic dimensions of the motion picture. In fact, he wrote such good music that it was as if he was composing music for the ideal version of this film.”
The Roman Empire is at its declining years. A twelve-year-old is crowned emperor. Rome’s until then allies, the Goths, turn against it and capture the young emperor. The road to salvation will be difficult and will lead to unexpected revelations about the origin of the Excalibur sword. The film “The Last Legion” (2007) combines the fall of the Roman Empire and the fate of its last emperor, with Excalibur, the mythical sword that ended up stuck in a rock. At the beginning of the film, we listen to the narrator talking about the sword that was forged under the gaze of Julius Caesar and whose trail went cold in the course of time. The “Sacred Pentangle” (#1) track is the musical background of the narrative, which ends with the shot of a giant statue of an emperor wielding a sword in his hand, with a little boy standing on his shoulder. His name is Romulus Augustus and he is to be crowned the next emperor of Rome.
Proportionate to the impressive shot of the giant statue is the music of the composer Patrick Doyle, who speaks majestically about the location, ancient Rome. At 2:15 to 2:39 of the “Sacred Pentangle” (#1) a particularly memorable theme makes its appearance which captures the greatness of the Roman Empire. The London Symphony Orchestra performs a robust musical theme which shows strength and by the end of listening to the soundtrack it will have been concluded that it is the most important in the music world of the film. Two details worth mentioning regarding this are the percussion, which reflect the military tradition of the Roman Empire, and the chorus, which attaches the required importance and pompous style to what the music wishes to express, the ideal of the Roman Empire or, alternatively, the Roman pride. However, the story takes place at a time when all these have faded, they are only a memory…
We are in Rome in 460 AD, when the Roman Empire bears no resemblance to the days of its glory. To be precise, long before this time, its decline has begun and somewhere around it, its fall comes. So why does the film’s music want to highlight Roman pride? Composer Patrick Doyle could capture in the music of the film what we see, giving it an atmosphere of decline. He chose, however, to give the music what is not obvious, since always what is not obvious in music does convey information to the viewers, if they are able to decode it. Composing a theme of Roman pride, he revives it in the heart of the Roman characters of the film. A feature of the past becomes an element of the present, now, in a barbaric period for the Roman Empire with the fall approaching. The Roman pride theme does not highlight what we see in the film, but adds to the cinematic narrative something we do not see. This, perhaps, is the most important mission of music when serving a film, to become the tool that will add something extra, that does not already exist. And if this specific music did not exist, the viewer wouldn’t perceive this extra thing. In fact, an excerpt from the Roman pride theme was used in the logo of the film’s production company, DDLC (Dino De Laurentiis Company).
The coronation of twelve-year-old Romulus as the emperor of the Roman Empire is accompanied by successive performances of the previous theme, with the massive accompaniment of the choir. It is the track “Coronation” (#2), where Patrick Doyle captivates the listener with the even more imposing performances of the Roman pride theme. He manages the orchestra and the choir in such a way so that he gives a hegemonic character to his theme, which is about an emperor who carries in his blood the glory of his predecessors. At the same time, a triumphant atmosphere is imposed, as it concerns the coronation ceremony of an emperor.
Rome’s until recently allies, the Goths, betrayed the empire, and composer Patrick Doyle composes an adventurous motif depicting the momentum of their soldiers as they invade the city. The attack motif is at 0:29 to 0:34 of “Goths Seize Rome” (# 3) and gives the feeling of troops marching. The Romans resist and the music plays their own motif, the defense motif, which appears at 1:14 to 1:19 of the same track. One motif follows another, as Goths and Romans fight hand to hand. Note an interesting detail: after the initial outburst, the motif of Roman defense is moving downwards, a technical detail that indicates their defeat. The aftertaste it leaves is pessimistic. At 3:30 to 3:36 we listen to the most intense performance of the Roman defense motif, something like an honorary reference to those who fell in battle. However, this theme repetition at that time, that is, given the defeat of the Romans, may have another explanation: many Romans may have been killed, but the two most important for the plot, as it is about to unfold, survived, the emperor Romulus and his protector Aurelius (Colin Firth).
Romulus, the survivor of the Gothic invasion of Rome, is in captivity and, along with his teacher Ambrosinus (Sir Ben Kingsley), travel to the Roman fortress on the island of Capri. The shot of the impressive fortress is accompanied by imposing music at 1:30 of “Secret Sword” (#5). A little later, in another shot of the fortress, the music will try to give us more information. At 1:49 of the same track, the music reveals something evil about this place. This fortress hides the ugliness of a prison for the two characters of the film. In both cases, the brass section of the orchestra is the protagonist as it comments on the imposing sight and the negative energy this place has. We remain at “Secret Sword” (#5) and at 2:02 we have a remarkable change in the atmosphere of the music, which adopts ethnic elements. This can be explained by the new character who appears in the story, coming from faraway India. Since the role of this character will be the catalyst for the emperor’s deliverance from Capri, the oriental touch by the percussion in “Escape from Capri” (#6) was, of course, not without reason. The pauses of the orchestra are of particular interest in this track, as they intensify the suspense.
The remarkable points in Patrick Doyle’s score do not stop here. Next up, the music retains its epic and majestic sound, without lacking in surprises. The prevailing musical identities are primarily the Roman pride theme and the Goths’ attack motif. At 0:51 in “Nestor’s Betrayal” (#7) a new adventure motif emerges as traitors Roman soldiers who capitulated to the Goths, attempt to kill the Roman soldiers who protect the emperor. A change of atmosphere and a pleasant surprise is the track “Sword Play Romance” (#11), where humor meets romance, when we have a sword fight between two people of different sexes. The dominant violin will turn the duel more into a flirting game, than into serious practice. The death of innocent people, as a warning message from the British conqueror Vortgyn to the Celts, will become the reason behind the mourning music in the track “Who Killed Them?” (#12). Until the time of war comes…
The twelve-year-old emperor and his companion-protectors hide behind the Roman fortress awaiting the attack of two unexpected allies, the Goths and the British conqueror Vortgyn. The aim of the Goths is to capture the emperor, Vortgyn’s aim is to take the sword of Julius Caesar. “The Battle of Hadrian’s Wall” (#13) track has a similar philosophy to “Goths Seize Rome” (#3), since the motif of the Goths’ attack alternates again with the motif of the Roman defense. The important thing to mention about the battle music in this film is that the composer does not resort to adventure music that just gives the feeling of an armed conflict. Or even worse, in loud music, which keeps up with the intense activity in the rest of the film’s sound environment. There is a huge difference between this and the quality music Patrick Doyle created, since he approaches the available material in an excellent way and composes high quality music. Military percussion announce the performance of the Roman pride theme when the Ninth Roman Legion appears on the battlefield to help the besieged, as we are hearing at the beginning of “Death of Vortgyn” (#14). The extra percussion boosts the morale of the Romans, while the choir intensifies the fury of the Goths’ attack and the battle escalates. In the track of the musical finale of the movie, “No More War” (#15), the presence of a single theme reveals the winner of the battle. The Roman pride theme appears in various forms, capturing the feelings of loss for those who fell heroically and of triumph for those who managed to survive as winners. Performed either with the delicacy of a violin solo, at 3:10, or by the whole orchestra and choir in a dramatic way at 4:20, it never ceases to enchant the listeners!
The release of the “The Last Legion” in cinemas in 2007 did not have the course and the success its contributors would like it to have. There are always reasons for this, but the review of a film’s soundtrack is not interested in the reasons why the film did not do well in the box office. It is interested, however, in how many people watched the film while it was shown in the theaters. You may be wondering why. Because the number of the people who watched a movie will determine how popular its soundtrack will be. The more viewers a movie has, the more people will be exposed to its score and possibly pay attention to it. There are many cases of films that were not fortunate enough to become commercial successes and nevertheless had wonderful music, worthy of attention. There were, are and will always be soundtracks that hadn’t been listened by the majority of moviegoers. Those who noticed them were few and usually people who are deeply involved with the subject. One such example, a soundtrack that was not fortunate enough to exist in a commercially successful film, is this one. It would be a pity, however, the commercial failure of the movie to condemn this so memorable music. It may not have received critical acclaim by film reviewers because of its weaknesses, but it did get the best out of its composer.
The truth is that Patrick Doyle wrote such good music that it was as if he was composing music for the ideal version of this film. As if he had a masterpiece in front of his eyes! It is obvious that he did not have a masterpiece in front of him to be inspired by. If one listens to the soundtrack without having watched the film before, it is highly likely that he will be unpleasantly surprised when he will watch it. You may wonder, but is it possible that this wonderful music has been written for this, anything but wonderful, movie? Indeed it is, when we are talking about a great composer! Put yourself in his shoes for a while when he watched the movie for the first time, without the brilliant music that you listened when you watched it. When it is time for the composer to write the soundtrack of a film, then all the previous stages of its production have been completed and nothing can change anymore. It is for the music to improve what can be improved and to give something extra. Apparently, Patrick Doyle would have realized that this was not the movie of the year, but in any case, he had to compose music for it. And as an outstanding professional that he is, he did what the best composers do in similar circumstances since the beginning of the cinema: he made the greatest possible effort to write music beyond the expectations of those who created the film. Because he knows that the music of a movie is not like the icing on the cake, just a tasteless decoration, but it is its beating heart! Because he knows that music can significantly improve an unfortunate situation! Because he knows that the right music, can take an indifferent, boring, or second-rate film up a notch and turn it into a tolerable or even a pleasant cinematic experience, or in other words, into what we call a guilty pleasure! This over-effort of the composer results in talking about soundtracks that survived in time, due to the luxury music has, to stand on its own, which were intended for films that were forgotten over time.
Think of some movies you may have watched but found them not particularly good, which they left you with mixed feelings. Do you remember their score? It is very possible to find musical treasures in some of them, precisely because their composers knew what they had in their hands and tried to do their best to improve it in your eyes. Patrick Doyle composed music beyond every expectation for the film, giving the pulse of adventure and the grandeur of ancient Rome. Its epic dimensions offset the not at all epic dimensions of the motion picture. If only every commercial failure that did not meet the love of the public had such a successful soundtrack. If a film fails to impress audiences and critics, at least let its music be the occasion for us to remember the film. Cinema needs more like Patrick Doyle’s music for “The Last Legion”, in similar future cinematic endeavors. Do you, directors and producers, listen?
01. Sacred Pentangle (2:54)
02. Coronation (2:14)
03. Goths Seize Rome (4:10)
04. Wrong Answer (2:05)
05. Secret Sword (5:51)
06. Escape from Capri (3:20)
07. Nestor’s Betrayal (3:14)
08. Journey to Britannia (2:28)
09. Hadrian’s Wall (2:13)
10. Excalibur (1:49)
11. Sword Play Romance (1:10)
12. Who Killed Them? (3:12)
13. The Battle of Hadrian’s Wall (6:15)
14. Death of Vortgyn (4:15)
15. No More War (5:38)
Total Time: 51:00
The tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * *