Music Composed & Conducted by: George Fenton
Movie Genre: Documentary
Movie Release: 2003
Soundtrack CD Release (International): 2004
Soundtrack CD Release (USA): 2005
Label: Sony Classical
Available also as a digital stream/download
“Whatever emotion is born in the depths of the oceans, George Fenton manages to transform it into music. The identification of images and music is an unprecedented success and includes all possible emotional conditions that can be imagined, from sadness and melancholy, to agony and terror, greatness and drama.”
Since the advent of cinema and television, the sea has been a rich source of inspiration for composers, who have been called upon to describe with their music its wildness, beauty and grandeur. BBC’s eight-episode television series “The Blue Planet: A Natural History of the Oceans” (2001) featured ocean creatures and behaviors that had not been previously filmed and was a huge success. The music, written by composer George Fenton and performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, won an Emmy and a BAFTA award. It was so popular that led to the creation of “The Blue Planet Live!” which toured several cities in Great Britain. The most impressive excerpts from the series, accompanied with live music, provided a great opportunity for a unique concert experience. After touring the UK, “The Blue Planet Live!” traveled to Hong Kong, Copenhagen and Los Angeles.
Two years after the TV series, the documentary “Deep Blue” (2003) was released in cinemas, which combined material from the TV series along with some, not previously shown in it, narrated by the actor Michael Gambon. The music for this unique in conception and execution record of life in Earth’s oceans is again written by George Fenton, who restores the thematic body of the TV series’ soundtrack, adding a few more touches to meet the special requirements of its cinematic version. Few composers have the opportunity and luxury to record again the same music for the same material and with one of the best orchestras in the world, too, the Berlin Philharmonic, in its first recording for film music. The new performance boosts the music, orchestra’s effect is more intense and the composer George Fenton processes his music in a better way, seizes the opportunity to make it perfect and in the end, what the listener of the soundtrack hears is its best possible version. The significance of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in combination with the ethereal voices of The Choir of Magdalen College create moments of both musical uplift and grandeur and of lyricism and serenity, which cannot but enchant the listeners, no matter how they enjoy it, either listening to it as standalone music, or within its cinematic context.
What makes the “Deep Blue” documentary stand out is its purposeful and quite scattered narration, which shows that the intention of its creators is to let the images speak for themselves, combined with the almost ever-present soundtrack. At the same time, the camera captures scenes of nature which excite the admiration of the viewers; however, it does so in such a way as to give a dramatic dimension to the narration. Viewers enter a process of remarkable emotional swings born out of the amazing coexistence of images and music, which makes them identify with the characters of the film, who are none other than the animals presented. Whatever emotion is born in the depths of the oceans, George Fenton manages to transform it into music. On the occasion of specific scenes about the daily life of the animal kingdom in the oceans, the composer finds the ideal musical synonym for a predator’s attack, for the drama of a prey’s death, for the small ordinary and happy moments in nature, for the loneliness of those which wander alone, for the eerie and scary view of the seabed and generally for the awe of the oceans.
The oceans are a world of constant danger. An endless cycle of birth, death and renewal. A large group of small fish swims near the sea surface and is spotted by several predators. Dolphins, sharks, seals and a whale go for the fishes to eat, while a flock of seagulls see the fish from above and dive into the sea to get their share of the prey. The simultaneous attack from the air and the sea forces the group of fish to speed up and swirl furiously in the water, with the accompaniment of “Bounty Hunters” (#1). The adventurous alarm caused by the music makes the viewer feel the anxiety and despair of the small fish trying to escape from their predators, as nature has placed them at the bottom of the ocean food chain. The documentary is going to give a similar reason for adventure, later, when the same scene with a group of fish will be repeated, with the music from “The Spinning Baitball” (#16) releasing energy while capturing the predators’ attack.
A different scene of predator and prey will be the occasion for chase music when the Berlin Philharmonic will make the viewer of the documentary feel an adrenaline rush. A huge grey whale travels with its three-month-old baby, but is forced to swim slowly as the baby is not yet able to swim as fast as the mother does. Two killer whales target the whale and its calf and begin their pursuit, with the ultimate goal of exhausting the baby’s stamina. Six hours after the chase begun, they manage to detach the baby from its mother and strangle it. In “Wolf Pack” (#12), the orchestra gradually builds anticipation until the killer whales approach the mother and her baby and intensifies their savagery towards the baby when they attempt to kill it, as shown at the 2:02 of the above mentioned track. By inflicting repeated blows to the baby, they finally win their prize. The lonely and at the same time sad sound of a flute at 3:07 is accompanied by a shot of the mother. She will now have to continue her journey alone. Composer George Fenton knows perfectly well how to write memorable music for adventure, with the performance of a great orchestra as his ally.
There is no justice in nature and only the strongest one has the privilege of survival. In the shallow waters of a shore in Patagonia, baby sea lions enjoy playing. However, the music that accompanies their game is not in accord with the atmosphere those images create. It reveals a fear that something unexpected will happen soon, as is evident from the introduction of “The Beach in Patagonia” (#3). At 0:53 the fin of a killer whale becomes visible through the sea, with the music beginning to sound threatening. The appearance of a whale so close to the shore signals something unexpected, and risky for itself at the same time, but it has a serious motivation. The whale wants to approach the shallow waters in order to attack one of the unsuspecting baby sea lions, risking being trapped there itself. At 1:31 the figure of the whale emerges, it’s the moment to attack the baby, trying to drag it in deep waters. Music conveys the message that the attack has begun. Whale’s repeated blows to the little sea lion constitute a painful torture, which the music highlights it as a tragedy. Music’s approach to this scene is not to highlight the killer instinct of the predator focusing on agony or adventure, but the drama of the prey, whose loss of life is predetermined. The final blow will be given by the whale with its tail throwing its now bleeding prey high in the air.
Leaving the stories of ocean’s predators and preys, we move to a Caribbean atmosphere captured in the music of “Surf and Sand” (#5), where crabs play in the sand. A light and humorous break in the soundtrack of the documentary, from which the playful moments are not missing. Like the scene where a pod of dolphins offers a unique spectacle, when they jump out of the water giving the impression that they are dancing on the surface of the sea. The new theme which accompanies the dolphins playing in “Showtime” (#14) sounds like choreographing their movements and perfectly reflects their cheerful and spontaneous temperament. But dolphins are not the only ones in a playful mood. Emperor penguins rocket out of the water, onto ice, sliding on it. The feeling that the viewer gets from the music of this scene, in the first half of “Flying Emperors” (#11), is that of the energy and enthusiasm of a flight, only it differs somewhat from the usual, because it concerns penguins. The second half of the above mentioned track is interesting, when the atmosphere of the music changes completely, and the viewer watches the long journey of the penguins to breed in freezing conditions. They walk 100 miles of barren ice desert at -70 degrees with stormy winds! The hardships that nature inflicts on penguins are tragically portrayed by the music.
Between the anxiety for survival and the dangers that lurk, there is the calm during the day on the coral reefs, where sea creatures explore the ocean. The calm and relaxation of tracks like “Coral Riches” (#6), “The Kelp Forrest” (#8) and “Wanderers” (#3) concerns sea creatures which swim alone, in some of the most serene areas of the seabed. In these moments, the composer will not be tempted to use the instrument of the orchestra that has been identified more than any other with the seabed, the harp. Its distinct wonderful sound has been used many times in the history of film music to express the underwater conditions, with excellent results in the film “Boy on a Dolphin” (1957) by Hugo Friedhofer, and even earlier in the film “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” (1953) by Bernard Herrmann. George Fenton distances himself from this idea, which could be considered by many, nowadays, as a cliché. However, he chooses to use electronic sounds and he does it in a discreet way. Sometimes combined with the soft voices of the choir, as in “Kaleidoscope” (#8), it aims at the mystery caused by the strange sea creatures, where the depth is so great that daylight cannot reach it. The constant darkness hides unexpected surprises, with creatures which often have a strange appearance and the ability to alternate colours in order to lure their preys.
When the darkness of the night comes to the seabed, then life’s rhythm changes drastically. The sea creatures which carelessly swam in the seabed now have to find a hiding place. But even if they find a place to hide, there is no guarantee that the coming of the day will find them alive. Because, for some sea creatures, the coming of darkness means hunting time. Nocturnal predators, such as skates and sharks, do not need light since they are endowed with sensors that detect the slightest movement, which can be fatal for anyone who makes it. When such a movement is noticed, then the roaming predators of the seafloor rush to the prey to get their share. Their movements become more and more nervous as they roam the seafloor and when they feel their target, alarm sounds and everyone is tuned towards it. In this scene, music can once again shine with its decisive involvement in what is happening. Music that identifies a roaming threat accompanies sharks which are seeking out prey, with the orchestra leading to nightmarish climaxes when they find it. The electronic sounds also participate here, in one of the most interesting tracks of the soundtrack, which unfortunately has not been included in the list of tracks that was released. However, an alternative version of this track can be heard at the soundtrack of the TV series “The Blue Planet” (2001). This is the track “Sharks” (#9), which is performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra.
The sound of a thunder in the sky marks the beginning of another track which impresses the viewers of the film, who will not have the pleasure to hear it out of it, along with the rest of the soundtrack. The storms, the wind, the waves cause turmoil in the sea and similar scenes of these weather phenomena bear the musical seal of a turbulent orchestra, which keeps pace with nature and its extreme events. The ocean floor is usually flat except for a few places where there are fissures which in some cases can reach up to seven miles, such as the deepest trench, called “The Mariana Trench”, which extends over an inconceivable area of 30,000 miles. Chimney-like structures are formed there which emit black hot material from the Earth’s core as high as a 16-story skyscraper, named black smokers. The poisonous material released into the ocean creates a biological hell. And yet, even here life thrives without need for the sun energy. The track “Mounting Pressure” (#15) describes the above eerie and hidden face of the seabed, which fewer people have visited, than those who have stepped on the Moon. Even today it remains the most unexplored part of the planet. The orchestra and choir contribute to an evocative atmospheric music, full of darkness and mystery.
The documentary begins with dolphins swimming in the ocean, and then we see a series of shots with waves forming in the sea. The musical background of the above is the theme of the oceans, and without a doubt one of George Fenton’s most beautiful creations! You will not find this track in the soundtrack that was released, but you will find instead the performance of the theme from the end of the film, enriched by a choir. A small reference to this theme is made somewhere in the middle of the documentary, when we see a grey whale swimming alone, located at “Free to Roam” (#7) . The theme of the oceans includes two parts, which refer to the two basic conditions that characterize them, when they are calm and peaceful and when they are in turmoil and show their wild side. In “Deep Blue” (#18), the first part of the ocean theme is located at 2:05 to 2:45, where the strings lead the way in the music performance. In this part, the theme focuses on the beauty, the vastness and the sense of freedom the endless blue creates. The second part of the ocean theme is located at 2:46 to 4:10, where the wind and percussion instruments of the orchestra take the leading role in the music performance, focusing on the wildness of the oceans and the dangers that lurk there. A theme of timeless quality and incomparable beauty which captures in the best way something respectively timeless as the oceans of our planet are. A theme which bows before the grandeur of the oceans, a hymn to the awe that every person feels when they realize how small they are in front of nature.
Without a doubt, the soundtrack of “Deep Blue” (2003) is one of the most memorable and fascinating ever written for a nature documentary film or a TV show! The identification of images and music is an unprecedented success and includes all possible emotional conditions that can be imagined, from sadness and melancholy, to agony and terror, greatness and drama. You will also find the TV version of the music entitled “The Blue Planet” similarly interesting and enjoyable, as it is available on CD and in digital format. The huge success of “The Blue Planet” (2001) and “Deep Blue” (2003) led George Fenton to continue his collaboration with the BBC, for the following documentaries “Planet Earth (2006) and “Frozen Planet” (2011), with a particularly good outcome. Considering all his compositions for nature, it would be perfectly reasonable to declare George Fenton the maestro of nature!
- Bounty Hunters (3:35)
- Airwaves (2:20)
- The Beach in Patagonia (5:07)
- Metamorphosis (1:52)
- Surf and Sand (2:02)
- Coral Riches (4:13)
- Free to Roam (1:16)
- The Kelp Forest (3:12)
- Kaleidoscope (3:57)
- Polar Landscape (3:14)
- Flying Emperors (3:29)
- Wolf Pack (5:01)
- The Wanderers (3:36)
- Showtime (2:15)
- Mounting Pressure (6:36)
- The Spinning Baitball (3:36)
- Deep Blue (5:45)
Total Time: 61:13
The tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * * *