Mark Mancina’s soundtrack to ‘The Sea Beast’ has promise but fails to deliver an unmissable listening experience
Film music is a strange beast. It is often subordinate to the film, yet its presence is overwhelming – sad moments become heart-breaking with the right cue, and celebrations can become joyful beyond measure. I love listening to film music, often because it is some of the most cohesive and musical material being produced nowadays. But I admit that several scores often don’t stand up as well separated from the film, meaning you need to be selective with which score albums you pick. I recently listened to Mark Mancina’s score to the Netflix film The Sea Beast, which has promise but fails to unify into an unmissable listening experience.
The score begins with a number of pieces boasting beautiful string arrangements
In the interest of transparency, I must admit that I haven’t seen the film – my review here is based entirely on the music as presented on the album. Yet, from the off, you can feel the swashbuckling nature and the sea setting of the film – the best film music both complements a film but is able to tell us a story without the need for any images. Mancina, a veteran of animated scores (see Tarzan, Brother Bear, Planes, and even the seafaring Moana) offers a score that hits the family-friendly mark with some lovely motifs and ideas, but it seems to lose sight of them halfway through.
The score begins with a number of pieces boasting beautiful string arrangements and develops a distinct Celtic flair that has become associated with sea adventures in cinema (think James Horner’s music for Titanic). The evocative flute of ‘The Sea Beast’ develops into a full sea-shanty-like moment in ‘Someday’ – appropriately enough, a shanty actually then follows, with Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe’s ‘Captain Crow’ (it’s a bouncy number, if not particularly memorable). It’s the only non-Mancina track on the album, but it doesn’t feel incongruous – it might have worked better, however, if the melodic ideas of the song featured more heavily in the score.
Mancina runs with swashbuckling music, driven by horns, drums and strings, and employs them to adventurous effect. It works effectively on ‘The Hunters Code’, which balances the thrilling string music with the Celtic flute to symbolise the sea and low horns to denote potential danger ahead. But the track also offers the first hints of something that comes to be one of the score’s main weaknesses – buzzing synthetic layers in the background. They’re not too unpleasant here, but they are noticeable, and they become more so as the score progresses. Half of ‘Jacob into the Sea’ has this kind of effect – it’s a massive shift in musical focus, and not particularly nice to listen to. A similar effect occurs on ‘Crow’s Betrayal’ – I imagine it’s meant to convey the screams of the beast, but it’s so at odds with the adventure music.
The Sea Beast is a mixed listening experience precisely because it is a mixed bag
‘Gwen Batterbie’ starts off an intimate piece of music, gentle strings giving way to an unsuccessful marring of electric discordant music and a poetic female voice, with Mancina then employing taiko drums to hint at peril. ‘Wear It Down’ is half-dark but adventurous, half heavily electronic – you can probably guess which half is the better one. ‘Blue and Maisie’ is the strongest of the later cues, playing with the sailing music in both a grand and an also casual manner. And then we end with two small-scale cues that feel (as a listener) the natural place to reprise and resolve some of the melodic ideas established at the score’s opening – this doesn’t happen. The music is nice string work, and ‘Maisie’s Speech’ also brings the flute onboard, but it feels like a missed opportunity to add a feeling of cohesion to the score. The score ends on a bit of a whimper, even despite ‘Wherever The Wind Takes Us’ and its unearned swell at the end.
The Sea Beast is a mixed listening experience precisely because it is a mixed bag. Mancina’s Celtic music and seafaring side really come out in some captivating score pieces that transport you directly onto the water, but the electronic orchestration elsewhere really breaks the illusion. There are the elements of a fun adventure score here, but the album music feels like less than it should be – it leaves you wanting more, not because of how good it is, but because it feels like pieces are missing.
Recommended listening: ‘Prelude to the Sea’