Brian Tyler’s Final Destination

Fourth in the franchise launched in 2000 by former X-FILES writers James Wong and Glen Morgan, THE FINAL DESTINATION (known during production as FINAL DESTINATION 4 and FINAL DESTINATION: DEATH TRIP) is the latest variation on the entertaining but formulaic story about a group of teens who seem to cheat death only to find that death has a way of collecting its due all the same.

The first three films were scored by maverick music maestro Shirley Walker, who provided their palpable musical propulsion. But Walker died in 2006 not long after FINAL DESTINATION 3. After some consideration, director David R. Ellis, who had also helmed FINAL DESTINATION 2 (2003), asked Brian Tyler to take over for the fourth outing.

“I was brought on very early in the process by New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers, and the director David Ellis,” said Tyler. “They were still filming the movie and called me from the set and asked me if I was interested. We talked about the concept even in that original conversation. We all wanted to respect the tradition of what Shirley had established but also bring its own flavor and grit to this particular film.”

Over the last dozen years, Brian Tyler has established an impressive reputation as a film composer. Emerging after a year of independent film scoring in 1998 with the quirky music to SIX STRING SAMURAI, Tyler gained acclaim for his work on Bill Paxton’s creepy psychological thriller, FRAILTY (2001) and was soon scoring increasingly notable and bigger films, many of which were squarely science fiction and horror offerings. His music to Don Coscarelli’s brilliantly comic commentary on aging and mummy attacks, BUBBA HO-TEP, embraced the almost surreal sense of humor with musical elements that were reflective of Elvis’ country-tinged pop without completely losing thenecessary dramatic edge. A similar swaggering sound was provided for Tommy Lee Wallace’s VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS (2002), a follow-up to JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES, enhancing its Latin locale with persuasively rhythmic accompaniment.

Tyler went on to score large-scaled science fiction productions such as CHILDREN OF DUNE for the Sci-Fi Channel, laid down some eloquence for the exploits of TV’s PAINKILLER JANE series for the same network, Michael Crichton’s TIMELINE (replacing his own icon, Jerry Goldsmith, whose score was ironically deemed unsuitable, after which Tyler provided his own variation of a Goldsmith score for the final release), and CONSTANTINE, requiring a last minute collaboration with Klaus Badelt to overlay some new material on top of Tyler’s finished score (which was, indeed, better than having it Goldsmithed out of the picture entirely). Tyler provided a spooky score for DARKNESS FALLS (2003), chilled the ominous portents of GODSEND (2004), and catapulted the horrific battles in ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007).

In THE FINAL DESTINATION Tyler was prepared to confront death’s scythe itself while musically supporting the action, fantasy, and brutal shocks with a potent mix of ambient atmospheres and progressive, driving propulsion, from the blistering rock and roll of the main theme to the omnipresent chills provided by somber, sustained string chords and relentless, percussive chase motifs.

“I thought there were some dueling aspects of the film that needed addressing,” said Tyler of his approach to the film’s various nuances. “There was the fate aspect of the film that feels supernatural. But of course the propulsive action of these premonition sequences needed musical muscle. It was a fine balance to be sure. And yes, horror was a large part of this score but in a way, not straight up horror since there is no visible killer. In fact, the main character of the film is never seen. Death himself! So it was up to me to provide the voice of death through the music.”

Tyler incorporating Shirley Walker’s main theme from the first three films, which was integrated as Tyler developed old with new to arrive at a musical dynamic that both reflected the legacy of the series while providing something different for this excursion, much as he did with the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series and 2008’s RAMBO.

“Shirley’s theme is still the most prominent aspect of the score,” Tyler said. “There were a few other themes that I composed for this film. One was an upward death motif that only needed a small statement to recognize something was very, very wrong in a scene and about to get worse. Also there is a new danger theme for the most evil moments in the film.”

In addition, Tyler wanted to provide a more emotional and natural theme for the struggles of one of the main characters with his past.

Scoring terror is something that has come naturally to Tyler after several excursions through horror cinema. A score like this needs to drive the roller coaster of scary shocks, nudging the viewer-listeners as they anticipate those drops and curves and, in some cases, flinging them headlong over the side of the rail. Multiple layers of spooky sonorities and progressive riffs of percussion-led synth and orchestral pads generate a fatalistic drive to the characters’ rush toward their inevitable Final Destination, building the anticipation and intensifying the payoffs, while also providing a gentle, breezy melody for the film’s gentler environment.

Recognizing that horror scores, in particular among all species of film music, are by nature manipulative – intensifying emotions, anticipating events about to occur on screen, generating heightened excitement in the viewer – Tyler purposefully geared his music to operate subtly with finesse, or ferociously with propulsion, as the storyline and visual style dictated.

“It’s so tricky!” Tyler confessed. “Sometimes the music would lead you down a path of ‘something is coming’ and sometimes it would lead you down the path of ‘everything is okay’ right before the movie hits you with a hard right to the jaw. It’s all about finding the right moment for the right tone. I just go by feel and try to remember how I felt when I see a scary film that really, really got me.”

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The hybrid nature of contemporary film scores – the mix of synths with symphs – have become the norm for modern action films and horror thrillers and almost dictates how a composer will proceed, especially in a franchise like this, which largely depends on following successful formulas and meeting audience expectations. At the same time, composers like Tyler cannot help creatingsomething that strives to make a new or personal musical statement.

“The hybrid style is certainly present now,” agreed Tyler. “I think it depends on the feel of the film. There are films that I score that are purely orchestral of course, and I love their purity. But I always try to make hybrid scores natural. The non-orchestral elements mostly come from instruments that I record with a microphone. The more I can record live the happier I am!”

Tyler has recently been signed to score Sylvester Stallone’s Latin American mercenary action film, THE EXPENDABLES, set for release next August. He is also set to score George Gallo’s psychological thriller, COLUMBUS CIRCLE as well as the next big science fiction invasion thriller, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, currently filming and planned for release in February, 2011.

For more information on Brian Tyler, see: www.briantyler.com.

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About the Author

Randall Larson

Randall Larson contributed “The Score” column to Cinefantastique magazine from 1983 to 1999. The author of Musique Fantastique, A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema (1984) and Music from the House of Hammer (1996), Larson also published CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal during the 1980s. He currently writes a bi-weekly film music column for buysoundtrax.com, reviews horror soundtrack CDs for Cemetery Dance magazine, writes for Music from the Movies and Film Music magazines, and writes soundtrack CD liner note books.

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