Return to Big Blockbuster Sound with Trevor Morris’ Action-Packed Score for ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

By  · Published on March 21st, 2013

A composer known for his otherworldly scores for films such as Immortals and period scores for television programs such as The Borgias, The Tudors, and The Pillars of the Earth may seem like an odd choice for a film about a very real place (the White House) falling victim to a fictional (albeit extreme) situation. However with a title like Olympus Has Fallen, composer Trevor Morris’ past pedigree seems to make him the perfect fit to tell a story that is in fact as grand, and moving, as his past work. A fan of action movies himself, Morris worked closely with Olympus director Antoine Fuqua to not only bring the story of the White House being taken over to life, but do so by getting audiences’ adrenaline and emotions racing.

Olympus Has Fallen brings back that “big blockbuster movie” feel through its intense and commanding sound design. The film does not hold back and brings viewers right into the action by making every event on screen literally reverberate around you. Working within and around these powerful sound design elements was no easy task and Morris said he was able to do so by working almost in tandem with Fuqua, explaining,

“The director and I had kind of a global plan for what the score needed to do, including making room for the sound effects. We knew the big air assault and then the ground assault on the White House needed to feel real. In order to feel real, those planes had to be big and the guns had to sound real so we adjusted the score to make sure that everything sort of worked in concert with each other as opposed to typical action music which is very dense and very thick. We kind of went the other way at times ‐ we left some room for those sound effects to breathe so that the music could be heard and the sound effects could be heard because we knew if we just threw too much music at it, it wouldn’t balance properly.”

While the sound design and effects certainly created a loud and immersive action experience, the film is also filled with a remarkable amount of heart and emotion, elements that really come out through the performances and score. This duality of action and emotion felt reminiscent of past films such as Top Gun, but Morris said he drew his inspiration from Fuqua’s vision for the film, saying,

“I think you are spot on with your analogy [comparing Olympus to films like Top Gun]. Antoine and I always call Olympus Has Fallen a popcorn movie masquerading as a human drama in the sense that of course it’s a great thrill ride, and it has to be because that’s what it’s supposed to be, but there’s actually a lot of humanity in it. I drew my inspiration really from Antoine’s direction for what the score was supposed to do and a lot from the story and from the acting. What I tend to do is try to be a musical storyteller and keep with the narrative. That’s where the inspiration came from ‐ is just those little moments where there are some very small, tiny, beautifully human connections, and of course there’s big grand gestures as well. But for me, that’s where it really comes from ‐ the tempo and the color and the saturation and the editing of the picture talks to me a lot and informs my choices.”

Having been nominated for more Emmys than any other composer over the past two years, Morris is no stranger to creating music for a variety of styles and tones. But the way one approaches composing for an action film would have to be different than composing for a drama or fantasy and Morris agreed, explaining his approach to the score for Olympus as,

“Both unapologetically orchestral and melodic and, dare I say, “old school,” if you will ‐ much like those old Jerry Goldsmith scores that I grew up loving. And at the same time I wanted to make something very modern, very now, very 2013, very dark with electronic layers and some orchestral blend in there, but you’re not really sure what you’re hearing. I wanted it to be both those things, as the picture dictated. And it’s funny you mentioned those big movies of the past because those are the movies I grew up loving. I’m a movie lover and those are my style of movie so it was fun to branch out and do big French horn melodies and stuff like that and then go into gritty electronica and kind of make a hybrid score.”

Almost foreshadowing his work on Olympus, Morris also created the score for Immortals which dealt with the war of the gods, an idea alluded to through Olympus’ title and a theme the film certainly tackles as well. When thinking back on his process creating Immortals’ score, Morris admitted there were definite similarities between working on the two films, saying,

“Immortals was a fantasy movie, but it was about an ancient culture, and Antoine always said to me that the title Olympus Has Fallen has an ancient quality to it in that the White House is our temple, in a way. That for American culture it’s a part of our identity, it’s a part of who we are, and the idea of taking it down, the most protected building in the world, it symbolizes so much more than that ‐ the decline of the American empire, things of that nature. So there is a kind of an almost deeply rooted feeling about this place and I used a lot of choir in this score. There’s a lot of spirituality in the way the music is giving reverence to the White House. I do a lot of humming with choir, just the ‘mmm’ consonants, which gives sort of a quiet, gospel feeling to it. So to answer your question ‐ very much so. We treated it [the White House] like it was a thousand years old. To us it was a temple in that way and musically it was treated with that amount of reverence.”

Secret Service agents dancing to the score for ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

While Morris has worked on a many different projects, he seems distinctively drawn to stories about power struggles, Olympus Has Fallen being no exception. Music plays a very specific role in narratives like these as it is needed to pump up the action, but also keep the emotional core of the story intact. As an unofficial “master” at composing for this idea, Morris expanded on what he hopes his music conveys, saying,

“You know it’s funny, it’s become kind of the hallmark of my style, which I did almost unbeknownst to myself. The beauty in these stories for me, The Tudors or The Pillars of the Earth or Immortals, is they deal with these big, grand ideas, like say building churches that last for generations or centuries. At the same time, they deal with very personal issues, very human kind of things, so for me the juxtaposition of the large orchestral gesture or choir, which tends to score a big idea or something that is grand, and then solo instruments, just a little pluck on a dulcimer or just the right ethnic violin, that’s that kind of thing that I’m into and try to accomplish. To make you feel the grandeur of what’s going on around you, but never forget that it’s always about people and that makes it easy to relate to the characters and to the story. To me, it creates a sense of connection with what I see as opposed to the abstract.”

Olympus Has Fallen has many different elements to it which all work together to bring about a story that feels larger than life. With the film set to hit theaters this weekend, Morris could barely settle on the one thing he was most excited for audiences to see (or hear), explaining,

“There’s so much to it! It really is a journey ‐ without giving too much away, we start off with the roles and balance and the American empire and the President. And then of course the White House gets attacked and we go underground for a while, what I call the “subterranean middle act” of the movie. Then we find our way back and for me, it really is the journey and there’s a memorable moment that happens with the President (Aaron Eckhart) talking to the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) where he asks, “Do you have any regrets?” They’re obviously in a tough spot and there’s this little human moment between them, very, very quiet, and it happens with very soft, simple strings in the background, and I watched it with Antoine and almost started crying in that moment, which is very rare for me in my own music to do. There’s such a humanity to those little moments, supported with the music, and I’m as proud of those as I am about the big stuff. They’re both treated with equal reverence. I’m just really proud of the score and I think the movie’s great. I’m just excited to see it come out.”

Olympus Has Fallen could have been considered just another action film, but thanks to sharp direction from Fuqua, strong performances from Eckhart and Leo, and a comprehensive score from Morris the film instead brought back the feeling of simply having fun at the movies. With a riveting blend of intensity and sentiment, Morris’ score helped to make Olympus Has Fallen escapism at its best, guaranteed to make audiences pump a fist in the air right after they finish dabbing their eyes.

The soundtrack for Olympus Has Fallen is available through Relativity Music Group.

1. “Land of the Free”
2. “The Full Package / Snowy Car Talk”
3. “Stage Coach Crashes / Death of the First Lady”
4. “Rocky Road Ice Cream”
5. “White House: Air Attack”
6. “White House: Ground Attack”
7. “Olympus Has Fallen”
8. “P.E.O.C. Incarceration”
9. “Banning Steps Into Action”
10. “Triage”
11. “Banning Gathers Intelligence”
12. “Hunting Banning”
13. “He’s in the Walls”
14. “Saving Spark Plug”
15. “Breaking Madame Secretary”
16. “How Do You Know Kang’s Name?”
17. “Any Regrets”
18. “S.E.A.L. Helicopter Incursion”
19. “Walking the Plank”
20. “Pulling the Fleet”
21. “Mano e Mano”
22. “Stopping Cerberus”
23. “Day Break / We Will Rise / End Credits”

All songs on this soundtrack composed by Trevor Morris.

Olympus Has Fallen hits theaters this Friday, March 22nd.