If “Ex Machina” isn’t one of the best sci-fi films of the year, then I have no idea what is. Hell, remove the “sci-fi” distinction. “Ex Machina” is one of the best films of the year. Alex Garland’s directorial debut outing (before this, he wrote, among other things, the screenplay for Danny Boyle’s 2007 space-traversing thriller, “Sunshine,” which full disclosure, is also counted among my favorite films) is a gorgeous, tense, mind-blowing 108 minutes that sets the bar for sci-fi way higher than it had been prior.
As much love as critics and audiences and awards proffers heap upon Garland and his cast, we can’t neglect to consider the achievements of other artists, whose work went into making “Ex Machina” the benchmark film that it is. One such contributor is composer Geoff Barrow (Beak, Quakers, Portishead) whose score subtly yet perfectly haunts the entire film, constructing a level of suspense that the audience is unaware of until it is handed upon them.
In a fascinating 32-minute podcast from “The Talkhouse Film,” Barrow sat down with his friend and fellow composer, Clint Mansell, to discuss their work and the state of films today. Mansell, for those of whom the name doesn’t ring any bells, is best known for composing all of Darren Aronofsky’s films, from “Pi” through “Noah,” though he has a number of other credits under his belt.
Nick Dawson of “Talkhouse” introduces the back and forth between the two English composers. As he states in the first two minutes of the podcasts, Barrow and Mansell are real-life buddies, so the conversation has the organic feel of an unencumbered, natural chat between friends about a shared interest. The openness gives the half hour podcast a degree of honesty so many others lack.
For example, just before the 10-minute mark, Mansell kicks off a discussion about “Ex Machina” by asking Barrow what it was like working with Alex Garland, and how they collectively came up with the soundtrack Barrow delivered. Barrow explains how their relationship on “Ex Machina” stemmed from interactions they had had together on “Dredd,” the 2012 Karl Urban comic book adaptation, for which Garland wrote the screenplay. From there, they wound up collaborating for over ten months on the score for “Ex Machina.”
What was it like working with Aronofsky on “Pi”? What has Mansell’s extensive history in the industry taught him? What’s the worst thing a producer or music director can say while working on the score? For answers to all this, as well as much more insight into the two men’s careers, listen to the full podcast below.