The Score: 2007’s Oscar-Worthy Fantasy Film Music
2007 was the year of the magical fantasies. With such high fantasy offerings as STARDUST, MR. MAGORIUM’S MAGICAL EMPORIUM, HARRY POTTER 5, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, among others, displaying their outlandish landscapes and magic kingdoms, an especially evocative array of memorable film scores came with them. Their scores were more than the predictable magical tonality and style that such films may have called for; each all of these scores was were notable for emphasizing their human poignancy over their elaborate fantasy. These were down to earth scores that captured as much heartfelt interludes as they did majestic crescendos.
Meanwhile, we’ve also had lots of ambient, textural, atonal, and darkly inventive horror scores, from the disturbing environments of the SAW franchise to the eclectic, spooky sonic environments within room 1408 or beyond the fog of THE MIST. The PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise concluded its seagoing charge with a spectacular rhythmic score that had more in common with rock and roll than classic swashbuckle, but it worked perfectly. We had heroic music for super heroes (SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, BEOWULF) and we had darkly heroic music for more complicated super heroes (SPIDER-MAN 3, GHOST-RIDER), psychological interpretations of unlikely protagonists (NEXT, FRACTURE); we had vibrant and colorful animated adventures and antics (MEET THE ROBINSONS, RATATOUILLE, BEE MOVIE, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE). One of the year’s best was a pristine score straight out of the 70s, ZODIAC; one of the most poignant was for the stunning and provocative science fiction drama, SUNSHINE, and one of the most impressive was the colorful, choral-laden operatic composition for 300.
With the Academy Awards upon us, and the British Oscars (the BAFTAs) announced recently, it’s interesting although unsurprising to find little mutual material shared between their lists and mine. But, when something as simplistically mediocre as Gustavo Santaolo’s flaccid guitar music from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN wins a Best Score Oscar over such intricate and pervasive orchestral scores as John Williams’ MUNICH or MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, or Dario Marianelli’s masterfully poignant PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, then I don’t hold out a lot of hope for Oscar recognition for my annual favorites. With this year’s Oscar and BAFTA noms the going to fairly innocuous mainstream drama scores it seems evident the voters will be choosing from what tunes they remember or what films they want to honor rather than what score really makes up the best cinematic composition and does what great film music is supposed to do (among which, “sounding pretty” is rarely a true requirement). The only surprises in this year’s Oscar noms is that Marco (SCREAM, TERMINATOR 3) Beltrami’s fine Western score for 3:10 TO YUMA and Michael (THE INCREDIBLES, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3) Giacchino’s magnificently zany score for Disney’s RATATOUILLE are among the nominations; and Dario Marianelli’s ATONEMENT, mainstream drama though it is, is definitely an Oscar worthy composition as well.
Well, I don’t get to pick the Oscars so I’ll regard them with mild interest as usual, and instead compile my own list of what I feel are the most significant scores of 2007. These are my favorites and my selections for remembrance after rummaging back through the last year’s most interesting genre scores.
MY TEN FAVES
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX/Nicholas Hooper (Warner Bros CD)
Relatively unknown composer Nicholas Hooper emerges from more than a decade scoring television to take the reigns of the last year’s Potter episode, and he crafts a wonderful orchestral work that should do John Williams proud. From his wickedly energetic score for the cruel Prof. Umbridge to his heroic measures for Dumbledore’s Army, Hooper’s Order of the Phoenix score is full of musical enchantment, elegant heroism, and heinous villainy. Centered around a light classical musical milieu, Hooper quotes just enough from Williams to let us know we’re in Hogwarts territory, but otherwise he makes the music – and the franchise (he’s about to score HALF-BLOOD PRINCE) – his own. The score is a heady mix of swashbuckling adventure, awakening passion, and malevolent danger on a very large scale.
I AM LEGEND/James Newton Howard (Varese Sarabande CD)
Howard’s sublime score merges moments of poignant dignity and passionate regret as he crafts a magnificent tone poem rich in grief for the immeasurable loss of humanity. The score has its more aggressive moments and provides a persuasive underscoring for the film’s action and suspense sequences but the score is more about the human toll, and the quest for survival that courses through the bloodstream of the film’s protagonist. Howard adopts an organic, minimalist approach in these facets of his music and in so doing crafts one of the most moving and affecting sci-fi/horror scores in recent years, supporting its valiant protagonist in its efforts not only to survive but to find a cure for the viral disaster that has rendered his co-inhabitants ravenous zombies.
NEXT/Mark Isham (Lakeshore CD)
Mark Isham’s absorbing musical score for Lee Tamahori’s precognitive thriller, NEXT, is as much a part of this gripping science fiction thriller as any of the characters who pass through its vaguely futuristic Las Vegas scenery. Isham’s composition is energetic and intense, yet never loses site of the story’s inherent humanity. He takes his approach from the film’s human element, and no matter how discordant or dynamic the score’s action moments get, Isham remains steadfastly interested in the story’s human quotient. Associated with the foresite that leads him to contact Jessica Biel’s character, Isham’s main theme that will become the score’s overarching nucleus. Haunting in its austere brevity, the motif becomes a kind of ambient ostinato representing Cage’s gift – the essence of his ability at precognition, and what it means to possess such foresight. Like most action scores nowadays, NEXT is also a hybrid fusion of orchestra and synth pads. Isham handles the form well, and his score derives the necessary momentum to keep the action going while establishing a satisfying sound design.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END/Hans Zimmer (Disney CD) Zimmer’s music for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN AT WORLD’S END is enhanced by further development of the original Zimmer compositions from the first two films (realized by associate Klaus Badelt in the first while Zimmer was committed elsewhere) and an array of new themes, all powerfully connected by a strong orchestral sensibility, enhanced by choir and occasional use of exotic instrumentation. The score extends and resolves themes introduced and developed in the first two films, and what becomes the overarching, ubiquitous musical statement for AT WORLD’S END is a multi-layered Love Theme which, in the end, becomes the musical summation of the entire trilogy. Zimmer’s music has strikingly progressed and developed from the original through the second and now the final film, and the score for AT WORLD’S END is a captivating and frequently breathtaking excursion into musical fantasy adventure, beautifully melodic, lavishly bombastic, and brilliantly assembled.
SPIDER-MAN 3/Christopher Young (unreleased)
Christopher Young moved into Peter Parker’s Manhattan with a vivid and articulate music, providing a score that draws from elements of Danny Elfman’s first two scores (the Spider-Man, Love, and Green Goblin themes) and then opens up a wider variety of his own material with the introduction of themes for the Sandman (an alternately poignant and monstrous motif that literally utters on behalf of the tortured, tragic, and raging character when in sand form) and for the Black Suit (a sinewy, Herrmannesque motif that entwines itself like the liquid obsidian goo that envelopes the overly ambitious Eddie Brock). Rather than emulating Elfman, Young extrapolates what the score needs from Elfman’s previous scores, and then heads off in a direction of his own. The score is as vibrant with pathos as it is with vitality; Young’s new motifs seethe with tragedy as they illustrate tremendous power and tremendous torment, especially his Sandman theme. The score is also rife with powerful, epic choir intonations, sunny orchestral melodies, and massive blocks of sonic texture and layered tonality for the film’s more spectaculay moments. It’s a pity that manipulation of the score and replacement of several of Young’s cues by music library tracks of Elfman’s earlier scores resulted in some arguments that led to cancellation of a score soundrack album (a bootleg is floating around).
STARDUST/Ilan Eshkeri (Decca CD)
With not even a dozen scores under his belt (although they have included such notables as LAYER CAKE and HANNIBAL RISING), British composer Eshkeri has composed a wonderful score for this excellent adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s winning and wistful fairy tale adventure. Emphasizing choir and large orchestra to augment Gaiman’s romantic fantasy about a fallen star and her adventures among the friends and foes in magical Stormhold, Eshkeri constructs his score around a splendid central theme, rich in passion and splendor and suggestive of the majesty and of the woman who is a star. A fistful of subordinate themes are woven gracefully amid a well-integrated score that is as vivid and beautifully conveyed as the regal residents of Stormhold itself.
SUNSHINE/John Murphy & Underworld (unreleased)
John Murphy continues his collaboration with his director on 28 DAYS LATER with his ambient score for Danny Boyle’s mesmerizing science fiction tale, perhaps the most effectively styled and literate speculative adventure in decades. Underworld (British electronic music duo Karl Hyde and Rick Smith), which had contributed music to Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING, composed music largely influenced by György Ligeti (further associating SUNSHINE with 2001, a film it has been compared to in style and metaphysical scope), and then brought in composer Murphy to flesh out and complete the film score using that music. Regrettably, reported disputes between the band’s lawyers and the distribution company have nixed the opportunity for a soundtrack release, making this the second score on my top 10 list to fail to make a legit soundtrack release. While Ligeti definitely figures in the music, the more persuasive theme is Murphy’s hauntingly sustained and growing ambience of strings (several youtube posters have provided this theme, clearly ripped from the DVD, for listening on the web), which magnificently captures the film’s sense of import, of destiny, of duty, of God, and does much to elevate the film into loftier heights of speculation and thought.
300/Tyler Bates (Warner Bros CD)
Tyler Bates’ music for 300 (premiere in Dec. 2006; general release in March 2007) is a massive orchestral composition that ripples with energy and resonates with enormous layers of symphonic and sampled prowess. The score teems with deep, cavernous male choruses and seethes with sinewy Middle-Eastern female vocalisms; it echoes with reverberated hues and cries of massed humanity, resounding in conflict and in resolution. The score breathes with a vibrant sonority and texture. Bates’ use of Middle-Eastern styled voices throughout the score is not only texturally interesting, adding a compelling blush to the score’s resonance, but also sounding appropriate to the film’s environment and time period. Voice also reflects the environmental pageantry of the film. The score with its orchestral and choral depth is a marvelous and compelling experience, as evocative as director Zach Snyder’s astonishing visualizations.
TRANSFORMERS/Steve Jablonsky (Warner Bros CD)
A far cry from the composer’s subtly disturbing works for the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, AMITYVILLE HORROR, and HITCHER remakes, Steve Jablonsky provides an expressive overarching theme for TRANSFORMERS, Michael Bay’s evocdative live-action comic book, that captures both the intricate heroism of the Autobots as well as the earth-shattering predicament that brings them to our midst. The mighty French-horns, stridently stroked strings, and reverent tones of choir give Jablonsky’s main theme a characteristic of cosmic import, a paean for humanity while enriched with the slow-mo hero-walk of mighty warriors come to save us all. Far from playing up the intricate organic manipulation of metal and plastic that might be suggested by the titular concept, Jablonsky’s score is rooted in shared humanity, gallantry, and commitment to doing right, while his lower tonalities for the evil Decepticons bristles with a darker synth work that suggests their malevolent mechanics. These two alternating motifs balance the score, and much of the bombastic musical conflict that derives between their on-screen battling is comprised of an integration between these two motifs.
ZODIAC/David Shire (Varese Sarabande CD)
David Shire is in many ways the perfect composer to score ZODIAC. As the composer of such iconic 1970s thrillers as THE CONVERSATION, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and all manner of TV movies and series – shows the real-life Zodiac may well have been watching in between his heinous crimes – Shire’s music perfectly embodies the kind of psychological musical environment needed by this film. Shire’s score is more of a harmonic score than a melodic one, built upon layers of transparent strings, and it maintains an intentional “irresolution.” Themes and variations never resolve – they are left hanging as was the investigation into unsolved murders themselves. The music builds a tremendous sense of unease, of tension, of discomfort, as Shire develops his layered, “motivic fragments.” Shire’s strings hang in the air like San Francisco fog, obscuring the acts of violence and lifting only to reveal their aftermath, failing to provide any kind of resolution or justice in favor of the slain souls. Livelier tracks provide a contrasting texture that drives the same intent: an obsession to learn the truth coupled with the seeming inability to do so. Shire crafts the film’s psychologies and subtexts into a pervasive musical atmosphere that supports and enhances the film’s brooding and documentarylike dynamic as well as the ambiguity of its denouement. The score builds an intensity of emotive interplay and a heaviness of dramatic ambiance that is extremely effective
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BEE MOVIE/Rupert Gregson-Williams (Sony CD)
Rupert Gregson-Williams (brother of Harry) has provided an exciting and eloquent score for BEE MOVIE, the latest anthropomorphic feature animation from DreamWorks. The score is terrific, a full-blooded heroic and swashbuckling orchestral score that gives the CGI movie much of its larger-than-life dynamic. It’s a simplistic approach but a very accessible one, a score that proves to be as enthusiastically enjoyed as it is found to be predictable and formulaic. And the latter attributes, while true, are not to the score’s detriment – it is extremely likable, a soaring heroic and romantic score that’s as colorful and effervescent as the film it accompanies. Rupert proves to be very capable with the large-sized orchestra and choir and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable musical escapade.
BEOWULF/Alan Sylvestri (Warner Bros CD)
Alan Silvestri’s score for BEOWULF opens with lavish angst – low end orchestral chords and low chanting choir. The score is very reminiscent of the style and scope of Howard Shore’s music for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and one suspects that is probably the filmmaker’s intention and Silvestri’s cross to bear. But the score is very good and very interesting in its sonic vastness and thematic depth. Primarily orchestral, embellished by a large choral section, Silvestri’s BEOWULF is suitably earthy. One can taste the sloshed mud, flecked with bits of grass and grain, as it is flailed about by Silvestri’s energetic orchestrations. A stalwart theme for the title character captures the mythological legendry of the Beowulf tale and personage; Silvestri builds on this to craft a powerful motif for French horns that is both savage and eloquent. Interestingly, the score opens with a pulse of electronic bass, almost as if BT had produced the soundtrack; but this recurring synth beat provides only the cadence for an acoustic-rich, chorale-heavy opening composition, as male chorus chants severely over a rhythm of orchestra and electronics; a women’s choir answers the male, and both story and score are off and running.
BLACK SHEEP/Victoria Kelly (soundtrack unreleased)
This vastly entertaining New Zealand horror comedy, made in 2006 but released in the US in 2007, featured a splendid score from Award-winning NZ composer Victoria Kelly. Suitably grand and intentionally overplayed, like the movie itself, Kelly’s score builds up from a subtle mysterioso to a rollicking, rhythmic score that really drives the story’s energy and humor without losing its pragmatic integrity. The music is prolific in the film, but it builds a continual mood of activity, propulsion, and fun.
BLOODRAYNE II: DELIVERANCE/Jessica de Rooij (iTunes download)
With barely three scores, all for director Uwe Boll (IN THE NAME OF THE KING, POSTAL, SEED), 26-year old German composer Jessica de Rooij has proven herself a capable and compelling composer, and garnered her a long list of pending projects in Hollywood. Her latest score for Boll, BLOODRAYNE II, transporting the titular vampire huntress to the American wild west, is a vivid melodic composition that’s as much the gunslinger’s Western Americana as it is the vampire’s European Gothic. The first BLOODRAYNE was scored by fellow countryman and Hans Zimmer alumni Henning Lohner (de Rooij’s collaborator on IN THE NAME OF THE KING); in the sequel de Rooij livens things up with a score that is vivid and rhythmic, and has been rightly called a retro-Western score, rich in anachronistic 1960s instrumentation and cadences, sustained eerie atmospheres, and a terrifically cool Italian Western styled theme for BLOODRAYNE that greatly enlivens the film’s lack of inventive direction and storytelling.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA/AaronZigman (Hollywood Records CD)
Aaron Zigman’s expressive orchestral score for this rather routine juvenile fantasy is quite assertive and magical. It’s perhaps the kind of music you’d expect from a film like this – richly tugging on your heartstrings with tender, intricately arranged melodies and surging, lyrical crescendos, and crafting the appropriate sense of mysterioso and amazement through choir and orchestra to support its more fantastic elements – but Zigman accomplishes it all with honesty and effectiveness. Zigman’s main theme is a captivating and sweeping, epic adventure theme which serves the film and its story well, suiting both the character drama and the moments of fantasy as the young protagonists discover a magical world, Narnia style.
FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER/John Ottman (Sony Classical CD)
John Ottman returned to super-hero territory with his score for the first FF sequel, having scored the first one – not to mention X2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS not much earlier. Ottman expands his thematic range from the first FANTASTIC FOUR film, crafting a very likable score that revisits his original FF and Dr Doom Themes (actually the latter is derived out of the former) and provides a compelling new theme for Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer that captures much of the character’s tortured essence and nobility in its severe and yearning melodic strains. The restraint that Ottman puts on this theme – which wants to be heroic but is continually held back, just as the Surfer’s cosmic freedom is held back by the reigns of Galactus, consumer of planets. Radd’s sacrifice – to become the herald of Galactus in order to spare his own world from consumption – colors his theme and gives it an emotional weight that underlines the character’s personality and circumstance. These motifs interact amid a well organized blend of structured action material and accentuated heroic patterns that is very effective and likable in both its exciting and its subtle moments. Occasionally Goldsmithian (in the vein of STAR TREK’s “Klingon Battle”), the score, enhanced here and there by choir, is a powerful one.
1408/Gabriel Yared (Varese Sarabande CD)
Gabriel Yared’s terrific horror score is crafted out of spellbinding sound designs, ambient strata of tonality shifting and balancing upon one another, bristling sonic textures integrating to form a provocative assemblage of frightening atmospheres; but it’s a potent score and a fascinating excursion into sound design. As Yared’s first foray into horror scoring, the music is a far cry from what we’ve heard from him in the past. His take on horror scoring isn’t uniquely fresh, but the composer examines, reflects, and engages horror scoring with a palette that is uniformly interesting and entirely effective.
FRACTURE/Jeff & Mychael Danna (New Line Records audio download via iTunes; UK: Silva Screen CD)
Brothers and award-winning film composers Jeff and Mychael Danna reunite to invest Gregory Hoblit’s thriller, FRACTURE, with a sheen of dark, reflective melody and atmosphere. The music is intricate – fractured, if you will – and compelling. The music grows in force and volume, its slow cadence and growing harmonic creating an intriguing atmosphere of unease. This tonality is FRACTURE’S mainstay, its strident piano melody and vaporous, constant violin suffusion building a psychological mystique that is at once compelling and unnerving, mirroring the dark tonality of the film and its storyline. A harsh tonality below bellows of horns becomes a second recurring motif, a disconsolate and jarring throbbing that plays against the silky smoothness of the sustained violin and piano motif. Both elements build the film’s growing sense of unease and apprehension, carrying a tonality of unraveling canvass and slowly revealed hidden truths.
GHOST RIDER/Christopher Young (Varese Sarabande CD)
GHOST RIDER is a massively energetic score, its first half a mostly unstoppable attack of aggressive orchestration, pulsating mightily as it supports the creation and infernal demise of Johnny Blaze, the stunt man who becomes host to the supernatural entity, seeking to regain his lost soul. Rarely softening, the score remains as relentless as any diabolical soul-stealer intent on entombing his prize. Choir enhances the texture in several places, with heart-slamming throbs of bass resonating below guttural drones of brass and a shrieking storm of violins, elevated with intensity through the rampant voicings of the choir. As the story begins examining the developing heroism and integrity of Johnny Blaze as he seeks redemption, Young opens up the score beyond the pure aggression of its first half. Young introduces a Latin deguello and suddenly we’re almost in Italian Western territory – the motif lends a surprising and intriguing measure to the mix as the cue becomes more dissonant and violent. Young’s climactic tour du force unleashes an onslaught of musical terror wherein choir and orchestra are given a human face through orchestral recollections of the deguello, and sweeping passages for chorus over riffing violins. A loud and aggressive but very passionate score.
THE HOST/Byungwoo Lee (US release 2007; Milan CD)
While the film debuted in its native Korea in 2006, its general American release in January 2007 qualifies it for this year’s picks. Good thing. Like the film, it’s a thoroughly compelling and unusual take on sci-fi/horror scoring. Composer Lee provides a purely symphonic composition that is vividly romantic, playing against the mood by providing a rich array of orchestral nuances that convey the sense of family embodied by the protagonist and his siblings and father as they seek to rescue their young daughter from a rampant, mutated fish. Surrounded by a main theme that is almost carnival-like in nature, as if Rota emerged from Fellini territory to convey the motif upon Seoul’s waterfronts, Lee associates the carnival nature of the crowded waterfront marketplaces with the befuddled military masses that attempt, poorly, to capture the beast and control the populace; the motif suddenly morphs into a tender, poignant oboe melody resonating in serene beauty. The score is introspective, moody, and symphonically atmospheric, with light, airy tonalities of solo violin that describe the bond between the family members as they seek to rescue the young girl. A massive, fill-laden wave of mass drumming conjures up terrors in one monster attack sequence; the urgent percussion flow becomes a measured stand in for the ambivalent creature as it follows its nature, the drums mirroring its slapping appendages, relentless gait, and it insidious footfalls spanking concrete.
KAIDAN/Kenji Kawai (Isla Vista [Japan] CD; also iTunes download)
One of Japan’s most prolific and inventive contemporary composers, Kenji Kawai (GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE, DEATH NOTE, SEVEN SWORDS, etc) has composed a spooky and organically environmental score for KAIDAN (no relation to 2005’s KIDAN, which Kawai also scored), Hideo Nakata’s latest ghost story (no relation beyond the title with Kobayashi’s classic 1964 ghost film). Kawai scored the Japanese RING films for Nakata, and he rejoined the director with an earthy orchestral score asway with reedy woodwind ambiances, percussion, bristling electronic echoes. KAIDAN is not a particularly melodic or thematic score, but it captures an enticing mood of acoustic ambiance, using orchestral instruments and layered symphonic tonalities much the same way that other composers were layering their electronic pads and samples for American horror scores. Kawai includes his share of synth stingers, breathy choral intonations, and eerie voice and orchestral mysteriosos, but his overall sensibility is one of understated orchestral tonality and oblique pacing, building a severe sense of unease through sustained atmospheres, using instruments normally known for their warmth and compassionate sound.
MEET THE ROBINSONS/Danny Elfman (Disney CD)
Disney’s latest computer-animated feature comes complete with a stirring score by Danny Elfman. Despite being set in the future, Elfman has brought to bear a notably nostalgic vein in his scoring approach. While firmly set in his best vintage, Elfman has scored Meet The Robinsons kind of like a toned-down Beetlejuice – mischievously zany but not quite as frenetically wild – Elfman scoring Tim Burton through the lens of nostalgic Americana. The score takes a compelling journey from opening to closure, with frequent excursions into manic cartoonmusicland; all circulating in and around the score’s heart, which is Elfman’s gentle and nicely finessed family theme. There are hints of lounge music and jazz and rumba and quirky humor’ Elfman always maintains a cool edge to the score, and you can often hear it grin.
THE MIST/Mark Isham (Varese Sarabande CD)
Mark Isham has concocted one of the most otherworldly, alien, and mist-ifying scores for this lavish adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most inventive novellas. Incorporating sound textures and atonality for maximum unfamiliarity, Isham’s music never associates itself with the human characters of the film, but reserves its power purely for those moments dealing with the mist and the dangerous denizens slithering, scuttling, and plodding within it. Eschewing melody completely, the score instead adopts rhythm and a fascinating organic fusion of a movable strata of sounds – sheets and shards and clusters and blare sustainments of resonance and reverberation, all extremely subtle and ethereal. The use of Lisa Gerrard’s “The Host of Seraphim,” from the 1988 Dead Can Dance album, The Serpent’s Egg, was used by director Frank Darabont during the climactic scenes when the protagonists leave the supermarket and seek escape through the mist, provides a complete about face from Isham’s atonal atmospheres, with Gerrard’s ethereal voicings and the track’s angelic, spiritual paean to the heavenly places, become a lament for the characters we have come to know and love. Click here to read an interview with composter Mark Isham
MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM (Aaron Zigman & Alexandre Desplat, Varese Sarabande CD)
Two of this decade’s most promising composers collaborate (for the first time) on an enchanting fantasy score, in a year when magical fantasies seemed to abound like too many frolicking Oompa Loompas. But MR. MAGORIUM’S was given that added magic due to an honestly poignant and credible orchestral approach. Both composers are noted for their use of melody and pervasive symphonic environments in scores like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, MARTIAN CHILD (Zigman), HOSTAGE, and THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Desplat), and both bring that sensibility to great play into MAGORIUM. The music is both warm and rich in its promise of magical adventure, playful when it needs to be, but more often it’s honest and sensitive in crafting its magical world of imagination, enhancing both the story’s youthful innocence and also its more rational maturity. The music embodies the historical environment of the film while enhancing the flavorings of its storyline and its subtexts, its wistful melodies capturing the film’s subtle moods of growing up and the reality or unreality of such things as magic.
THE NUMBER 23/Harry Gregson-Williams (New Line CD)
Harry Gregson-Williams has taken a sidestep from the magnificent orchestral sweep of SHREK, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, and FLUSHED AWAY to provide a somber and spooky score for THE NUMBER 23. The opening titles resonate out of an echoing sheen of synth and strings, emerging into a rhythmic pattern for violins, synth warbles, and sampled voicings that waft above a huge, pulsing, underlying industrial riff; part house, part world beat, part ambient, it’s an extremely eloquent and compelling opening. As Jim Carey’s character becomes more driven in his pursuit of the titular digits, the music becomes more psychological and wacked out, featuring ambient textured atmospherics with bold phrasing for synths over a severely dominant techno drum beat, soft, breathy whispers and strident string figures working above a carpet of electric bass and low-grounded synth that issue forth a recurrent and mysterious tonality. It’s not a melodic score by any means, although its rhythms and tonalities are melody-based, but rarely exceed anything that might be described as more than a brief figure. But it’s a very compelling listen and an intriguingly designed tone poem for obsession, compulsion, revelation, and atonement.
PREMONITION/Klaus Badelt (Varese Sarabande CD)
For PREMONITION, the composer noted for, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, POSEIDON, and the 2002 remake of THE TIME MACHINE has composed a soft-spoken and eloquently atmospheric score. Badelt underlines the storyline’s growing unease with an ambience built from sustained strings contrasted against a burbling layer of double-fingered, high end piano and an airy pattern of woodwinds. This motif is essentially romantic but slightly tinged with an element of discomforting uncertainty. The beauty of Badelt’s orchestral strains is contrasted effectively against the frequent reflective, repetitive, or just plain strange sounding electronic reverberations, which powerfully develop a growing sense of incorrectness and panic on the part of the listener/viewer, culminating in an overpowering wave of processed strings, rumbling textures, and other sounds that wash over the listener in a sinewy roar. The music follows these kinds of patterns throughout the soundtrack, as Badelt weaves his textures and tonalities and motifs throughout a translucent canvas without having to rely on recurring themes scurrying back to the fore. He allows the music to proceed slowly and softly, allowing motifs like the piano/violin ostinato and his strident synth pads to developing harmonically in a fine arrangement of musical patterns; the score is both frightening and very intriguing, musically.
RATATOUILLE/Michael Giacchino (Disney CD)
Giacchino continues to shine as one of contemporary film music’s brightest and most inventive new stars. After a fistful of terrific scores (THE INCREDIBLES, TV’s LOST and ALIAS, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III), Giacchino crafts the thoroughly engaging music to this fun-filled Disneyfest of animation. Like the adroit culinary rodent of the title, Giacchino’s music darts hither and yon in a work of tremendous agility. The score is all over the place, and yet never grows chaotic or uncontrolled. It carries just the right spirit of manic, cartoonlike mayhem and yet is also right in the heart when it needs to be.
SAW IV/Charlie Clouser (Adrenaline Records CD – 1 score cue + songs)
While the SAW franchise may be better known, musically, for its mix of thrash, metal, and industrial songs by all manner of bands known for such music, ex-Nine Inch Nails keyboardist and programmer Clouser has helmed the film’s mesmerizingly dark and disturbing electronic underscore and given the film’s their true sonic edge. While most modern horror films make the most of hybrid, textural, ambient underscores (see 1408, earlier, for another splendid example), Clouser has done what many listeners never thought possible: taken horror underscore even darker. His mixture of electronic tonalities, uniquely inventive sonic textures, sampled choir intonations, and flight-inducing rhythms concocts a mesmerizing and claustrophobic atmosphere that as just as ominous, frightening, and explosive as the trap-laden film itself. Poetically frightening, Clouser’s score drifts below everything else in the film like a liquid fog, or a slowly solidifying whirlpool.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE/Hans Zimmer (Fox CD)
Alf Clausen may have been snubbed by the producers of THE SIMPSONS MOVIE by now being allowed to translate his perfect Simpsonic musical environment to the big screen; but Hans Zimmer’s score for THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is nonetheless a noble score that surely embiggens the show’s translation to feature film. The score is brimming with overwrought Jerry Bruckheimerish bombast – huge crescendos and choruses, en epic-like quality that lends a larger than life importance to each characters action and interaction, and a diversified and often cartoonlike musical approach that’s all over the musical map. Zimmer has made a splendid cartoon score out of THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, a fun and trendy and tuneful score that rocks and laughs and cries and hits all of its marks.
SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY/Robert Kral (La-La Land Records CD)
Robert Kral’s mighty super-hero score for SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY, Warner’s new direct-to-DVD animated feature film based on the award-winning Death of Superman comic book trilogy, brings the Man of Steel to spectacular new heights with a score bursting with thrills, chills and emotional drama. With a main theme that’s every bit as powerful as Kal-El himself, Kral provides a massively heroic and powerful work that is very nicely captured on CD. The music far surpasses its comic book roots and serves as a stalwart and eloquent composition that sums up the Man of Steel in both his might and his vulnerability.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Some of the preceding views were culled from the author’s original reviews of these soundtracks, posted at buysoundtrax.com, mania.com, and musicfromthemovies.com.
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