Here’s my impressions on some of the scores I listened to in the past few months, in a “ScoreShell” –
District 9 (Clinton Shorter)
Peter Jackson’s new Hollywood alien-invasion film certainly hit some serious bucks at the BO. I haven’t seen the film yet but I was certainly interested in the soundtrack, so I checked and saw Clinton Shorter was assigned to score. He’s still a relatively unknown composer on the Hollywood front so I was curious to see what the music would be like. For the aforementioned reason I wasn’t sure whether a soundtrack album would be released at all (with the exception of MP3 download versions), and it was certainly great to see Sony Music release a CD-R version with 30 minutes of score material. Although I’m not a sucker for Mideastern sounding music, the combination of gritty electronic instruments and booming male vocals certainly seems to be the right choice for the film. The opening track is particularly good, and the whole album, although short, is a nice listening experience.
9 (Deborah Lurie and Danny Elfman)
I had not heard about this film, and checked out the CD when I read about its release. I heard some of Deborah Lurie’s material from the third Spider-Man film and liked it, and of course Danny Elfman is one of my all-time favourite composers. This thing was a pleasant surprise to me as the CD offers 45 minutes of bombastic action material intertwined with some nice, moving orchestral/choral cues. Despite the synth/electronic overload that could easily creep into a score for such a film, Deborah Lurie does a great job at keeping the liveliness of the music up with keeping synths for an underlying heavy cover and dominating the music with powerful orchestral bursts, complete with catchy motifs and intense percussive effects. While Danny Elfman’s themes aren’t as memorable as I’ve come to expect from him, the score still offers plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments to keep our interest. I particularly liked the suspenseful opening of Winged Beast, building up to a massive action cue, joined by a horde of such material in fellow tracks like Slaying The Beast, The Seamstress and The Purpose. And Release, with its rousing orchestra and choir is a perfect track for a non-fireworks filled finale.
Twilight: New Moon (Alexandre Desplat)
My interest in the popular teen-vampire romance saga is less than zero. Though I read the plot summaries at Wikepedia out of curiosity, I was turned off in less than a minute as I started getting what it’s all about. Of course, I was still excited for Alexandre Desplat’s score for the second installment in the series, New Moon. Carter Burwell’s score to the first film underwhelmed me – although it did have good moments in tracks like Bella’s Lullaby, the gritty electronics-based action music with wailing guitars was practically unlistenable on CD. It would probably work fairly well in the film, but I don’t think there isn’t a way around this kind of material for the film, without adding some dose of actual music. Alexandre Desplat gained my respect in the past with his heartwarmingly lovely scores to films like Lust, Caution, The Girl With A Pearl Earring and The Painted Veil. I also liked his rather differentially-reviewed score to Chris Weitz’ film The Golden Compass. Only last year he came up with a brilliant score for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, for which I still say he deserved the Oscar. Now that he was back with Chris Weitz for New Moon, I was certainly very excited for it.
And I think the score even surpassed my expectations. The main theme is as heartwrenching, longing and filled with pathos as you can imagine, the music playing out with piano and strings, gradually rising to a grand brass-driven segment which gave me goosebumps. Desplat uses his familiar techniques of rhythmic percussion, low bass lines and mild synth to keep up with the feel of the film. The beautiful streak continues in tracks like Edward Leaves and Marry Me, Bella. His familiar action-scoring techniques are seen in tracks like Blood Sample and Wolves V. Vampire, though this time I felt his slower tracks are much better than the action material. The Volturi have their own eerie theme, prominently present in the tracks named after them and To Volterra, another highlight of the album. And of course, the final track Full Moon presenting a grand orchestral rendition of the main theme is a real treat. If critics look at this score for what it is and how it serves its film, rather than the critical views for the film itself, I believe Desplat should be nominated for another Oscar for this beautiful score.
A Christmas Carol (Alan Silvestri)
Alan Silvestri has always delivered excellence for Robert Zemeckis’ films, with the Back To The Future scores being a real favourite of film score fans, Forrest Gump being a critically acclaimed score and The Polar Express regarded as one of the composer’s most beautiful scores. Needless to say, I got his score for Zemeckis’ new Disney 3D film, A Christmas Carol, as soon as it was released. Silvestri is another composer who rarely disappoints me, but I didn’t really warm up to his G.I Joe score in August. Therefore this beautiful score, with its lovely and playful renditions of Christmas carols and some truly beautiful choral material, was a treat to listen to. Like Polar Express, Alan uses his trademark orchestral and choral techniques to great effect to set the holiday mood. Scrooge’s initial greed is represented by low woodwinds, and as the three ghosts arrive the music also picks up energy, moving from some quite eerie-sounding choral tracks to classic Silvestri bombast in tracks like Carriage Chase and The Clock Tower (BTTF, anyone?). The climactic plot events in the massively epic choral track Who Was That Lying Dead? Truly gave me goosebumps, reminding me why Alan is one of my all time favourite composers. The classic “happy ending” Christmas-y finale is as fitting and enjoyable as you could expect. This is another score I will be proudly playing on Christmas. Unfortunately, this gem is another victim of the new MP3 download-only policy of Disney, which continues to earn my contempt. But for now I’ll just enjoy what we have of this thing, for if you’re a fan of Alan Silvestri, you cannot skip this score, regardless of the inferior format.
Baaria – Ennio Morricone
Once again, Ennio Morricone proves why he’s regarded as one of the best film music composers in history. We have his classic strings and wordless vocals in the opening tracks (marred slightly by the dialogue and SFX towards the end), beautiful and melodic orchestral tracks making up most of the album with quite a good dose of energy in places. While I previously found some of Ennio’s scores to be a somewhat difficult listening experience in the past, this one shows how musically effective he can be, while still providing an apt film score. And that, is what, in my opinion makes a superior film score, as evidenced here. The score plays mostly as a singularly coherent experience so I can’t recall the exact nature of every track, but it was a great listening experience and the finale was also nice. If chosen wisely, there’s another deserving Oscar candidate right here.
And of course, there are two highly anticipated scores releasing this month – James Horner’s highly publicized score for James Cameron’s Avatar, and Hans Zimmer’s score for Guy Ritchie’s new Robert Downey Jr. starrer, Sherlock Holmes – being released on December 15 and 22 respectively. I’m eager to listen and review these two as soon as I buy them.