One of the most intriguing scores coming into the Fall movie season for me was Social Network with a score by Trent Reznor and his often collaborator Atticus Ross. I say intriguing because I am always interested to hear when a pop/rock/etc artist enters into the world of film scoring. The results can sometime be amazing like with Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood, or you can end up with some very forgettable film/music experiences. Thankfully, Reznor and Ross have crafted a wonderfully evocative score that compliments Fincher’s film, with cinematography by Jeff Croneweth (who has made a name for himself separate from his legendary father Jordan Cronenweth), perfectly.
I must first admit that while I’m familiar with Trent Reznor and his work as Nine Inch Nails by name, I have never actually heard any of his work prior to this score. As a teenager growing up during the period when NIN was among the most popular acts, I did not listen to them. After hearing this score, though, I am curious enough to possibly check out some of his more recent work. The film, after a prologue, and score album opens up with what is my personal favorite track, “Hand Covers Bruise.” The track begins with what sounds like ambient noise or distorted guitar, giving the listener a very unsettled feeling. It gives no hint of tonality and leaves one prepared for a much different melody than what eventually enters. When that melody enters, the noise is revealed to be a sound texture that provides a backdrop for what is a very melancholy piano melody. It is spare and lonely, much like the erstwhile protagonist of the film, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The melody itself might give one a feeling of innocence if it were not for the ambient noise underneath, which is really how the whole film is shot and structured. The color palette of Fincher and Cronenweth is very subdued, dark even (especially in the Harvard scenes), which really makes the blues of the Facebook logo, when seen as in the shots of the Facebook office, pop off the screen. As Fincher has stated in interviews, he wanted to do an “odd John Hughes-style movie,” and this is a perfect example of it. The film and its score is dark and ambient, but tracks like “In Motion” (second on the album and used during an early montage juxtaposing Zuckerberg hacking and building a “Hot or Not” type site with party scenes taking place at the Harvard Finals Clubs that he so badly wants to join) manage to combine modern-day ambient/electronic sounds with those that sound more at home in an ’80s film like Hughes made or even War Games. In many cues from the album, it almost sounds like like Reznor was purposefully trying to evoke sounds that would be at home on an 8-bit NES soundtrack, which would fit well with the generation under examination in the film (which is also my generation, though I am 4 years older than Zuckerberg).
It’s hard for me to compare this score to previous work because, as I said, I don’t know Reznor’s catalog at all. But within the score I heard brief moments that reminded me not only of other scores, most notably The Dark Knight, but also pop/rock tracks like Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (off of their Meddle album) and also the electronic work done by Radiohead. Reznor and NIN are roughly contemporary with Radiohead so I’m guessing there is more back and forth going on there rather than clear influence.
But that isn’t to take anything away from this score. It has quickly entered into my short list for Oscar nominations, though I worry about the whole “two composer” rule with the Academy, not to mention that supposedly two tracks are reworked from Reznor/Ross’s previous work Ghosts I-IV along with the arrangement of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” All of these things might give the Academy a perfect excuse to disallow yet another great score by a non-traditional film composer.
And speaking of the Grieg, that is probably the most curious choice made by the composer and filmmaker. According to an interview with Pitchfork, Fincher wanted to have a piece of music that would fit the Edwardian setting of the Henly Royal Regatta Club. But neither the piece nor the composer has anything to do with the Edwardian period of Britain (roughly 1900-1910, though some include up through the end of WWI), but it was a choice by both parties, and despite this anachronism, I do enjoy the arrangement. A better choice, though, might have been something by Holst or Elgar. Could you imagine “Mars” or the middle section from “Jupiter” in an electronic version for the scene? This small misstep aside, though, both score and movie fly along as the actors deliver what is one of Aaron Sorkin’s best scripts since the days of Sports Night and The West Wing.
If you haven’t already seen the movie or picked up the score album (only $7.99 on iTunes), I highly recommend both. Along with both the film and score for Inception, this is one of the best film/music experiences of the year and really demonstrates what can happen when both filmmaker and composer are on the same page.
If you are curious, my Oscars short list so far includes: Alice in Woderland (Danny Elfman), Robin Hood (Marc Streitenfeld), The Karate Kid (James Horner), Inception (Hans Zimmer), and The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross).