A Few Quickies

So this here post represents the 99th for this humble blog.  Not a bad stretch for almost two years of work if I do say so myself.  I have an almost extra-special 100th post in mind, but for now let’s knock back a few quick reviews.

As with films themselves, there are two major seasons for new score releases (at least for the American film industry and to a lesser extent Europe): summer and the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Yes, you’ll have to odd film/score release elsewhere, but most of the major contenders will be from one of those two periods.  Now, two of my favorites for top score of the year do fall outside of that time frame (Alice in Wonderland by Danny Elfman, and The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), but the majority of those that I might put on a top ten list would come largely from Summer or Christmas.  In the spirit of that, I would like to offer some first impressions on three recent releases with the caveat that I have not seen any of the three films in question: Black Swan (Clint Mansell), The Tempest (Elliot Goldenthal), and TRON: Legacy (Daft Punk).

Black Swan: Director Darren Aronofsky once again teams up with Clint Mansell, who has scored all of his films, and the result is one of Mansell’s most interesting scores to date.  It’s impossible to remove the score, though, from the plot of the film, so I’ll give you a barebones run down:  the plot involves two ballet dancers and a production of Swan Lake.  Got it?  Good, because that’s all you’re getting.  As such, Mansell’s score is full of interjections, interpretations, and quotes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet score.  What’s intriguing about the score is what Mansell quotes (most of the most famous material is here) and how he then distorts elements, changes others, and at times morphs the music into a haunting reverie or chilling nightmare.  Being that the score is based on pre-existing material might keep it from Oscar contention, but it won’t keep it off my list of favorite scores of the year.  The first time I listened to it, I wasn’t exactly thunder-struck by it (like Inception), but the second time around I found myself more drawn into its grasp…which is always the sign of a good score.  A side-effect of the use of Tchaikovsky is that the score is Mansell’s most orchestral effort to date (at least of what I’ve heard of his), it will be curious to see if he begins to adopt the idiom more in his future scores.

The Tempest: Again, we have a composer teaming up with a long time director/collaborator, this time Elliot Goldenthal with partner Julie Taymore.  As with most Goldenthal scores, the music itself is challenging and hard to get into upon a first listen.  The standout parts of the score on initial listen are the songs which are taken from the original songs in the Shakespeare play.  But just as with Black Swan, the score opens up a bit more on a second listen and begins to reveal a few of its secrets.  Like other score by Goldenthal, the music oozes atmosphere rather than “melody” most of the time.  I use scare quotes because melody is a bit of an archaic term in much contemporary concert and film music, but that doesn’t mean the score lacks things to latch onto.  Like I said, the four included songs (there are seven in the film) are the most immediately accessible, with the album’s closing track, “Prospera’s Coda,” really being a standout entry.  It’s dark and haunting, fragile and terrifying, and plays almost like a Radiohead or other similar rock track at times.  It just shows that even though “melody” might not be the point of Goldenthal’s score, the guy can write a tune when he needs to.  And clocking in at over seven minutes, “Prospera’s Coda” really has room to expand and explore the musical space Goldenthal creates.  I do recommend at the very least purchasing this track on iTunes, if not giving the rest of the album a shot.

TRON: Legacy: What might be the most impressive score of the bunch here is the result of a collaboration between a first time director (Joseph Kosinski) and first time film composers (French electronic music duo Daft Punk).  So what makes this score so impressive?  It is a question that vexes me because it’s hard to put a finger on it.  First, in comparison Wendy (nee Walter) Carlos’ score for the original, this score feels much more cohesive.  The score for the original was intended to be purely electronic, but the producers felt the need to have some orchestral sounds in there and the resulting mixture doesn’t always work.  And while many of the electronic sounds on that score are good and interesting, they never blended together well with the orchestra in the grand scheme of things.  Fast forward to now where it is hard at times to distinguish between electronic manipulation and live and Daft Punk has succeeded in blending their electronic music with a live orchestra and the result is impressive.  The main “theme” of the piece soars in both French Horns and digital space, there are deep bass thuds and Glass-ian minimalist touches in strings and (electronic?) organs.  There are cues on the album that make me feel “giddy” because the sound is something unique and new…or maybe it’s just the kid in me loving the retro-cool nostalgia of it all.  It sounds like every ’80s electronic score you’ve ever heard (Tron, Blade Runner, and The Terminator to name just a few) all thrown in a giant pot, mixed with a heathy dose of Hans Zimmer and his Remote Control crew, with chunks of Phillip Glass added in for meat, and all brought to a tasty simmer on the stove top.  If you haven’t already bought it, do yourself a favor and don’t delay any longer.  And think that Daft Punk can’t write orchestral music?  Check out the track “Adagio for TRON” and then get back to me.

So what about my top ten for the year?  Well, if we consider both Film and Television, the list would go something like this:

1. Inception (Hans Zimmer); 2. TRON: Legacy (Daft Punk); 3. The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross); 4. Human Target (TV Series, Bear McCreary); 5. Alice in Wonderland (Danny Elfman); 6. Lost –  “The End” (Series Finale, Michael Giacchino); 7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (Alexandre Desplat); 8. Black Swan (Clint Mansell); 9. The Karate Kid (James Horner); and 10. Robin Hood (Marc Streitenfeld).

Well that’s all for now, make sure to check back in a couple weeks for post #100!!

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