Monday, August 06, 2007

The Summer in Film Music

By Tony Buchsbaum

As a movie music fan from way back, I always find myself salivating for the summer movies -- as much for the film’s scores as for the films themselves. But in recent years, I’ve found my excitement seriously diminishing. Perhaps I’ve just learned not to expect something grand. Or maybe the music’s just not as good.

That said, three of this summer’s scores stand out. The first is for the new Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Though John Williams composed the music for the first three films, Patrick Doyle, in the fourth, paid only the slightest homage. The omission of Williams’ established themes was such a jarring slight that, to me, Chamber of Secrets didn’t feel like a Harry Potter movie. Nicholas Hooper’s score for Phoenix, on the other hand, is very good. It’s not Williams, but holding him to that standard is hardly fair. His cues are filled with wonder and suspense, and there’s even a hint of Harry’s theme. It may not have the sweetness and youthful exuberance of the earlier films, but this film is much darker, and the music must follow.

John Powell’s work for The Bourne Ultimatum is wonderful. Along with the inevitable action cues -- great for popping into your car’s CD player and driving around -- are highly emotional melodic pieces that ground all the bombast. I haven’t heard Powell’s scores for the first two films in this series, but his work here makes me want to. The CD contains 54 minutes of music, including a version of the film’s theme, “Extreme Ways,” performed by Moby -- and the highlight is a cue called “Waterloo,” which clocks in at more than 10 minutes.

A note about the timing: These days, so many films jump from scene to scene, forcing the music to do the same, with hardly any time to build meaningful melody. This score goes the other way, providing longer cues that give Powell the chance to develop themes and marry points of plot together -- which gives the score (and the film) a genuine coherence.

Michael Giacchino is one of film music’s rising stars. He first caught attention for his work on the TV series Alias. He’s also done spectacular work on Lost and several feature films, among them The Incredibles and the third Mission: Impossible. The Incredibles was directed by Brad Bird, as was this summer’s Ratatouille.

Giacchino’s work for the film is terrific. You expect the score for an animated film to be special; by design, animation gives the composer a lot to work with. On top of this, Ratatouille also gives Giacchino the background of Paris, which has endless musical possibilities. The composer uses them to great effect, lending many of his cues a tinge of the classic French sound, as well as many cues of fast-paced music that follow Remy, the movie’s primary rodent, run around getting into culinary trouble.

Giacchino has said he holds 007 composer John Barry in high regard. Barry certainly inspired the feel of The Incredibles. Perhaps it’s that inspiration that led to Giacchino’s appreciation for melody and his talent for building a score’s momentum, infusing every moment with character. Both Barry and Giacchino are masters at this. Too few new composers understand that what makes a good movie also makes good movie music: character. For Ratatouille, Giacchino has created music that brings every character to life -- and the music’s so good, it’s almost a character itself.

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