Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Travelin' Music

By Tony Buchsbaum

You gotta love a soundtrack whose cover art is a photo displayed on its side. But it's the perfect image for the film, which certainly turns the love story on its side. The Time Traveler's Wife, based on the bestseller by Audrey Niffenegger, is one of those stories that you just know will make a spellbinding movie. And as a filmmaker, you sort of know, going in, that you want someone like Thomas Newman to write the score. After all, Newman's work is sometimes quirkily devoid of melody and other times transcendently rich with it. This particular tale would offer a bit of both, something he rarely does. Perfect.

But for The Time Traveler's Wife, they didn't get Thomas Newman. They got Mychael Danna. Doing a Thomas Newman impression.

His score is a bed of lush melody built of strings, soft percussion, and odd-sounding instrumentation, and it's got a sprinkling of synthesized sounds laid on top. The story, clearly weird but intriguing, involves a guy who flits about time and the wife left at home. It's got nothing but dramatic potential, and Danna does a great job of bringing the romance, heartbreak, and oddness of the story to life through music. The CD also includes a couple of songs, both of which I forgot the moment after I heard them. But the score has stayed with me—always a good sign.

The more I listen to it, the more I wonder if, indeed, Thomas Newman could have done a better job with this score. He's a brilliant composer, but I'm pretty sure he couldn't have. He would have dialed up the extremes of this work—the lushness and the quirkyness—but that wouldn't necessarily have served the film any better. It might have been distracting. If Danna's music is any indication, this is a thoughtful, even quiet film; anything too heavy-handed, too romanic, might have smothered it.

So, bravo to Mychael Danna. He's delivered one great score, one that brings out the themes of the film musically, in such a way that's easy on the ears, evocative of the story, and in its quiet way wholly original.

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