Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Prisoners and Gravity: 2 icy scores
Prisoners and Gravity, feature scores that are icy in their approach. The former, composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, is a real chillfest. Long, drawn-out tones communicate the frustration of the characters as they try to make sense of what’s happened to their children. Have they been abducted? Are they still alive? Will they ever learn the truth? This is a twisty movie experience, and the music serves to lower the temperature even as the heated conflict soars, taking its inspiration from the cold and rainy weather under which the action plays. •• Gravity, with a score by Steve Price, works much the same way, ratcheting up the drama about a woman, played by Sandra Bullock, who’s all but stranded in space, 600 kilometers above the earth’s surface. How will she get home? Will she, ever? She’s not experienced in space; she was out there to do a medical experiment, and her crew has been killed. Now she’s alone, and all she has are her wits and her very basic training. The music, which builds in a sort of monotonous electronic vibrato that never lets up, like the enclosing reality of space, has an irritating way of cutting short at the moment of climax, like a massive door that’s slammed shut. I kept waiting for the cues on the CD to open up, to be really be as beautiful as the images in the film. They never did. •• Here’s the problem, though, for me: I don’t think either film needed a score at all. As effective as it was, Prisoners would have worked even better with no music, no added undertone of dread. It was dread-filled enough, with all the music playing across the actor’s faces. Hugh Jackman, in particular, gives a nuanced, highly tuned performance. What more could the music tell us? As it turns out, nothing. •• And Gravity? Well this film tells the audience in the first few minutes that the best thing about space is its silence. Even as the line is spoken, though, there’s music. I remember thinking, What? Let the audience hear what silence sounds like. What space sounds like. From that moment on, all through this amazing film, I kept thinking how much better it would have been without a score. The best composers know that silence can sometimes be the best music of all. For without a melody of any kind to grasp, the audience and the characters are left alone to grapple along without assistance. •• These films, both brilliant, both effective, both unforgettable, would have been improved by the silence their stories screamed for.