Certain subjects lend themselves to specific sonic approaches. It’s part of the cinematic standard. When you hear that a movie is going to cover the formative years of a boy wizard, follow a group of novices into a dangerous wilderness situation, or deal with a daring aerial rescue of a group of hostages, clichéd aural answers start playing out inside your own personal product jukebox. You instantly imagine what the fantasy will sound like, suggest the sounds of a jungle primeval or a stunt-laced bit of derring-do. Of course, part of the magic inherent in motion pictures is the way said conventions are embraced, thwarted, or dismissed completely. There are occasions however when the unusual or downright odd tactic taken by a composer completely loses the meaning of the movie it is supporting. When that happens, the aforementioned magic turns middling, and then mediocre.
Luckily, that doesn’t happen within any of the three scores we are covering in this issue of Surround Sound. In fact, aside from a lackluster entry in a long running series, we have a couple of real compositional curiosities. Indeed, it always seems that the independent or outsider artists working in film today (or as part of the fraternity of the past) come up with a far more intriguing sonic display than someone hemmed in by the needs of a multi-entry big screen blockbuster franchise. Perhaps that’s why The Interior and Sky Riders feel so satisfying and why a certain Harry Potter has a hard time leaving an indelible aural mark. In any case, we can easily see where a certain sixth entry fails to fulfill its promise and how a couple of unknown quantities step up and deliver something unusual and quite memorable. Let’s begin with the most well known entry this time around:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]
Things start out strongly, with “The Story Begins” and “Snape & The Unbreakable Vow” showing signs of being hearty and heroic. This continues on with the apropos “Ron’s Victory”, mimicking one of the more exciting moments in the movie. But then Hooper starts buying into the young love subtext of the story, and everything turns mushy and saccharine. “The Slug Party” is dull and “When Ginny Kissed Harry” is so light as to almost be non-existent. While the soundtrack tries to pick things up toward the end, selections like “Journey to the Cave” and “Dumbledore’s Farwell” have none of the power or presence such sequences demand. This is a wannabe epic, a movie making myth on a grand literary scale. The sonic set-up should be equal in scope, overselling the situations to truly immerse the audience in the experience of the characters. Instead, Hooper tries to underplay everything and while completely competent and quite professional, it just doesn’t deliver in the dramatics department.
SkyRiders: Music from the Film [rating: 7]
For all its flaws as a movie, however, Shifrin shines here. The eight tracks that make up the score provided are quirky, idiosyncratic, and indicative of old school Hollywood showmanship. From the beginning, we get some of that funky jazz joking that the composer relied on during the ’70s, with “Flying Circus”, “The Riders” and “Gliding” as stand-outs. Once we get to the meat of the narrative, Schifrin shows that he can handle the action with energy and wit. “The Last Kite” and “Copters and Gliders” make up a powerful duo, delivering the kind of kinetic edge of your seat atmosphere a movie like this requires. When the “End Credits” final arrive, we realize Sky Riders short comings. Unlike your traditional soundtrack which seems to offer every musical cue used in a film, this particular CD clocks in at a little less than 48 minutes. That doesn’t seem like enough aural accent. While it’s possible that this was all Schifrin has to offer for a rather lightweight project, one wonders if this really represents everything he contributed.
The Interior: Original Soundtrack [rating: 8]
Things start out earnestly with the industrial tinged title track, “The Gold You Seek”. Featuring vocal work by Mike Ator, it sets up the suspense elements of the narrative quite nicely. “The Calling” then adds a few jungle-tinged rhythms to the mix, a concept that will be picked up elsewhere in the score. “The Killing” is low key and very moody, while “Morning Haze” accents its sense of dread with some unusual ambient elements. As we move through the rest of Interior, Wendler starts tossing in tricks like backward masking, sudden aural bursts, and some beautiful keyboard signatures. “The Best Thing” builds on such a design, while “Common Sense” and “In Sickness” sound like outtakes from an album by Moby or Brian Eno. Toward the end, a great bit of tension is twisted into tracks like “Stealing Thunder” and “Threat”, and just as we are ready to relax, “Escapa” gives us another techno-twinged treat. All throughout Interior, Wendler keeps things low key and creepy, allowing our imagination to fill in the blanks where visual accents are unavailable. With work like this, this is one newcomer guaranteed a bright future among those cruel, closed off Tinsel Town circles.