In this installment - Gamer, The Informant! and Drag Me to Hell
As film fans, we expect certain things - even from our cinematic scores. Horror films are going to feature musical backdrops that give away the upcoming scares while supporting a sense of fear and fright. Action films will be packed with perfunctory hard rock and lots of orchestral overkill. Comedies will cobble together a collection of predetermined pop hits accented with some standard sonic "wackiness" while dramas will be dour in their heavy handed musical manipulation. So when convention is thwarted and invention is applied, we tend to sit up and take notice. As a matter of fact, a new or novel approach to the stereotypical soundtrack can really perk up our motion picture pleasure centers. Not every eccentric or oddball attempt works, but when it does, the end results are more than delightful. They literally redefine the aural aspects of film.
In this edition of Surround Sound, we look at three new scores that all add something distinctive and extraordinary to the overall movie music paradigm. Sure, a title like Drag Me to Hell may suggest a certain orchestral type, but the work here is so marvelous in its macabre complements that we don't really mind the standard sonic operating procedure. The real weirdness, however, comes from old stalwart Marvin "What I Did for Love" Hamlisch and the able ambience of the Robert Williamson/Geoff Zanelli partnership. In tandem with the terrific terror tenants of Christopher Young's always excellent efforts, we have a trio of titles that suggest one style of soundtrack designing, but that then turn around and deliver a wholly unique aural experience, beginning with:
Gamer: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]
After you get past the bookend Billboard mandates of heavy metal (Marilyn Manson's take on the Eurhythmics "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)"), white boy hip hop (Bloodhound Gang's "Bad Touch") and Rat Pat peculiarity (a Sammy Davis Jr. medley???), the score for Gamer finally settles in, and it's a stunner. To call what composers Robert Williamson and Geoff Zanelli offer here "music" really pushes the boundaries of said definition. Instead, the pair provides what would better be called "rhythmic atmoshperics" - snatches of Brian Eno on steroids sound that both enhance and amplify the future shock fun Neveldine/Taylor are having. Tracks like "Deathwatch", "Society", and "Slayers" set up the storyline expertly, while middle movements such as "Simon's House", "Turn Me Loose", and "Dress Up Doll" illustrate the pair's preference to avoid the obvious and, instead, design an aural experience that really gets under your skin. By the time we get to "Kable vs. Castle", we are convinced that Gamer the movie could never live up to Gamer the film score. This may just be the post-post modern trend for film soundtracks, and if it is, it's fantastic.
The Informant!: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]
Everything about Hamlisch's music here is reminiscent of another time and place, plundering the past for what sounds like the equivalent of a lax longue lizard's sonic resume. Peppered with kazoo and other quirky touches, we are transported to the world of the Midwest circa the early 1990s, a time as lost and ugly as the 1970s, except without Watergate and the leisure suits. Hamlisch instills his sunny magic on such introductory tracks as "Meet Mark:, "The Raid" and "Polygraph". It's all upbeat hipster hilarity. Similarly, sections like "Boxes", "Sellout" and "Golf" frame Soderbergh's deadpan droll style perfectly. The soundtrack also features two version of the track "Trust Me" - one a smarmy instrumental, the other a bubbly vocal featuring singer Steve Tyrell. Along with a nice little solo piano bookend of the title track, Hamlisch proves that he never really went away. Like the films he used to supplement, he just needed the right project to propel his muse - and The Informant! is clearly it.
Drag Me to Hell: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 9]
There is a main theme running through the pieces, a lovely bit of Gothic gloom that's heard in the title track, as well as in "Auto-Da-Fe" and "Concerto to Hell". It's like having a Hammer film battle old school Hollywood schmaltz in your head for sonic superiority. Elsewhere, sections like "Ode to Ganush", "Black Rainbows", and "Ordeal by Corpse" keep the tension taut and the evil electric. Indeed, Young rarely missteps here, filling every available piece with palpable dread. Even moments like "Lamia" and "Bealing Bells with Trumpet" sell the sense of terror unleashed and the notions of demons around every corner. It proves unequivocally that some composers cotton to certain styles more readily than others. Earlier this year, Young was responsible for the compelling if ultimately underwhelming work on the Bret Ellis Easton adaptation The Informers. Here, collaborating with the man who made Deadites a household world, he's back to his old smart shock theatrics, and the results are memorable indeed.