It's not the music; it's the maker - that is, if you believe the old adage. Critics will complain ad nauseum when a composer mimics his previous canon, or when a once reliable name proves more insipid than inspired. But they will also mock someone like Danny Elfman when they go from basic baroque Goth pop configurations to something new and unusual, like his minimalist work for Peter Berg's The Kingdom. So somewhere between genius and generic lies the truth about movie soundtracks. Many rely on formulas so obvious that a basic musician with minimal training could perhaps maintain their presence. Others, however, break free of the usual and speak of the craftsman's art and the need to invoke individuality, not the same old sonic strategies.
With the four offerings in this edition of Surround Sound, we can see the wonderful (Hurt Locker, Creation) and the weak (Legion, Extraordinary Measures), the topical (war and threat, love and devotion) with the trite and tried (horror, faux nobility). While it's impossible to dismiss any soundtrack on how it "stands alone", one thing is clear here: some of these composers are clearly making a sincere effort. A couple, on the other hand, are cashing a paycheck and heading home.
The Hurt Locker: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]
From the first two tracks - "The Hurt Locker" and "Goodnight Bastard" - you know what you are in for. Ominous notes hum and purr, like lethal leopards waiting for the right moment to strike. Similarly, moments like "Hostile" and "Man in the Bomb Suit" suggest the high stakes at play while weaving an almost ambient spell over the listener. Beltrami and Sanders spend a lot of time mixing their mediums, using both orchestration and electronica to expert effect. By the time the trio of final cuts - "Oil Tanker Aftermath", "A Guest in My House", and "The Way I Am" hit the speakers, you feel like you've been there, right along with director Bigelow, her cast, and the daredevil extreme circumstances they must endure as part of this elite corps. While this particular sort of military work is Hell on the nerves, the score for The Hurt Locker is terrific - and terrifying.
Extraordinary Measures: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 3]
This soundtrack suffers the first sin of so many sonic settings - it's so vague and ambiguous it could be supporting any storyline. There is no real indication of the stakes involved, even if tracks bear names like "Call from Hospital", "Desperation", of "Sugar High". In fact, they could have easily been labeled "Indistinguishable Scene Number 23" and "Routine Upbeat Music 1.0" and we'd never be the wiser. Guerra has had a stellar career overseas, even if some of his work (Donkey Xote?) is to be more pitied than appreciated. But when everything else about your production is indistinct and uninteresting, when you can't match the meaningful emotional tug of a similarly styled story like Lorenzo's Oil, then you really shouldn't try. Everything about Extraordinary Measures means well. The results, however, are shrill, shallow, and hard to swallow.
Creation: The True Story of Charles Darwin: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 7]
Young is perhaps best known for bringing Clive Barker's world of the wicked pain/pleasure demonoid Cenobites to sonic life (his score for Hellraiser remains a true terror gem). But he has also enjoyed massive mainstream success, especially with his work on blockbusters such as Swordfish, Spider-man 3, and Ghost Rider. Creation gives him a chance to pull back on the bravado, to make music instead of accompanying noises. The grace of selections like "The Ghost Pavane" and "Knowing Everything I Know Now" is matched by the moving expressiveness of "To Emma" and "Humility and Love". Young does enjoy the melodramatic and the music definitely benefits (and suffers) from same. "The Treatment of Malvern" and "You've Killed God, Sir" stir such stark, obvious sentiments. It's nice to know that someone can start out in the genre field, figuring out ways to make gory geek shows aurally apropos. With Creation, Christopher Young definitely proves his musical mantle.
Legion: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 4]
Everything here feels lifted from other movies - the mechanical driving menace of a Terminator title, the screeching string accompaniments of a dozens derivative Psychos. Instead of trying to marry something sacred with all this ersatz Armageddon posing, Frizzell goes for the genre, and comes up substantially short. From the very beginning, moments like "When I Was a Girl" and "Old and Pissed Off" resonate like mixtapes as Jason Voorhees' bar mitzvah. On the other hand, last minute entries like "I Didn't Even Want This Baby" and "Are We Safe Now" suggest something more subtle, more 'crawling under your skin' vs. 'blasting out your eardrums'. Frizzell can be successful at suggesting epic evil, creating musical moments like "Attack of the Possessed" and "The Battle" which hint at the horrors being strived for. Yet like the final film itself, the music for Legion is certainly lackluster - and lame.