Feb 21, 2009


With the 81st Annual Academy Awards rearing it's golden little head around the corner, I thought I'd take the time out to run through the five nominees in the "Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score" category.

First off, we have Alexandre Desplat's


I have a strange feeling this will be the one to take home the award.
Alexandre Desplat is probably most well known for his previous Oscar Nod for The Queen in 2006 and his impressive scoring job in 2007's The Golden Compass.
Benjamin Button is a rather slow moving, subtle score, like the David Fincher directed movie itself, that really begs for the listeners to sit down and enjoy the score with no distractions whatsoever. Desplat displays some interesting techniques with this score, particularly the theme which he very subtly reverses in play during the duration of the film. He also never really makes use of any fully orchestrated melodramatic cues and instead opts for a series of intimate instrumental solos played over a slight rhthymic waltz timing that quietly weaves it way through the score. While, I find the score to be a pleasant listen, the disc probably won't leave it's case that much in the near future. Even thouhg it is a 2-disc set, one disc featuring the score the other featuring most of the source material from the film's various eras. I won't listen to either of them that much, because the score disc is just too slow and quiet for me and the soundtrack disc, while I do like the songs, unfortunally contains dialogue clips which I really find irratating.

* * * out of 5

next up Danny Elfman's


Elfman's fourth collaboration with director Gus Van Sant, is generally a success, probably more so than the earlier Van Sant/Elfman Oscar nominated team-up Good Will Hunting. The Milk score, like Benjamin Button's, is quiet and subtle...well, mostly. It doesn't really have any recurring themes at the forefront, but Elfman does manage to sneak in some which the ear won't pick up at first and that's just fine. Unlike most of the composer's other scores, Milk proves to be very warm and optimistic. A piano and saxophone are Elfman's choice solo instruments this time around, which fit in the mood of the movie like a glove. While the score consists of mostly heart-warming cues, Elfman does throw in a few short "dittys" that sound like they just jumped out of the goofier moments of Edward Scissorhands. If you're looking for something like a Tim Burton/Elfman score, then this isn't for you...it leans more towards the tone similiar to some of Elfman's work he did in the early 2000's. Ofcourse, I do enjoy this score, but don't think it deserves the Oscar, mostly because the Academy ignore some of Elfman's better work this year such as Standard Opertating Procedure and Wanted and I hope Elfman wins an Oscar for something that people will remember for years to come, rather than a subtle drama score, which most likely quickly be forgotten.

* * * out of 5

Now let's take a look at A.R. Rahman's


Let me start off by saying, when I started reviewing these scores I quickly went through all five of them again, skipping quite a few tracks on each disc, but with this score, I found myself listening to it from start to finish.
Allah Rakha Rahman (aka A.R. Rahman) really deserved this Oscar nod, with it's fresh blend of Bollywood textures and Electronica/Hip-Hop. Danny Boyle's Slumgdog and everybody involved in the film, are quite obviously the Oscars and critic's darlings this year.
The soundtrack album is 51 minutes of loud, fast-paced bliss, which kind of outcast itself from the majority of score listeners out there. Most fanboy score fanatics would prefer to leap around their mother's basement, in their Spider-Man underoos with a plastic lightsaber, to some bombastic Hans Zimmer & Friends' score (because it's so 'epic'), while the snooty score collector detested the idea of a hip-hop fusion score.
Rahman's score, to my ears, is absolutely wonderful and a very welcome addition to my collection. He cleverly fuses traditional Indian instruments with hip hop beats, electric guitars, sound manipulations, and even a muted choir at one point.
"O...Saya" opens the album (and the film) with a bang, with it's frantic drumming in the foreground and a brief vocalization from British hip-hop artist M.I.A. "Mausum & Escape" is my personal favorite at the moment, as it bounces solos back and forth with a guitar and sitar at first, but quickly develops orchestrally and electronically, with a wall of sound that practically smothers you. We are then treated to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes", with it's gun shots, The Clash-samples and all, from her Kala album. It's then followed by a remix of the same song, which is pretty good, but I wouldn't have put them back to back. "Latika's Theme" is one of two moments on the album where we are allowed a momentary breather. It's a beautiful piece with vocalizations provided by Bollywood singer Suzanne D'Mello. The album finishes off with "Jai Ho", an excellent, excellent, excellent uplifting song, that dares you not to feel good when listening to it. Both "O...Saya" and "Jai Ho" were nominated for best songs of the year, for this year's Oscar, alongside Peter Gabriel's "Down To Earth" from Wall-E . I'm sorry, but as much as I like Peter Gabriel, "Jai Ho" has easily taken the award.

* * * 1/2 out of 5

Let's move on to Thomas Newman's

Newman's second dive into the Pixar world, (Finding Nemo being the first) is a sucessful one in mood and tone for the film, but I really just couldn't get into it as a score album. I love Newman's work, especially on American Beauty, The Green Mile and Lemony Snicket's , but this album presentation just felt really off to me. I think I blame this on the length of most of the tracks on the album. 12 out of the 38 tracks are under one minute, the shortest being 15 seconds, while most other tracks barely make it to the 2 minute mark. As a listening experience, it just doesn't work for me. It barely gives the listener enough time to really get a feel for the track before it moves onto the next one. Newman could have mixed some tracks together to create some mini-suites, but instead opted for this poor presentation. Don't get me wrong, I actually do like what I hear, particularly the superb crystal-clear recording job, but it's over before I even knew what it was. I enjoy the genre-jumping throughout the score and the way Newman incorporated the feel of robot movements in his music. He sucessfully entered into the Sci-Fi score world for the first time in his career, which especially shows on the opening score track, "2815 A.D.". The album is a fun listen, but also very irritating as well. I'm sorry, but the short tracks were something I just couldn't get past and I do realize it's not Newman's fault, it's the director/producer's want in the film. It reminded me of the way Clint Mansell presented his Requiem For A Dream score, great music but too many 20 second cues. All in all, the score is fun, not award worthy though and the album presentation is a major drawback. I do look forward to Newman getting into some more sci-fi scores in the future if what he did here is any indication of what he can do.

* 1/2 for album
* * * as in context of the film

...i'm going to save the final score, which I think should take home the award, for a review by itself....


Anonymous said...

Well done.

cuckoo77 said...

thanks...it's nice to know this blog is read once in a blue moon.

I hope this blog helps a few people make a decision on their next cd purchase or look at a score they're all ready familiar in a different light.

I'd just like to let everybody know, I'm welcome to criticism, questions and recommendations.