By Clint Mansell
Let me start by saying that I think 2006 was a great year for soundtracks. There was a little something for everyone, and genres that are typically weak or cliched were given rejuvenated life (eg: the continuous action scores of MI:3
and Casino Royale
). Danny Elfman spread his wings with an impressive symphony composition (not technically a soundtrack) and a worked on a children's story that wasn't somehow morbid or terrifying (WOW!). Alexandre Desplat improved on output of recent years with scores like Firewall
, and the award-winners: Queen
and The Painted Veil
. His rich musical style has even earned him the job of scoring the hotly-anticipated first movie in the His Dark Materials
series (due out later this year). John Powell was probably the surprise of the year, with not one or two stellar soundtracks, but three
: United 93, X-Men: The Last Stand,
and Happy Feet
. There was even activity from my man Alan Silvestri (Night at the Museum
When you look at the surprises of film music in 2006, the first score that comes to my mind is the brilliant Pan's Labyrinth
by Javier Navarrete. This is an articulate and gorgeous work with arguably the most intimately fetching theme used in cinema last year.
But in my opinion, Clint Mansell's movie soundtrack to The Fountain was also a very great surprise. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the film, itself (it left the box office before it scored 10 million domestically), so I can't account for the "music in film" aspect of the score. But I'll rent it as soon as it comes out.
Mansell had teamed up with Director Darren
Aronofsky on two of his other films (including Requium for a Dream
), and, more recently scored the soundtracks for Sahara
; the former I loved as much as I hated the latter. So, suffice it to say I wasn't expecting much from his work on Fountain
; a movie which I had heard was a convoluted mess of time zones and spirituality. But after his score received a couple nominations for various awards, including a Grammy, I finally tracked down the score, and took a listen.
And I was very
glad I did.
The story itself is summed up on wikipedia as "three interwoven narratives that take place in the age of conquistadors, the modern day period, and the far future. The film stars Hugh Jackman
and Rachel Weisz
, whose characters' romance exist in all time periods." The movie can simply be described as a creative and inventive--if highly frustrating--exploration of love and mortality.
The soundtrack opens very quietly with "The Last Man" (incidentally the film's original teaser-title), a track dominated by repetitive string patterns, and melodies that are sweet, yet sorrowful. It is interesting to note that, although the soundtrack is full of artificial instrumentation, the disc opens and closes with simple piano compositions. The Kronos quartet, comprised of two violins, a viola, and a cello, expertly carries out the plain arrangement of "The Last Man," which reminded me of the main theme from James Horner's An American Tail
, even though the the two do not actually sound
very much alike. The mood transitions to morose foreboding during the final seconds, effectively leading into the next cue: "Holy Dread," which sounds like a basic B-movie horror theme until the Scottish rock band Mogwai makes its grand entrance after almost 3 minutes of listless repetition. What follows is what sounds like a vigorous demonic chase sequence, with violins, synths, percussion, and an electric guitar violently pulsing out looping motifs. "Tree of Life" is just an extension of these viral ideas, with a piercing blend of conventional and electronic instruments punching out the three note motif which is to be one of two main themes endlessly hammered out by Mansell during the remainder of the score's 46 minute runtime.
A variation of that motif is looped for most of the following cue "Stay with me," except it is designed to draw out an emotional sequence, instead of an action-packed one. Like most of the score, "Stay with me" will appeal to the Philip Glass crowd who enjoy endless repetition of a simple, yet beautiful theme. I felt for this soundtrack, the looping was effective to get across an emotion, but was not so simple as to bore me to tears (like Horner's Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius
). The following track is basically two notes drumming over and over, with violin melodies moodily caressing the flow. Again, repetitive, and composed of a small team of four musicians, a band, nine vocalists, and synthesizers, but nonetheless: stylish and fetching.
"Xibalba" is musically the highlight of the CD, traditionally speaking, and probably the most listenable, as the Kronos quartet winds simple patterns that evoke emotion and beauty. Love is definitely the predominant mood here. "First Snow" is all about cycles and patterns. A 5 note violin theme dominates the meandering percussive underscore straight through to a rousing crescendo near the end, where the vocalists are also showcased.
"Finish It" is a kind of guilty pleasure. It starts really slow, then gradually picks up speed, as the familiar 3 note theme takes over, sounding for all the world like snatches ofMorricone's Untouchables
. Then the electric guitar takes hold of the motif and runs with it for a few ear-splitting measures while the quartet plays in the background. This is a haunting piece with more dissonance and cacophony than most will find bearable, but in the overall scheme of the CD, it works very well.
Most cite "Death is the Road to Awe" as the best track, and I'd have to agree. It encompasses both
themes, and interchanges them with a few new ideas, most of them morose, but all of them appropriate to the rest of mood. What I love about this cue is the way all the instruments are combined to punctuate the musical ideas. There's your choir, your band, and your talented Kronos quartet all working together, making up for what they lack in numbers with originality (engaging despite its repetition) and execution. Approximately, the final 2 minutes personify the organized mayhem of all these instruments and styles with a brilliant crescendo that left me breathless and inspired.
I applaud Mansell for making do with what he had, and coming up with just the right melodies and themes for his ensemble. Sure the basic melodies tend to be simplistic, and yes, they loop--some think--ad nauseam
, but some of the most popular and successful movie themes were built off of the same idea. Take Jaws
, for instance. Of course, those soundtracks had more embellishment to the score and theme than you might argue The Fountain
does; but I still feel that Mansell was correct in his aim to express the mixture of radically different time periods with radically different (clashing) musical styles...and I think he did this well
One of the surprise movie scores of 2006, and hands-down the best offering, yet from this 44-year-old composer. My Rating: **** 1/2
Now I just need to experience the music in terms of the movie it is accentuating! :-)