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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Mirrormask Soundtrack: Not Good

Normally I would not be inspired to review something I didn't like, unless I had a particularly original or amusing reason for disliking it. But saxophonist and composer Iain Ballamy's soundtrack for the Jim Henson Company/Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean film Mirrormask puzzles me. For the most part, it is not my cup of tea. Most of the cues center around a wailing, light-jazz saxophone sound, with a generous helping of artlessly programmed drum beats and what sounds like multisampled "ethnic" instruments. The variety of styles (tangos, waltzes, circus music, Arabic, breakbeat) and the small ensemble perfomance (a ten-piece band rather than full orchestra) should have been perfect for the film's fantasy theme, creating an auditory sense of removal from the everyday, like Angelo Badalamenti's masterful score for The City of Lost Children. Except the wailing saxophone and the new age production just turn the whole thing in to a block of cheddar.

What puzzles me is that the soundtrack has a moment of brilliance which I'm still hearing in my head several days later: a mechanical, otherworldly arrangement of Hal David and Burt Bacharach's song Close To You, with truly unique and surreal close-harmony singing, performed in eight multi-tracked parts by Swedish vocalist Josephine Cronholm. It works perfectly as an unexpected musical number in the film, with the unusual harmonies coming out of the mouths of singing robot-clock-women as they give the main character a kind of gothic makeover. How did this one piece of music on an otherwise unappealing soundtrack turn out so nicely? Perhaps someone should take away Mr. Ballamy's saxophone.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Lee said...

Ha ha ha! I just saw this movie last night. I really liked the story and acting and humor and motion graphics and CG characters and...and...oh fuck! the music sucks so much ass!

Seriously, aside from the on-location stuff which is incedental music performed by circus members, the "composed" soundtrack reminds me of a doctor's office in LA but "spiced up" a little with some "hip-hop" production. The only person who is allowed to play soprano saxaphone is John Coltrane and he's dead. So why is this dude playing it? I have no idea.

4:31 PM  
Blogger chris v said...

I can't get the image out of my head now of sitting in a dentist's office listening to this and knowing that its really going to hurt this visit.

And I second the opinion that any saxophone higher than tenor should be melted down.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Vitriolix said...

Oh god, I have a perfectly clear mental image of it... now I need to see it to see if it matches up.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that all of the vocal parts of the soundtrack are really interesting, its too bad the space between was sort of flat, kinda like the plot. Gorgeous artistic imagery- perhaps my favorite pictorally. Story is missing a sense of urgency.
I liked it anyway, but I see what you mean about the musac-ish feel... possibly the reason the story loses its punch. At least this score wasn't as bad as Ridley Scott's Legend's original European release. I probably would have panned the flick as an almost watchable.
As it is it's a very good watch for a ten year old who might get scared if there's any real drama.

8:31 AM  

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