Superb Records (SUPERB-72051-2)
Release Date: 2005
Conducted by Alexandre Desplat
The London Symphony Orchestra
Average Rating: 3.5 stars (2 users)
Best of 2005: Best Soundtrack
|12.||The Secret Place||3:29|
|13.||House On Fire||5:33|
|17.||Screens And Shades||1:06|
|24.||Child's Spirit (Extended)||2:31|
|Total Album Time:||61:41|
|by Andrew Granade
June 21, 2005
The powers-that-be at SoundtrackNet have made an executive decision – it seems that I am to review every one of Alexandre Desplat's scores that comes along for the foreseeable future. If the remaining scores were going to be the level of his most recent, The Upside of Anger, I might have a problem with that decision. But if Desplat continues to surprise and turn genre exercises into fascinating explorations with just the right touch of glee as in Hostage, I could get used to the job.
Part of the reason Hostage manages to simultaneously excel in and transcend the generic action score is the movie's direction. French director Florent Siri wisely chose to move constantly in and out of the thriller formula, interweaving a touching human drama with the more outlandish action set pieces. It is a high-wire act that begins to unravel towards the movie's end, but always defies expectation and overall is smarter than most thrillers. Perhaps it was blasted by critics because of this decided lack of convention, but, especially when it came to inspiring a composer, Siri was on the right track.
Fittingly, Desplat moves between two extremes in this score. The first one is territory familiar to anyone who heard Desplat's Birth score. Hostage opens with "Child's Spirit," a cue whose theme is wordless sung by Deplat's daughter Antonia. Her voice is accompanied by piano and strings and provides an atmosphere of melancholy for the movie's opening while showcasing what becomes a defining feature of this score. The melody begins with a leap up a full octave and then, with the top note still sounding through added resonance, drops the tiniest degree, just a minor second. That's the interval that makes up John Williams's Jaws theme, and it has long held a distinctly sinister air. The way Desplat uses it here gives it a heart-rending sound, and he continues that usage throughout the score, effectively drawing the emotion out of his audience by the use of a simple minor second. Part of the reason it is so effective is because Desplat resolves it downward, making it a falling motive, and leaves the audience expecting something more. For an example, just listen to the main title cue, "Hostage." After a bombastic opening, the vocal theme returns, but it is only that falling minor second from the theme's opening. As a listener, you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen musically and onscreen. Desplat announces that this particular thriller will be unpredictable and defy convention.
The second extreme is far from the haunting, beautiful, and classically-oriented sound of most of Desplat's other Hollywood scores and the opening cue. For this particular action movie, Desplat has pulled out all the stops. For instance, "The Waterfall" opens with a falling string motive (based again on minor seconds) backed by trumpets and tympani. It is a churning, bombastic, typically over-the-top action cue. Or listen to "Crawl Space." Strong bass punches are complemented by falling string triplets, asymmetric rhythms, and dissonant brass chords. It is a marvelous short cue that borrows liberally from Stravinsky's works to add new life to an action cue. Just about every other cue features this new side of Desplat. It is a bold, dissonant, and striking sound that manages to fulfill the conventions of action cues while moving beyond them in new ways. And to top it all off, by using that falling minor second and the vocal theme as an anchor, Desplat unifies these two extremes to make a cohesive score.
I've also always appreciated Desplat for his use of tonal color and he does not disappoint with Hostage as it is full of interesting instrumental touches. In "Tommy's Theme," named for the boy at the movie's center, Desplat gives the melody to a recorder and backs it with orchestra. The recorder's wooden, airy timbre not only makes it a wonderful sonic counterpart to the voice that pervades the score, but also provides the same general sense of melancholy that the vocal theme does while holding out a bit more hope. Coming halfway through the score, it helps propel the album towards its conclusion.
If you didn't manage to catch the note of sarcasm pervading the first paragraph, rest assured that none of us are assigned a single composer to review. But as long as they'll let me, I'll keep listening to and commenting on Desplat's music. Hostage shows the composer growing in new ways, and as much as I enjoy his classically-oriented scores, I was mesmerized in this case by his action cues. They are just off-kilter enough to make you listen more closely and each time find new delights. Hostage is proving to be one of the year's best scores and I recommend you forget about his misstep with The Upside of Anger and latch on to Hostage before it's taken away.
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