Review: Brotherhood of the Wolf
3 / 5 Stars
With apologies to the late, great Francois Truffaut, I'd say France should get some sort of "most improved" award for the films they've exported to the bourgeois Americans in 2001. First you've got the delightful Amelie, which virtually no one can shut up about, then there's their brooding native blockbuster, Brotherhood Of The Wolf. Sure, it didn't make as much of a splash stateside, but it did prove that French filmgoers are into more than just Jerry Lewis.
The score for Brotherhood comes from none other than Joseph LoDuca, the Raimi family mainstay who's been so busy busting his hump on a bazillion episodes of Xena, I'm impressed that he even had time to squeeze this project in. Now, this genre of film (a dark, action-filled period piece that looks like the film The Musketeer so desperately wanted to be) usually has a score that collectors and fans go nuts for. But alas, Brotherhood of the Wolf is something of a letdown. It goes the extra mile to create its thick, otherworldly atmosphere but somehow forgets that a theme or two might have been nice.
"The Grey Wolf / Gevaudan" begins the film and score with the whole ancient and ethnic bag of tricks – lots of plucked gypsy guitar, duduk, shakuhachi whistle, and heavily featured percussion and synth effects. This "everything but the kitchen sink" approach creates a mythic tone as opposed to something whose time and place is set in stone. At the end of the day, though, the score is somewhere between a Graeme Revell action score and Vangelis' vastly underrated 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
"Mani and the Gypsies" gives us tinkling synth textures coupled with more layers of syncopated percussion, and a hint of electric guitar. The beginning of "The Hunt / Abbey Ruins / Pagan Image" harkens back to some of the more exciting stuff Randy Edelman contributed to Last Of The Mohicans. "Lady of Winter" is pretty enough, but the thinness of the synthesized elements begins to peek through the score.
"Le Tessier / Sylvia / The Sorcerer / Succubus" fashions a slow gypsy dance with a faux-circus bounce that leads into more of the lengthy atmospherics (get used to it, it's a seventy minute album). Though a solo voice does help to keep things vaguely organic, on disc this stuff could really have used a full-blooded orchestra instead of the occasional near-beer electronic approach.
"Beauterne Arrives" is a mid-tempo military march, replete with thrumming snares and patriotic flutes – structurally, it bears a strong resemblance to James Horner's Glory. "The Shepherdess / Back To Gevaudan / The Beastmaster" begins with a lick straight out of Howard Shore's groundbreakingly moody Seven. And the lengthy "Deduction / Desecration" gives us still more evil-sounding low synth pads and scattershot percussion, broken up by the once-exotic but nowadays increasingly-standard duduk.
"Hunting The Beast" is a welcome action highlight, blasting brass and switching time signatures in the best Jerry Goldsmith tradition. And when the playful percussion and dancing guitar of "Dances with Knives" pops up, this listener can't help but think he is listening to one of his many Dead Can Dance (Lisa Gerrard's old band) albums. Which is both a compliment and a criticism, depending on what you dig. Same thing goes for the mournful strains of the semi-operatic "The Den of the Beast / Mani's Pyre".
Honestly, the rest of the disc is much of the same and yes, a bit much to take in all at once. Maybe a bit much, period. It's well-crafted, clean sounding and all that, especially the Zimmer-ish electric guitars of "Savage Duel". But by the time the soulfully written "Cleansing" and majestic "Epilogue" hits the playlist, the relative themelessness of the rest of Brotherhood could try even the patience of Charles Ives. In the film, I'm sure this approach works like gangbusters, but separately it leaves a listener scrambling for a foothold.
Additionally, and I'm not sure if it's just me and my jaded ears, I hear an awful lot of the temp-track bleeding through to the surface here. Blame whoever you want to: I'm sure they're all at least partly responsible. But the bottom line is that to an avid film score fan like myself, it can be pretty distracting.
Also worth mentioning (with a slight hint of contempt) is the final track, a pop-ish single titled "Once" clearly modeled on similar tracks from similar movies (Clanaad's Mohicans track and "A Love Before Time" from Crouching Tiger, to name a few). I guess, in this day and age, every film producer is wishing like Hell to have the next "My Heart Will Go On". Note to said producers: try predicting where lightening will strike next. You'll have an easier time of it.
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