Review: Wicker Man, The
4 / 5 Stars
The careful orchestration of a musical style for a score is as important to a score\'s integrity and enjoyability, if not more, than its thematic material. A lot of attention is usually paid to the melodies a composer chooses to layer in his score, but it\'s the choice of instruments, of musical colors, that is the real foundation of any film score. A lot of inexperienced composers eschew this step, resorting almost instinctively to the traditional Classical orchestra, but Angelo Badalamenti\'s The Wicker Man proves that a thoughtful a priori reflection on possible avenues can yield fruitful and original results.
The 1973 movie is a cult classic; the remake apparently did not fly very high with the critics. What sets the score apart and makes it a more layered listening than your average suspenseful mystery soundtrack is the careful attention the composer brought to his instrumentation. The main driving energy behind The Wicker Man comes from the string ensemble which in turns laments, mystifies, and dramatizes. The composer builds purposely lethargic chords for the celli and basses while the violins articulate painful melodic elegies, a style which is presented from the beginning in "Overture for the Wicker Man". The brass is used occasionally to punctuate transitions from mystery to downright fright and to drive the action sequences. A guitar is perfectly integrated into the orchestra, never sounding out of place or corny, but bringing in a plucked sound that complements the bow slidings and serves to subtly establish the locale. An array of synthesized percussion and effects is likewise brought in to turn the style away from the traditional orchestra. A rising synthetic glissando is particularly effective in "Cycling Into a Nightmare" and "Sister SummersIsle". Woodwinds serve to flesh out the organic quality of the community Nicholas Cage\'s character encounters, while female vocals are used sparingly to remind us of his quest and to bring a sultry, somewhat seductive aspect to the music. All these elements combine to form a whole that is distinct from most film scores and gives The Wicker Man a musical identity.
What is less original yet just as effective is the thematic material, in particular the Island Theme which is morphed into a series of motivic variations and woven into the very fabric of the score. It has been heard before but it conveys a deep sense of loss and of eventuality, of sadness and of inescapability. Badalamenti introduces his theme in the Overture and then quotes from it in almost every cue. It reaches its climax in "The Burning", which might not be as imposing as one would expect but is in fact a subtle culmination of every theme the album had to offer and the ultimate expression of the cyclic fatality that permeates the score as a whole. The Island Theme is given a mournful rendition for female vocalist and violins, before native percussion provides the rhythm for the sacrifice. An exotic flute transforms the Island Theme into a creepy four-note echoing motif which fades out to deliver a reverberated-piano-and-violins-led coda that quietly concludes the album.
Angelo Badalamenti\'s The Wicker Man is immensely more enjoyable on CD than his recent Dark Water, making strong use of themes and an overriding style that promotes ideas of romantic ideals macerated and of horrifying inevitability. The album itself is perfectly plotted and runs at a very satisfying 45 minutes that never overstates its welcome. While the melodic elements might not be of the freshest crop, the very foundation of the score, its careful marriage of orchestral, acoustic, and synthetic pieces, is so solid it merits appreciation and turns this movie accompaniment into a very enjoyable and satisfying stand-alone listen.
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