|by Natasha Theobald
It can be tough with a movie like this to strike the right balance. It isn’t easy to be completely hilarious on the one hand and show some pretty grisly violence on the other. Part detective story and part riff on Hollywood, the place and the idea, writer and director Shane Black has combined the right ingredients, from the cast on through to the details of production, to thread the needle. Not only is the movie a success, but it stands up to repeat viewing like a champ. No small credit for finding the tone of the piece is due to composer John Ottman.
Ottman has produced a score that treads ever so lightly. It has a personality of its own, tiptoeing through time with some jazzy horns, some foreboding tones, and a lot of wit and charm. It stays in a higher register, never really dipping into the grit and dirt of reality. This is caper music, befitting a bumbling Clouseau, an adventure made sonic, with a sense of humor and some style, cleverness and romance. Using everything from bells to that thing you swing on a stick to make a cranking sound, it feels like the Hee Haw band could have been sitting in on a session or two, stroking the metal washboard while Minnie Pearl stood giggling in her trademark hat. Don’t let me confuse you – this is not a country sound. The music does, however, tend toward the zany with the sounds of seemingly found objects included in the mix or, for another example, the wakka-wakka seventies sounds to be heard in track 12, a feature I highly respect.
As when I first saw the film, the music which accompanies the main titles immediately draws me in. It is such a mix of moods, from tongue in cheek, wink-wink, nudge-nudge playfulness to a tiny hint of danger lurking. It matches splendidly with the animated action on screen, but, even without a visual counterpart, it sings out a particular strain that promises something unique and exciting and maybe a little bit naughty. From note one, I was sold to take the trip.
I went back this week to re-watch the toy heist scene to see how the music fits. Watching the action together with the song made me truly appreciate how finely tuned to the film the music is, setting mood, highlighting action, and encompassing the entirety of the scene without showing off or being overbearing. I love the way Robert Downey Jr. can chew over a piece of dialogue and make something real and funny at the same time. The music is there with him, punch for punch, to realize the scene, laugh for laugh and action to action.
Not all of the music is upbeat. There is some moody stuff here, too, as the drama has as much impact as the suspense and the funny stuff. For example, a cue for a moment where “Harmony is Dead?” can’t exactly be bouncy and light-hearted. It is the beauty of this score that it handles other emotion in a real way without losing the thread of the movie’s music as a whole. You can tell you are still listening to the same soundtrack, it just has layers and levels to offer you.
Back to Robert Downey Jr. for a second, as I must mention that he got into the music end of this film as well, composing a song called “Broken” with Mark Hudson and showcasing his vocal talents. It’s a not unpleasant change from the rest of the work, as it appears at the end and not randomly at some spot in the middle. The lyrics are about love and a broken heart, with even a touch of the Serenity prayer thrown in for good and sober measure.
That’s it. See the movie. See it again. Buy the soundtrack if you like what you hear. I took it in the car with me the last time I was road-tripping, because the music just spells fun and adventure. Maybe it could score your next adventure, too.
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originally posted: 03/22/07 23:01:13
last updated: 03/22/07 23:02:14