Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Giver Score Review

Check it out... if you're willing to indulge in one of the more intellectually advanced scores of recent memory, that proves to the doubters that Marco Beltrami has the capabilities to compose thoroughly emotional and varied dramatic music

Skip it... if the prospect of traversing an often subtle and downright complex score from Beltrami doesn't appeal to your tastes

"Beltrami's textural awareness, alongside his emotional complexity has never been so acute as it is for The Giver; a remarkable achievement."

When it comes to milking money out of any given title or property, none can do so well as Hollywood. Whether it be taking source material and extending it to encompass a number of films instead of just a singular motion picture (I'm looking at you Twilight and The Hobbit), or just plain disregarding the messages the source material provided, and instead adjusting entire characters or plot lines so as to fit a current trend or craze, Hollywood is willing to do it if it'll earn them an extra dollar or two. I'm looking at that latter reasoning in regards to the film whose score we're discussing today; The Giver is an upcoming film directed by Phillip Noyce, and it is being adapted from the book of the same name, written by Lois Lowry and released in the year of 1993. This novel, coincidentally, I am studying this term for English studies, and so therefore I would consider myself a reasonably appropriate source for criticizing the changes made for such an adaption. Obviously, as someone who reviews films and therefore a great deal of adaptions, I understand the need to put aside some personal infuriation at the thought of my own favourite literature being changed in various ways, for various changes may benefit the transferring of said literature into a visual format, though in this case, this adaption of The Giver seems to be off the mark quite blatantly; the main character in the book, Jonas, is merely 11-12 years of age, and so this adds to his character a portion of naivety that makes his character far less relatable, which at first ties well into the story. Unlike the inquisitive nature of an older teenager (which the film is using, undeniably to cash on in the current teenage romance craze), a younger person is generally more prone to simply listening and taking orders, and that's what makes our main character Jonas' rapid transformation over the course of the book so much more effective. As for the story line of The Giver; we follow 11 year old Jonas, who lives in a futuristic community where freedom is limited and safety is priority number 1. When Jonas receives the opportunity to become the coveted Receiver of Memory for the community, he discovers that his hometown is not as he has seen it for the duration of his life, but more so a restrictive and unfair systematic way of living. 

With such a brutal and unforgiving kind of story as The Giver, a composer like Marco Beltrami is most certainly not the kind of composer I would have had in mind for tackling this project in regards to the musical component. But with recent successes coming from the composer, including A Good Day to Die Hard and Carrie, I was not necessarily displeased to hear of such a recruitment. Ultimately, this was a fantastic opportunity for Beltrami to showcase his more sentimental side, and deliver a score which relies primarily on emotional complexity over fast and brutal action material. And whilst I more often than not enjoy Beltrami's efforts into the action genre, I have craved something less aggressive from the man. The Giver is his one chance to show us what he can achieve when he's not trying to provide stylistic or action-based music, and for what it's worth, The Giver achieves much and more. In all reality, I expected little from this album, as whilst the potential for greatness that the source material allowed for was high, I didn't feel as if it was achievable with such a composer as Beltrami who, as I've made note of quite consistently already, I've only really witness compose music for those genres which I specified earlier. But in actual fact, Beltrami has found a way to combine the emotional depth that such a film as The Giver would heavily rely on, as well as embracing the feeling of loneliness that occupies Jonas throughout the novel. The ambiance and echoey state of much of the score allows for these moments of disconnect, where the music leaves you feeling much like the main character of the story; so very alone with your thoughts. Jonas is the only human, apart from The Giver, (who passes on memories of the past onto Jonas, as our main protagonist is, as previously mentioned, the Receiver of Memory), who really understands the truth about the place he inhabits, and that means that he often feels alone; Beltrami captures this with dissonance and ambiance that seems to echo off the invisible walls of the soundscape that he has has developed here. Such feelings can be found within the cue Happiness and Pain, where light percussion seems to echo around the listener to begin with (this is obviously amplified with the use of headphones) and create the feeling of a great and vast though empty expanse of space, uninhabited by nothing but yourself. My description is perhaps a little far-fetched, though this is how I legitimately felt whilst listening to great portions of this score. 

On a thematic level, the material provided is quite limited, though there is a great deal of depth in what Beltrami has managed to gift us. The main theme immediately represents such depth, from it's sweeping female chorus combining alongside the often edgy and dense strings as well as enjoyable light electronics; Beltrami foreshadows the inevitable, which is that this at-first look serene and idealistic community is in fact not what it seems, and actually a sinister and dangerous place. This main theme appears in the appropriately titled first cue, Main Title, before being elaborated on in various reprisals all throughout the score; the best display of a said reprise is in the cue End Titles, which appears as (most surprisingly) the final cue on the card, and represents one of the many standouts of the album. Other thematic highlights are limited, with only various other motifs representing certain repetition in the score. As a general rule for the entirety of the running time, repetition is not that common, and could even be considered somewhat rare by some standards; Beltrami works hard to avoid continually reprising the same ole' motifs constantly, so as to keep things consistently new and variable. After a score like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in which themes were consistently reworked without hesitation, to find a score which embraces restraint and carefully inserts themes at only the most opportune of times is a refreshing thing indeed. 

Whilst we don't have a great deal of motif-related music, The Giver is filled to the brim with fantastically mixed and written material, all of which comes together rather splendidly. The electronics are never too excessive in their use, and the brass is saved for the best of times; in fact, a great portion of the first half of the score sees an incredibly sparse quantity of brass utilised, with the first truly noticeable use of the section to be found in the eighth cue on the album, Tray Ride. This under-use of brass for great portions of the score means that when the section actually does come out to play, such as in the cue Tray Ride, or more predominately in the pieces War and Jonas Runs Away, we get a startlingly aggressive effort that is avoided for a great deal of the running time. This contrast between quiet and subtle, to boisterous and aggressive is something that I feel the score Under the Skin was trying to achieve, but missed so poorly. Here, though, Beltrami's efforts to contrast various portions of his score for maximum effect all pay off in the best ways imaginable.

Whilst the brass contrast with the rest of the score represents the beef of the jarring material within The Giver, much of the true grit of this score comes in the form of subtle key changes to reinforce certain changes in perspectives and beliefs. As Jonas' life is changed around him, due to his new look on life and the community he inhabits, the music suitably changes with him, adding suspicious key changes, and adapting doubt into the music. For example, the cue What is Love? displays some magnificent piano solos, which take on both warm periods where the music seems embraceable and kind; at other points throughout the score, the music switches to a note which you weren't anticipating, and the consistent rhythm seems to dissolve, if but for a second. It's enough for you to notice something is up, and for doubt and suspicions to immediately plague your mind. Such carefully constructed writing is rare for Beltrami, though it is certainly appreciated by myself and no doubt by all those who happen to listen in carefully.

Beltrami's attention to detail is fantastic, though the real highlights are often the more blatant cues, which have little to hide. Of course, this is not to discredit those incredibly subtle cues, full of small key changes and particularly mood-setting ambiance and strings, all of which are wonderfully crafted; it's just that I simply enjoyed some of the more simplistic pieces on offer a little greater. Take for example my favourite cue on the album, Rosebud, which is less so about the small things, and more so about the obvious. The cue has an air of heroism and building that seems near non-existent in a vast majority of the score, and it reflects the same feeling that the piece Gravity evoked last year; unadulterated victory. Whilst this is a questionable decision, considering the novels ending is far from victorious, I have to appreciate Beltrami's ambitiousness, to go for a big and heroic ending to the score (though it isn't the final cue on the card, that place being reserved for End Credits). And Rosebud, in all honesty, is one of the finest pieces of orchestral music I've heard all year, so it all pays off for one hell of cue.

I haven't really discussed one of the best factors in regards to The Giver, that being the fantastic instrumentation on offer. I've discussed the use of brass widely, but it's ultimately the use of strings that really drive home the score. Whilst the vocals and woodwinds also play big parts in expanding the musical identity of the community and it's false facade, it's ultimately the strings that really foreshadow the inevitable chaos that follows Jonas' appointment as the Receiver of Memory. Consistently aggressive though sometimes nearly unnoticeable strings riffs plague the entire score, setting the mood as an almost intolerably uncomfortable one. These string riffs are set in play in cues like War and Accelerated Training, and immediately put you on edge. Though somewhat like the brass, the strings do have contrast to this specific tone; much of their efforts are in fact full of flowing and genuinely beautiful music, so the strings set a double precedent that constantly flips you on your head. Again, it's these contrasts that really set to work the variety that Beltrami has managed to infuse within the score.   

There really isn't too much to criticise on Beltrami's part for this score. Whereas I thought I would loathe this to an extent, he has proved me and a fair amount of others wrong in assuming that just because he doesn't often compose for this kind of a film that The Giver would be nothing but a shallow effort. I assumed the same leading into the spectacular Now You See Me, by Brian Tyler from last year, and I looked like an utter fool; it appears like the same deal here, as well. Whether you're hoping for an intellectually encompassing score, full of material that actually challenges various premonitions set throughout the score, or you want something that successfully touches upon emotional and rather deep moods and tones, The Giver is quite possibly for you. It's instrumental variation is appropriate and impressive; it's writing is varied and unpredictable, and it's recording is pristine. Beltrami's textural awareness, paired alongside an emotional complexity has never been so acute as it is for The Giver; this should be considered by many, first and foremost myself, an absolute achievement. The Giver is available for purchase on Amazon here   


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