Friday, 3 October 2014

Gone Girl Score Review

Check it out... if you're a fan of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' previous theatrical scoring endeavors, or enjoy the style and tone that Reznor employs within his band, Nine Inch Nails

Skip it... if you're uninterested in synthetic-based, derivative, repetitive, simplistic and uninspired 'music', that contains no emotion, story or character within the entirety of its excessive 1 hour and 26 minute long running time

"In the Joker's words, it's as if Reznor and Ross are committing immoral assault on your ears, and 'laughing whilst they do it.'"

Despite a few missteps throughout his long and illustrious career, David Fincher has generally been a filmmaker of consistent quality, providing some of the greatest films of the modern era, including Se7en, the American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network and Fight Club. 2014 sees Fincher return to the big screen after a 3 year hiatus, this time collaborating with stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, as he adapts the 2012 novel of the same name, Gone Girl, which centres around the character of Nick Dunne, whose wife's disappearance leads many to draw the conclusion that he murdered the woman he had committed himself to. Written by the author of the novel, Gillian Flynn, the film examines a number of different thematic ideas, including examining the modern marriage and its expectations (both between the individuals within the matrimony and those outside it), the media and its painting of certain people as either good or bad, and the stereotypical assumptions that lie in relation to genders. As always, Fincher's stylistic vision of the world and story he's creating is meticulously molded to perfection, and the performances of the lead actors and the rest of the ensemble are all to a great standard. The critical reception has been one of high commendation, with critics ranging from Matt Zoller Seitz to Mick LaSelle acclaiming Fincher's bold and unpredictable direction. The commercial response from the public is currently estimated to be relatively impressive for first week earnings, with audiences already acclaiming the film, providing astounding reviews and ratings on sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb (of which the current score seems overtly excessive in its proportion). Along with much of the acclaim comes along Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score for the film, which has been a source for universal praise; its use within the intended context is seamless and effective, many a reviewer has commented. Reznor and Ross are common collaborators of Fincher, working with the director for his previous works, including The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and now Gone Girl.

Consistently rebuked by the majority of the scoring community, Reznor and Ross have still managed to conjure a great deal of acclaim from those who don't seem to properly understand the purpose and meaning behind a score; within and outside of context, to not only aid and accompany the story appearing in the visual medium, but to a degree, fully realizing it in a musical sense. Some composers are capable of telling an emotional story through the use of melodies and riffs, as well as the volume and intensity of any given note or phrase. More recently, as I continuously cite during my passages of writing on this here website, John Powell's contributions to the fantastic How To Train Your Dragon film series manage to accomplish what is the fundamental motive behind scoring; to be able to accent the visual story appearing on screen, as well as tell the story in the musical sense. The music is so emotionally connected to the live, visual story telling, one does not even have to witness the visual spectacle of the film to get a relative idea of the story (an idea of the story without more subtle subplots of course, as a score can't be expected to spell out these technicalities). I heard of a certain individual who listened to the score for the second film in the How To Train Your Dragon series before seeking out the movie, and having the visual format spoiled for themselves, due to not only the track titles provided on the score, but the well-handled emotional composition which led to their suspicion and ultimate guessing of a major plot point in the film (if one has listened to the score and seen the film, I'd suspect one should be able to figure out which cue ruined the major plot twist of the film; the twist that wasn't spoiled in the trailers, I might mention). Nevertheless, this ability to be able to construct a story without dialogue, visuals or anything of a visceral nature is a skill near every composer possesses, some with far more emotional control than others. Those not commonly involved or interested with the scoring of films, video games and television often do not understand this key component in relation to this musical art form, and consider a well constructed score one that is composed of 'cool' or entertaining music, instead of emotional and thematically-based composition. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences consistently displays this lack of knowledge during their annual film awards, the Oscars. The award for Best Original Score has a habit of being awarded to a composition that works relatively well in context (some not even doing as such), though not possessing anything of value outside of the visual component. Of course, this is not the case with every iteration of the award's presentation; last year's Gravity deserved the award wholly (though many would disagree with this statement, in all honesty). But, unfortunately, there are certainly many cases when context wins out over ingenuity, smart composition and effort of any kind; for example, possibly the most infuriating snub of the modern cinematic era is that of How To Train Your Dragon's loss to the atrocious The Social Network during the 2010 Academy Awards; Reznor and Ross' The Social Network is a score which works quite well in context, but is quite possibly the most emotionally-absent arrangement in recent memory outside of such. Those following scores were rightfully outraged, for both the fact that How To Train Your Dragon's effectiveness was both in context and out of such, as well as The Social Network being a mess of drab synthetics and electronic loops (all lacking in creativity), and ultimate simplicity, all of which made it no match for Powell's easily superior composition.

Nevertheless, the Academy Award was given to Reznor and Ross for their outlandishly bad 'effort', and Powell came out second best. And unfortunately for fans of quality music, it seems as if history is repeating itself this year; as Powell's second installment into the aforementioned How To Train Your Dragon franchise is being released, the next Reznor and Ross composition has been released shortly after, all in the space of 12 months. Perhaps this means we shall see another tremendously disappointing repeat at next year's Oscar ceremony? Well, seeing as Gone Girl runs in, somewhat, the same vein as The Social Network, one should certainly consider this a possibility, however dissatisfying the notion is. Whereas Powell's effort can be appreciated in and out of the intended context, Gone Girl is another Reznor and Ross project that can only be valued by those viewing the film; outside of the visual medium, the score is as emotionally dissonant and uncreative as all other previous works from these men. The mass media, film crowd and general music fans appreciated The Social Network, as is being commonly seen today (I see various film reviewers who I admire commenting on how good the score is out of context; this occurred even just this week), though it seems none of those who properly recognise its actual format, that of a film score and not a solo album, seem to enjoy it, part from a small minority, this including a number of my associates and fellow reviewers. The majority of those within the scoring community recognise its promise as a commercial solo album, but seeing as it's not presented as such, one should review it as anything but. Gone Girl is the same, to an extent. I've already seen various film reviewers and movie-goers admiring it in and out of context, despite its poor construction and blatant simplicity. This is perhaps because the score is constructed of what the mainstream would consider 'intelligent' and 'unique' techniques and instrumentation. For someone who is exposed to the likes of instrumentation and compositional techniques as this on a consistent basis, this is an extremely faulty argument. No, average film-goer, synthetics looped over and over again for an entire 4 minutes, complete with unrelated sound effects and mindless droning does not constitute unique composition. Most of the music presented within Gone Girl doesn't even seem as if it has been written down or composed at any length; it's as if Reznor and Ross sat with Fincher whilst viewing the film and discussing the scoring element, and randomly pressed 4 keys on their electronic keyboard whilst on the 'atmospheric' setting, and claimed musical ingeniousness. No, my friends, it's not overtly difficult to press 4 keys in relative time to each other, as Reznor and Ross have done with a number of key motifs for the score. To call such even difficult is a dramatization, unfounded in reality. If you can claim stardom over doing such, then please, I'm to be the next John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith, for I can master a motif of 5 notes, all in semibreves!

Whilst I joke, I do speak the truth about all the thematic material, or lead motifs, displayed within this here album. Every single theme is either 2, 3 or 4 notes in length, repeated insistently for between the lengths of 1 and a half minutes, to 6 and a half minutes, both of which are equally as punishing. It's also not just the lack of length in these motifs which constitutes to the simplicity of the score, but also the limited instrumentation and an absence of anything organic; even sound effects obviously derived from live objects are manipulated to the point of obnoxiousness. Cellos can be heard relatively early on in the elongated running time, though they are heavily manipulated, and one could mistake them for generic synthetics, bass guitar or any number of electronic instrumentation. And the electronic instrumentation in turn is quite atrocious, consistently without merit or quality. Synthetic percussion is far too intense for the comfort of the ears, and the atmospheric ambiance that layers the entirety of the score is often incredibly painful to endure; the finale to the album, 'At Risk', is an 11 minute display of atmospheric drivel, all of which is headache inducing. I'll revisit 'At Risk' later on in this review, for it is quite possibly the worst piece of music I've ever had the displeasure of listening to, though for now, lets focus on the emotional complexity that Reznor and Ross have managed to tap into within this here score. Fortunately, Gone Girl seems to have more of a grasp of the emotions that litter the visual format that the score accompanies than The Social Network, if by marginally. Based on the scores indications, there are but three moods that the film undertakes (two more than The Social Network, which encompassed little more than aggression and anger in the entirety of its running time); the first being that of blatant aggression formed using unrelenting and poorly rendered synthetics and atmospheric twaddle; the second being relaxation, which appears only briefly within the final few minutes of the cue 'Just Like You', thanks to a welcome and rare solo piano effort; the third being the most commonly displayed throughout the duration of the album, this being a mixture of light tone and undeterring and deep undercurrent (i.e. there's a relatively light electronic loop repeating on the surface, though the background riff encompasses an underlying deep and dangerous tone). Whilst this latter technique could've worked quite well, so as to represent the supposedly 'happy marriage on the outside; confliction in reality' theme that is explored within the film, Reznor and Ross discard the notion of restraint, and reuse it to no end. The first 5 cues, from 'What Have We Done To Each Other' to 'Just Like You' are the most prominent and immediately recognisable uses of such techniques. Executed with as little grace as is possible, this concept is butchered consistently, and we receive nothing of value in its reprisals. 

Whilst the third mood discussed was the most overused and poorly accomplished in its intentions of the three examples, the first mood that I mentioned, blatant aggression, is possibly the most infuriating of the three. This unrelenting side of the 'composition' is explored in numerous cues, though most prominently within the cue 'At Risk' of which I mentioned earlier. Whilst I could discuss a number of examples of the use in regards to this technique, I figure 'At Risk' is as good as any. In short, 'At Risk' is quite possibly the worst cue ever concepted in the history of film music. It is 11 minutes of fluctuating ambiance without general direction (again, something the entire score suffers from), method or meaning. Various sound effects, all of which are horrid to listen to, make themselves prominent throughout its duration; a strange and lazy 3 minute long silence exists within the middle of the piece (is cutting the single cue into two pieces, removing the unnecessary silence truly that difficult?), and one of the worst continuous synth notes ever rendered lasts for more than half a minute within the running time of this atrocity, fluctuating in volume and intensity. In the Joker's words, it's as if Reznor and Ross are committing immoral assault on your ears, and 'laughing whilst they do it.' For another human being to cause this much pain against another must be considered unlawful in such a country as this; in a Western country such as Australia or the United States of America, one should not be allowed to consistently threaten to rupture the ear drums of any given person. The intensity of the cue as a whole is unbearably excessive, as is another issue with the entirety of the album. Cues such as 'With Suspicion' and 'Consummation' are all comprised of synthetics with potency and tone that is absolutely dreadful; painful even. A single ringing string note is a common technique used for foreshadowing and displaying peril and danger within scores of this genre, though Reznor and Ross couldn't settle for something of such little distaste and annoyance; they needed something far more irritable. Insert excessive synthetics with tone and volumes which don't seem at all ethical to expose to any human beings, and you officially have a score which is unbearable on numerous levels.

Whilst the thematic material is still incredibly simplistic and without much thought diverted towards creating anything of depth, at least the composers still took time to reprise certain phrases and electronic loops. This initially seems to indicate a greater importance for story and emotional continuity throughout the duration, though you're certainly mistaken; to be able to detect a narrative of any kind by just listening to the score is nearly impossible. The music never seems to stop, and so therefore it seems as if the material is just one big, disjointed, never-ending sequence of synthetic tones and loops, without a method or direction. Perhaps a better track ordering could've corrected this issue... actually, on second thought, I don't believe that would have drastically changed my interpretation of the plot line, based on what the musical format is telling me. To call this music, though, is a stretch of the imagination, for this isn't music, but more so sound design; the manipulation of organic materials and instruments, distorted so much that they sound like little more than electronic components in a synthetic-orientated album. A greater quantity of genuine instrumentation would've undoubtedly have made the running time more bearable, though in the instances where Reznor and Ross employ such, the results are mixed at best; even when the authentic instrumental decisions come into play, whether it's in regards to cello, piano or bass (though the bass is, again, heavily distorted and manipulated to unrecognizable proportions), it often sounds ridiculously simplistic and without reasoning. Gone Girl is an amass of poor composition and cluttered direction; there is no method to the madness at hand. As a fan of film scoring, I implore anyone outside this community of people to recognise Gone Girl as a film score and not a solo album, for when one considers the album as the former, they may be able to fully realise the seemingly revolting lack of effort. Repeating a simplistic electronic loop for minutes on end does not require effort. If this is all it takes to win an Academy Award, then please Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, award Paul Haslinger your highest commendation for No Good Deed, as that, as well as this, is emotionally-absent and entirely derivative. This is not unique, impressive or well constructed in any form; it is droning, unoriginal and perpetually irritating throughout, and deserves little more than universal criticism. You can purchase Gone Girl on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.