Review Summary: A crappy movie does no justice to a captivating score.
Film scores are a tricky thing to review. Plenty of movies have fantastic scores that complement the movie extremely well, but are boring and unoriginal to listen to on their own. It takes a truly gifted artist to create a score that can stand on its own, but it takes an even better artist to create a score that’s enjoyable.
With the release of The Golden Compass, Alexandre Desplat was hired to score the film. Desplat’s former credits include Girl With A Pearl Earring, Syriana, Casanova, and a little film called The Queen, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. Desplat’s scores are generally orchestral and done in a traditional style, as opposed to the works of Clint Mansell (Requiem For A Dream) or Brian Tyler (War), both of which are much more experimental and electronic.
Desplat’s compositions for this film take pages from both Howard Shore’s epic stylings of the Lord Of The Rings soundtracks and the atmosphere of whimsy and wonder found in the scores for the Harry Potter movies. Using these elements, Desplat’s score weaves its way through several motifs that reappear throughout, albeit in different forms. The intensity and fervor of such tracks like ”Ice Bear Combat” and “Battle With The Tartars” paints a portrait of brutal warfare and fights to the death, while the other end of the musical spectrum contains mellow, uplifting songs such as “Rescuing The Children” and “Mother.” Plenty of Despalt’s tracks also contain that classic “epic” film score feel. “Lee Scoresby’s Airship Adventure” makes it feel like you are really flying through the air in some futuristic hot air balloon, and “Lord Faa, King of the Gyptians” perfectly conveys the aura of importance that the character has to the central storyline. Other standout tracks include “Lord Asriel,” a blend of standard film score style and intense percussive hits, “Lyra, Roger, and Billy,” a track that gives the listener a feeling of children at play, and “Ragnar Sturlusson,” a dark atmospheric piece that eventually boils over into an immensely orchestrated moment.
The soundtrack ends with a song composed not by Despalt, but by singer-songwriter Kate Bush. Featuring just the singer and a few keyboard parts, it’s an entirely unnecessary addition to the soundtrack, but it doesn’t detract. That must be why the filmmakers decided to play the song during the end credits; the few that stay to watch them also get to listen to a simple, enjoyable song.
For both film score buffs and new listeners alike, Desplat’s compositions on this soundtrack are enjoyable listens. They do not shatter any barriers or forge new ground in composing, but they stick to the tried-and-true methodology of the art of film scoring. Ultimately, that is what works in the score’s favor. Desplat has a keen ear for composing music that sets the mood of the movie, and, coupled with his ability to create music that is fun to listen to outside of a movie, he has created a worthy addition to the halls of fantasy music scores.