Once upon a time a psychological horror/suspense movie would have been accompanied by a pseudo-Bernard Herrmann score, in a style re-pioneered (and never to better effect) by Pino Donaggio. Ever since the phenomenon of The Sixth Sense, the new maestro to aspire to seems to be James Newton Howard. This influence permeates The Butterfly Effect, and does it no harm.
A relative newcomer to film music, Michael Suby, has provided an atmospheric and effective score to Ashton Kutcher's first foray into "serious" acting. Suby is a Millennium graduate and composer of The Real Cancun and Able Edwards, as well as the theme for TV's Starting Over. The story of The Butterfly Effect concerns a young man's discovery of a novel way in which to time-travel. The plot which hangs on this hook is quickly revealed to be staple Star Trek by way of The Terminator 'future changing'. Think Back to the Future played straight and tight-lipped. First-time directors are Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, writers of Final Destination 2.
The orchestrations are rich throughout. The introductory theme, with it's music-box motif and discordant piano not only thrusts us unmistakably into Newton Howard territory, but pays homage also to Danny Elfman's fairy tale world, developed particularly for director Tim Burton. First hints of the forthcoming choir in the use of a single voice underline this. There is striking use of percussion on Band 2, before Suby tips his hat to no less than a third luminary in as many tracks. Here, the style is strongly evocative of Thomas Newman's scores. Particularly for Frank Darabont's prison movies. This is bound to fire the debate; 'is imitation the sincerest form of flattery, or are generic retreads innately lazy and therefore boring?'. Being often too lazy for intellectual debate, I tend to be guided by my emotional reaction to a score and I was impressed by Suby's work, which commands attention from the beginning, announcing with its foreboding theme "all is not well".
Not content with this trawl through modern day suspense practitioners, Suby conjures the feel of Donaggio himself for Track 4, particularly the composer's sublime Carrie. Around about here we get short (less than a minute) cues, which are all too often left on the music editor's floor or else woven into a 'suite'. Their inclusion is to be admired.
Track 12 tempts us with a haunting clarinet/piano couplet before opening up on the next cut into a majestic swell (checklist – Barry?). Donaggio's style reappears in Track 19. All this referential material may well be ringing alarm bells in the reader. Has Suby no style of his own? Is all this too derivative? Well… yes, and no, in that order. There are flashes of uniqueness (as in the unsettling, ingenious sound incorporated into Track 21). And to say the music is not derivative would be to give lie to the thrust of this review so far. But Suby keeps this under control and the technique is subtle and enjoyable.
Much can be determined from the track listing, which shamelessly gives plot points away (but then, it was the album for Newton Howard's own The Sixth Sense which unforgivably telegraphed the shock 'surprise' ending to that movie!) With two tracks here covering different character's funerals, you should expect mournful refrains.
On the evidence of this measured and effective work, a more powerful film promises to bring out greater things in this promising young composer. A case of the 'butterfly' eventually emerging from this worthy chrysalis of an early effort. A track listing is given below. If you haven't seen the film and plan to, read at your own peril!
Scroll down for Track Listing – contains spoilers
- The Butterfly Effect Main Theme
- Evan's Plan/Evan & Mom
- Mom And Evan/Evan's Drawing
- In The Basement/Knife Blackout
- Going To See Dad
- Jason's Funeral
- Lenny's Explosive Flash/Hypnosis
- Tommy's Right Hook/We're Moving
- Burnt Crockett
- Drive To See Lenny/Inside Lenny's Room
- The Mailbox
- The Diner
- Kayleigh's Funeral
- Evan's Warning
- Sorority Strut
- Evan Kills Tommy
- Prison Escape
- Stigmata Flashback
- Evan & Kayleigh/Kayleigh Loves Lenny
- Blowing Up Kayleigh
- Lockdown Lenny/Send You A Postcard
- Evan's Escape
- Everyone's Fixed Memories/The Butterfly Effect Reprise