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December 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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An Unfinished Life  
Music composed by Deborah Lurie
Orchestrated by Deborah Lurie and Joey Newman
Conducted by Joey Newman
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6683)
Running Time: 35:42
Amazon UK   Amazon US

Danish émigré director Lasse Hallstrom has a history of getting remarkably memorable themes from his composers. I remember leaving his adaptation of John Irving’s The City House Rules with Rachel Portman’s main theme dancing in my head, refusing to leave for many days. Whatever their flaws as films, he elicited similarly memorable themes from Portman and Christopher Young in Chocolat and The Shipping News respectively.

His latest film – the Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez character piece An Unfinished Life – was originally to be scored by Christopher Young. And it was. A year-long occupant of the Miramax post-production vault, where film scenes and scores often go missing, word has it Young scored the film (for Hallstrom), and scored it again (for Miramax), some of his music apparently remaining in the final mix of the film, a mix presumably dominated by newcomer and former Young-student Deborah Lurie, whose music is presented on Varese’s new CD. This sort of post-production tinkering is familiar from other Miramax efforts – Wings of a Dove (Gabriel Yared replaced Ed Shearmur and was replaced by Shearmur), Gangs of New York (a music editor replaced Elmer Bernstein), All the Pretty Horses (Marty Stuart’s team replaced Daniel Lanois), and The Hours (Philip Glass replaced Michael Nyman, who himself replaced Stephen Warbeck) all come to mind. The missed opportunity for a Chris Young dramatic score is unfortunate – Murder in the First, A Haunted Summer, The Tower and Shipping News speak powerfully of his gifts in this genre.

But enough of the gossip – does newcomer Deborah Lurie provide another stirring theme for Lasse Hallstrom? In fact I love the theme. It has that lilt – recognisable from Thomas Newman’s The Horse Whisperer or Basil Poledouris’ Lonesome Dove – that just fills the mind with wide shots of prairies and helicopter shots of horse riders on hillcrests. As the familiarity from past scores might indicate, it isn’t the most original piece of work, but you can’t help but love it anyway. The fiddle-led ‘Main Title’ presents the first of many similar variations of the melody, which suitably climaxes in the final two cues on the album.

The similarity to the Thomas Newman score is more than melodic – his influence reaches into the whole sound-scape Lurie’s music inhabits. The guitar and fiddle interaction in cues like ‘The Bear is Back’ and ‘Einar Takes Action’ could have come from The Horse Whisperer. The dreamy keyboard pads from the opening track on are also derivative of that score. The hesitant piano solos, the use of percussion, the synthesized woodwind effects (for example ‘Jean’s Arrival’) are all part of the Newman arsenal, and make one wonder how much a role that film’s score played in this one’s temp track. (It’s also interesting to note the presence of composer Joey Newman as co-orchestrator and conductor.)

The advantage of the Thomas Newman borrowings (reminiscent of William Ross’ adaptation of that score for Tuck Everlasting) is that they are certainly pleasant to listen to, and this thirty-seven minute album. The theme in ‘Jean’s Arrival’ is a lovely melancholic piece, appearing in several tracks thereafter. The main theme is lovely enough to dispel thoughts as to its originality. The woodwind and piano writing in ‘Ride to the Gravesite’ is sensitive and touching. Less interesting are the sections where physical action is emphasized over emotional action – like ‘The Bear is Back’ or ‘Breaking and Entering’.

Performance by the Hollywood Studio Symphony is excellent. George Doering is thanked in the liner notes, so it is quite possible he performed the score’s many guitar parts. The score is professional in its production and moving in its development, both facets marking Deborah Lurie as a composer to watch in future. Hopefully she will not be as bound by the directives of the producers of the film as she appears to have been here. This score gives the impression that her voice is almost identical to Thomas Newman, and while it is enjoyable enough, one need only compare to Alexandre Desplat’s The Upside of Anger or Zbigniew Preisner’s The Beautiful Country to find more novel and rewarding approaches to films of a similar genre.

Michael McLennan

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