June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Music composed and produced by Michael Giacchino
‘Main Title’ composed by J.J.Abrams
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Orchestra
Conducted by Tim Simonec
Orchestrated by Michael Giacchino, with additional Chad Seiter
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD 6721)
Running Time: 61:05
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Alias: Season One
  • Mission Impossible 3
  • Secret Weapons Over Normandy
  • Michael Giacchino is a talented young composer with a distinct musical identity, one whose star is always rising and with projects like Mission Impossible 3 will likely play a major role in the near future of film music. Mostly it has come down to his relationship with JJ Abrams. The Alias creator was impressed enough with the composer’s work on that show to offer him the chance to score LOST. A mixture of action, science fiction and drama, the show focuses on forty-eight plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. It became a worldwide television event with audiences surpassing seventeen millions per week during the latest season, many reviewers of the series remarking on the consistently strong music by Giacchino.

    The short opening cue to the album is the main theme, composed by J.J. Abrams. It is essentially an electronic chord cluster of more dramatic than musical value. The same goes for a recurring electronic loop that appears in the opening of the ‘The Eyeland’. (The titles of the tracks are all a collection of witty puns towards the show’s plot.) Giacchino quickly brings us close to the dark and ominous events unfolding before our eyes, aided by the cue’s creepy texture of low electronics and ghastly violin harmonics. Aggressive percussion and string writing lead into another of the score’s recognizable trademarks: an abrupt trombone glissando.

    The unsettling atmosphere deepens with ‘World’s worst beach party’, where constant tribal percussion rhythms, spiteful brass clusters and piercing dissonance wreak havoc. The action music is a strong point throughout, the cues in style including ‘Run like, um…help’, ‘Me and my big mouth’, ‘Proper motivation’, ‘Run away! Run away!’, ‘Getting Ethan’ and ‘Charlie Hans Around’. All are basically built upon dense string ostinati, Herrmannesque percussion, harsh brass clusters, always underlined by a firm rhythm. Similar techniques were used by John Frizzell in his score for Stay Alive, but Giacchino goes even further, employing a dirty and dated sound for the trombones, noticeable especially at their trademarked glissando, or when performed with the mute. It all adds a very specific identity to his action writing for Lost, something like what Revell, Rodriguez and Debney did for their Sin City, only again a step forward. The highlights of the action material are ‘Kate’s Motel’ and ‘Monsters are such Innnteresting people’.

    Giacchino’s singular instrumentation adds a distinct and personal sound to the whole. Cello, guitar and piano are used effectively as solo instruments throughout. Something evident from the first pieces is the total absence of any kind of woodwinds, Giacchino’s ensemble focusing on a large string section, xylophones, piano, trombone-dominated harsh brass section, and a large, varied percussion ensemble. It’s arguable that this limits the material, causing a dry sound. But it also adds a unique character to the score very suited to the hostile island.

    While the dark action material is interesting, the more melodic, celli-driven side of the score is what’s crucial. The six note main theme is introduced in ‘Credit where credit is due’, performed by strings. Various renditions and restatements can be found throughout the album, notably in the melancholic ‘Just die already’, ‘Departing Sun’ (celli with the full orchestra), and the celli-led adagio for strings ‘Booneral’. The second main theme initially appears in ‘Win one for the Reaper’, and it’s an optimistic nine-note melody in the spirit of Thomas Newman’s melodies, always performed by the piano and accompanied by either acoustic guitar, cello, or soft string orchestra. ‘Thinking Clairely’ and ‘Life and Death’ (where the theme makes its strongest appearance) are two pieces where the above-mentioned elements are clearly displayed.

    Giacchino also introduces a third idea, built upon major-to-minor chord interchanges, using a four-note ascending motif as the basis. This motif often appears in eight-note developments, notably in ‘Locke’d out again’ where it is interchanged between the piano and celli, backed by string orchestra. This excellent cue is topped off with a particularly emotional orchestral outburst at its peak. The last two cues are very powerful and passionate, accompanying the first season’s climactic episodes. ‘Parting Words’ is the strongest piece of the score, circling around a grand, uplifting and triumphant eight-note theme that appears in this cue only. Finally, ‘Oceanic 815’ comes to concludes with a slow string adagio which leads to interchanges between the main theme and the secondary theme. The uplifting climax soon wears off though, the electronic loops from ‘The Eye-land’ and the trademarked trombone glissandos re-asserting themselves at the end.

    Michael Giacchino has written music here that supports both the show it was written for, and a wonderful album from Varese Sarabande. What better proof is there of its supportive role in the show than the fact that this was the most-requested release in Varese Sarabande’s history? The score for LOST is finally here. Don’t miss it.

    Demetris Christodoulides

    Rating: 4.5

    Michael McLennan adds:-

    I find my response to this album slightly more tempered than my colleague. If this is indeed the most requested release in the history of Varese Sarabande, then I can only assume that this is a tribute to the effectiveness of Michael Giacchino’s music in the context of the show. The power of synchresis – the bonding of sound and image – is such that the strength and emotion of music can inform our view of the image, but the reverse is also true. A good film can make music more interesting than it would be on its own. Not having seen the show beyond a cursory look here and there, this plays a little coldly on me.

    What I do like is the thematic structure to the work. Giacchino has set things up carefully, with leitmotifs interacting subtly to give the sense that this music is following a dramatic arc over the course of the series and its album. And in this sense, this album is superior to the recent collection of Sean Callery’s music for 24, music that lacked any sense of integration when placed on CD. The ideas themselves are a bit hard to get a grasp on at first, but they are certainly developed well over the hour-long album.

    The themes themselves are subtle enough to work as non-intrusive scoring in the show, but this means they’re not truly arresting as music, except the theme introduced in ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ – which time and again injects the album with true feeling. Many have pointed to ‘Parting Words’ as one of the most incredible cues ever written for TV, but I come away from that a bit cold too. I’m far more moved by the slow emergence of the ‘Reaper’ theme in the true closing track, ‘Oceanic 815’, a truly arresting work from Michael Giacchino. Only my second Giacchino album after The Incredibles, I feel like I have a much richer sense of his musical gifts on hearing this score.

    The action music is harder to approach, though I concede that these less melody-driven cues are a dramatic choice. I also miss the woodwinds – not so much the trumpets, but definitely the clear dulcet tones of reeds – filling in that space between the abrasive trombones and strings/percussion. It’s a budgetary choice – this much I’m certain of – but perhaps sacrificing four string players for the sake of some woodwinds would have given the score both more richly orchestrated action music and a larger palette of solo instruments for the quieter moments.

    Still, I’m amazed that so much ululation accompanies this release, when I can think of twenty more CDs I’ve bought this year I would sooner praise. It’s good, just… this is music that probably plays best when you know what it corresponds to. Those who haven’t seen the show might want to think twice before buying into the hype. It’s also a bit long at an hour (forty-five should have been a maximum), but that seems to be par for the course at the moment. While it’s certainly good music for TV, and light years ahead of the type of filler that’s written for most of the medium (I reflect with horror on the synthetic brass moanings of many a modern Star Trek episode!), I’ve heard better both in TV movies (most of Trevor Jones and Christopher Gordon’s recent work) and even TV shows (Beal’s Carnivale).

    Michael McLennan


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