December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Music composed by Eric Serra
Symphonic parts Performed by The London Session Orchestra
All other parts performed by Eric Serra on the “x-plorer starship”
Produced/Orchestrated/Conducted by Eric Serra / Geoffrey Alexander / Eric Serra
  Available on EuropaCorp Music Publishing (RMFF06 - 8345118342)
Running Time: 54:42
Amazon UK   Amazon US

Note : The official cd release also contains a bonus video “The making of Bandidas score with Eric Serra” running on A 19:16 duration. It is in .mpg format, playable on all pc’s.

French composer Eric Serra is a particularly interesting artist. At one side he’s capable of composing some truly beautiful gems like the popular Leon or Jeanne d'Arc and on the other side we have some troubled projects like Bandidas. The Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek-fronted modern western takes place in the turn-of-the-century Mexico, where these very different women become a bank-robbing duo in an effort to combat a ruthless enforcer who terrorizes their town. Eric Serra isn’t exactly the kind of composer who gets a lot of prestigious international projects and up until I had the chance to listen to this score, it seemed odd enough to me that he didn't manage to attract the expected attention to his name with this high-profile assignment of his.

Bandidas is built around an unusual ensemble, fronted by Marriacchi trumpets and violin (mostly played in the pizzicato way), completed by the full orchestra and a Spanish-flavored classical guitar. Added to the whole are the appearances of the kora, tamburidza, acoustic, electric and double bass, bass kalimba, full drums’ set, jaw harp, balafon, ethnic flutes, wordless female vocalist, melodica, piano, synths and electronics. Sadly, this whole parade of instruments is the only impressive element about the score which is otherwise a big mess of clashing musical styles and contrastive moods. ‘The scientific method’ sets the bar too high with a Thomas Newman-like 8-note theme performed in pizzicato by the violins section and accompanied by bass, rhythmic percussive bells, electric guitar on the characteristic overdrive effect used in many westerns, along with the oboe. The piece is laid out onto a major scale and enriched with eastern influences. It sets a nice tone right at the beginning, further developed and advanced in the brilliant ‘Las Bandidas’ and its various renditions (especially ‘Las Bandidas [reprise]’ which closes the album). These pieces are colorful and particularly dense, interweaving Spanish musical elements with classical orchestral arrangements (notably the violin pizzicato), guitar with the full orchestra and all held by full drums’ set on a notably loud and rhythmic playing which results in a highly interesting overall sound.

We don’t get introduced to the main theme all the way to the fifth cue entitled ‘You killed my father’. That’s the first time we also hear the trademarked Eric Serra  string lines, essentially melodic in core with a very warm sound. They give way to some disturbingly eerie electronics before the beautiful, elegant and eastern-influenced nine-note main theme. This theme is indeed impressive but sadly appears only a few times, in the fully-orchestral ‘Los Peones en la Iglesia’ accompanied by subtle world-less female vocals and Spanish guitar, and also in ‘El Pueblo en la caverna’, ‘El Torrente’ and ‘Leyenda y muerte’.

Most of the score however, is dominated by some wildly festive Spanish fanfares with castanets, guitar and percussion, almost always fronted by loud marriacchi trumpets and mostly in a fast 6/8 metre. After those, come several abrupt and abrasive cues full of dark electronics and sfx, messing up the album’s listening consistency. Like this wasn’t enough, musical direction often changes to some dark and ominous action cues like ‘Los Mercenarios’, a highly intense and orchestral action piece in a heavy waltz rhythm. (It has some good elements but also carries a sound quality that makes you think it’s part of some Hans Zimmer demos for the famous ‘the battle’ waltz in Gladiator.) The constant changes in style result in a fractured listening experience. ‘Prelio’ and ‘Bandidas Finalio’ follow in the same trend while ‘Novios en el banco’ desperately tries to save the day with its deeply rhythmic and awe-inspiring orchestral percussion. Completing the confusion are ‘Adious’, a cheerful country music dance and ‘Marijo en el saloon’, faux silent-movie saloon music performed on the genre icon - honky tonk piano.

Would that this score had featured some more frequent and developed appearances of the magnificent main theme, or more melodic moments like the elegant string and guitar lines heard occasionally (‘Viva Mejico’ and ‘Cirios’). More importantly, if the whole work was built on large suites instead of the outrageously short duration of its 33 (!) tracks, it could be saved from the ruined listening experience it ultimately is. In its fractured form, the constant change of musical styles and moods doesn’t help either, ending up in a score which mostly sounds like a selection of various independent cues that have little to do with one another. I hope that the future assignments of Eric Serra, a really talented composer, don’t prove to be the mess Bandidas is.

Demetris Christodoulides

Rating: 2

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