December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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The Family Stone  
Music composed and produced by Michael Giacchino
Conducted by Peter Rotter
  Available on Varèse Sarabande (302 066 712 2)
Running Time: 44:01
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • LOST
  • Mi3
  • So rare is it in the present Hollywood environment for a new film composer to emerge with a strong, distinct musical voice of his own – and get to use that voice on films with nine-figure budgets – that we should cherish whichever ones somehow manage to break through the gloop.  Michael Giacchino has had a remarkable rise up the film music ladder from his early days of writing music for video games – he moved into television, and then his first mainstream film released in cinemas was, incredibly, The Incredibles – a Disney/Pixar animation is as close to guaranteed megabucks at the box office as you’re going to get, and for an inexperienced composer with no big hits to his name to get a chance to work on it must surely be unprecedented.  Of course, the film was a huge success, and of course the music was great.  Since then, Giacchino has scored another mega-budget movie, Mission: Impossible 3 – you may have heard of it – as well as one of the day’s most successful tv shows, Lost, and a handful of smaller projects.  A remarkable rise, indeed.

    In some ways, though, it’s easier to score The Incredibles or Mission: Impossible 3 and grace them with your own voice than it is to score some of those “lesser” projects and manage to do the same.  The Family Stone is one such project – a standard Christmas-set romantic comedy, the sort of film which offers the composer no chance to really break the mould – and it comes as no surprise to find Giacchino painting in broad strokes with pleasant piano solos, light-hearted orchestral playfulness and the kind of cuddly warmth which always finds its way into these things.  I must admit that as I type this, in 100-degree heat, on the hottest July day ever recorded in this country, it somehow feels strange to be listening to such music – Giacchino captures the Christmas spirit perfectly without resorting to the usual clichés.  For sure, there’s a large hint of Tchaikovsky (there’s even a quote from The Nutcracker) but that just adds to the appeal.

    The score opens with a rigorous waltz, ‘The Stone Family Waltz’, which is over almost as soon as it’s begun, but which certainly raises a warm smile of appreciation.  The bulk of the score is much softer, with some genuinely delightful music – the waltz turns out to be the main theme, but is usually heard in far gentler settings, such as the flute trill which introduces it in ‘Try It On’.  The more tender moments are scored well – the transparent string style so familiar from Lost is very much in evidence, proving that yes, Giacchino can put his own distinct mark even on a score like this one – ‘It’s Snowing’ is the pick of the romantic tracks, unusually drawn-out (at five minutes) and well-constructed.  Slightly distracting is the fact that the main theme is ever-so-slightly reminiscent of the theme music from the 1990s British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances – though I don’t suppose it will affect too many listeners who reside outside the British Isles. (Should such people exist, the temptation to shout, falsetto, ‘Bouquet Residence, the lady of the house speaking’ may prove irresistible to those who live within them.)

    The album presentation is nice, with the score being followed not only by an alternate main title piece (which presents a playful march instead of the rousing waltz which actually appeared in the film) and a nine-minute ‘Suite from The Family Stone’, presumably created just for the album, which rounds up all the ideas very nicely indeed.  It’s certainly a minor effort from Giacchino, but reinforces what a promising talent he is.  (Apologies to those hoping for a review of a new album from Sly and The Family Stone – sans Sly.)

    James Southall

    Rating: 3

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