December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Vet Hard (Too fat, too furious)  
Music composed and produced by Alex Heffes
Performed by the Metropole Orchestra of Amsterdam
Conducted by Jan Stulen
Orchestrated by Julian Kershaw
  Available on MovieScore Media (MMS-06006)
Running Time: 37:03
Available from iTunes

With a title and artwork this absurd, I certainly didn’t expect to listen to something like this. To my pleasant surprise, the score was nothing like its title and cover’s premise. The highly entertaining and vivid orchestral score for Vet Hard comes from the relatively unknown British film composer Alex Heffes, with previous credits including the acclaimed documentaries Touching the Void and One Day in September as well as the romantic drama Dear Frankie, comedy The Parole Officer and the thriller Trauma. The Tim Oliehoek film Vet Hard is based on the 2002 Danish comedy Old Men in New Cars, and was one of the most successful films of the Dutch box office in 2005. The movie basically tells the story of Bennie, a snack bar owner, who has been behind bars for five years after a failed attempt to rob a jeweler. Hijinks ensue, with a nutcase womanizer, a suicidal Russian, illegal organ trading, abortive bank robberies, hitherto unknown offspring among the misadventures of the protagonist.

Heffes based his whole score on the song ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ (written by Hans Bouwens). The mischievous six-note melody serves as the main ingredient for almost every cue. It’s ingenious composition, as the familiar hook ties together diverse secondary motifs and referenced musical styles. Both ‘Opening’ and ‘Ram Raid’ present the main theme. ‘Mast in Hospital’ features mandolin leading bassoon, clarinet, oboe and full orchestra into a slow, melodic Russianic piece (reminiscent of Antonio Pinto’s ‘Odessa Medley’ from Lord of War). There’s also pastiche, with ‘Vet Hard Valkyrie’ parodying Richard Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’.

‘Prison Break-out’ is a more typical example of the score - heavy and brilliantly constructed action scoring, often featuring a modern techno beat. Right off the start, we get the second basic element of the score, a rhythmic hi-hat pattern with crashing pianos which serves as the basis on which everything is further laid upon. Sneaky acoustic bass and full drums set off with percussion and a cool vibrant sound complete with xylophones, muted brass and harmonica. (Some cues include sound effects, fronted by weird laughing sounds.) ‘The bank job’, ‘Vuc in action’ and ‘The airport’ continue in the brilliant action vein, sometimes resembling the magnificent M:I:III  score by Michael Giacchino, while ‘Car Chase’ opens with choir whistling some fun and fast version of the main theme in a Chicken Run-like fashion with full drums and percussion, before it all builds into a rousing action cue as well.

In contrast, there is also some softer material. ‘Betsy’ subtly begins with soft and sentimental piano, flute and the orchestra. Sadly, I was quickly let down by the short duration of the piece, which left me wishing for more of this kind of scoring throughout. Towards the end of the album, we’re let down once again with ‘Mast’s last words’ which opens like the previously mentioned piece only to quickly and abruptly turn into the characteristic hi-hat and crashing piano stuff. However, the listener is thoroughly rewarded in the ‘Finale’ with its heroic and grand sound, easily the best piece of the whole score.

Vet Hard is at first a difficult listen, due to its complex nature, intricate arrangements and dense harmony. All this combined with some rough sound design which makes some orchestral parts (especially the brass section) sound artificial might initially trouble some but after a series of repeated listens, you can’t help but to feel intrigued and rewarded by the whole. Still, I'd really love to hear more of the melodic side of the composer and hopefully we’ll hear more of this in his future assignments.

Demetris Christodoulides

3.5

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