Importance of Being a Soundtrack

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There are a lot of elements that can ruin a movie (a cliché plot twist, painful CGI, Hayden Christensen), but the one that strikes me as the most tragic is the crummy soundtrack.

The soundtrack infiltrates a film so thoroughly that remarkable scores become iconic in their own right, and inextricably associated with the film.  “Indiana Jones,” “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars.”  We make ringtones and Guitar Hero tracks and let loose great big recognition laughs whenever a tune is used in a parody video.

It isn’t just sweeping instrumental scores which do the trick, either.  “Purple Rain” would have been overwhelmed by its cheesy if not for the musical genius of Prince.  Where’s “The Red Violin” without the red violin?  Where’s “This is Spinal Tap” without Sex Farm or Big Bottoms?  In the mediocre land of Meh, that’s where.

And then there are the movies that do everything else right, that are on the verge of greatness—and somebody has to go and make a TERRIBLE decision and BLOWS IT in the soundtrack department.  I don’t mean forgettable dramatic swells, or lazy abuse of Also sprach Zarathustra.  I mean somebody took a nap during post-production (or worse, thought they were being so damn brilliant) and they fell horrifyingly flat.

I’m talking Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man” bad, a film I WANTED to like, I really did, but which continued to defeat me with its jarring, jangly, seriously-made-up-as-he-went-along Neil Young self-indulgent awfulness.  I GET what you guys were trying to do, sort of, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

This brings me to my biggest disappointment to date, and the rant I’d really like to share today: “Mirrormask.”  Neil Gaiman plus the Jim Henson company?  How could it fail?  Oh, that’s right, the soundtrack!  If the rest of the film had sucked, it wouldn’t be so bad, I could just chalk it up to being a bad movie.  But upon viewing the film I noted several things.  The creatures: so imaginative.  The cat-face things: so creepy.  The plot: rising above it’s Gaiman-y cliches (yes, a child discontent with her regular life discovers she is something special in a fantasy world parallel to our own).  At first I was nervous about the main plot device, imagining some serious teen angst, but Stephanie Leonidas gave me a perfectly likeable and sympathetic main character.  Good characters, good plot, beautiful sets and imaginitive special effects!

And then… that DAMN CARIVAL MUSIC!  I GET it.  I really do, so much more than with “Dead Man.”  Helena was trying to escape her weird carnie lifestyle and she wound up in a fantasy world somewhat mirroring that reality.  But I could not get past the ridiculous, cringe-inducing WACKY-WOO tunes because they made it impossible to take any scene seriously.  I could even live with the weird make-over dolls’ rendition of “Close to You,” but not the damned carnival jazz monster.  It was so upsetting that it caused me to coin the phrase “muffler movie.”  A beautiful cinematic work only enjoyable with the sound turned off.

Phew.  You know, it felt good to get that out of my system.

So naturally, the question I pose to you, my fine readeship, is this:  do you have any muffler movies of your own?

Author: Sam Wood-Mills

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