The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button/Desplat

November 16, 2008

benjamin-button1“I was born under unusual circumstances,” is the tag line to this most unusual story. Based on the story from F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who lives his life in reverse, aging from an 80-year-old man to a child. Directed by David ‘Zodiac’ Fincher with screenplay by Oscar winner Erik ‘Forrest Gump’ Roth, the film stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton. With a 150 million dollar budget, Paramount is betting that Brad Pitt and crew will be a huge success as well as receiving some coveted Oscar nominations. The film is set for release on Christmas Day.

One of the Oscar nods likely will go to Desplat who in recent times has had a long string of successes ranging from Lust, Caution to The Queen to Girl With A Pearl Earring. Having already won a Golden Globe for Painted Veil and an Oscar nomination for The Queen, the trophy is getting really close for this outstanding composer. In fact he has been involved in over 50 films since 2000, giving him little if any time off! He has completed scores for The Tree Of Life, Largo Winch, and Cheri, all soon to be released pictures.

The soundtrack is divided into (2) CD’s with the first being original material from Desplat and the second consisting of source material of the time. Benjamin’s Theme, the only one that is constantly repeated, first appears in “Postcards” with Alexandre’s familiar trademark of the harp, which leads us immediately into the main theme, introduced to us with the strings with backing from the piano, cimbalon, and a calling from the mournful muted trumpets at the end of the cue. This theme has had enough impact on this reviewer that I’ve been humming it ever since I first heard it. The theme, according to Desplat, is among others in the score that “could be played both forwards and backwards, [a musical palindrome] and chords could be switched.” The love theme, which appears in “A New Life” with the romantic viola, lush strings and muted trumpet, is as moving as the scenes it underscores in the film. “Love in Murmansk” is a wonderful waltz like melody with harmony from the muted trumpet and cimbalon. You’ll sigh and think of your significant other as the romantic bars unfold. If there is anything that even resembles an action/noisy track it is “Submarine Attack” with unrelenting percussion although as far as other composers are concerned this could be considered rather passive! Themes come and go in this score, as one must remember that a lifetime unfolds before your eyes. While the love part of the film makes up a great deal of time there are other periods such as World War I, college days, toddler times etc. Nothing is even remotely close to being over the top except for the one track “Submarine Attack” which I described earlier. The brass ensemble is pretty much the muted trumpet. The reed work is a saxophone and alto flute. The abundance of the instrumentation is from the strings, harp, and keyboard. I was immediately reminded of The Queen sound coming through loud and clear in an anxious movement track such “Mr. Button.” Listening to this for the first time it won’t be terribly difficult to hear that Desplat sound. The tracks (23) over a 60-minute period are long enough to feel a sense of some development, although I could easily see that a nice orchestral suite could be developed at some point.

The second CD consists of (10) extremely short sound snippets, 15 seconds average, and a series of period source material depicting the time frame. Featured are such artists as Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Bix Biederbecke, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The transfer of the material from analog to digital is quite good! Don’t expect to hear that typical scratchy, hissy material as we sometimes do. The fact that the sound bites break-up a bit of the flow on the source CD is not really an issue as many of these recordings are from different eras of time with different styles. Since the overall cost of the soundtrack is little more than a normal CD, the 2nd CD is just an extra topping anyway.

Overall the CD is on the quiet side, never over the top and always taking a back seat to the film itself. Some might find it too tranquil and would easily fall asleep if they were listening while relaxing. Due to the fact that Desplat is my favorite modern day composer I admit to being somewhat prejudice about this score and give it my highest recommendation. While not available until December 23rd this is not a limited edition item from Concord so the words low quantity alert won’t be seen in regards to this release. See the movie and purchase the soundtrack. You won’t be disappointed.

Track Listing CD (1)
1…Postcards (2:51)
2…Mr. Gateau (3:02)
3…Meeting Daisy (1:22)
4…A New Life (3:39)
5…Love in Murmansk (3:53)
6…Meeting Again (2:41)
7…Mr. Button (2:05)
8…”Little Man” Oti (2:02)
9…Alone At Night (2:33)
10.It Was Nice to Have Met You (1:43)
11.Children’s Games (4:10)
12.Submarine Attack (2:40)
13.The Hummingbird (2:35)
14.Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain (3:33)
15.Daisy’s Ballet Career (2:03)
16.The Accident (2:38)
17.Stay Out of My Life (1:44)
18.Nothing Lasts (2:54)
19.Some Things You Never Forget (4:36)
20.Growing Younger (2:14)
21.Dying Away (2:58)
22.Love Returns (1:44)
23.Benjamin and Daisy (2:32)
Total Time is 60:08

Track Listing CD (2)
1…”My name is Benjamin” (: 21)
2…We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City-Doc Paulin’s Marching Band (2:56)
3…”Some Days I feel different” (: 18)
4…Ostrich Walk-Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke (3:06)
5…”How old are you?” (: 12)
6…That’s How Rhythm Was Born-The Boswell Sisters (2:53)
7…”When was the last time you had a woman.” (: 13)
8…Freight Train Blues-Billie & DeDe Pierce (5:35)
9…Basin Street Blues-Preservation Hall Jazz Band (7:34)
10.”Thanksgiving, 1930.” (:08)
11.If I Could Be With You-Louis Armstrong (3:35)
12.”What’s your secret?” (: 25)
13.Chanson Sur Staline-Choeur de la Cathedrale de la Rue Daru, Paris XVII (3:06)
14.”A date which will live in infamy…” (: 17)
15.Arabeske for Piano in C Major Op. 18 (3:18)
16.”Coming home.” (: 12)
17.Out of Nowhere-Sidney Bechet (3:00)
18.Dear Old Southland-Louis Armstrong (3:17)
19.”Defined by opportunities.” (:05)
20.Skokiaan-Perez Prado & His Orchestra (2:38)
21.”Things were becoming different for me.” (: 17)
22.My Prayer-The Platters (2:46)
23.Bethena (A Concert Waltz)-Randy Kerber (5:43)
Total Time is 52:00

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