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Ghostbusters
  • Composed by Theodore Shapiro
  • Sony Classical / 2016 / 51m

I can’t remember the last time so many people seemed to decide they hated a film without having seen it as much as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot, which is not just guilty of being a reboot of Ghostbusters, it also features women in the leading roles.  Not hard to understand people’s horror.  As it happens, Paul Feig’s film has been met with generally positive reviews and looks set to do just fine for itself. 

Elmer Bernstein’s somewhat peculiar score for the original movie has always been a fan favourite.  I love its jaunty main theme but there’s no doubt what pop culture’s idea of the Ghostbusters theme is – and it’s nothing to do with Elmer Bernstein, his score having always been rather overshadowed by Ray Parker Jr.’s famous song.  Theodore Shapiro is perhaps as much the go-to guy for comedies today as Bernstein was at the time of the original – and he’s incorporated the song melody into his new score, combining it with some powerhouse orchestral and choral action music.  There are a couple of moments in the score in which an ondes martenot (or perhaps a synthetic approximation of one) is heard, presumably in a tip of the hat to the legendary Bernstein.

Theodore Shapiro

Theodore Shapiro

A few people seem to have been surprised by Shapiro’s muscular score, but nobody with any great familiarity with his previous work would be – while he’s most famous for comedies, his music is rarely lightweight, usually following the model whose origin is often credited (probably falsely) to Bernstein of writing serious music for comedy films.  He’s no Remote Control clone – his music for these things is usually big and orchestral, well-orchestrated and enjoyable and Ghostbusters is no exception.

My favourite parts of the score are where he brings an almost religious grandeur – “The Universe Shall Bend”, with its organ and choir, has an appropriately apocalyptic feel to it, later “The Fourth Cataclysm” is just as enormous as its title implies.  Impressive too are the spookier moments, dominated by a hypnotic descending four-note motif and some distinctive percussion.  But the score is largely dominated by action music, and it’s mostly very big, the orchestra swelling regularly, the percussion pounding – it reminds me in tone of Brian Tyler’s Marvel scores, which is no bad thing in itself, complete with a simple but effective fanfare-like main theme.

Some of it’s terrific – in the score’s first half “Distinct Human Form”, “Subway Ghost Attack”, the end of “Mannequins” – and when the familiar tune kicks in on occasion it’s really enjoyable (my favourite appearance coming in “Ghost in a Box”).  The second half is even more dominated by action – “The Power of Patty Compels You” is wonderful, the martial sound of “Balloon Parade” very enjoyable, near the start of what is essentially a single extended sequence of action that is completely relentless for nearly twenty minutes at the end of the album.  The pick of the individual tracks which make it up is “Behemoth”, an epic cue, ghastly, imposing, terrifically well-written.

Ghostbusters is a typical Theodore Shapiro score – it’s well-constructed, entertaining and tuneful.  It’s perhaps not quite as good as his very best work and it does suffer somewhat from its lack of a truly distinctive sound to set it (and more importantly the film) apart from more standard comedies – but it’s clearly going to have a broad appeal and there’s nothing in it do dislike.  It’s seems a strange thing to say given how many successful films he has scored (this will be his ninth to earn over $100m in the US, which to put in context is as many as Jerry Goldsmith, though I acknowledge the inflationary impact) but I’ve always rather hoped Shapiro would find a real breakthrough hit that allowed him to work on a broader range of films because it’s pretty clear how talented he is.  In the meantime, Ghostbusters is very satisfying, great fun.

Rating: ***1/2

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  1. Valentin Berger (Reply) on Saturday 23 July, 2016 at 14:31

    Exactly my thoughts, thanks for the great review, James! Personally, I wasn’t suprised by the score, I was quite interested in seeing what Shapiro would do with such an oppurtunity. It’s auf fun score with some truly great highlights, but it is not something that could grab my interest for a longer time; overall, it’s pretty solid but nothing special. Same rating here. 😉