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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  • Composed by Michael Giacchino
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2011 / 76:23

The Mission: Impossible franchise got off to a great start at the cinema with Brian de Palma’s wonderfully stylish, tremendously enjoyable opening film in the series.  Then, things went downhill fast.  John Woo’s entry did have style, but didn’t have substance, and was deservedly derided.  J.J. Abrams managed to make the third film have neither style nor substance (the whole thing seemed like a big ego-trip for its star), though for whatever reason his film (which I thought was far worse even than the second) didn’t get particularly derided at all.  Now, Brad Bird has swapped Mr Incredible for Tom Cruise to make his live-action début and at last – in the shape of Ghost Protocol – there’s been another decent contribution to the series.

In some ways, it’s a bit like Mission: Impossible – The Roger Moore Years, and this extends to Michael Giacchino’s music.  Giacchino’s score was about the only good thing about the previous film, but he takes a different approach for some sections here.  There are plenty of all-out-action passages which recall his earlier work – and these are terrific – but also a host of pantomime-like sequences where the composer deliberately over-eggs the pudding in adding local flavour to reflect the film’s globetrotting nature.  This begins with the Prokofiev-lite Russian choral theme in “Kremlin with Anticipation”, which sums up the score as a whole pretty well, because as well as that, he works his Russian theme into a great action motif, adds some Slavic flavour to Lalo Schifrin’s famous “The Plot” music and closes with a burst of that composer’s classic main theme for the series, which must go down as one of the finest ever written for film or television.

Michael Giacchino

Immediately thereafter comes “From Russia With Shove” (yes, the track titles are as punny as ever) which for the most part plays the action straight, save for a brief reprise of the choral music.  In these sections, all seems rosy – and the score is always good when Giacchino is indeed playing things straight – in particular the action music, which at its best is at the level found in the composer’s previous score in the series, which was one of his big-screen breakthrough efforts.  He gets a tremendous amount of mileage out of the two Schifrin themes, throwing them through countless variations, some subtle, some clever, some a bit OTT.  (The huge amount of percussion which is sometimes left, right and centre in the mix is also a nice little nod to Schifrin – and more on that mix later.)

The trouble is, after trundling along nicely (if generally unspectacularly) enough for three quarters of an hour or so, two things happen.  First, there’s a lengthy sequence of really not very interesting suspense music which would have been better off left off the album – and then the real pantomime begins when the score goes all Bollywood.  It all sounds a bit too self-satisfied and smug to me and, while I’m all in favour of humour in film music, it just seems to take the silliness a bit too far.  Still, it’s easy enough to just skip through that section, I guess.

What is harder to do anything about is the album’s real drawback, which is its recording.  I can’t think of a worse-recorded score in the modern age, in fact.  It’s so muddy, so lifeless – it’s a bit like it was recorded on a mobile phone’s microphone while said phone was still in someone’s jacket pocket.  It’s a solid enough score – though far from one of the composer’s finest – but the recording just drags all the life out of it.  That’s a pity.  Still, the best music here is strong enough to make it an easy recommendation to Giacchino fans – it’s not on the level of its predecessor, but apart from the silly sections there’s plenty to enjoy.  ***

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  1. Shaun (Reply) on Saturday 4 February, 2012 at 21:36

    I think Giacchino’s scores are really poorly recorded for the most part. So heavy on the treble, almost zero bass.