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Papillon
  • Composed by David Buckley
  • BMG / 42m

Franklin Schaffner’s 1973 film of Papillon is a strange but entertaining one, featuring enjoyable performances by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The accuracy of Henri Charrière’s memoir on which it is based has always been challenged – and Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay took further liberties. Rather oddly, this new version – directed by Michael Noer and starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek – isn’t an attempt to stick closer to the book, but seems more like a remake of the film.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original is one of his best – the bittersweet main theme is outrageously beautiful, it’s got a gorgeous romantic sequence (“Gift from the Sea”, of course) and some killer action music – so David Buckley had a lot to live up to for the remake.  Inevitably, it doesn’t sound remotely like Goldsmith’s – the main theme which opens the album is a fairly pleasant if unmemorable piece highlighted by haunted choir.  Some of what follows is certainly interesting, but “fairly pleasant” it is not.

The second cue, “Tabac d’Espagne”, features a lot of processed sounds, abstract synths and a female vocalist speaking numbers in French. One certainly couldn’t accuse Buckley of doing something predictable, but it’s rather an acquired taste.  The composer alternates that sort of thing with traditionally beautiful choral music – the third cue, the outstanding “Céphale”, is really quite ravishing and undoubtedly the score’s best cue.  I have to say that even though some of it is very challenging, the score is never less than interesting, and when Buckley throws in these oases of beauty they really pack quite a punch: the strained strings in “Myrtil” are sublime.  I can’t see me wanting to return to it that often but kudos to the composer for writing something genuinely different and unexpected, quite a rarity these days.  Buckley’s Papillon is a very carefully-crafted piece of work where both terror and beauty are presented with starkness.

Rating: ***

See also:
Papillon Jerry Goldsmith

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