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THE ASTRONAUT FARMER
Lovely, warm score with more than a hint of Mark Isham
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The Astronaut Farmer sees Billy Bob Thornton play a retired astronaut who decides to build a rocket on his farm, encountering lots of resistance from his government along the way. It's got some great reviews and sounds like it could be a really pleasant little film, but isn't really the sort ever likely to do big business. Director Michael Polish brought his regular composer, Stuart Matthewman, on board - Matthewman is best known as being a member of the group Sade, and if this score is anything to go by, then he is a smooth operator.
There is more than a hint of Mark Isham here, in particular his very particular brand of low-key Americana as heard in films like October Sky, which may well have been the temp track (it makes a bit of sense, given the subject matter). I've no idea of Matthewman's orchestral credentials, but somewhere between he and "orchestrator, arranger, conductor and additional music composer" Rob Mathes a rich and rewarding orchestral score has emerged. For sure, it is rather slight - but so full of warmth and impressively free of the kind of grandstanding usually heard in this type of score, it is welcome and impressive indeed.
The London orchestra consists of strings, winds and a trumpet for the most part (though more brass are heard here and there), augmented by synths, and the sound palette is an endearing one. There are occasional diversions away from the cosy warmth - a dark-hued action track, "Wreck", is followed by a mournful piece of emotional music in "Pick Up Farmer" and the sorrowful, slightly desperate "Hospital", before normal service is resumed.
Amazingly, Matthewman saves the most dramatic parts of his score for the film's final sections (I say "amazingly" because I had begun to wonder whether this fundamental rule of film scoring, that great big musical moments have no effect if they are used throughout the score, had been forgotten) - the wonderful "Launch" is very effective, in particular. This is truly a winning score, bolstered by some wonderful themes, in particular the outstanding "Sad Family". Anyone who loves Mark Isham's restrained efforts for this type of film will be impressed.