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LLLCD 1036

Artwork copyright (c) 1999 Shadowcatcher Entertainment and Mark Wagner; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Haunting drama score sees a composer playing against type


It doesn't seem that long ago that there were enormously popular scores for enormously popular films by enormously popular composers which had never been released in any form; it really hasn't been such a long period of time between then and now, where we are positively inundated with releases of older scores - and certainly not just ones which fall into those criteria.  I applaud the likes of Film Score Monthly for releasing scores by composers with no following for films virtually nobody has seen - it's a brave move, but some good music has been released as a result.  Now, La-La Land have released Richard Gibbs's 1999 score for The Book of Stars, a film which was never even released; and he's not a composer with much of a following, I would suggest.  But it is sometimes in releases like this that little gems can be found, and this is one of them.

The film, telling the story of two orphaned sisters and their rather magical tale, has attracted some acclaim from those who have seen it; and the director certainly passes much acclaim on to the music in his liner notes for this album, calling it one of the best scores ever written.  It certainly isn't that, but it is most impressive and a welcome diversion from much of the brainless music which sadly inhabits many independent films (mostly due to lack of budget).  Gibbs managed to get round the budgetary issues here and record with an orchestra in Seattle, also featuring extended passages for solo Indian violin.  It's quite a mesmerising effect: it's not something which hasn't been heard in other scores, but rarely for films like this, and Gibbs brings a real beauty to the music.

The composer combines those passages with other, slightly more traditional orchestral ones, sometimes to sublime effect; "Storm Warnings", featuring a delicate piano solo, is particularly beautiful.  It is not all that way, and in "Overdose / Grim Reaper / The Hospital" (not the most joy-filled set of track titles!) he introduces dark, edgy suspense.  It's desperate music, remaining steadfastly low-key but having a mesmerising effect.  Indeed, "mesmerising" is a word which amply describes the score as a whole.  Listening to individual cues doesn't provide tracks which would necessarily stand out and grab the attention, but the score as a whole works a treat.  The best film scores build musically from start to end, the composer taking the listener on a musical journey, and that's what Gibbs does here.  At an hour, the album runs a little too long (the effect of the best music would be even greater if three or four tracks had been pruned, especially from the middle section which drags a bit) but it's always better to have too much than too little.

It seems a real shame that Gibbs is rather typecast into scoring comedies (people aren't going to remember Big Momma's House or Barbershop 2: Back in Business for their original scores - mind you, they probably won't remember them for anything else either) and that his most recent album release, Battlestar Galactica, was virtually unlistenable.  The Book of Stars is a sensitive, powerful score for a serious drama and one hopes that Gibbs gets further opportunities to score films like this one.  True, it breaks no boundaries, but it's still a fairly original approach and makes for a fine album.  I suspect that it may be something of an acquired taste, but those who like slightly alternative ways of scoring films are likely to be impressed.

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  1. Main Title (2:59)
  2. The Meeting / Refuge (2:23)
  3. The Prisoner's First Letter / Mary's Dream (3:18)
  4. Painted Lady / Mary's World / The Fight (3:32)
  5. New Friend (1:37)
  6. Storm Warnings (4:35)
  7. Tellmeaboutthebeach / Ticklefight / Solar Plunge (4:04)
  8. Picnic (2:40)
  9. Overdose / Grim Reaper / The Hospital (4:49)
  10. Torn Letter (4:55)
  11. Happy Birthday (1:56)
  12. Samuel's Story (2:50)
  13. The Book is Finished / Afterlife / The Beach (5:45)
  14. Transcendence (3:41)
  15. End Credits (4:58)
  16. End Credits (alternate) (5:39)