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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS
Beautiful, powerful score from Horner packs a powerful emotional punch
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Miramax; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
John Boyne's wonderful novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is aimed at teenage readers but this rather-older reader was fully engaged. It's about the Holocaust, told through the eyes of a young boy whose father is sent to be the warden of Auschwitz and takes his family with him. Poignant and moving - though slightly implausible at times - it has now been made into a film, directed by Mark Herman. With much of the book's power coming from the reader discovering things at the same time as Bruno, the little boy whose tale it is, and from him (and consequently the reader) being unable to deduce things from what he sees - things that the viewer of a film would instantly be able to deduce, so it will be interesting to see if the filmmakers have managed to pull it off, particularly the ending, which in the book is absolutely devestating.
James Horner would not be an obvious choice to score a film like this, but has delivered what is the year's most impressive score album so far. Several reviews of the film I have seen have been critical of his music (The Times described "the lachrymose score from the dreaded James Horner") but purely from listening to the CD, it is hard to see how that description could apply. The elegant, classical opening theme ("Boys Playing Airplanes") is the most beautiful I've heard in a film score in a very long time - it sounds suspiciously like it might be something Horner has borrowed from someone else, but given that nobody has accused him of stealing it from anywhere (apart from his own score for Swing Kids!) I guess it can't be. Horner himself plays the piano solo, and as the theme develops and the strings appear it is certainly not hard to conjure up the mood of childhood innocence at the heart of the story. What a piece of music it is - whenever it appears in the score, it impresses.
"Exploring the Forest" presents another piano-based theme, recalling the light, airy feel of certain passages of The New World (Horner's last exceptional album) before reprising music which is extremely similar to A Beautiful Mind (and others). Your ability to move beyond the recollection of previous works will dictate your ability to admire this score as much as I do - while sometimes it's hard to forgive composers for it, when the end product is as startlingly good as this, I can move on and leave it alone.
Horner subtly uses different textures to create different moods, even when maintaining the same thematic material - the use of synths at the start of "The Train Ride to a New Home" creates an unsettling feel before the main theme is reprised and the mood lightens considerably once more. There's a distinct feeling of tragedy running through "The Wind Gently Blows Through the Garden" (Horner strikes again with these track titles!) and again, this is affecting music. A solo female vocalist is used in "An Odd Discovery Beyond the Trees" - again recalling A Beautiful Mind - and the unusual way this is combined with synths certainly makes for a captivating listening experience. "Black Smoke" uses the piano in a very different way, adding dissonant textures to the otherwise-sweet music to once again produce a very impressive atmosphere.
Horner saves his biggest emotional punches for the final two cues. "Strange New Clothes", almost ten minutes long, takes the listener on a somewhat draining journey. It's mostly fairly subtle, but very affecting, building to an extremely powerful climax. "Remembrance, Remembrance" is the lengthiest, most impressive presentation of the main theme. Unfortunately this wonderful album has only been made available as a digital download - while such a method seems entirely sensible if releasing something more obscure, for music by James Horner for an Oscar-bait movie it seems absurd. Hopefully a proper CD will follow at some point, because this is music which deserves to be heard. It's one of Horner's most beautiful and poignant scores, a very impressive achievement.