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Entertaining if derivative score from newcomer Pipes
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Columbia Tristar Marketing Group, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
An animated horror film for children, Monster House has attracted reasonably positive notices. It seems that all the studios are trying to jump on the CGI animation bandwagon these days, and this is Sony's attempt. Until now, it has been my assumption that along with death and taxes, there was another certainty in life, which is that CGI animations not produced by Pixar are scored by a Media Ventures clone - but Monster House bucks the trend, with director Gil Kenan retaining the services of unknown composer Douglas Pipes, who had worked on the director's student films.
It's a bold and welcome step - Pipes said in an interview that Sony were nervous about an unproven composer working on the film, but refreshingly they didn't go down the Dreamworks route of forcing him to allow Hans Zimmer to come in and "produce" the score, but told him to demo everything and let them reserve the right to bring in someone else if they thought it necessary. Evidently they didn't, and producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg - no strangers to decent film music in their films - must have been happy as well.
Pipes has crafted a fine, somewhat old-fashioned orchestral score. There are obvious film music influences a-plenty - Danny Elfman and Jerry Goldsmith certainly, but rather curiously, James Newton Howard most of all - just listening to the bold and colourful opening title cue would convince me it was a JNH score in a blind tasting, and there's plenty more besides. It's entirely possible that Pipes is simply influenced by the same things as Howard; and there is certainly no music here which sounds familiar - it's just written in a familiar style.
The score's main asset is its spooky action music - there's a clarity of writing in "House Comes Alive!" (along with a deliciously Goldenthalian horn trill) which is rarely heard, and it makes for most exciting music. There's a sense of wicked adventure present in some tracks which makes for a great atmosphere - "The Plan / Dummy Feed" is a great example, with a style which manages to become really fairly expansive while remaining dark and taut - very effective. Some of the material is embellished with brief bursts from a theremin, making that "spooky" adjective all the more fitting. Later, the five-minute "The Battle" is the score's standout piece, effortlessly combining chills with a sense of fun for some film music very much composed in its classical style. It really is an exciting and enjoyable piece which would grace any family film like this.
It's not all plain-sailing, though - there's some great music here, but there are also a lot of very short tracks which are over far too quickly to have left an impression, leading to a very bitty feeling. The album is 49 minutes long - 34 of these minutes are spread between tracks 3, 12, 14, 16, 19 and 20, meaning that the remaining 18 tracks only feature 16 minutes of music. I know that this is one of the standard pitfalls of music for animations, but I imagine the album would have played out far more strongly if some judicious trimming had taken place. There's a core of great stuff here, and Pipes is clearly an exciting prospect - Monster House is a portentous debut score, and it will be most interesting to find out where he goes next. As I said, it is not without its flaws, but I still must recommend the album to fans of those composers I named before, and also to anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned orchestral adventure music.