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Standard Remote Control action score marred by absurdly cheap recording
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2009 Ascendant Pictures, LLC; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
An alien crash-lands on Earth in the 12th century and gets hunted by the vikings is the intriguing premise for the surprisingly well-received Outlander, starring Jim Caviezel. (I don't suppose Caviezel imagined his career going down the path it has since all the acclaim he received for The Passion of the Christ - always difficult to tell how these things will pan out.) It's the first major film from director Howard McCain and for the music he chose Geoff Zanelli, who has written additional music for various Hans Zimmer factory-produced products for over a decade, recently graduating to "above the line" credit, most notably probably on the tv miniseries Into the West and the film adaptation of the video game Hitman.
If I say that Outlander sounds exactly like you'd expect a Remote Control-produced score for a film about vikings and an alien then that's probably all you need to know in order to decide whether you'll like it or not. Of course, a Remote Control-produced score for a film about vikings and an alien sounds pretty much entirely the same as a Remote Control-produced score for a film about the little-known colony of ants which nested in Abraham Lincoln's second-favourite pair of underpants, and indeed pretty much entirely the same as a Remote Control-produced score for a film about a fighter pilot who slowly, tragically wastes away in a hospital bed after a freak yachting accident. The "one size fits all" approach is not new, but I don't like to waste an opportunity to say how horrible that is.
If you can somehow forget what this music's meant to accompany then it is certainly not completely unenjoyable. The tunes aren't that memorable (apart from the action motif lifted from Pirates of the Caribbean - and so quite possibly composed by Zanelli in the first place) but in certain moments, things come along quite nicely, particularly in the action music which is quite entertaining. The big problem is how cheap it all sounds. Allegedly, the music is performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra - but either it is the world's smallest symphony orchestra; or the orchestration is appalling; or there was a bizarre desire to drown out any real instruments by overlaying synths playing exactly the same melody in total harmony. Of course, it's the latter (possibly with a liberal dollop of the middle point) - not the first score to sound this way, and as with all the others I can't begin to imagine why anyone would think it a good idea. What's the point in spending what is presumably not an inconsiderable sum to hire a full symphony orchestra if you're going to drown out every single moment of their performance with ridiculously cheap-sounding synths?
I've nothing against electronic film music - it certainly fills a purpose, and sometimes is necessary due to budgetary restrictions - but when it's used in this way, I certainly have something against it. The end result sounds so incredibly cheap, it is very difficult to imagine how anyone could really take it seriously. As a high-school music project, perhaps a kind-hearted music teacher would give the student a pat on the back while mentally wondering how his student had managed to get hold of synthesisers which would have sounded dated in 1983; as a score for a Hollywood film, it's pretty unforgiveable. The music isn't great, but it's not hard to imagine it making a decent-enough album if 25-30 minutes had been shaved off and the balance in the sound mix between orchestra and electronics was something other than 0:100 - but as it stands, it's pretty hard to recommend.