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Solid action score doesn't quite hit the heights of his previous work, but still entertains
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
It's a bit surprising that for their first directorial outing since the unbearable Matrix sequels, the Wachowski Brothers have gone for a straightforward kids' film, a live-action adaptation of an old Japanese animated series. Even more surprising is that some reviews suggest it actually isn't awful; a portion of them go as far as to say it's quite good. I've never heard of the cartoon, and since I'm not five years old I don't suppose I will see the film, so I will have to forego my traditional, remarkably-insightful sentence or two describing the film.
Don Davis's music wasn't just the only truly good thing about the Matrix sequels, it was the only part of them that wasn't shamefully bad, so the third surprise worth noting in this review is that Davis hasn't come back to work with the siblings again. Perhaps he was too busy writing his opera (which has taken him away from film music for a very long time, so I hope it's worth the wait) or perhaps they fancied a change, but stepping into his shoes is the very capable figure of Michael Giacchino, who seems to have assumed the enviable position of working on one box office success after another.
If truth be told, this is not one of his finer scores - the technical craft we have come to know and love is here again, but there's something strangely hollow about it all, and worse still the score grinds to a halt whenever the A-section of the absurd main theme from the cartoon is heard. Jazzy action music dominates, and it is slick and professional, always fast-paced, at times furiously exciting - it could come straight out of Ratatouille in fact, but never reaches those heights, never establishes the personal connection that score does.
So, to the fourth surprise - the great strength of Giacchino's career so far has been his action music, but what makes Speed Racer really worth hearing is the surprisingly heartfelt sections which interject very occasionally. Some of them interpolate that dreaded main theme (though not the main section of it) but even that can't detract from the quality of "World's Best Autopia", "Racing's In Our Blood", "Reboot" and "Let Us Drink Milk".
There's nothing wrong with the action music (at times it is terrific - much of "Casa Cristo" being a wonderful highlight) it just doesn't seem to offer enough which would make someone listen to this ahead of Ratatouille or Mission: Impossible III. On the plus side, this is completely identifiably Michael Giacchino music - he has now completely left behind the shackles of being "the guy who can imitate other people" which followed him through the Williams-clone video game scores and Barry-clone The Incredibles. The only natural thing to do, therefore, is to close by comparing him with someone else - if anything, he has moved from "the next John Williams" to "the next Henry Mancini" with his last two feature scores. They don't specifically sound like Hank, but the jazz-based action music is a (very different) way of accomplishing a similar thing to what Mancini used to do; couple this with the easy-going charm of much of his melodic music, and you might see where I'm going. So Speed Racer isn't quite up to the standard of his best work, then - but still more than worth a few listens, especially compared with most of the dross in 2008's blockbusters so far, and another stepping stone on what will surely become a stellar film music career for this wonderful composer.