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Amusing pastiche of modern action scores
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Lakeshore Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
I'm probably the sort of person who should get irritated by Ben Stiller, but I don't - he's a very amusing comic actor. His latest performance, Tropic Thunder, also sees him directing - the film is a parody of Hollywood filmmaking, as a group of actors goes off into the jungle thinking they're making a Vietnam film but end up being mistaken for real troops by local drug lords. Stiller's choice of composer is Theodore Shapiro, who scored one of his biggest hits (as an actor), Dodgeball. Shapiro first attracted attention when he scored David Mamet's wonderful State and Main and Heist, but since then has worked almost exclusively in comedy - and ironically this comedy score is the one that proves his talents could be far more widely used.
This is because, while the music is largely a pastiche of modern action scores, it's actually better than a lot of them! The ethnic wailing and percussion in the opening track (combined with heroic brass theme) is obviously a deliberately over-the-top piece, and amusingly earnest, but is more impressive than when the style has been employed recently in a more serious way by composers like Brian Tyler. The second half of the piece is a Rabin-style anthem, the kind that would accompany slow-mo shots of little children being rescued from burning buildings in a Jerry Bruckheimer film, and again is more impressive than the real thing.
The score continues in this vein pretty much throughout, and such is the nature of modern film music, you would never actually know that it's deliberately over-the-top rather than simply a "real" action score. As well as people like Tyler and Rabin (and a few little nods to Goldsmith's Rambo music), John Powell's Bourne scores also form a key part of the inspiration; and Shapiro pulls all of these off with gusto. It's certainly the case that, owing to the nature of the score, it's hard to detect any semblence of Shapiro himself in here, but perhaps on a "straight" film of this nature that wouldn't be the case.
This is all hugely-enjoyable, completely-undemanding music which makes for a great album, on Lakeshore Records (who have also released a separate song album from the movie). While I usually love listening to more contemplative music, occasionally some relief is needed, and this is arguably the best action score of the year so far. The final track, amusingly-titled "Cue Bill Conti", is the kind of sweeping piece which usually ends Oscar-bait movies, and while clearly this isn't going to win awards, it's a recommended release if you fancy a score which is just pure fun.