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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall



B for Bland (well, mostly...)


"Distopian" is an adjective I've only ever seen used to describe bleak visions of the future in feature films.  And I've seen it used many times to describe V for Vendetta, the satirical if obvious vision of terrorism in London in the not-too-distant future.  Directed by first-timer James McTigue and scripted by Andy and Larry Wachowski, who have been mercifully quiet since their abysmal Matrix sequels, it garnered generally positive reviews.  Surprisingly, Wachowski favourite Don Davis wasn't brought on board to write the score (which is a little disappointing - his Matrix scores feature some of the most brilliant film music of recent times, but he seems to have done virtually nothing of note since then) but talented, promising newcomer Dario Marianelli was hired.

It's always dangerous for a film composer to include a famous piece of classical music alongside his score, since it's almost always the only thing that casual filmgoers remember about the music afterwards.  More dangerous still when it's a piece as iconic as Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture", which few would posit as being a great piece of music (I can never hear it without recalling a conversation on Frasier between Frasier and Niles in which one brother accuses the other with "I remember when you thought the 1812 Overture was a great piece of classical music", to which the other replies wistfully "Was I ever that young?") but which is certainly one of the most rousing and well-known works in the musical canon (if you pardon the pun!)  It doesn't appear until 60 minutes into this 63 minute album, but is almost certainly going to be the only thing anyone really remembers about it.

That's a rather unfair, if inevitable, dismissal of Marianelli's brooding score, though frankly it's not nearly as impressive as one might hope a score for a film like this might be.  Inspiration seems to have come from far and wide, with Trevor Jones's excellent music for Dark City and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being an obvious starting point, but also Davis's Matrix scores and Elliot Goldenthal's more hippy scores for things like Heat and SWAT (Goldenthal is amongst the eclectic list of musical influences named by director McTeague in the album credits).  All these influences make it sound like Marianelli just lifted from the temp-track, which is not the case by any means - the music's entirely his own - but they're obvious influences.

Aside from this vague feeling of lack of identity which runs throughout, the other thing that damages the score is the lack of a strong theme.  I'm not one of those who bemoans the lack of big themes in film music, and indeed feel that some of the best film music comes in scores which are not dominated by thematic writing, but for a film like this, a rousing but dark theme would seem an ideal inclusion.  There's quite a lot of score here, but not that much really seems to happen in it.  There are certainly some arresting moments when the strings swell up in traditional fashion, or the choir is employed, or the percussion begins to hammer home the suitably dark intentions; and indeed, the whole score is written in a manner which is entirely appropriate for the film.  Sadly, it's just not interesting enough away from it.

There are one or two exceptions, as the album rather comes to life as it nears its conclusion - the exciting opening to "Valerie" is a fine example of darkly-hued action music; and later in the same track, a lovely piano theme emerges to offer the score's first real warmth.  The much shorter "Evey Reborn" develops into a hugely impressive, almost Total Recall-esque musical impersonation of sunshine arising over the dark ground, revealing the horrors contained thereon, and virtually makes the album worth owning all by itself.  "England Prevails" offers some more compelling action music.  But then the biggest highlight comes in "Knives and Bullets (and Cannons too)" - about half way through - you know what it is - though the first half of the cue features the score's strongest action music.  V for Vendetta is not a bad score by any means, and shows splashes of what's made Marianelli into one of the most exciting young talents around, but with the exception of "Evey Reborn" it just doesn't deliver the knockout blows one thinks that it should.

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  1. Remember Remember (6:42)
  2. Cry Me A River Julie London (2:48)
  3. "...Governments should be afraid of their people..." (3:11)
  4. Evey's Story (2:48)
  5. Lust at the Abbey (3:17)
  6. The Red Diary (7:33)
  7. Valerie (8:48)
  8. Evey Reborn (3:50)
  9. I Found a Reason Cat Power  (2:02)
  10. England Prevails (5:44)
  11. The Dominoes Fall (5:28)
  12. Bird Gurhl Anthony and the Johnsons (3:17)
  13. Knives and Bullets (and Cannons too) (7:33)