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WORLD TRADE CENTRE
Mixed back of the morbid and the mawkish
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Paramount Pictures; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Surely it's too soon? I'm not a prudish person by any means, but it somehow seems to be the height of distaste for a major Hollywood studio to be attempting to make money off the 9/11 attacks just five years later, when the memories of that shocking day still seem so fresh to even those who weren't directly involved, let alone those who were. I'm sure that Oliver Stone's intentions in making the film were all very noble, but it would surely have been better to wait a respectable distance before making it - people will say that films about wars have been released over the years sometimes while the wars were still going on, but surely there's a difference between an ongoing military action and a sudden, shocking, one-off event like this. I can't imagine how galling it must be for someone who lost a wife or husband or brother or sister or son or daughter to see a massive poster advertising this film with a link to wtcmovie.com at the bottom. Utterly tasteless.
On a considerably more trivial note, as I noted when reviewing John Powell's music for United 93, it must be very difficult to score a film like this - I must admit, it's quite difficult just to review it, at least from an adequately critical perspective. It's become something of an axiom of modern film music that music for any kind of serious film set in the modern day will not have a traditional orchestral score - were Oliver Stone to make Born on the Fourth of July today, I seriously doubt he would have John Williams score it - and so he turned to Craig Armstrong, still primarily known for his instrumental pop music and song arranging for popular singers.
Ironically, despite this, the album opens with a piece as full of old-fashioned Hollywood schmaltz as anything I could imagine, "World Trade Centre Cello Theme". As someone who loves old-fashioned Hollywood schmaltz, I'd love it if it came from any other film, but somehow it seems just a bit mawkish here, a bit manipulative. Much of the body of the underscore is completely the opposite to this, with Armstrong playing it very serious indeed, building on a bed of strings with synthesised accompaniment - there are standouts, such as the excellent "The Drive Downtown" (vaguely recalling Hans Zimmer's "Journey to the Line" from The Thin Red Line) but I have to say, at other times the cheap pop beats make it sound like music from a crappy tv soap, and I can't believe some of this music made it into a film like this, or indeed onto the album.
I must immediately counterbalance that by saying that there are only really one or two such moments - the bulk of this score is respectful and dignified - but I simply can't imagine what sort of person might want to sit and listen to it for an hour. It's not like something like Schindler's List, which may not be the most cheerful listening, but it so well-composed and full of emotion it is still perfectly acceptable as a listening experience - this is music which is designed in the most part to be restrained and not step on anyone's toes. When it does go beyond that - such as in the opening and closing cues and the genuinely-affecting requiem "World Trade Centre Choral Piece" - I can understand the desire to get it out on an album - but I can't see too many people sitting and listening to this one from start to end particularly frequently.
Most of it works well, some of it works very well, a bit of it seems hideously out of place - I can't help but wonder what another previous Stone collaborator, Ennio Morricone, might have done with it - and it's a valiant attempt by its composer, in a rare serious film outing - but I don't think it's such a good album. I don't want to make any particular sort of slight against Armstrong, it's just that whoever scored this film (under the assumption that whoever it was wouldn't have been able to score it in any way much different from this), much like Powell's United 93 (which is perhaps a little more distinguished) I'm not sure an album was necessary.