Home > Reviews > MOONRISE KINGDOM – Alexandre Desplat

MOONRISE KINGDOM – Alexandre Desplat

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It is becoming apparent to me that I just don’t get Wes Anderson. The writer-director of a series of quirky comedies with highly specific visual and narrative aesthetics, Anderson’s films – which have included Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox – tend to polarize cinema audiences, who either connect with his wholly unique hipster sensibilities, or find them impenetrable and slightly pretentious. Unfortunately; I fall into the latter camp. His latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, is a similarly oddball comedy-drama about two teenagers falling in love on a New England island in the 1960s: nerdy orphan Sam (Jared Gilman), who is camping there with his scout troupe, and rebellious Suzy (Kara Hayward), who lives on the island with her parents. Sam and Suzy, having met briefly during the previous summer, conspire to run away together, sending the island’s adults into a lather as they frantically comb the island for the missing children.

The film has an all-star ensemble supporting cast, including Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s attorney parents, Edward Norton as a well-meaning but inept scout master, Tilda Swinton as a menacing social services agent, and Bruce Willis as the island’s lonely police captain. The film supposedly has lots of deep things to say about the nature of teen romances, adult neglect of their children, and even tries to draw parallels with the story of Noah’s Ark, but I just didn’t connect with it at all. The humor is abstract, the performances are intentionally unemotional, and the whole thing just struck me as being so over-stylized that, unless you’ve already taken to Anderson’s weirdness via previous movies, it just doesn’t allow the audience in.

Having worked with Mark Mothersbaugh on most of his early movies, Anderson seems to be developing a new relationship with composer Alexandre Desplat, who received an Oscar nomination for his score for Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009. However, despite me being an enormous admirer of Desplat’s work in general, his score for Moonrise Kingdom left me as cold as the film itself did. His five cues on the eclectic soundtrack album, all of which are subtitled “The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe”, run for just over 17 minutes, but in the grand scheme of things leave virtually no lasting impression. I keep running into the word “quirky” to describe the film, and it’s an apt reflection of the score too. It’s basically built around a single main theme – a bouncy, sprightly little jig that essentially adopts a rondo style, starting small and picking up a variety of instruments as it progresses, and comes across like the scatterbrained offspring of Birth and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The first part, “A Veiled Mist” introduces the main theme, which is passed around between guitars, ukuleles, a small orchestra, and various tapping percussion items over the course of its three minutes, and is carried on almost identically into the second part “Smoke/Fire”, which has a slightly more prominent part for a pair harps. It’s a very difficult theme to describe; it’s not quite a march, not qute a scherzo, but has a strong rhythmic core, and flutters around the orchestra from instrument to instrument, consistently carrying the central repetitive motif along with it. The third part, “The Salt Air”, strips down the orchestrations slightly, if that is possible, with a simple duet for electric guitar and ukulele carrying the cue.

The fourth, fifth and sixth pieces come together to make one single cue – “Thunder, Lightning, and Rain” – which incorporates a more dramatic choral element into the same melody, and augments it with a slightly more vigorous orchestral accompaniment to underscore the danger inherent in the film’s climactic scene. Snare drums, ragged flutes, tolling bells and the like combine to give the cue scale and sense of portent, but the inherent lightness of the central theme stops it from being truly engaging and effective. The seventh and final piece, “After the Storm”, is clearly modeled after Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (which, as I mention below, plays a major part in the film’s soundtrack too), and cleverly breaks down all the unique orchestrations Desplat uses in his theme, with a young narrator identifying each instrument in turn. It’s the most interesting score cut on the soundtrack, if for no other reason than it highlights just how much care and effort Desplat puts into the makeup of his orchestra.

The rest of the soundtrack is a peculiar mix of Benjamin Britten opera cuts, classical music selections, and Hank Williams folk-rock songs from the period, resulting in an album which is a comprehensive overview of the film’s actual musical content, but does not really flow as a listening experience. The Britten pieces are actually directly relevant to the film’s narrative: the children listen to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” on an old record player several times, and a performance of his 1957 children’s operetta Noye’s Fludd plays a pivotal on-screen role. Britten’s music, as well as the classical cuts by Camille Saint-Saëns and Franz Schubert, are of course excellent in their own right (although the intentional amateurism of Noye’s Fludd does take some getting used to), but I can only take so much of Williams’s country-inflected yodeling cowboy campfire songs.

Anderson himself says “Britten’s music had a huge effect on the whole movie, I think. The movie’s sort of set to it. The play of Noye’s Fludde that is performed in it – my older brother and I were actually in a production of that when I was ten or eleven, and that music is something I’ve always remembered, and made a very strong impression on me. It is the color of the movie in a way.”

While the music for Moonrise Kingdom is certainly creative in its makeup, and mirrors the off-kilter nature of the film itself, I found myself completely unable to engage with Desplat’s music on an emotional level; it’s music that’s just “there” – pretty, light, lively, but never really going much beyond the bare bones in terms of what it provides the listener. In many ways, it’s a perfect reflection of Anderson’s directorial and screenwriting sensibility: it stays detached from the audience, instead being content to present a few light-hearted vignettes that either connect with the audience, or don’t. There’s no middle ground. Unfortunately, as I said in the opening paragraph, it is becoming apparent to me that I just don’t get it.

Rating: **½

Buy the Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op.34: Themes A-F (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by The New York Philharmonic, cond. Leonard Bernstein) (3:22)
  • Camp Ivanhoe Cadence Medley (written by Mark Mothersbaugh, performed by Peter Jarvis and His Drum Corps) (1:36)
  • Simple Symphony, Op.4: Playful Pizzicato (written by Benjamin Britten, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Benjamin Britten) (3:02)
  • Kaw-Liga (written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose, performed by Hank Williams) (2:33)
  • Noye’s Fludde, Op.59: Noye, Noye, Take Thou Thy Company (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by the English Opera Group Orchestra and the Chorus of Animals, cond. Norman Del Mar) (6:07)
  • The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Part 1: A Veiled Mist (3:14)
  • The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Part 2: Smoke/Fire (2:52)
  • The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Part 3: The Salt Air (1:58)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2: On the Ground, Sleep Sound (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Choir of Downside School Purley, and the Emanuel School Wandsworth Boys’ Choir, cond. Benjamin Britten) (3:04)
  • Long Gone Lonesome Blues (written and performed by Hank Williams) (2:37)
  • Le Carnaval des Animaux: Volière (written by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by The New York Philharmonic, cond. Leonard Bernstein) (1:17)
  • Le Temps de l’Amour (written by Lucien Morisse, André Salvet and Jacques Dutronc, performed by Françoise Hardy) (2:24)
  • Comme Un Image: An Die Musik (written by Franz Schubert, performed by Alexandra Rubner and Christopher Manien) (2:26)
  • Ramblin’ Man (written and performed by Hank Williams) (3:02)
  • Songs from Friday Afternoons, Op.7: Old Abram Brown (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by The Choir of Downside School Purley with Viola Tunnard) (3:28)
  • The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Parts 4-6: Thunder, Lightning, and Rain (5:00)
  • Noye’s Fludde, Op. 59: The Spacious Firmament on High (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by the English Opera Group Orchestra and the Chorus of Animals, cond. Norman Del Mar) (5:17)
  • Noye’s Fludde, Op. 59: Noye, Take Thy Wife Anone (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by the English Opera Group Orchestra and the Chorus of Animals, cond. Norman Del Mar) (2:11)
  • The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34: Fugue Allegro Motto (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by The New York Philharmonic, cond. Leonard Bernstein) (3:05)
  • Songs from Friday Afternoons, Op.7: Cuckoo! (written by Benjamin Britten, performed by The Choir of Downside School Purley with Viola Tunnard) (1:36)
  • The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Pt. 7: After the Storm (3:55)

Running Time: 64 minutes 19 seconds

ABKCO 1877188922 (2012)

Music composed by Alexandre Desplat. Conducted and orchestrated by Conrad Pope. Recorded and mixed by Gary Chester. Edited by Suzana Peric. Album produced by Wes Anderson, Randall Poster and Alexandre Desplat.

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