Home > Reviews > THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE – George S. Clinton

THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE – George S. Clinton

astronautswifeOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Ever since the Austin Powers phenomenon took hold, the work of composer George S. Clinton has become increasingly in demand. Until the world became aware of the amorous adventures of the British super-spy, Clinton was merely the guy who wrote all that sleazy saxophone music to accompany Zalman King’s soft-core Red Shoe Diary movies, and who created all that stupid technobabble for Mortal Kombat. But there is a whole other side to his talents waiting to be discovered – like the music for The Astronaut’s Wife, a peculiar sci-fi thriller which attempts to bring together plot threads from movies as diverse as Rosemary’s Baby and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The film stars Johnny Depp as Spencer Armacost, one of NASA’s brightest and best, happily married to the beautiful and devoted Jillian (Charlize Theron). While on a routine space walk, Spencer and his colleague Alex Streck become cut off from mission control for two nerve-wracking minutes, and return to Earth deep in a coma. Despite the eventual death of Streck, Spencer finally emerges from his sickness, and initially seems none the worse for his ordeal. He quits the space agency and moves with his newly-pregnant wife to New York to work for an engineering company, and for a while everything seems normal. But, before long, Jillian begins to sense changes in her husband. Why is he obsessively listening to the radio? Why will he not talk about what happened in those two minutes? And why has Streck’s also-pregnant widow just committed suicide – by electrocuting herself in the bath with a stereo system?

First-time director Rand Ravich has succeeded in making a highly enjoyable, if a little implausible, Polanski clone with appealing and interesting performances from all the leads, and boasting excellent technical credits. Theron is especially impressive as the increasingly paranoid Jillian, while Joe Morton cuts a tragi-comic figure as a fugitive scientist trying to bring about the truth. In response to Ravich’s visual prompting, George S. Clinton has composed an intriguing score which, oddly, is equally one of his most beautiful and most cacophonous works to date.

The cornerstone of Clinton’s score is the lovely romantic theme for Spencer and Jillian, heard initially in ‘Opening’, where the combination of piano, moody strings, harps, solo vocals and a soft synth backing create an inviting, calming, almost new-agey texture. Cleverly, though, Clinton does not merely re-state the theme ad infinitum. Instead, as the nature of the central relationship begins to alter, so does the theme, gradually becoming more strained and unsettling, with the addition of slightly harsher synth techniques and increasingly confrontational choral sequences. Subsequent recapitulations, in the sexy and tumultuous ‘Two Minutes’, the beautifully understated ‘Princess’ and ‘Post Coital’, the hesitant and thoughtful ‘Resignation’, and the darkly attractive ‘Fun’ and ‘Joys of Parenting’ skillfully mark these almost subliminal transitions.

In addition to this, there are some wonderful spacey ambiences created by mixing synths with a live and sampled choir (‘No Answer’), and a couple of ostinato-driven action cues (‘Meeting’, ‘Escape’) which, while not conforming to any sort of traditional action music criteria, nevertheless fulfill their aims and significantly broaden the album’s content and appeal. At the other end of the scale, tracks such as ‘Descent’, ‘Part Animal’, ‘Carousel Part 2’ and ‘Little Pain’ are chaotically dissonant, with raspy, throbbing electronic textures and massive drum pads battling for control of the listener’s attentions. The finale, ‘Kyrie/Baptismus/Benedictus’, is where Clinton brings all the disparate elements together into a huge conclusive epic, combining the unmistakable religious overtones of a portentous choir chanting in Latin with a large-scale orchestral performance of the main theme, and some quietly disturbing synth effects that seemingly mimic the cries of a newborn baby.

Overall, The Astronaut’s Wife is a great example of what a live/synth mix score should sound like when done correctly, and Clinton should be commended for having the foresight to actually think creatively about the way his score is structured and produced. All too often, composers just drone their way through an hour of electronic nothingness (such as Mark Snow’s dismal Disturbing Behavior and Evan H. Chen’s even worse Crusade) and lay the blame at the small size of the budget. When used to their fullest potential, and in an appropriate manner, synthesizers can and do work well in lending an extra edge to film music – and this coming from a reviewer with a long-held dislike of non-orchestral scores!

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Descent/Opening/Part Animal (4:10)
  • Two Minutes/Princess (5:46)
  • Meeting/Carousel Part 2 (3:27)
  • No Answer/Not a Dream/Little Pain (4:44)
  • Post Coital/Positive/Fried (2:58)
  • Resignation/Escape/Subway/Followed (6:22)
  • Fun/Self-Storage White/Joys of Parenting/Back-Up (6:16)
  • Kyrie/Baptismus/Benedictus (7:07)

Running Time: 41 minutes 09 seconds

Sire 31084-2 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by George S. Clinton. Orchestrations by Suzy Katayama and Rick Giovinazzo. Recorded and mixed by John Whynot. Edited by Mike Flicker. Album produced by George S. Clinton.

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