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THE WATCHER – Marco Beltrami

September 8, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

thewatcherOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’m starting to get worried by the way Marco Beltrami’s career is progressing – or isn’t progressing, as the case may be. When Beltrami first burst onto the scene five years ago with the arrival of Scream, it seemed as though a great new talent in the soundtrack world had arrived. A composer with talent, a gift for melody, and who knew how to write for a big orchestra. A dozen or so movies later, and Beltrami is still scoring more horror movies than anything else, and herein lies the problem. With just a couple of exceptions – like the disco drama 54 and the Emmy Award winning Tuesdays With Morrie – the vast majority of the Italian-American’s work has been in the horror and thriller genres, and if he’s not careful he’s going to end up in the same situation Chris Young was in ten years ago: a great composer stuck in a pigeonhole from which he can’t escape.

Having said all that, The Watcher is still an eminently enjoyable and listenable horror/thriller score, which bears many of the hallmarks of Beltrami’s earlier efforts in the genre, notably the Scream trilogy, Mimic and The Faculty. The film stars James Spader as a detective on the trail of a serial killer (Keanu Reeves) who selects a victim, gives the police some clues as to her identity, watches her for a week, and if the police have not located her in time, proceeds to strangle her with piano wire. It’s by no means the most innovative or ground-breaking film ever made, but director Joe Charbanic at least gains points for some clever, if a little gimmicky, casting against type, as well as for creating some suspenseful and atmospheric scenes.

Post-Scream, much of Beltrami’s genre work has been of the same kind, with orchestra and electronics combining in a series of dark, heavy set scores that overpower the listener. If Lalo Schfrin created the 70s urban groove, Beltrami has a strong case for being the most contemporary composer of the late 1990s. His main title, ‘Driven’, is actually a darn good piece, with a large, impressive orchestra, magnificent solo female vocals and a bank of propulsive synthesisers. It’s in the same vain as the work of Craig Armstrong and, to a lesser extent, the Zimmers, and features a superb urban groove that retains just enough balance between the acoustic and sampled elements to avoid sounding redundant.

The action music is dark, menacing and quick: ‘Grif Gets a Girl’ and ‘Tracking a Honda’ both feature low, brooding brass calls (some of which is reminiscent of Chris Young’s Hellraiser scores); ‘The Package’ recapitulates mush of the material from the main title, ‘Grif on the Go’ and ‘Booty Hunt’ are big, booming call-and-response cues for brass and strings; while the brief ‘In The Soup’ is almost Herrmannish with its oddly amusing high-pitched strings.

And of course, as this is a Beltrami score, there are several unusual touches dotted here and there: there are no Minus Man-style glass bowls, but there are electric guitars dotted around the place, and some of the electronic effects – a vast array of thumps, whooshes, blips and zooms – certainly ensure that the synthesised element of the score remains interesting throughout, especially in such notables as ‘Luv in an Elevator’ and ‘Dis Go Dat Way’. The flipside of the score comes by way of some eerily beautiful orchestral and choral tracks such as ‘Face Down’ and the magnificent finale ‘Put Away the Wet’, which come across as offshoots of Sidney’s Theme from Scream, or the Finale from Mimic, but which are superb nevertheless. I have no idea how the ‘Ghost Waltz’ fits in with the rest of the score, but it certainly a lovely piece of music, if a little out of place…

As well as the musical similarities, Beltrami also seems to have been taking lessons from Chris Young’s cue names: ‘Keanuvision’, ‘Queen of Spaders’ and ‘Hot Tomei-to’ are an interesting variation on Chris’s continuing quest to hide the name of a well-known composer in his track titles.  And it might also be an idea, just once, to leave the CD running once the final track has finished, and wait around fourteen minutes… wah wah wah waaaahh!

As good as The Watcher is, I think it’s already well past the time where Beltrami needs to make a break and score a series of movies that are not horrific in any way. Do a western, Marco, or a romantic comedy, or a family drama, or something! Just don’t get caught in a rut that you can’t escape from. God forbid, you’re far too talented to be stuck writing music for films like this your entire career.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Driven (3:26)
  • Big For the Shrink (1:22)
  • Keanuvision (0:28)
  • Grif Gets a Girl (2:55)
  • Tracking a Honda (1:37)
  • Turtle Luv (2:19)
  • Face Down (2:35)
  • Search Montage (1:59)
  • Queen of Spaders (0:40)
  • No Silence (2:30)
  • In the Soup (0:25)
  • Hunting a Griffin (1:43)
  • Special Delivery (1:11)
  • The Package (2:25)
  • Luv in an Elevator (2:08)
  • Grif on the Go (2:50)
  • Dis Go Dis Way (2:06)
  • Crime Scene (1:50)
  • Booty Hunt (1:59)
  • Panty Raid (1:18)
  • Hot Tomei-to (1:34)
  • Put Away the Wet (2:04)
  • The Watcher End Credits (2:39)
  • Ghost Waltz (1:03)

Running Time: 60 minutes 12 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6181 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by Marco Beltrami. Orchestrations by Bill Boston and Marco Beltrami. Additional music by Buck Sanders. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Chris McGeary. Album produced by Marco Beltrami.

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