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DREAMER – John Debney

October 21, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

dreamerOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Pitched as “Seabiscuit for kids”, Dreamer is one of those ambiguous films which has the subtitle ‘inspired by a true story’, meaning that in all likelihood 90% of what happened on-screen never took place in real life. Irrespective of all this, the film is a kind-hearted story about the Crane family: race horse trainer Ben (Kurt Russell), his wife Lily (Elisabeth Shue), and their precocious daughter, Cale (Dakota Fanning from War of the Worlds, who is now so well-respected she gets second billing at age 11). Despite a few tensions between Ben and his estranged father (Kris Kristofferson), life down on the stud farm in Kentucky is generally happy and sunny – until, unexpectedly, Ben’s prize thoroughbred filly Soñador, breaks a leg during a big race. The horse’s greedy and manipulative owner, Mr Palmer (David Morse), callously fires Ben and orders the horse destroyed. Determined not to see a loved animal put down, and with an idea of using the horse as stud material, Ben gets Palmer’s reluctant agreement to take the stricken animal into his care. As Ben nurses Soñador back to health, Cale becomes deeply attached to the horse, and begins to wonder whether her days on the track are finished after all…

Writer/director John Gatins has created a movie so wholesome it could make Mr Rogers look like a dangerous individual; to match it, composer John Debney has written a score which revels in attractive orchestral textures, has a home-spun quality that drips with nostalgic Americana, and features a number of lovely solo violin performances by Joshua Bell which Aaron Copland would have been proud to have called his own. Interestingly, John Debney was not the first composer attached to Dreamer – 2004 Academy Award winner Jan A.P. Kaczmarek reportedly wrote and recorded a number of demos, and was eventually removed from the project rather late in the film’s post-production period. The curse of the first-time Oscar winner strikes again. It is testament to Debney’s talent and time-management skills that he could write something as enjoyable and accomplished as this in such a comparatively short space of time, especially considering how crowded is schedule has been in 2005.

The main theme, as heard in the opening “Theme from Dreamer”, is a lovely amalgam of piano, guitar, fiddle and orchestra that manages to be warm and inviting without being cloying or overly-sentimental – a balance not always easy to achieve, but Debney pulls it off well. Many of the cues thereafter follow solidly in the same footsteps, mixing and matching orchestrations as necessary, but always maintaining that overarching sense of charming Americana. “Ben Asks Pop For Help” are especially effective, highlighting once more Bell’s sensitive fiddle performances, while other cues such as “Manny’s Story” simply melt with the sun-burnished warmth of the woodwind solos.

“Soñador in Harness” and most of the other cues which have the word Soñador (the name of the horse) in the title are showcases for George Doering’s twangy, expressive heartland guitar performances, which lends a real sense of working class grit and determination to the otherwise quite pastoral depiction of the American great outdoors. The tempo rises in a couple of cues, notably during the stirring “First Race”, the exciting “Runaway Horse”, the sweeping “Soñador Chosen”, and especially the superbly breathless set-piece finale “Last Race”, which runs the gamut of emotions over its six-minute duration, and finishes with a dramatic flourish to bring things to an emotionally satisfying close. The original song, written and performed by the extremely popular Christian artist Bethany Dillon, is nice enough, but it’s not going to make a late charge for glory over the final furlong.

Others have criticised Dreamer for leaning too heavily on its temp-track – Alan Silvestri’s Castaway, Thomas Newman’s The Horse Whisperer, James Horner’s Legends of the Fall, the Randy Newman trio of Seabiscuit, Avalon and The Natural – but to be perfectly honest I never really felt the intrusion as sharply as others. There are only so many ways to depict the romance and nostalgia of such a classic American story of sporting triumph over adversity, and when the genre is so steeped in such set-in-stone musical idioms as this one is, it’s difficult to avoid the clichés. Having said that, I still think Debney has come pretty close to succeeding. Dreamer might not be the most original or groundbreaking work ever written, but it is a pleasant, undemanding orchestral score with a number of superb instrumental solos, idyllic textures, and an occasional epic sweep to help it on its way.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Theme from Dreamer (2:19)
  • The Stand Off – 1st Ride (3:01)
  • First Race (3:21)
  • Ben Asks Pop for Help (1:24)
  • Soñador in Harness (1:54)
  • Popsicles (2:59)
  • Manny’s Story (3:39)
  • Testing Soñador’s Leg (1:27)
  • 2nd Ride – Thunderpants (2:37)
  • Runaway Horse (2:00)
  • Exercising Soñador (1:38)
  • The Noble King (2:02)
  • New Owner Montage (2:10)
  • Training Montage (2:03)
  • Smart and Beautiful (1:13)
  • Soñador Chosen (1:08)
  • Cale Won’t Sell Soñador (4:00)
  • Leaving Sadir’s (4:05)
  • She’s Ready To Run (2:04)
  • She Wants To Race (1:20)
  • Last Race (6:37)
  • End Credit Medley (2:15)
  • Dreamer (Film Mix) (written by Bethany Dillon and Ed Cash, performed by Bethany Dillon) (3:30)
  • Main Title (Film Version) (2:29)
  • Dreamer (written by Bethany Dillon and Ed Cash, performed by Bethany Dillon) (3:45)

Running Time: 64 minutes 23 seconds

Sony Classical SK-97742 (2005)

Music composed and conducted by John Debney. Orchestrations by John Debney and Brad Dechter. Featured musical soloists Joshua Bell, Michael Lang, Gary Bovyer, Phil Ayling, John Debney, George Doering, Dean Parks and Dennis Karmazyn. Recorded and mixed by John Richards. Edited by Tom Kramer. Album produced by John Debney.

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