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THE PRESTIGE – David Julyan

October 20, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Honestly, you wait ages for a film about magicians in turn-of-the-century Europe, and then two come along at once! This happens in Hollywood with quite amazing regularity, and seems to be a trend that shows no sign of going away. So, following on the heels of The Illusionist is The Prestige, which has a better pedigree in terms of filmmakers, and a more bankable cast. The film stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as Alfred Borden and Robert Angier, two friends, aspiring stage magicians in London at the height of the Victorian era. However, when Alfred causes the death of Julia, Robert’s wife, their friendship becomes a deep animosity. Thereafter, the two magicians strive to outdo each other, both on stage and in life, trying to develop more and more elaborate and dangerous illusions, and carrying out acts of bitter vengeance. With a director in the shape of Christopher Nolan (hot from Batman Begins), a superb supporting cast that includes Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis and David Bowie, and a talented production crew recreating the opulence of the time period, The Prestige has been a critical and commercial success.

Also returning to the fold after missing out on the chance to score Batman Begins is Nolan’s regular composer David Julyan, working with the director for the fourth time after Following (1998), Memento (1999) and Insomnia (2002). In much the same way that he oversaw Julian Nott’s work on the Wallace and Gromit movie, Hans Zimmer was on hand to ‘produce’ Julyan’s first major American studio feature score, but fortunately the Englishman was not forced to abandon his stylistics for the sake of corporate conformity: this is a Julyan score through and through. Unfortunately, though, The Prestige is one of the least impressive works of his career to date.

Julyan is not a composer given to flashy themes or big orchestral statements at the best of times; he is an atmosphere composer, more concerned with mood and texture, and using his orchestra in such a way that an enveloping wall of sound is created, in much the same way that people like Howard Shore and Elliot Goldenthal do. In his previous works, Julyan has managed to create cues which use this writing style, but have a number of interesting timbres which in themselves act as recurring motifs. The Prestige, sadly, doesn’t do that. It’s a score which seems stuck – all the orchestra is used (albeit with a significantly reduced brass section), and most cues have at least one moment to make them interesting, but it’s all just so static and repetitive that you never feel as though the music has taken you anywhere. It’s just chord after chord after chord, with lazy cellos and eddying violins and grinding basses that just go on and on and on and never really do anything.

The opening “Are You Watching Closely?” takes a leaf out of Nino Rota’s book and is little more than a recording of the orchestra warming up; thereafter, the score settles down into a bass-heavy rhythm of elongated string chords which move around the orchestra, augmented by various electronic atmospheric effects, and occasional changes in tempo to heighten the tension. It’s actually very difficult to pick out any kind of ‘highlight cue’, because all of them are so alike: “Colorado Springs’ features the ascending 2-note motif from Batman Begins, making you wonder whether Julyan originally composed it, or whether Zimmer inserted into this score. “Borden Meets Sarah” starts off in a different key, uses the strings at a higher register, and features a solo piano to give it a pseudo-romantic edge.

Both “A New Trick” is slightly warmer-sounding than their predecessor, and the former works in an interesting pizzicato effect, but in the end they are still little more than series of long string chords. The piano re-appears in “No, Not Today”, but cues like “The Transported Man”, “Cutter Returns”, “The Real Transported Man” do little more than rumble for a few minutes before fading out. Even the big finale, “The Price of a Good Trick” just presents the same old dense clusters of strings and cello chords, albeit with a brief hint of major-key resolve, before it gets bogged down in the familiar sound for the conclusive piece, “The Prestige”.

The Prestige, for all its potential, is a huge disappointment, especially when you consider the excellent work Julyan did on The Descent last year, and the genre of film The Prestige is, and the kind of music it could yield. I’m all for atmospheric scores in context, and I’m sure that in the film the music works superbly, and was exactly what director Nolan wanted from his composer. The CD, however, is little more than a boring exercise in how to write extended string chords. It’s all very dark, very moody, very tense, and at times quite bleak, but it feels so stuck in a rut that, in the end, it’s one of those scores that you can’t bring yourself to listen to very often, such is its relentless oppression and hypnotic stasis. In the race to have the best score from 2006’s two films about magicians in turn-of-the-century Europe, Philip Glass and The Illusionist take the spoils, and the glory.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Are You Watching Closely? (1:51)
  • Colorado Springs (4:15)
  • The Light Field (1:50)
  • Borden Meets Sarah (2:11)
  • Adagio for Julia (2:08)
  • A New Trick (4:29)
  • The Journal (2:55)
  • The Transported Man (2:36)
  • No, Not Today (2:31)
  • Caught (1:39)
  • Cutter Returns (2:13)
  • The Real Transported Man (2:38)
  • Man’s Reach Exceeds His Imagination (2:08)
  • Goodbye to Jess (2:58)
  • Sacrifice (5:15)
  • The Price of a Good Trick (5:06)
  • The Prestige (1:40)

Running Time: 48 minutes 21 seconds

Hollywood Records HR-1402 (2006)

Music composed by David Julyan. Conducted by Blake Neely. Orchestrated by Dana Niu. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Alex Gibson. Album produced by David Julyan and Hans Zimmer.

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