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PENELOPE – Joby Talbot

February 29, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

“Penelope” stars Christina Ricci as a girl who is cursed with the nose of a pig. Everyone makes fun of her, but handsome young James McAvoy is able to see past Penelope’s outer flaws and see her inner beauty. Hmmm. I wonder what the film’s message could possibly be? The movie also stars such funny people as Catherine O’Hara, Richard E. Grant, Reese Witherspoon, and Peter Dinklage. The film has gotten generally positive notices, and sounds like a perfectly likable effort (despite the fact that it sat on a shelf for two years awaiting a release).

The film’s score is provided by Joby Talbot, a composer who is probably best known to film score fans for his entertaining work on the 2005 feature film version of “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. For “Penelope”, he has the task of attempting to blend cheerful, lightweight comedy scoring with the more flighty and mysterious musical world of fairy tales. He succeeds rather admirably, creating precisely the sort of score I’m sure he was asked to provide with entertaining precision.

Talbot kicks things off with a lightweight piece of dark comedy scoring in “The Story of the Curse (Part 1”. Pizzicato arpeggios and playful twinklings in the minor key abound as Talbot introduces us to the story. Things are very much the same (but even more interesting and energetic) in “The Story of the Curse (Part 2”, which is often very reminiscent of Danny Elfman. The enjoyable “Penelope Breaks Free” is one of my favorite cues, it breaks out into brief but really gorgeous thematic statements, and things take an introspective turn in the gentle cue “Fairground”. The “Story of the Curse” material returns to the turbulent-then-romantic action cue “The Wedding”, and finally “The Kiss” wraps things up on a sweeping instrumental pop note (very reminiscent of something like Hans Zimmer’s “The Holiday”).

All of these cues are enjoyable, but this CD is another case of a whole being less than the sum of it’s parts. As we’re only given twenty minutes of score material, and considering that this score material is spread between pop/rock songs all across the album, the score feels fragmented and undeveloped. I can only suspect that Talbot was able to structure things better with all the music he wrote for the film, but the pieces here don’t quite seem to connect as well as they should. Still, the music certainly is good enough to make you want a bit more, and I suppose that is saying something.

As for the pop/rock songs on the album, I’m not terribly fond of most of them, but that’s just a matter of personal taste I suppose. The one I really like is Devotchka’s “Queen of the Surface Streets”, a song that is very compelling in it’s creative use of instrumentation. The “Hoppipolla” instrumental which follows “The Kiss” is a very similar piece of instrumental pop, cheesy but likable. The others I could probably do without, though I imagine that they will probably the primary selling point of the album, and the average fan of this soundtrack will likely be skipping the Talbot tracks as often as I skip the pop tracks. There’s a little something for everybody here, which is a nice way of saying that almost everyone will be disappointed in some way. Proceed with caution.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Story of the Curse Part 1 (3:58)
  • The Story of the Curse Part 2 (4:58)
  • Waking Life (performed by Schuyler Fisk & Dace Basset) (4:07)
  • The Piano Song (performed by Meiko) (2:47)
  • Penelope Breaks Free (1:59)
  • Fairground (1:31)
  • Give In (performed by The Secret 6) (4:47)
  • Queen of Surface Streets (performed by Devotchka) (5:26)
  • String of Blinking Lights (performed by Paper Moon) (4:18)
  • The Wedding (4:04)
  • Ageless (performed by Beauty Stars) (4:05)
  • The Kiss (4:23)
  • Hoppipolla (performed by Wenzel Templeton & Robert Pegg) (4:16)
  • Your Disguise (performed by James Greenspun) (3:09)

Running Time: 53 minutes 48 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-339142 (2008)

Music composed by Joby Talbot. Conducted by Christopher Austin. Orchestrations by Christopher Austin, Artem Vassiliev, Ben Foskett and Joby Talbot. Recorded and mixed by Mark Wyllie. Edited by Michael Connell and James Bellamy. Album produced by Joby Talbot.

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