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IGOR – Patrick Doyle

September 19, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Pity the poor sidekick. Throughout literary history, the role of the sidekick has been one of benign subservience, forever scuttling away to do the master’s bidding, or bear the brunt of the master’s ire, never allowed to express an opinion, or to become a true, rounded personality. In the world of classic literary horror, the sidekick role was invariably filled by an Igor, a hunchbacked, lazy-eyed, nasal-voiced nobody, assisting Victor Frankenstein or Count Dracula with their nefarious plans. In Anthony Leondis’s new animated film, Igor, the sidekick finally steps into the sunlight; this is a story where the clichéd hunchbacked evil scientist’s assistant finally has his own story – one in which he aspires to become a scientist himself, much to the displeasure of the rest of the evil science community. The film features a star-studded voice cast that includes the likes of John Cusack, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jay Leno and Christian Slater, and has been roundly praised for being a funny, clever movie, with plenty of subversive humor to keep the adults happy.

Providing the music for Igor, somewhat unexpectedly, is composer Patrick Doyle, taking a break from scoring Shakespearean comedies and Roman epics. Doyle is no stranger to animation, having scored Quest for Camelot back in 1998, but whereas that score was written pretty much as a straight fantasy, Igor is slightly different. Doyle plays up the quirky comedy aspects of the story much more than one might expect, and the end result is somewhat spotty: in no way bad music, but just slightly unfocused, overly mickey-mousey, and lacking the sense of grace and elegance and melodic strength that one normally associates with Doyle’s work.

Having said that, the score’s opening cue, “Eva”, is simply tremendous. It’s nothing more than a solo piano theme, performed by Doyle himself, but the delicacy and clarity and effortless beauty Doyle brings to his theme is utterly wonderful. Genuine solo pianos – and by that I mean absolutely nothing except a guy and a piano – are used infrequently in film scores, and their relative scarcity makes the inclusion of one here all the more special. It’s by far the album’s high point; unfortunately, although the theme does appear later briefly in “Opening Night Presents”, with lush Hollywood overkill in “Malaria Community Theatre”, and in the conclusive “Wistful Thinking”, most of rest of the next 58 minutes never quite emulates it.

There are some very enjoyable cues, most of which are based around a series of mock-comic marches of varying size, tempo and construction. The theme for “Igor” himself features a lovely, open female vocal performance and a great, galumphing theme with a surprisingly lyrical oboe-led melody dancing away under the mechanical percussion and faux-horror textures. “Except the King” is a bulbous march that sounds like a circus Wurlitzer combined with a brass band, while “Evil Bone” is a dramatic, recapitulation of Igor’s theme with a more strident tone, topped off with some surprisingly angry-sounding orchestral dissonance, which carries through into the next couple of cues, “Blind Orphans” and the surprisingly dark “Brain Wash”.

Other highlights include “Cliff Chase”, a cool orchestral and choral action cue which carries the thematic content well and reminds me a little of the theme from Eragon; the fun “Evil Science Fair” and “Lets’s Get Evil”, are a pair of wonderfully self-important fanfares, all Handel-esque choirs and tolling bells; the unexpectedly emotional “Through the Clouds”, a mysterioso cue with rolling harps, dramatic crescendos and a cut-glass female soprano; and the tempestuous, striking “Evil Annie”, which channels the spirit of Carl Orff but at least makes for a fairly satisfying finale – even managing to work in a vague hint of an Elmer Bernstein western theme!

Elsewhere, though, Doyle seems to have fallen into the dreaded ‘cartoon music’ trap, accentuating every pratfall and incident with a little musical acknowledgement. There are few composers who can pull this off successfully, allowing the sense of fun to develop, but still maintaining a sense of structure and thematic coherency Carl Stalling and Scott Bradley were masters, but unfortunately Doyle has not quite managed to reach their standards on it. The music is never anything less than attractive, but somehow it all just seems too haphazard to really say anything of importance. Somewhat bizarrely, Doyle often delves into the old Hollywood jazz book, resulting in cues which sound like they have been plucked from a bad show tunes catalog, or a lounge music CD. Listen to cues like “Acting Me Me Me”, “Plucky Eva” or “Hot Tub Rub” – they’re well-written, and amusing, but they just don’t seem to fit.

There’s also a lot of clicking and clacking in the percussion section – tambourines and whatnot – which clearly alludes to the scientific and mechanical aspect of Igor’s dreams. The tapping percussion comes with a dollop of celestes and harpsichords and pizzicato strings on the side, which gives the score a certain spikiness that, while capturing the mood of the film, never feels really substantial. Once in a while Doyle also adds a pipe organ into the mix, to really amp up the gothic horror quotient, as cues like “Schadenfreude” attest.

It’s not that there’s anything greatly wrong with the rest of Igor – I’m sure it accentuates the film it accompanies perfectly, and that everyone was very happy with it. A great deal of it is very enjoyable indeed. And three-and-a-half stars is in no way a bad rating. It’s more a case of Doyle himself, and of me expecting great things with each and every new score. The fact that Igor, by Doyle’s incredibly high standards, is just not as compelling as the majority of his other works, leaves me feeling a tiny bit disappointed.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Eva (3:07)
  • Igor (4:47)
  • Scamper & Brain (2:30)
  • Schadenfreude (1:39)
  • Hi Heidi (1:05)
  • Except the King (1:41)
  • Evil Bone (3:30)
  • Blind Orphans (1:24)
  • Brain Wash (1:29)
  • Oven Bun (3:05)
  • Acting Me Me Me (1:58)
  • Cliff Chase (2:42)
  • Plucky Eva (3:15)
  • Opening Night Presents (3:45)
  • Hot Tub Rub (3:15)
  • Falling for Director (2:37)
  • Evil Science Fair (3:08)
  • Secret Passage (1:36)
  • Through the Clouds (2:12)
  • Let’s Get Evil (1:17)
  • Evil Annie (6:52)
  • Malaria Community Theatre (2:34)
  • Wistful Thinking (1:51)

Running Time: 61 minutes 19 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6926 (2008)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by James Shearman. Orchestrations by Patrick Doyle, James Shearman and Geoffrey Alexander. Piano solos performed by Patrick Doyle. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Christopher Benstead. Album produced by Patrick Doyle.

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