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TWILIGHT – Carter Burwell

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It has recently become apparent to me that, without my knowledge or active participation, I have become old and out of touch. I had this revelation when I realized that, until about three weeks ago, I had never heard of Twilight. I knew nothing about Stephenie Meyer’s novels. I had never heard of Edward Cullen or Bella Swan. I had no clue that teenage girls the length and breadth of America were going to bed at night dreaming of being swept up into the arms of a hunky young vampire and being made one of the sexy undead. I guess this is what happens when you turn 33 and you realize that all your cultural touchstones now date back almost 20 years.

Twilight, for old farts like me who don’t know these things, is a massively popular series of novels by the aforementioned Stephenie Meyer, which chronicle the adventures of Isabella “Bella” Swan, a teenager from Washington state who finds her life turned upside-down when she falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen. Now when I say “vampire”, I don’t mean evil, ugly creatures of the night who look like Bela Lugosi or, horror of horrors, George Hamilton. Instead I mean hot and sexy young vampires who look like catalog models for Hot Topic, drink animal blood instead of human blood, and lurk in the shadows being all mysterious and alluring. Every decade has had their ‘sexy young male vampire’ – in the 1980s it was Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys, in the 1990s it was James Marsters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the slightly more mature crowd), and in the 2000s it is Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward in director Catherine Hardwicke’s film of the first book. Goths and Emos across the country have been lining up in droves to see the film, which also stars Kristen Stewart, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene and Nikki Reed, to the tune of almost $70 million in its opening weekend.

The unlikely composer of the score for Twilight is Carter Burwell, who despite ‘scoring’ last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, hasn’t had a project with as much commercial potential as this since The General’s Daughter in 1999. He’s an unusual choice to score a teenage Gothic horror/romance, being more at home with quirky dramas and more weighty subjects, and his approach to Twilight is anything but conventional. Burwell’s primary core of musicians comprises a string quartet, a woodwind trio, piano, harp, bass, guitar and percussion, with featured electric guitar performances by David Torn and Kaki King.

The main theme of the score, “Bella’s Lullaby”, is actually an adaptation of a love song Burwell wrote for his wife Christine several years ago. It’s not a lullaby in the traditional sense of the word but, according to Burwell, speaks instead of “ecstatic, tormented love” – which, in this instance, seems to mean a brooding, scale-sliding piece for solo piano augmented by strings. As the supposed cornerstone of the entire score, it’s a surprisingly insubstantial piece. It’s pretty enough, but somewhat forgettable, and it certainly doesn’t seem to capture the sense of rapturous love Burwell intended, at least to my ears.

Bella’s theme does appear fairly regularly in the underscore proper, continually reminding the listener that this is a love story, not a horror film. Cues such as “Phasination Phase”, “I Dreamt of Edward”, the quietly haunting “The Lion Fell in Love With the Lamb”, the dream-like beginning of “Tracking”, and the conclusive “Edward At Her Bed” are generally quite attractive, while the unexpectedly upbeat, peppy variation of the theme in the brief “Dinner With His Family” is a nice twist. In several of the aforementioned cues the theme is overlaid with a more conventionally attractive acoustic guitar element, and in these moments the score is rather enjoyable, albeit in a downbeat, introspective kind of way.

Much of the rest of the score consists of more urgent, rock-inflected pieces, often with a whining two-note guitar wah that acts as sort of recurring marker for the young blood-sucking protagonists, alongside a series of vaguely ambient synth notes and pseudo-industrial sound design parts which play alongside the orchestra and are clearly intended to create a unsettling atmosphere. One or two of the tracks actually sound like they could be intro pieces to the rock songs on the accompanying soundtrack album by the likes of Paramore, Linkin Park and Mute Math, albeit extended to two or three minutes in length. “Who Are They?” features an unusually breathy, airy vocal performance alongside the electric guitars and drum kit, while several other cues feature the repeating guitar chord, notably the opening “How Would I Die”, the latter half of “Who Are They?”, parts of “Humans Are Predators Too”, “I Know What You Are”, “The Skin of a Killer”, and the quite exciting central action set-piece, “Showdown in the Ballet Studio”, which at least gives the score a semblance of structure, even if the sound itself leaves a little something to be desired. Expanding on that last point, the less said about the coarse, eardrum-shattering “Nomads” the better.

I have often stated in the past that, to me, Burwell’s scores get lost in a sea of too much bass, and Twilight is no exception. It’s very difficult to put into words what I mean by this; it’s something to do with the key in which Burwell often writes, or the way he tends to use certain chord progressions in his thematic writing, or the way certain instruments harmonize with each other. I don’t have the technical expertise to describe it properly, but the net result is that much of Burwell’s music gets lost in the depths. I never remember his themes; I just remember the pervasive bass lines.

I’m sure that, in giving Twilight this review, I sound like an insufferable old grump who doesn’t like the rock elements creeping into the score, when it is precisely these rock elements and crossover fusions that will appeal most to the film’s target demographic audience. I don’t blame Burwell in the slightest for writing this score in the way he did – but just because I understand the background and the reasoning, it doesn’t mean I have to really like the end product. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Some of it is actually quite pleasant, especially when Bella’s Lullaby is worked into the fabric of the score, but the rock and electronic elements just seemed to grate. I guess I simply have to acknowledge that I’m just not part of this score’s target demographic, and that I really am getting old.

Rating: **½

Buy the Twilight soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • How I Would Die (1:53)
  • Who Are They? (3:26)
  • Treaty (1:59)
  • Phascination Phase (2:04)
  • Humans Are Predators Too (2:04)
  • I Dreamt of Edward (1:06)
  • I Know What You Are (2:37)
  • The Most Dangerous Predator (2:22)
  • The Skin of a Killer (2:58)
  • The Lion Fell in Love With the Lamb (3:10)
  • Complications (1:11)
  • Dinner with His Family (0:38)
  • I Would Be the Meal (1:24)
  • Bella’s Lullaby (2:19)
  • Nomads (3:51)
  • Stuck Here Like Mom (1:40)
  • Bella Is Part of the Family (1:24)
  • Tracking (2:19)
  • In Place of Someone You Love (1:45)
  • Showdown in the Ballet Studio (4:50)
  • Edward at Her Bed (1:05)

Running Time: 46 minutes 57 seconds

Atlantic Records/WEA 517000 (2008)

Music composed and conducted by Carter Burwell. Orchestrations by Carter Burwell. Featured musical soloists David Torn, Kaki King and Dave Hartley. Special vocal performances by Lizzie Pattinson. Recorded and mixed by Mike Farrow. Edited by Adam Smalley. Album produced by Carter Burwell.

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