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9 – Deborah Lurie and Danny Elfman

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A post-apocalyptic animated adventure, 9 is the first feature length film from director Shane Acker, who received a Best Animated Short Film Oscar nomination in 2005 for the short film on which this movie is based. The film is set in a future time when humanity has been wiped out following a devastating war, and has been replaced by a new species: sentient rag-doll like creatures known as Stitchpunks. The Stitchpunks – who are all named for the numbers 1 to 9 – spend most of their time running from the massive roving animal-shaped robots hunting them, until the youngest Stitchpunk, the 9 of the title, encourages the others to fight back. The film has an impressive voice cast including Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and John C. Reilly, is produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, and has an original score by comparative newcomer Deborah Lurie.

Lurie has been around the peripheries of the film music world for nearly a decade, orchestrating for John Ottman and Mark Snow, writing additional music on films such as Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, and several recent Danny Elfman scores, while providing original scores for Sleepover in 2004, An Unfinished Life in 2005, and Sydney White in 2007. 9 is by far her most high-profile assignment to date, and although her hiring to score this film might be seen as a little unusual, in fact she has a working history with several of the major parties, having written additional music for Bekmambetov on Wanted amongst others. It’s always gratifying to see young composers hired to score major movies, and even more gratifying for a woman to score something other than a costume drama or a ‘sensitive’ film. Debbie Wiseman, Jane Antonia Cornish and the late, great Shirley Walker have all shown that women can compose action-packed sci-fi music with the best of them – and now Lurie adds her name to that list.

Lurie’s score is big, loud and exciting, written for full orchestra, choir and electronics, but the one thing truly missing from the score is a theme – which is somewhat curious, as Danny Elfman has a prominent credit for writing “themes” on the score’s CD cover. Elfman has, of course, written many excellent themes in his time, but 9 doesn’t seem to contain one of them. Elfman’s style is so unmistakable that you would think anything written by him would be immediately obvious, but this is not the case here. Even in the most blatantly thematic cue, “The Seamstress”, the thematic part of music never progresses much beyond a simple ascending brass melody. There are a couple of moments of ooh-aah choral prettiness, in “Sanctuary” for example, which could be the work of Elfman, but overall the ‘themes’ – if they exist – are so subtle that one has to wonder why Elfman was hired at all, as Lurie could surely have written something similar with ease. Maybe having his name on the CD cover is a marketing tool.

What we have instead is an enjoyable, exciting action score which is curiously anonymous. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the music at all: it creates a menacing atmosphere, contains several excellent action moments, and a couple of sequences of touching down time, notably “Reunion”, which features a lovely section for guitar and flute, the lyrically playful “Twins”, and the tragic-sounding “Burial”. Lurie clearly knows her way around an orchestra, and more often than not uses live instruments to lead the way, only resorting to electronica to add to her sound palette when necessary. This element alone puts her ahead of many of her contemporaries.

The only problem with the score is its lack of identity; there’s nothing to separate 9 from the dozens of other sci-fi action scores written each year, no central musical element that identifies it as being this movie’s score and nothing else. It’s a shame, because Lurie clearly has the talent to create an impressive sound with her orchestra; if there had been some kind of melodic hook to go with it, it would have added volumes to the score.

Having said that, the action music is very good indeed, with dominant thrusting rhythms, a forceful brass section, and some clever clanging percussive effects to represent the relentless metal beasts with which the Stitchpunks do battle. Cues such as “Winged Beast”, “The Machines”, “Return of the Machines”, “Reawakening” are loud and powerful. When the chanting choir appears during “Slaying the Beast” and “The Aftermath” the sense heroism in the music increases dramatically, while the vivid synth effects and almost Goldenthal-esque brass writing in “The Seamstress” add a wonderful level of danger to the moment.

The score’s finale, consisting of “The Purpose” and “Release” contains some of the best action music on the album, very energetic and creative, with some especially dramatic and commanding brass writing, eventually building in emotional fashion to a soaring, hopeful, orchestra-and-choir climax that is quite beautiful. The album concludes with a very good prog-rock song, “Welcome Home” by Coheed and Cambria, taken from their 2005 album ‘Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness’, and which featured prominently in the film’s trailer.

I’m a little torn in how to effectively summarize 9. On the one hand, I’m delighted that Deborah Lurie is scoring this film in the first place – it’s another crack in film music’s glass ceiling. The score contains a great deal of very good action music, and some lovely moments of choral beauty, which in itself makes the CD worth recommending. But, as I said, the only thing holding it back is its lack of a truly individual identity, and the seemingly minimal involvement of Danny Elfman’s theme-writing prowess. Some may like it; some may consider it anonymous. I just hope it works as a stepping stone to allow Lurie’s career to go on to bigger and better things.

Rating: ***½

Buy the 9 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Introduction (1:42)
  • Finding Answers (1:48)
  • Sanctuary (2:12)
  • Winged Beast (4:28)
  • Reunion/Searching for Two (2:12)
  • The Machines (0:58)
  • Out There (2:42)
  • Twins (1:36)
  • Slaying the Beast (1:21)
  • Return of the Machines (2:37)
  • Burial (1:24)
  • Reawakening (3:10)
  • The Aftermath (1:41)
  • Confrontation (1:53)
  • The Seamstress (2:05)
  • Return to the Workshop (1:54)
  • The Purpose (5:20)
  • Release (4:00)
  • Welcome Home (written by Claudio Sanchez, Travis Stever, Josh Eppard and Michael Todd, performed by Coheed and Cambria) (6:15)

Running Time: 49 minutes 38 seconds

Koch Records KOC-CD-4776 (2009)

Music composed by Deborah Lurie. Themes by Danny Elfman. Orchestrations by Penka Kouneva, Dallas Aimes, Benoit Grey, Philip Klein and J. J. Lee. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Shie Rozow. Album produced by Deborah Lurie.

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