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WHITEOUT – John Frizzell

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Contrary to popular belief, Whiteout is not a film about man struggling to come to terms with his addiction to correction fluid, but is in fact a new action thriller directed by Dominic Sena and starring the comely Kate Beckinsale as a US Marshal who follows a murderer to the American-administered part of Antarctica, and must track him down before the sun sets for six months over the frozen wastes. The film also stars Gabriel Macht and Tom Skerritt, and features an original score by John Frizzell, his first mainstream work of this high a profile for quite some time.

I don’t quite know what happened to John Frizzell. When he first burst onto the film music scene in the late 1990s with scores like Dante’s Peak, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Alien Resurrection, he looked destined to become one of film music’s major players but, for whatever reason – poor choices of film, poor box office performance – it never really happened. Only one of his films since then, Thirteen Ghosts in 2001, has come anywhere close to being a box office success, while the best score of his career – Gods and Generals from 2003 – barely saw the light of day in theaters. Instead, his efforts have largely been confined to B-level horror and action flicks like The Reaping and Primeval, and unfortunately Whiteout looks unlikely to buck the trend; to put it mildly, the critics have not been kind.

Frizzell was a late replacement for original composer Atli Örvarsson, whose original score was rejected, but whatever time constraints were in place, they don’t show at all in the end product. Bucking the preconceptions that one may have based on the film itself, Frizzell manages to make his music for Whiteout interesting, keeping the listener’s attention more or less throughout the score’s 47-minute running time. Written for a full orchestra augmented by plenty of electronics and, occasionally, voices, Frizzell thankfully manages to steer relatively clear of the ‘turgid thriller’ territory, and has written a score which, while by no means groundbreaking, at least offers a number of clever instrumental and rhythmic touches and one or two decent themes alongside some generally very enjoyable action music.

Possibly the best thing about Whiteout is the way Frizzell finds a way to insert some unique instrumental touches into what could otherwise have been a very standard action score. In just the first few cues he uses an electric cello and a dulcimer to give local color to the opening “Aurora Australis”, a leitmotif which features prominently throughout much of the rest of the score. A solo voice and ominous string chords lend a sense of mystery and foreboding to “Base Camp”, while a lovely combo for piano, electronic woodwinds and guitar characterizes “Carrie’s Theme” and its subsequent recapitulations in “Frost Bite” and the more conventionally attractive “Resolution”. These orchestrations seem to have been geared specifically at creating a mood of isolation, desolation and – appropriately – coldness, and succeed admirably in that regard.

Some of the action music is very exciting and creative, notably the thrusting “Soviet Plane”, the second half of “Examining Weiss”, the rather abrasive “Vostok Attack”, and the energetic brass-led “Storm Approaches”, all of which build up a decent head of steam and manage to find a nice balance between orchestral and synthetic rhythmic effects. The string flourishes of “Camp Delta” bring a brief and unexpected touch of elegance to the proceedings, and “Last Plane Out” features a staggeringly complicated brass performance that sounds like it should have killed the section, while the likes of “Discovery” and “Carrie Searches” dip their chilblain-encrusted toes into the horror camp with abrasive stingers and spidery string writing to tingle the spine.

The second half of Varese Sarabande’s album does run out of steam a little bit towards the end, becoming somewhat bogged down in a little too much action music generica, although having said that the powerful Slavic conclusion to “Whiteout” is impressive, “Clues” has a palpable sense of urgency, and “I’d Like To See It” reprises both the cello/dulcimer combo and the dark ‘base camp’ theme to excellent effect.

In the bigger scheme of things, Whiteout is unlikely to change Frizzell’s place in the film scoring hierarchy – it’s an unexpectedly enjoyable score that is much better than it has any right to be for a film of this type, and given the source material Frizzell had to work with it’s a minor miracle he made this score as good as it is – but, truthfully, Frizzell shouldn’t be scoring things like this in the first place. He should be scoring films like Watchmen or The Day the Earth Stood Still, and I’m sure you know where I’m going with that argument…

Rating: ***½

Buy the Whiteout soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Aurora Australis (1:47)
  • The Soviet Plane (2:43)
  • Base Camp (1:58)
  • Carrie’s Theme (1:40)
  • How Not to Die (1:52)
  • Popsicle (2:40)
  • Examining Weiss (3:30)
  • Vostok Attack (2:20)
  • Camp Delta (1:44)
  • The Discovery (4:33)
  • Carrie’s Suspicion (1:22)
  • Frost Bite (1:17)
  • The Storm Approaches (1:49)
  • Delfy Is Down (1:37)
  • Last Plane Out (2:53)
  • The Whiteout (2:57)
  • The Clues (1:49)
  • Carrie Searches (2:16)
  • I’d Like to See It (2:17)
  • Resolution (2:30)
  • Whiteout Main on Ends (2:14)

Running Time: 47 minutes 48 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6986 (2009)

Music composed by John Frizzell. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Kevin Kaska, Thomas Parisch and Hyesu Yang. Additional music by Frederick Weidman. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs. Edited by Del Spiva and Derek Somaru. Album produced by John Frizzell.

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