Home > Reviews > WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – Carter Burwell

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – Carter Burwell

October 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Review by Jonathan Broxton

A children’s fantasy based on author Maurice Sendak’s well-loved, but long-considered un-filmable novel from 1963, Where the Wild Things Are is a fable about a disobedient young boy named Max who, after an argument with his mother, creates his own fantasy world inhabited by giant, ferocious creatures who crown him king. Directed by Spike Jonze, the creator of such imaginative films as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, the film has a superb voice cast (James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker) supporting child actor Max Records, and features original music by composer Carter Burwell and songwriter Karen Orzolek, better known as Karen O alongside her band, The Kids.

The widely-available song soundtrack features 13 original songs by Karen which are all very pleasant. Burwell’s score was released on a different album, and comprises just 26 minutes of original music, including one cue – “Lost Fur” – which also appears on the song CD. As is often the case with Burwell’s music, it has a sparse, under-orchestrated sound, in this case comprising a small string section, standup bass, a small woodwind section, guitars, piano, harp, synths, and various twinkly percussion instruments to give the score a fantastical feel. The familiar chord progressions, harmonies and heavy bass that are present in almost all Burwell scores are again present here, but where Where the Wild Things Are differs is in its increased sense of childlike innocence.

Cues like the aforementioned “Lost Fur”, “This is Your World” and “I’m Done” are simple, appealing guitar, woodwind and piano combos with a jazzy, soothing aspect, while others such as “Sailing” and “Taming” have a magical feeling, mainly through Burwell’s use of shimmering chimes, undulating cello lines and occasional breathy, scatty vocals. One or two cues raise the roof – “Max Joins” has a playful tempo and more ebullient guitar writing, while “Dirt Clod Fight” features children whooping and hollering over the top of an upbeat, raucous rock piece – and occasionally the thematic writing has a vague Irish, or Northern European lilt, like his scores for Fargo or Miller’s Crossing, but not as pronounced as either of those works. Nevertheless, it allows the score to develop a slightly different tone, illustrating that – in Max’s world – he is very far from home.

Despite all this, and true to form, I still find myself unable to truly warm to Burwell’s music, which remains emotionally aloof and just too arsty-quirky for my taste. Like a great deal of Burwell’s music, it’s all just a little too sterile, a little too clinical, a little too detached for me to truly connect with it, and despite its critical success won’t get much replay value here.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Lost Fur (1:09)
  • Sailing (2:14)
  • Follow the Fires (2:54)
  • Max Joins (0:59)
  • When You Have A Problem (1:31)
  • Taming (3:09)
  • This Is Your World (2:06)
  • Dirt Clod Fight (3:26)
  • I’m Done (0:37)
  • Carol’s Dark Night (2:45)
  • Lost Fur Reprise (1:16)
  • We Love You So (4:40)

Running Time: 26 minutes 46 seconds

DGC/Interscope (2009)

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