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A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Alan Silvestri

November 6, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’ve lost count of the number of times Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of yuletide redemption, A Christmas Carol, has been re-told on the silver screen. The Internet Movie Database lists at least 50 productions with some variation of the title, ranging from versions starring The Muppets and Mickey Mouse to serious dramatic portrayals by Alastair Sim, George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart, and of course the classic musical Scrooge with Albert Finney from 1970. Director Robert Zemeckis’s latest version continues the obsession with photo-real rotoscope animation he began in The Polar Express and Beowulf, and stars Jim Carrey in multiple roles, but mainly as the Victorian miser Ebenezer Scrooge, whose curmudgeonly life is forever changed when he is visited by three ghosts one fateful Christmas Eve.

Alan Silvestri has scored all but two of the films in Robert Zemeckis’s career, dating all the way back to Romancing the Stone in 1984, and encompassing such classic titles as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Contact, Castaway, and the Back to the Future trilogy. The pair has one of the most fruitful composer-director collaborations in modern cinema, with virtually each of their projects eliciting noteworthy music; thankfully, A Christmas Carol – their thirteenth collaboration – does not buck the trend. It’s a full throated, sweepingly beautiful orchestral and choral work that truly captures the spirit of the season with lovely themes, beautiful Yuletide orchestrations, and even some thoroughly rousing action material.

I suppose one could categorize a great deal of A Christmas Carol as “Alan Silvestri’s Fantasia on Famous Christmas Carols”, because a large portion of his score either quotes directly from, or is greatly inspired by, the traditional music of the season. In the glorious opening cue, “A Christmas Carol Main Title”, the sharp-eared can quickly tick off subtle and not-so-subtle homages to the likes of ‘Deck the Halls’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’, all arranged for a huge orchestra and choir, and filled to the brim with the seasonal charm and twinkly orchestrations – chimes, sleigh bells – that one would expect in a film such as this.

The score’s main theme seems to be an amalgamation of parts of the melodies of both ‘Deck the Halls’ and ‘Good King Wenceslas’, albeit skewed around and given the lush Silvestri touch, but it certainly has the right sense of warmth and appeal to make it an excellent cornerstone, and it’s recapitulations in “Let Us See Another Christmas” and the joyous “Flight to Fezziwigs” are superb. In addition to this, there is a lovely refrain of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ orchestrated for a pair of harps and an angelic choir in the beautiful “The Ghost of Christmas Past” (which also contains a barely-disguised re-statement of the Polar Express theme in the middle), while in “Touch My Robe” the choir bursts forth into a bravura refrain of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ that is thoroughly wonderful.

There’s a burst of unexpectedly vicious dissonance at the beginning of “Marley’s Ghost Visits Scrooge”, and later in the cue some of Silvestri’s trademark stabbing chord progressions and wandering violin lines courtesy of virtuoso violinist Rene Mandel make an appearance, rekindling fond memories of his Herrmannesque work on the likes of Death Becomes Her. There is more dissonance and tension in “Another Idol Has Replaced Me” and “The Clock Tower”, while the madcap chase music, reminiscent of his excellent score for Mousehunt, carries through into the score’s action music in cues such as the showstopping “Carriage Chase” and “Old Joe and Mrs. Dilber”. As well as Mousehunt, these moments of high drama also owe a great deal to the unreleased action music from The Polar Express, containing as it does some of the same rhythmic devices and a similar sense of kinetic motion he brought to his earlier ode to the season. I’ve you’ve ever wanted to hear the melody of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ used as an action motif, here’s your chance!

The score takes a decidedly spooky turn during “The Dark Chamber”, with undulating woodwind lines, spidery string writing, and an almost Elfmanesque ooh-aah chorus giving the appearance of The Ghost of Christmas Future a suitably chilly air. The score reaches it’s dramatic zenith in the powerful “Who Was That Lying Dead?”, clearly accompanying Scrooge’s terrifying realization of the dark fate yet to befall him, before rising to glorious heights of joy and relief during the finale, “I’m Still Here” and “Ride On, My Good Man”, capturing the merry transformation in Scrooge’s personality and his new-found appreciation for life and his fellow man.

Everything is rounded off in “God Bless Us Everyone”, a new song by Silvestri and his regular lyricist Glen Ballard based on the score’s main theme, and which is performed with full-throated gusto by Italian classical music superstar Andrea Bocelli and an accompanying choir. Ballard’s lyrics – inspired by the famous line uttered by Tiny Tim in the original story – are so saccharine they may cause diabetics to lapse into a coma, but it’s heart is in the right place, and it’s an absolute shoo-in for a Best Song Oscar nomination.

If one was to make one criticism of A Christmas Carol it might be to say that incorporating this many traditional Christmas carols into the score in this way is a little predictable. There’s a slight feeling that Silvestri almost took the easy way out, choosing to overwhelm the listener with tried-and-tested musical ideas familiar to the masses rather than bringing something completely new of his own to the table. Having ‘seasonal orchestrations’ in a film about Christmas is one thing, but hearing several full renditions of famous carols in the score proper may strike some people as a little lazy and clichéd, no matter how beautifully they are arranged.

Having said that, and being fully aware of all its influences and inspirations, A Christmas Carol remains a thoroughly entertaining album, with several sparkling moments of Yuletide magic. Personally, I feel this is Silvestri’s most satisfying score since The Polar Express and Van Helsing five years ago. As is becoming Disney’s habit, the score is only available as a digital download through online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes, and cannot be purchased in stores. But don’t let that put you off; despite the lack of a little shiny silver disc to out on your shelves, there is still enough excellent music here to make the digital purchase worthwhile.

Rating: ****

Buy the Christmas Carol soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • A Christmas Carol Main Title (4:21)
  • Scrooge Counts Money (0:48)
  • Marley’s Ghost Visits Scrooge (6:12)
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past (4:58)
  • Let Us See Another Christmas (1:18)
  • Flight to Fezziwigs (1:27)
  • First Waltz (0:59)
  • Another Idol Has Replaced Me (1:40)
  • Touch My Robe (3:41)
  • The Clock Tower (1:50)
  • Carriage Chase (3:24)
  • Old Joe and Mrs. Dilber (2:28)
  • This Dark Chamber (1:56)
  • None of Us Will Ever Forget (1:33)
  • Who Was That Lying Dead? (3:08)
  • I’m Still Here (1:26)
  • Ride On, My Good Man (1:04)
  • God Bless Us Everyone (written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, performed by Andrea Bocelli) (3:15)

Running Time: 45 minutes 33 seconds

Disney Digital Download (2009)

Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. Orchestrations by William Ross, Conrad Pope and John Ashton Thomas. Featured musical soloist Rene Mandel. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Kenneth Karman. Album produced by Alan Silvestri.

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