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NEW MOON – Alexandre Desplat

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Teenage girls the world over have been salivating over the impending release of New Moon ever since the first film in the Twilight series was released in 2008. This film, directed by Chris Weitz, is based on the second book in the string of unfathomably popular novels by author Stephanie Meyer, and continues the ongoing love story between the moody, introverted Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) and her paramour, the brooding, sensitive vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). However, there is a twist in the tale: native American teen Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a background presence in the first film, has stepped into the forefront and revealed that he has fallen for Bella himself. However, as if creating an undead love-triangle were not enough, Jacob also holds a dark secret of his own – he and his family are werewolves, and have been at war with the vampires for generations…

Despite predictably scathing reviews from critics, it is inevitable that New Moon will be an enormous commercial success, thanks to the immense popularity of the books, the three protagonists, and the three actors playing the leads, who attract screaming fans wherever they go. Misunderstood Goths and star-struck teenage girls from Alaska to Alabama have been lining up in droves to see the film; whether this snowball of success will translate to the film’s music remains to be seen. Carter Burwell, who wrote a rather disappointing score for the first Twilight film, has been replaced this time round by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat, who previously worked with director Weitz on The Golden Compass in 2007. Desplat’s music is an improvement over Burwell’s effort in almost every way: thematically, orchestrally, technically, intellectually, and in terms of pure enjoyment. It contains some achingly beautiful string writing and some vividly dark dissonance, capturing both the essence of the relationship between Bella and Edward, and the increasingly dangerous world they inhabit.

The main theme – as heard in the superb opening “New Moon” – is a deceptively simple melody for piano, accompanied by a lush string wash and an undulating bass undercurrent, which gradually grows in size and impressive scope to incorporate the majority of orchestra. It’s a theme which speaks of love, certainly, but also tragedy, longing, and a slight sense of apprehension; quite appropriate, really, when you are dealing with a girl falling in love with a vampire. “Romeo and Juliet” presents a morose version of the main theme, while later “Edward Leaves” has a bittersweet piano restatement of the theme that gives way to heartbreaking cello piece and, eventually, a dramatic and engaging orchestra. It has a pair of rapturous recapitulations in “Adrenaline” and “You’re Alive”, and eventually comes full circle by forming the basis of the excellent conclusive trio comprising the softly inviting “The Cullens”, the euphoric “Marry Me, Bella” and the sweepingly passionate finale, “Full Moon”. “The Meadow”, the cue which features on the soundtrack CD that was released several weeks prior to the score album, is a solo piano variation on the main theme, and makes a nice addition to the score when programmed into the mix.

In addition to the main theme, there are several other gorgeous romantic textures to be found throughout the score, more often than not accompanying Bella, her sense of loss when separated from Edward, and her joy at being reunited with her love. “I Need You” features some lovely, intimate harp writing; “Break Up” counterpoints breathy, vaguely ethnic flutes against an almost funereal bass drum to give the cue a sense of desperate finality; “Almost a Kiss” re-ignites the romantic flame with a beautifully tender duet for piano and harp; and “Dreamcatcher” features subtle, nuanced textures for a three-note piano theme and wistful, lyrical flutes.

The Volturi – the coven of aristocratic vampires who rule their kind, and who become a shadowy omnipresence in the wider Twilight world – have their own theme; an opulent, mysterious waltz featuring harpsichords and a solo trumpet refrain that hints at their longevity and power, and continues to impart a malevolent influence over later cues such as “To Volterra” and, naturally, “The Volturi”. “To Volterra” is one of the score’s standout cues, beginning slowly, but eventually emerging from a twisted restatement of the waltz theme into a deliciously sinister piece for raging strings, dancing woodwinds, foreboding percussion and low, ominous horn chords. “The Volturi”, after restating the waltz theme with the utmost sense of dread, explodes into an almost Goldenthal-esque frenzy of orchestral chaos that has a great deal of panache and energy.

The action music elsewhere tends to be more restrained, less well-structured than that heard in scores like The Golden Compass, but still significantly more mature than the harsh, grating, grungy electronics Burwell employed in the first movie. Cues such as “Blood Sample”, “Werewolves” and “Wolves v. Vampire” make use of a heightened percussion element, nervous string ostinati, lonesome guitar chords, electronic pulses, and a weeping synth choir, and have a general air of unease. “Wolves v. Vampire”, once it really gets going, is especially impressive, and has a punchy, muscular quality of barely-controlled fury that occasionally resembles parts of the jaw-dropping polar bear action music from The Golden Compass.

Of course, this would not be a Desplat score if he didn’t incorporate some of his unique orchestral touches, or give the score some unexpected instrumental colors to keep things interesting. The slapping strings from Hostage and the synth pulse from Birth both appear in the unsettling second cue, “Bella Dreams”, and the subsequent “Victoria”, while the famous ‘fluttering flutes’ make a guest appearance in “To Volterra”. Also keep an ear out for the cool descending piano line right at the end of the opening “New Moon”, the frenetic xylophones underpinning “Wolves v. Vampire”, and the variation on the metallic bowl-like ‘dust’ motif from The Golden Compass in “The Volturi”. The clarity and intricacy of Desplat’s orchestrations and the cleverness of the instrumental combinations is never less than perfect, and makes listening to his music a consistently enjoyable, interesting and surprising delight.

Yet again, I find myself running out of superlatives to describe Alexandre Desplat’s music; his work speaks to me on an emotional level in a way that no composer’s has done since I first discovered James Horner, and the technical and intellectual qualities of his writing fascinate me endlessly. New Moon is no different. Thankfully, Desplat has made no concessions to the dismal musical framework laid out by Carter Burwell in the first film, and had instead forged his own new path into the Twilight universe. In doing so, he may have just opened himself up to a whole new legion of angsty 15-year-old female followers, who will undoubtedly revel in the romantic parts of the score. For me, New Moon is the best of Desplat’s eight scores from 2009, and up amongst the best scores of the year.

Rating: ****½

Buy the New Moon soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • New Moon (3:19)
  • Bella Dreams (2:05)
  • Romeo & Juliet (2:46)
  • Volturi Waltz (1:17)
  • Blood Sample (1:15)
  • Edward Leaves (5:03)
  • Werewolves (4:25)
  • I Need You (1:38)
  • Break Up (2:04)
  • Memories of Edward (1:39)
  • Wolves v. Vampire (4:32)
  • Victoria (2:05)
  • Almost a Kiss (2:12)
  • Adrenaline (2:24)
  • Dreamcatcher (3:31)
  • To Volterra (9:18)
  • You Are Alive (2:11)
  • The Volturi (8:27)
  • The Cullens (4:32)
  • Marry Me, Bella (4:04)
  • Full Moon (3:15)
  • The Meadow [bonus cue from song CD] (4:10)

Running Time: 76 minutes 20 seconds

Koch Records KOC-CD-2075 (2009)

Music composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Alexandre Desplat, Jean-Pascal Beintus, Sylvain Morizet and Nicolas Charron. Featured musical soloists Vincent Segal and Huw Davies. Recorded and mixed by Jonathan Allen and Andrew Dudman. Edited by Gerard McCann. Album produced by Alexandre Desplat.

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