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GHOSTBUSTERS – Theodore Shapiro

ghostbusters-shapiroOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Plans for a third Ghostbusters movie have been floating around Hollywood since the 1990s, but for a variety of reasons a true continuation of the story never materialized. Incomplete screenplays, lack of money, and reluctance from the stars of the original film – Bill Murray, especially – frustrated fans for decades, and the death of original cast member Harold Ramis in 2014 seemingly put an end to the possibility. However, in early 2015, it was unexpectedly announced that a complete reboot of the franchise had been green-lit, with Paul Feig directing a screenplay by Katie Dippold, and a brand new all-female leading cast comprising Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. That there was uproar about this is an understatement; almost from the moment the project was announced, there was a social media backlash, much of it aimed, somewhat misogynistically, at the fact that the leads were women, combined with the fact that the story completely ignored the characters and heritage of the first two films.

The new story follows former best friends Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Abby Yates (McCarthy), who became interested in the paranormal as children, but went their separate ways following the publication of an embarrassing ghost-related book which threatened Gilbert’s career in academia. Circumstances contrive to bring the pair together years later, and soon they discover a conspiracy whereby someone is using devices that amplify psycho-kinetic energy, causing ghosts to appear all over New York City. With the help of Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), an engineering genius, Patty Tolan (Jones), a former transit authority worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York history, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their dim-witted but impossibly handsome secretary, the newly-formed Ghostbusters set about discovering who is behind the phenomena.

Truthfully, the film is a misfire, but not for any of the sexist reasons many predicted. Personally, I found the story to be lacking in clarity and to have an under-written villain, while far too much of the humor felt forced and somewhat out of place. Conversely, the special effects were all outstanding, and some of the unexpected cameos were fun, but for me one of the major triumphs of the film was the score by Theodore Shapiro. Shapiro wrote one of his most popular scores for Feig’s action-comedy film Spy in 2015, and so was a natural choice to score Ghostbusters. Despite his enormous talent, for many years Shapiro has been somewhat stuck, career-wise, scoring far too many silly comedies. The music for these films is across-the-board excellent – I’m especially thinking of things like Dodgeball, Blades of Glory, Tropic Thunder, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – but it’s quite rare that he is given the opportunity to score something with a little more meat on it’s bones. Ghostbusters, while still technically a comedy, gave Shapiro a much broader canvas, encapsulating elements of action, fantasy, and horror, and he rose to the challenge admirably.

The score is quite huge, making use of a large symphony orchestra, a large mixed-voice choir, and several specialty instruments, including what sound like Tibetan glass bowls, and a throbbing pipe organ (the largest church pipe organ in the world, at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles), performed by German-born virtuoso organist Christoph Bull. There are four recurring themes, and a couple of smaller instrumental motifs, which weave their way through the score, skillfully picking choice moments to shine amongst all the enormous orchestral carnage. We haven’t really heard music on this massive scale from Shapiro before, and it’s wonderful for him to show his range here.

There are two themes for the Ghostbusters. The first I am calling the ‘Ghostbusters fanfare’, a rising five note motif for brass that appears regularly whenever one of the main quartet does something heroic. It first appears, subtly hinted at, during “Never Invited,” but gets its first full, prominent appearance towards the end of the subsequent cue, “Distinct Human Form.” The second theme will be more familiar to most people, as it is a note-for-note statement of the see-sawing siren-like bridge from Ray Parker Jr.’s song “Ghostbusters” from the original movie. It also appears for the first time in the aforementioned “Distinct Human Form,” and gets several prominent statements thereafter, often accompanied by a contemporary rock drum kit and electric guitars. I had wondered whether a musical callback to the original movie would appear in the score, and whether it would seem out-of-place – after all, there is no thematic continuity to maintain through using it, and the song is indelibly linked with 1984 – but I found that it worked very well, without any negative connotations.

A secondary theme, representing the long-lasting relationship between Erin and Abby, makes its first appearance in “Ghost Girl,” a Thomas Newman-esque theme for strings and piano which is somehow lonely and warmly nostalgic at the same time. Then there are two supernatural themes for the ghosts themselves, both of which are introduced in the opening cue, “The Aldridge Mansion”. The first is a four-note motif which oscillates between pipe organ, strings and brass, which is often accompanied by darkly beautiful cello lines, and which seems to appear whenever a conjured spirit makes its first appearance. Secondly, there is a tinkling, other-worldly sounding motif for glass bowls and metallic percussion which appears to represent Rowan, the film’s primary antagonist, and his scheme to unleash supernatural horrors on the world. The orchestration of this idea changes in the score’s second half, ditching the metallic textures in favor of a leathery, flapping idea produced by synths, which sounds a little like one of the ideas Hans Zimmer wrote for The Dark Knight, crossed with one of Alexandre Desplat’s subliminal pulses. It’s very clever, the way Shapiro uses different ideas and textures to illustrate different aspects of the paranormal world, and it left me rather impressed.

As the music progresses these five themes/ideas form the building blocks of the entire score. The action sequences, the more atmospheric moments of tension and anticipation, and the all-out explosions of horror all contain regular thematic statements, weaving in and amongst the often very impressive orchestral outbursts. The horror music is, at times, quite vivid. “The Garrett Attack” contains more than its fair share of dissonant stingers, rampaging and whooping brass writing, and chanting choral outbursts. “Never Invited” begins with a set of busy New York rhythms, dancing between strings and feathery woodwinds with an optimistic can-do spirit, before the creepy-beautiful ghost motif returns in all its glory.

Elsewhere, both “The Universe Shall Bend” and “Subway Ghost Attack” feature prominent statements of Rowan’s metallic percussion ideas, as well as an energetic brass performance of the ghost motif with a more aggressive tempo, before eventually emerging into two consecutive statements of the Ghostbusters fanfare – a disintegrating version when their first attempt to capture the ghost fails, then a more triumphant one with a huge climax as the subway ghost is captured.

“Mannequins “ is creepy and ominous, full of skittering string textures and staccato piano rhythms, before finally exploding into a frantic action sequence with ghastly dissonant brass, and the Ghostbusters fanfare accompanied by choir. “Ley Lines” has a sense of mystery, discovery, revelation, and apprehension, with angelic choral writing underpinned by energetic cello lines, and a rocking performance of the classic Ghostbusters theme to finish. “I Will Lead Them All” revisits the Erin and Abbey Friendship theme as Kristen Wiig’s character flips through a copy of their book, but it quickly transforms into something much more horrifying, with the flapping wings idea, creepy pizzicato effects, and several dark choral and orchestral crescendos.

Following on from “The Power of Patty Compels You,” into which Shapiro thrusts some appropriately Krzysztof Penderecki-style string writing for an Exorcist parody, the finale of the score (essentially everything from “The Fourth Cataclysm” onwards) is one long 18-minute action sequence of quite gargantuan scale. Shapiro brings everything out in these cues: the largest orchestra he can muster, enormous choral outbursts, apocalyptic organ chords, and several statements of the Ghostbusters fanfare to place the fearless four at the center of it all. Even here, amongst all this musical chaos and carnage, several moments stand out. The ondes martenot at 2:12 of “The Fourth Cataclysm” is a clever nod of the head to Elmer Bernstein’s score for the first film. Some of the choral textures in “Balloon Parade” have a brief Danny Elfman/Batman vibe, possibly as a composer in-joke to the similar scene in the classic 1989 super-hero film. The performance of the original Ghostbusters theme in “Battle of Times Square” is brilliant, accompanying Holtzmann’s hero moment as she triumphantly blasts her way through the ghosts attacking her friends.

Later, “Behemoth” is immense, but contains several wonderfully detailed touches, like the sequence where the Ghostbusters fanfare is deconstructed to rhythmic ideas in cellos, the moment where Shapiro introduces a deep male voice choir as the Behemoth appears, the crashing pianos and Christopher Young-esque horn writing towards the end of the cue, and the conclusive performance of the Ghostbusters fanfare contrapuntally offset against Rowan’s glass bowls down in the mix. “Into the Portal” is the score’s appropriately epic finale, filled with yet more thunderous chanting – often heard contrapuntally against the fanfare ideas – some Poledouris-esque drum patterns, and even a statement of the Friendship theme for added emotional content, before a final triumphant refrain of Ghostbusters Fanfare confirms that the girls have triumphed over evil. It’s cues like these that really illustrate just what a tremendous composer Theodore Shapiro is, and how much he can bring to the table when he has a canvas as big as this film to inspire him

Fans of Elmer Bernstein’s Ghostbusters score – of which there are many – will likely be surprised at just how much bigger, in scope and ambition, Theodore Shapiro’s score is than the 1984 original. Similarly, anyone whose expectation was that this would be a tongue-in-cheek comedy score will definitely have their preconceptions blown out of the water. There is not a moment in this score where Shapiro doesn’t take the music 100% seriously, or in any way undermines the horrific gravity of what a spectral invasion of New York would actually mean. Yet again, the old adage that the best way to score a comedy is to ignore the comedy and score the drama, is proven to be correct. I appreciate that many fans of the original movie still harbor a number of misgivings about this new version of Ghostbusters even existing in the first place, and as such may feel some ill-will towards the score. My advice to them is to ignore it – this is a wonderful score on all fronts and, for me, is the best score of Theodore Shapiro’s career to date.

Buy the Ghostbusters soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Aldridge Mansion (2:57)
  • The Garrett Attack (1:29)
  • Never Invited (1:23)
  • Distinct Human Form (2:26)
  • The Universe Shall Bend (2:22)
  • Subway Ghost Attack (3:21)
  • Ghost Girl (0:59)
  • Mannequins (2:12)
  • Ghost in a Box (0:50)
  • Dr. Heiss (3:21)
  • Ley Lines (3:47)
  • Pester the Living (2:48)
  • I Will Lead Them All (2:16)
  • The Power of Patty Compels You (2:16)
  • The Fourth Cataclysm (3:32)
  • Balloon Parade (1:58)
  • Battle of Times Square (3:20)
  • Entering the Mercado (2:31)
  • Behemoth (3:43)
  • Into the Portal (3:07)
  • NY Heart GB (0:49)

Running Time: 51 minutes 39 seconds

Sony Classical (2016)

Music composed by Theodore Shapiro. Conducted by Mark Graham. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, John Ashton Thomas, Rick Giovinazzo and Randy Kerber. “Ghostbusters” theme by Ray Parker Jr.. Featured musical soloist Christoph Bull. Recorded and mixed by Chris Fogel. Edited by Erica Weis. Album produced by Theodore Shapiro.

  1. Nasir007
    July 19, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    This is a truly spectacular score. I was practically stunned while watching the film to find such a sophisticated score in a summer comedy film. Its aces!

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