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The Golden Compass
by Alexandre Desplat

The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass (Soundtrack) by Alexandre Desplat

The Golden Compass
Composed by Alexandre Desplat
New Line Records (2007)

Rating: 5/10

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Listen to this soundclip of The Golden Compass by Alexandre DesplatThe Golden Compass (355 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of The Golden Compass by Alexandre DesplatRiding Iorek (357 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of The Golden Compass by Alexandre DesplatBattle with the Tartars (331 kb)

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“The music in the film does its job...not calling attention to itself while you watch. The trouble is that the score doesn't call attention to itself when you listen to the soundtrack either. It plays and you hear it. It stops and its immediately gone from memory. ”

Desplat's Materials
Review by Christopher Coleman

Of all the film's of the 2007 holiday season, THE GOLDEN COMPASS has probably had the highest expectation heaped upon it. Called the "anti-Chroncles of Narnia," Phillip Pullman's book series has garnered a large following of devoted fans since its debut in 1996. Then in 2002, New Line Studios announced that it would had obtained the rights to make a film-adaptation. With the success of New Line's LORD OF THE RING TRILOGY, the moderate success of Disney/Walden's THE LION, THE WITCH and THE WARDROBE, and, of course, the HARRY POTTER franchise, it seemed that New Line was betting the farm on the apparent voracious appetite of moviegoers for such films. With a massive production and marketing budget, New Line was also betting that the box office returns would enable them to churn out the two sequels as well.

One of the great things about the fantasy genre is that regardless of the quality of the overall film, there is always great potential for a solid score. Certainly the films listed above feature some of the better film music since the turn of the century and the hope was that THE GOLDEN COMPASS and its potential sequels would be no different. In an interesting move to say the least, one of Hollywood's busiest composers of late, ALEXANDRE DESPLAT, was brought on to score the film. While duly respected for his work for films such as SYRIANA, THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING, and THE PAINTED VEIL, Desplat's minimalist style didn't seem like the most natural choice for this material...but of course, Howard Shore didn't seem like one for THE LORD OF THE RINGS either. That choice worked out pretty well, but how about this one?

In a nutshell, ALEXANDRE DESPLAT's score does fit the film quite well. Now such a statement would seem to be a positive remark on the music, but it's not quite that simple. Unfortunately, THE GOLDEN COMPASS film was more than a little underwhelming. On the positive side, the production value is fantastic, particularly in the first half of the film. Sets, props, costumes, matte paintings...all magnificent. However, such things are but icing. Somehow the end result of the film left me wanting more...a lot more. Even with a nice cast, most of the story's characters came off thinly developed and only marginally interesting. Aside from a few visual moments locked in my brain, I left the theatre sadly disappointed. So to repeat my initial statement, "Alexandre Desplat's score fits the film quite well."

I wouldn't call THE GOLDEN COMPASS a bad score, just as I wouldn't call the film a "bad film." They are both just disappointing. ALEXANDRE DESPLAT's score hits all the right beats...contains the necessary ingredients...but doesn't have the type of thematic development I, and I'm guessing a few others, came to expect. So, after watching the film or listening the score, there isn't much that remains with the viewer/listener to chew on. Once its over...its over.

The music in the film does its job...not calling attention to itself while you watch. The trouble is that it doesn't call attention to itself when you listen to the soundtrack. It plays and you hear it. It stops and isimmediately gone from memory. You aren't particularly disturbed by some cheesey theme or over-reliance upon electronic elements and you are not wowwed by big, bold, in-your-face-themes either. THE GOLDEN COMPASS meanders and then meanders a bit more and then occasionally finds a brief shot of purpose and distinction.

Some have described the world of THE GOLDEN COMPASS as a variety of "steam-punk" and I suppose I agree that this is the most accurate term available, but somehow not altogether precise. Still, this sort of retro-techian concept gives some justification for featuring a score that is perhaps more romantic than it is fantastic. The first half of the soundtrack is dominated by more "character" and "atmosphere" than anything else and it is here that the music is most interesting. Ironically, as the plot thickens and the amount of action increases in the film, my interest and enjoyment of the score actually decreases. As we follow Lyra to the North, the tone of the score changes considerably. Now heading towards full action-adventure territory, ALEXANDRE DESPLAT starts to let the orchestra out of its box. "Lee Scoresby's Airship Adventure" (track 10) seems to hold a lot of promise for the quality of music which is to come, but sadly that promise goes unfulfilled for the most part. As the story of the defrauded ice-bear, Iorek, starts to unfold, and even through the climax of the film, the music becomes colder than the CG snow and mountains of the North. Despite the intensity rising through the balance of the film, the action sequences are just not very interesting in terms of the scenes themselves and neither is the score. Cues such as "Riding Iorek," "Samoyed Attack," "Ice Bear Combat" and the climactic "Battle of the Tartars" fill their roles in the film, but don't provide much interest outside of that context. Unfortunately, for the score if those respective sequences had been better themselves perhaps appreciation of those musical cues would be higher. The soundtrack comes to a very unceremonious conclusion with the anti-climatic vocal piece, "Lyra" yawningly performed by Kate Bush. If New Line was looking to recreate the magic of solid end credit songs heard in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, then it would be wise to start with lyrics that have some depth and a solid hook that audiences will carry with them from their theater seats to their car seats.

With box office sales not meeting expectations it remains to be seen if the sequels for THE GOLDEN COMPASS will be made. I'm left with a couple of unexpected feelings here. If they are not made, I don't feel as if we'll be missing anything at all. If they are made and they go another direction from what ALEXANDRE DESPLAT has done musically, I wouldn't be offended either. (Hey! If Harry Potter can move away from John Williams, anything is possible.) Just why exactly THE GOLDEN COMPASS doesn't quite rise to the level of other fantasy-film scores remains a bit blurry to me. The man is talented. No doubts there; however, it may be as simple as this genre not being the best vehicle for Desplat to showcase his skills. It may also be that Desplat was actually leaving himself room to develop his music in the sequels. The problem here is that, if this is the case, then he has left himself a little too much room causing listeners to yawn instead of yearn for what may be coming next.

Rating: 5/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 The Golden Compass 2:22  ****
2 Sky Ferry 2:44  ****
3 Letters From Bolvangar 2:34  ***
4 Lyra, Roger and Billy 1:30  ***
5 Mrs. Coulter 5:21  ***
6 Lyra Escapes 3:45  ***
7 The Magisterium 2:00  **
8 Dust 1:11  ***
9 Serafina Pekkala 1:51  ***
10 Lee Scoresby's Airship Adventure 1:20  ****
11 Iorek Byrnison 5:29  **
12 Lord Faa, King of the Gyptians 2:20  ***
13 The Golden Monkey 2:05  ***
14 Riding Iorek 4:41  **
15 Samoyed Attack 1:23  **
16 Lord Asriel 2:10  **
17 Ragnar Sturlusson 6:21  **
18 Ice Bear Combat 2:18  ***
19 Iorek's Victory 1:29  ***
20 The Ice Bridge 1:34  ***
21 Rescuing the Children 2:21  ***
22 Intercision 2:50  ***
23 Mother 3:36  **
24 Battle with the Tartars 4:31  ***
25 Epilogue 3:34  ***
26 Lyra 3:19  *
  Total Running Time (approx)    




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