Year One Composed by Theodore Shapiro
Lakeshore Records (2009)
Soundclips below provided by AmazonMP3
“Where YEAR ONE
really succeeds is in its handling of humour. THEODORE SHAPIRO's
score comes in the form of musical deadpan, versus outright
slapstick humour, and the result is an intelligent, effective, and
entertaining listening experience within the context of the film.”
"A Knowledge-y Sort of Taste..."
Review by: Marius Masalar
If, on a lazy sort of Sunday afternoon, your mind wanders to the depths of
history in search of humanity's first forays into the realm of heroics, I will
forgive you if Jack Black and Michael Cera are not the first potentials that
come to mind. Nevertheless, the comedic duo is filling those hero shoes
enthusiastically in Harold Ramis' latest film, YEAR ONE. Even though, for some
of us, just the promise of having these two misfit characters doing their thing
is enough to get us into the theatre to watch this film, there is another
incentive in the form of a fun, evocative, and surprisingly intelligent score
from THEODORE SHAPIRO, whose various credits have earned him the title of the
"king of comedy scoring".
Though the film itself hardly breaks any new comedic ground, it offers up a
unique set of opportunities for SHAPIRO to develop his technique of providing
large-scale, serious, and impressive musical scores for projects —something
we've seen previously in TROPIC THUNDER as well. "Serious" does not seem like a
word I should be using to describe a comedy score, and I'm by no means implying
that the score isn't entertaining and fun —because it is —but it carries the
comedy in a dignified way.
At the very beginning, we are greeted by a dark and primal mood. There's no
grand orchestral overture, no bombastic cue with soaring themes. Instead, in the
"Main Titles" (1), we find ourselves drawn in more slowly and carefully, with a
deep percussive opening sprinkled with various ancient instrumental stabs and
groans, all of which grows to a ritualistic climax of quick percussion, male
grunts, and general tribal excitement. This general soundscape is maintained,
with occasional glimpses of more melodic instruments shining through, especially
in "The Forbidden Fruit" (3) where the strings open the cue, and quickly give
way to soft woodwinds, all of which floats upon a bed of ancient instrumental
flourishes. An air of mystery and foreboding characterizes the end of this
important cue, and careful listeners will even pick up a warbling reedy
statement of a Middle-Eastern sounding melodic fragment near the end, which
foreshadows the direction the score will eventually take.
"The Jackal Dance" (4) is a highlight of the score, especially for fans of
skillful percussion writing. This track is simply pulsing with excitement, and
manages to capture the wild sensation of a tribal ceremony in the guise of what
sounds like the love child of Tarzan and STOMP. Along with the very brief cue
that follows it, this track is also significant because it marks the last
instance of an overtly tribal sound in the score. As the two protagonsists of
the story are banished from their village, the music begins to progress with
them, departing from the primal sound of the opening and moving into a more
Middle-Eastern realm. "Flight From the Village" (6), the transitional cue
between those two musical worlds, also presents us with our first instance of
Shapiro's rather comedic modern elements. In this case, they come in the form of
a sleazy synth that kicks in with a low-key hip-hop beat near the end of the
track. The anachronism is endlessly entertaining.
The middle portion of the score is an exercise in this style clash, and
frequently features a massive string section that plays mostly unison lines, in
the traditional manner of the cultural stereotype. Tracks like "Bazaar" (7),
"The House of Adam" (9), and "Meet the Hebrews" (11) all include a comical beat
of some sort, and are interspersed with more peaceful or thoughful cues.
Interestingly, the occasional cue like "Wine and Spongecake" (12) or "Abraham
and Isaac" (13) brings to mind an almost Western-type sound, which actually
works well considering the journey aspect of the film that serves as such a
powerful influence on the score.
As the protagonists reach the latter part of their journey, the score makes one
more transition with them; this time, into a more epic and Biblical sound. By
the time we reach "The Rape Stick" (19) —which, by the way, must win some kind
of award for intriguing track title —SHAPIRO has started to incorporate more
regular orchestral elements and has also acquired a sense of scale and
importance to match the escalating stakes in the story. All this is done while
maintaining the evocative cultural sound of earlier cues, as the beginning of
"The Holy of Holies" (20) demonstrates.
By the final three tracks come about, we're hearing a full orchestra, the huge
Middle-Eastern string section, a large and culturally confused percussion
section, and the perpetually funny modern beats and synth elements. The most
impressive part is how coherent it all sounds. One would think that bringing
together such vastly different genre elements would make for a disjointed
listening experience, but the fact that the progression is so carefully
controlled and expertly crafted keeps things together. YEAR ONE conveys the
journey aspects of the film very well in the music, and it makes for a good
listening experience on the album.
The issue with the score is that it's so varied and so rich in cultural and
stylistic quirks that it simply doesn't leave you with a definite element to
remember it by. You won't leave the theatre humming any themes, and while the
music is excellent, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense when taken outside of
the context of the film. On the album, a number of the cues feel like filler,
and while they help smooth the transitions between the styles over the course of
the album, they're just not very interesting to listen to.
Where YEAR ONE really succeeds is in its handling of humour. THEODORE SHAPIRO's
score comes in the form of musical deadpan, versus outright slapstick humour,
and the result is an intelligent, effective, and entertaining listening
experience within the context of the film.