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CD Reviews: Land of the Dead and Hostage

Land of the Dead ***
Varèse Sarabande 302 066 666 2
36 tracks - 74:12
George A. Romero's long-awaited follow-up to his 1985 zombie munchfest Day of the Dead sports a percussive, electronic soundtrack by German synthesists Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek.
The duo, who also scored One Hour Photo, provide the requisite screeching and morose marches associated with the zombie subgenre. Like many of fellow composer Hans Zimmer's endeavors, this score is an ensemble effort, featuring three additional performers.
The score, realized entirely in Apple's Logic Audio program, is the least melodic of Romero's zombie scores, yet it exudes an industrial, relentless foreboding that suits the film's dark storyline. The best tracks are "Saving Slack," a hybrid assault of relentless drums and strings; "Mall Slaughter, " an adrenal rush of techno/ambient stylings, and "To Canada," seven minutes of end credit music with a cool electro-rock flavor that would make for a good single. So if you're seeking something edgier than the normal summer soundtrack fare -- something more along the lines of Graeme Revell or Tangerine Dream -- you may want to check this album out.     -- Christopher Jenkins

Hostage *** 1/2


Superb 72051-2

20 tracks - 61:41

As a film, Hostage suffers from erratic pacing, characters who seem overtly archetypal (especially the villains), and an abrupt resolution that neatly yet unbelievably ties up all the loose ends. If one weren't listening closely, they might be distracted by the film's shortcomings and miss composer Alexandre Desplat's unique approach to a tired genre. Instead of playing up the action (a technique Michael Kamen almost pioneered with his seminal Die Hard score back in the late '80s) Desplat tackles this film with a lyrical, melodic, theme-driven ideology that underlines the angst of Bruce Willis' character and the urgency of the matters at hand.

Desplat's main theme is a simple yet effective piece featuring a soprano (or a boy singing falsetto), with cascading piano figures and foreboding strings that play a Herrmannesque progression. It's almost an elegant statement yet still retains an air of mystery for the thriller. Because most of the characters are youths, this theme touches upon their fragility. The secondary theme is more percussive-driven that underlines the martial dread that ensues.

The score develops with nice coloristic effects such as staccato flutes, col legno strings, and the occasional gurgling synth line that might remind some of Elfman's electronic work on MIB or Hulk. The composer even employs the gamelon for added flair on tracks like "The Watchman" and "House on Fire."

But the key element here isn't the application of sounds but rather the construction of the music and how it's applied to the film. Sure, there are the minimalist figures abounding in many cues. But they are supporting lines, while Desplat showcases melodies, even if they are restatements of the main theme with minor variations. And even his shorter musical gestures are more phrase-driven than functional motives, thus allowing the listener to latch onto these moments to make a visceral connection.

The only criticism that can be made toward this operatic approach is that it makes some scenes a little melodramatic. For the broad strokes that the comic book film genre allows, this is almost mandatory, but for most North American filmgoers, this sweeping melancholic music can be a bit too much to take in a film centered in urban reality.

Overall, Hostage is a treat for film music fans as it presents itself as an incredibly cogent listening experience apart from its filmic source. It has wonderful classical licks such as the arpeggiating violins in "The Negotiation," and the Irish jig inspired rendition of Tommy's theme on "A Secret Place," complete with Celtic harp and penny whistle. There's also effective modernist writing on "Crawl Space," with bitonal chord string/piano unisons and fervent string figures.

Apart from its occasional similarity to other famous film scores, Desplat's Hostage is a delight to listen through. If there is any justice, this style of film scoring will overshadow the noisy, wall- to-wall migraine-inducing electronic histrionics that have become the status quo for action scoring in Hollywood. For film score fans yearning to hear anything different, this one might very well be the ticket.     -- David Coscina

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