Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Review of "Hugo" Soundtrack by Howard Shore

How do you give a sense of magic and excitement to a film with only subtle, moderate doses of action, humour, romance or any other variation of dramatic flare? Well, Howard Shore brings a wealth of scoring intelligence to this commendable feat.

12-year-old boy Hugo stars in this Martin Scorsese film of the same name, which uses a French perspective to pay homage to early cinema. Howard Shore embraces this French perspective and pulls off a colourful soundtrack. While impressively energetic and entertaining, this score still manages to be imbued with, like the film, a subtle intelligence and emotional heart.
The album opens with “The Thief”, a track which encompasses every flavour present in Hugo. It begins with delicately mysterious piano which arouses a haunting sense of melancholy. The piece then builds into the main theme of the film: a light-hearted waltz which serves as the backdrop for the bustling energy of the train station depicted on screen.
The themes of loss and loneliness are explored further in “Hugo’s Father” and brought to minor emotional climaxes in “The Clocks” and “Purpose” - the latter of which is the audio representation of one of the main ideas explored in the film.

Many moments in the film feature comedic interactions between stereotypical characters, and this is reflected in the soundtrack. “The Plan” is an enjoyable piece which opens with Shore’s comic march. And while not very entertaining musically, Sacha Baron Cohen’s quirky character is represented on album with his own track, “The Station Inspector”.

These praises given, I am not totally positive in my adoration. This album still doesn’t reach spectacular heights by any means. The style remains the same throughout, and therefore the repetition becomes dull when listening through all 21 tracks. Rather than rising and falling in energy, the tone remains somewhat the same the whole way through, with only slight variations on the main themes. For this reason there are some pieces that I won’t mention at all, simply because they appear to be nothing more than a rehash of something heard a few moments before. Tracks such as “Ashes” tinkle along in the background, making little to no impression but satisfactorily filling the 1 hour and 7 minute runtime of the soundtrack.

The whole score is - supposedly deliberately - kept “low key”. Near the end of “The Message”, horns begin to rise out of the rhythm and seem to build into … nothing. There is no soaring orchestration, no satisfying payoff to any such slowly building cues (for a possible exception see “A Ghost In The Station”). In the end, this means you have to achieve within yourself an appreciation for Shore’s shyly rhythmic ambience, or stop listening.
After the slight deviation of monotony that is “Trains”, the latter third of the soundtrack embraces an even lighter tone. The delicately building piano in “Papa Georges Made Movies” is certainly one of the most beautiful portions of the album, whereas “The Invention of Dreams” forgoes shame and totally delights in old styles of film music, gliding between pompous, clanging joy and vibrant single piano cues. At the end of the piece this joy fades, leaving a limping, melancholy piano - drawing contrast between the magic of cinema and the dreary slog of the life outside. Much of this content is repeated with small variations in the similar track, “The Magician”.

“A Train Arrives In The Station” is yet another example of joy and melancholy in the same composition. After beginning with a rather formulaic build of action and suspense, the piece falls away into another trance-like exploration of the recurring doleful cue.
Much to my own surprise, my favourite piece from the whole soundtrack is probably the song, “Coeur Volant”. Featuring some of the same melodies as the rest of the soundtrack, this hauntingly beautiful French song is performed by the French artist known as Zaz.
As “The Thief” was a tone-perfect opening track, “Winding It Up” is a perfect closing track. This piece steps once more over each of the major themes which are by now etched into our minds and familiar: joy, mystery, sadness, loneliness, discovery, and ending on a feeling of content purpose. Ah, I almost shed a tear just thinking about the sweetness of it all.

For many, Shore’s Hugo may not rise above the level of “Mmm yeah that’s nice I suppose”, but for me the whole production resonates. The themes hit the right spot, fostering within me an appreciation of the magic of cinema itself - a reaction Scorsese attempts to give the viewer at various moments throughout the film.

Without this excellent score I believe the film would have had far less power and emotional weight; Shore speaks to the audience just as much as any of the acting, writing or directing in Hugo, if not more.
I find Hugo to be an inspiring album to listen to even after numerous repeats. Despite the repetition and occasional lack of variety, Shore has filled this soundtrack with enough energy and emotion to put it in not only a high spot in my favourites for 2011, but also in a special place in my heart.

My scores for the soundtrack are below.

Yours terminally,
Rating: 8/10