Oscar-nominated movie scores push boundaries

Tue Feb 19, 2008 2:23am EST
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By Jeff Bond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - What is a "traditional score," and why are they saying such terrible things about it?

Last year the dictum from filmmakers seemed to be a unanimous "We don't want a traditional score!" This year however, aside from James Newton Howard's stealthy, ambient work for "Michael Clayton," the remaining nominees for best original score -- Dario Marianelli's "Atonement," Michael Giacchino's "Ratatouille," Marco Beltrami's "3:10 to Yuma" and even Alberto Iglesias' "The Kite Runner" -- all feature strong orchestral writing and melodies along with their innovations.

"3:10 to Yuma" manages to pay homage to the roots of its genre while employing first-time nominee Marco Beltrami's knack for finding unusual approaches to instrumentation and recording.

"I think the biggest challenge was to be aware of the genre, be aware of Western scores that had come before and the stylized nature of that, but to do something original that wasn't a pastiche of everything else," Beltrami says. "So it had the flavor of an older sound but maybe in a more modern setting."

Like many of his peers, Beltrami received orders from director James Mangold to avoid a traditional sound.

"Jim didn't want a large, orchestral, epic score -- that's not what the picture needed. He wanted a smaller, more unique sound and cool grooves that would complement the picture almost as a character. I did use some strings in it, but when we recorded the strings at Abbey Road, we had close mikes set up and room mikes set up, and all the room mikes were dialed out in favor of the real closeness of the sound, the close mikes. So it doesn't have a big sense of space but more of an intimate sense of grittiness."


That approach does indeed go against the grain of the more recent trend of recording large orchestras, often close to or over 100 players, and miking them to get a more massive overall sound -- in effect blending the orchestra into one huge instrument.   Continued...

<p>The six stages an Oscar statuette goes through before it is finished can be seen at a "Meet The Oscars" display in Times Square, New York February 15, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>