Original Score

Decca, 2005

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Soundtrack reviews can be tricky. You're often taking an ambient element from a film and making a case for its worth as a stand-alone work. This often fails because the music usually wasn't created with the intention of bearing repeated listening outside the framework of the film.

Some soundtracks reply on singles and works of various artists, so they are essentially compilations. Take the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, for example. It was a huge success not because of the hype surrounding the film, but because it's a highly eclectic collection of great songs.

A true cinematic score is a different proposition. They are generally symphonic in nature, and therefore lose a huge audience because symphonic music doesn't appeal to a lot of mainstream listeners. Looking at sales figures, many of the more successful soundtracks -- Williams' my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Star Wars soundtracks, or Howard Shore's scores for the Lord Of The Rings films, for example -- are popular because of the pop-culture frenzy that follows something as iconic as thoser franchises, not necessarily because they're great albums.

The film Munich tells the story of the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Olympic village in 1972. The film is a somber, brooding and often tense affair, and Williams' score reflects that perfectly. The tracks are melancholy and often impart a sense of grief. At other times, they invoke the gripping suspense of the intrigue and drama of the film's story, as on the skittering and urgent "Letter Bomb," for example. You don't have to see the scene to know that this is a white-knuckle moment in the film.

The use of ethnic musical themes and styles from the Middle East adds levels of depth to the score. Besides adding an appropriate cultural texture, the haunting voice of Lisbeth Scott chanting in Arabic on the opening theme "Munich, 1972" and "Remembrance" echo the dramatic and mournful nature of the film. Unlike much of Williams' work, Munich lacks the thunderous and bombastic nature of, for instance, his Star Wars scores. This doesn't take any of the power from the music. The rich depth of feeling in these mostly quiet and somber pieces imparts their own strong feelings and emotions.

It's sometimes difficult to listen to, however, if only for the bizarre nature of film score music. On "Bearing The Burden" for example, the quiet theme is broken by shattering crescendos that match the dramatic nuances of the scene it was written for. They only make sense within the framework of the scene. On its own, it's an uneven listen

The compositions are, of course, flawless. This is John Williams were talking about, after all. Thick, swelling strings and evocative percussion are two of Williams' hallmarks and he uses them generously here. Some of the tracks stand out as very listenable, while others are so obviously just incidental scene music they seem flat outside of their place in the film. This isn't something I would pop in the CD player for a Sunday drive, but it's good albeit somewhat somber background music.

Rating: B-

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© 2006 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Decca, and is used for informational purposes only.