UP, CARS 2, SUPER 8 and MONTE CARLO
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Labels: Intrada, Walt Disney, Varese Sarabande
Suggested Retail Prices: $19.99 / $10.00 / $13.06 / $13.80
Grades: A / B / A / A
Outside of the team-propelled confines of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control productions, few composers have had a meteoric solo rise to the top like Michael Giacchino. A one-time Disney publicist, Giacchino impressed with his orchestral chops in the nascent world of video game scoring, helping to make the genre respectable as any film score with his grand, Willams-esque action for the MEDAL OF HONOR series. Yet it would be the small screen, and The Mouse House, that would probably be most instrumental in Giacchino’s deserved success. First teaming with another Young Turk named J.J. Abrams on such hit shows as ALIAS and LOST, Giacchino then had Disney publicists write about him with THE INCREDIBLES and the Oscar-nominated RATTATOUILE. Now a big winner in every respect with the stylistically extreme likes of SPEED RACER, SKY HIGH, THE FAMILY STONE, STAR TREK and LET ME IN under his ever-burgeoning musical belt of nearly 100 soundtracks. Michael Giacchino has reached the point where it seems that just about every other movie this summer is being scored by him, let alone seeing a plethora of soundtrack releases sport his name. If Jerry Goldsmith referred to this kind of productivity as offering “bottle caps” for collectors to acquire, then Giacchino might consider himself a one-man Jones soda factory- producing smooth, high end music for hits shows and multiplex auditoriums, all with a fizz that’s pleasantly old-school. Indeed, Giacchino has bottled a distinctive, winning formula for themes and melody that will very likely made him the next generation’s Goldsmith with a release calendar that he owns like no composer’s business.
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If Giacchino brilliantly stepped into the shoes of John Barry and Henry Mancini to musically embody a family of superheroes and one rat’s exceptional taste buds, then 2009’s UP was the Disney animated extravaganza where Giacchino’s own, nostalgic voice rang loud and clear to the tune of an Oscar. Where I’ll be in the crotchety, Carl-worthy minority of those who’d want to take a cane to the unabashed cuteness of what awaits an old grumpus and an antically annoying boy scout on top of the forbidden mesa they float to, there’s zero denying the tear-jerking brilliance of UP’s life vignette opening. And there’s positively no way to fend off how wonderful Giacchino’s score is from start to finish with a score that’s Disney’s most deserved take-home statuette in the scoring category for my book. The Spirit of Adventure, and wondrous sentiment that Giacchino captures here are positively buoyant in this lovely, theme-propelled score. Like the best, old jazz Americana, Giacchino’s melodies brings one back to sun-tinged memories, and the giddiness of lost dreams regained, all with gossamer orchestrations that firmly link UP to the golden age of Disney scoring in BAMBI, PINNOCHIO and DUMBO, scores which shared the same sense of wide-eyed wonder and sentiment. What’s more delightful is how Giacchino mixes this can-do spirit with the tropical percussion, and orchestral foreboding of a land of giant dodos and talking dogs- the themes just as malleable for cuteness as they are swashbuckling danger. But as opposed to the rugged adventurers that “lost continent” scores of this type had, Giacchino’s music is always aware that its heroes are far from the rugged types- just a crotchety widower and a pudgy scout trying to prove their self-worth. It’s a lovely mix of bittersweetness and excitement that makes Giacchno come across as much as a wizened composer with years of wanting to write the next big adventure score as he is the geeky kid out to impress with his merit badges. It’s the kind of enthusiasm that’s distinguished much of Giacchino’s best work, no more so than in UP.
Yet even after winning an Oscar, UP marked the beginning of the end for mainstream soundtrack release on CD. For if you weren’t lucky enough to pay for the physical promo, the only way to hear UP was through the listening medium of iTunes- an inferior choice given the sound quality of a silver disc, let alone the dinosaured vinyl records of Carl’s generation. But now thanks to a new release pact between Disney and Intrada, UP is at last available the way it should have been all along. Better yet, UP’s booklet has been glorious designed to look like the Disney albums of yore, full of picture-book illustrations and winking retro descriptions that will make any jaded listener feel like a music-hungry kid again, ready to wear a groove into his record. One can only imagine the Disney treasures for Intrada to mine in this exciting team-up, which couldn’t have gotten a more apt title to start this exciting collaboration up with- let alone one that will hopefully rescue other worthy scores from an e-ether more menacing than any mesa’s foggy summit.
Not nearly as well reviewed a Pixar film as UP, but a whole lot of fun to listen to in any case, is CARS 2. Where Randy Newman’s more straight-laced approach was more fitting for the original’s desert-bound setting of Radiator Springs, Giacchino’s now taken over the driver’s seat with a considerable shot of adrenalin for this commercially flashy, globe-hopping sequel. Fans of Giacchino’s spy stylings for THE INCREDIBLES, ALIAS and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 (not to mention his ultra-help sore for SPEED RACER) will be happy with the oodles of hip 007 / Derek Flint / Austin Powers action that rambunctiously fuels these human-faced vehicles. 60’s ready fuzz guitars, organs and a thundering orchestra drive much of the score’s energy, which doesn’t abate even when its Mater’s hayseed fiddles doing the laps. Giacchino’s got another strong theme to go on here, and never forgets to use it with every brash turn. But then, CARS 2 isn’t meant to be a score of delicate subtlety, but a musical thrill ride for franchise-juiced tykes. And with that goal firmly in mind, Giacchino flies through the finish line in roaringly assured, checkered flag-waving style.
Lots of monstrous bellowing accompanies SUPER 8, a film that sports what’s likely the most eagerly awaited Giacchino soundtrack to hit this month, especially for score fans who share the obvious movie geek love that J.J. Abrams’ put into his scary valentine to all 1970’s / 80’s things Spielberg and Amblin. Accompanying all of that director’s own production’s was the lushly adventurous music of John Williams, classic scores that could at once conjure a child’s wide-eyed wonderment towards the fantastic, then freak the bejesus out of them in the next. It’s a similar balancing act that Giacchino does here for an alien with a justifiably bad attitude. Yet both film and score prove there’s a big difference between soulless copycatting and a loving, spot-on homage.
It’s something that Giacchino first displayed in his Williams-isms for the first few MEDAL OF HONOR games, which functioned as ersatz Indiana Jones scores, as composed by someone whose musical enthusiasm, and unique talent, marked him as far more than a fanboy. For a movie that deals with a movie-adoring band of brothers (and one hardly enthusiastic girl at first), SUPER 8’s real triumph is how it’s a movie about movies without continually referencing them. Ditto with how well Giacchino co-opts John Williams’ greatest hits into how own, ever-growing voice. SUPER 8 is a virtual checklist of the maestro, from the lurching motifs that signal JAWS and JURASSIC-scale monsters, to the CE3K military brass as army trucks roll out in a hapless attempt to do some damage. Delicate, twinkling melodies represent that special summer, with the big bells and soaring orchestra marking the misunderstood E.T’s ascent to the heavens (likely still accompanied by some human snacks for the trip). Giacchino’s created the musical equivalent of that big Spielberg dolly-in from start to finish, with strikingly distinctive themes and motifs the camera motors that drive this score’s spectacular production values.
Better yet, SUPER 8 has a tremendous vitality to it, closer to the rousing music that Giacchino was able to give Abrams’ STAR TREK than the understandably downbeat existentialism that filled many a season of LOST. SUPER 8 also offers far more upbeat attitudes for Giacchino to play in his young characters than the forlorn vampire lovers of LET ME IN, though there’s more than a bit of melancholy and loss in these small town kids. Here the bittersweetness is constantly being jolted with spook house adrenalin and snarling, scrambling brass and strings, making SUPER 8 as much about emotion as it is the gradual, gee-whiz scares of the effects reveals. It’s a winningly melodic formula that Williams had for his Spielberg summer vehicles, a time when these kinds of movies always seemed to yield a classic. Doubtless the magical, touching fear that Giacchino’s score recreates here will make SUPER 8’s younger viewers think the same about thirty years down the line when someone’s using this composer as their textbook. Maybe they’ll even employ Giacchino’s wacky Herrmann/ Theremin library goof music as the soundtrack for their own zombie flick.
For as impressively big as Michael Giacchino can get, it’s often his small, unsung scores that are just as impressive. MONTE CARLO tween chick-aimed romance fits the bill nicely indeed. But as opposed to imagining three young women finding their Prince Charmings in a jet set fairy tale kingdom, Giacchino’s alternately delicate lyricism and jazzily prancing rhythms might make you thinking you’re hearing that long-awaited RATATOUILLE sequel wherein the rodent Remy falls in love. It’s a measure of how much Mancini-esque caviar also appears here, with a more-than-healthy seasoning of Burt Bacharach to boot. You’ll definitely know your way to San Tropez from Giacchino’s wonderful, song-like homage to these masters of lush pop elegance, composers who knew that luxurious melodies and bouncily sophisticated comedy were the quickest ways to win the heart of any vacationing Ingénue. Lovestruck piano and guitar chords, French accordions, brassy flamencos and the big band chases of the young and beautiful abound through this musical getaway of the rich and famous, stylings which of course wouldn’t be complete without just a bit of spy jazz, especially knowing Giacchino’s proclivities. MONTE CARLO ranks as one of Giacchino’s most pleasant and listenable scores in a cannon already full of them, a soundtrack whose melodic effervescence wonderfully hearkens back to a comedy scoring era when class was king, as done with an energy that far less knowing watchers of its CW and Disney Channel heroines will also find themselves swooning to.