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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Listening 'UP'

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the movie ‘UP’ yet. I have tried to connect the music with the story of the movie that I read on the net.

With swinging rhythm, the mute trumpets, clarinets and xylophone tickles in ‘UP with Titles’ Michael Giacchino takes us back in time, sets up a laid back mood and builds curiosity in a listener’s mind who has just come back from listening to his music at his bombastic best in ‘Star Trek’. The moment the piano hits the first four notes of the gorgeous main (Ellie’s) theme on Piano in ‘We’re in the club now’, it is evident that this is the main theme of the movie that is going to be rechristened itself into various forms; that is going to be played on every single instrument of the orchestra and that is going to be hummed by every single member of the audience who come out of the cinema hall after watching the movie.

The main motif that is every bit nostalgic, romantic, touching, emotional, intimate, serene and simple is the heart and soul of the score of ‘UP’, which is so evident in the very next track ‘Married life’ where it is floated on a waltz rhythm, swaying its way through the emotional highs and lows of the life journey of Carl so far. Every soloist in the orchestra gets his few seconds of fame by playing the theme. The pace and the fact the theme has been played only on solo instruments thus far indicate Carl’s laid back, lazy and lonely life after his wife’s death.

In ‘Carl Goes Up’, for the first time in the score, the string section wakes up (so does we the listeners, wake up to the sudden appearance of an enchanting string section that sounds refreshing and uplifting after umpteen solo versions of the theme) to a brisk swirling and stirring for Carl gearing up to fly high with his house. Carl attempts to liberate himself from the loneliness and the darkness that has now completely engulfed his life. It is in this piece, the main theme moves on from solo instruments to a group of violins as Carl moves out from loneliness to an adventuresome journey in his life. After the initial hullaballoo created by string section for taking off, a serene peace sets in as Carl’s fly becomes steady and stable. The orchestra descends down in its volume playing its final notes and leaves its way to a solo guitar to play the main theme piece to sound that serene peace.

The full orchestra show up for the first time with a dominant brass section in ’52 Chachki Pickup’ playing an edge of the seat action cue. ‘Paradise Found’ is an ambient piece with soothing strings cascading one over the other to reveal a picturesque beauty of the place. ‘Walkin’ the House’ has a comical rhythm to it and feels like it is setup to the rhythm in which Carl’s floating house moves in air.

The moment I heard the pulsating rush in the riff that plays on strings in the beginning of the next track, I thought of Michael Giacchino’s earlier works ‘100 Mile dash’ from ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘100 Rat Dash’ from ‘Ratatouille’ and when immediately saw this track’s name I smiled. Yes, it is another dashing theme; it is ‘Three Dogs dash’ this time. Two of the other dashing themes are my all time favorites in term of orchestration and here is another one. There is at least one scene in every Pixar movie where things dash each other and Michael Giacchino puts a connecting link to all the movie scores through a similar musical riff.

In ‘Kevin Beak’n’ enters the bird Kevin, which is one of the principal characters of the movie. It has got its own beautiful theme which is established here, which sways to its characteristics. The Congo drums adding a unique rhythm to the way Kevin moves, piccolo and bass clarinet plays the main theme for Kevin’s salient features. Giacchino often uses different drums and Chinese percussions instead of usual Timpani’s in his action cues and such percussions work well in ‘Canine Conundrum’ where the Carl and Co seems to be in danger; the malicious flute theme further add to the effect.

Until I heard ‘The Nickel tour’ I was thinking of the theme that got introduced in ‘Up with Titles’ as a one-off piece. In this track, the theme reprises in its orchestral form and I understood the complete beauty of the theme in this track. In the immediate next track ‘The Explorer Motel’, the same theme turns darker. The first high rush, bombastic action cue arrives in ‘Escape from Muntz Mountain’, and from the name it is very clear that Carl is escaping from Muntz who wants the bird Kevin. The music slavishly twists and turns according to the visual action, and in spite of the randomness that could easily creep in such action cues the composer maintains coherence with catchy leitmotifs and travels on it throughout, keeping it as a one homogenous piece and easy listen even off the visuals.

‘Giving Muntz the bird’ starts on a happy note with Kevin’s theme and suddenly darkness spreads over as Muntz is chasing to take the bird from Carl. The Muntz’s theme (the theme from the track ‘Up with Titles’) turns completely dark in this track. As Muntz’s devilish intention become clearer, the theme gradually moves on from soothing string section to the darker parts of audacious brass section.

‘Stuff we did’ made me realize how terribly I missed the main theme of the movie thus far. The theme reappears to evoke nostalgia and the chords and counter melodies helps the theme in bringing the emotion to complete effect.

Don’t believe the negativity in the title ‘Memories can weigh you down’ of this track, the sound is anything but negative. All this while, I was lying on my bed and listening to the soundtrack on my iPod. When I heard the whole orchestra freaking and breaking out playing the reprise of the main theme that we didn’t hear for quite some time, in its most energetic form, I got goose bumps all over. The love theme is played like a fanfare theme in all its glory with brilliant counter melodies and harmonies. It sounds like Carl has pumped up all his energy from his memories of Ellie to fight Muntz. And that glorious streak continues in ‘The small mailman returns’.

‘He’s got the bird’ and ‘The Spirit of Adventure’ follows up with Carl’s high energy and his actions to encounter Muntz to win over Kevin. It is a freaking roller coaster ride of action music that alternates between Ellie’s and Muntz’s theme with the whole orchestra playing with an adrenaline rush, pumping more and more energy and pace into the music. I can’t wait to watch this final battle with this music on big screen.

‘It’s just a house’ starts with the theme we heard in ‘Walkin’ the house’ and soon moves on to a spirited orchestral version of Ellie’s theme. I couldn’t decipher the real meaning of this piece; it may be that Carl has finally learnt his lesson. I guess at the end of all things, after having realized that the memories of Ellie is more important than the house, Carl leaves the house behind. I think so because the theme as it progresses grows weaker and leaves way to the overpowering orchestral version of Ellie’s theme. In ‘Ellie’s badge’ the theme returns to its original simplistic form.

‘Up with End titles’ is a compilation of all major motifs from the movie. Ellie’s theme, Muntz’s theme, House theme is all connected into one seamless music piece. In spite of having listened to them in various forms all through the soundtrack, when all the major themes from the movie parade one after the other with a new orchestration, it is hard to skip.

The OST of ‘UP’ is one wholesome soundtrack. I can listen to each and every track of this score without skipping. The last Hollywood movie OST that I could say the same about was that of ‘Wall-E’. ‘UP’ music has created a lot of curiosity in me about the movie. I am sure my admiration and liking to this score will be even greater after watching the movie. My only grouse is that the score is not released in CD; it is only available for digital download on amazon.com and on iTunes.

Michael Giacchino – It’s time for an Oscar. Of course I expect something big from James Horner for James Cameroon’s ‘Avatar’. But considering that it is a sci-fi movie, I doubt if it could outdo the simplistic charm of your score for ‘UP’.


Ravi Krishna said...

I really wish the score was released on CD too. Sometimes they do international release on CD (like in Europe in Japan) and it's being released late over there, so fingers crossed.

Excellent score anyway! Really lovely and heartfelt themes. It's my favourite of the year so far. Really hope Mike gets that well deserved Oscar!

Ash M said...

He just got a Golden globe past Monday

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Ash - Yes. I did watch the Golden Globes Award. It is great to see Michael Giachhino win. Hope the winning streak continues in Grammies, BAFTA and in Oscar too.

But I felt bad for James Horner. Avatar score is also very special indeed. It added so much to the Avatar experience.

Ravi Krishna said...

And from now on, he shall be known as "Oscar winning composer Michael Giacchino". Because he just won his well deserved Best Original Score Oscar for 'Up'! :-)

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Ravi Krishna - True. It is well deserved. I am ecstatic. 'Up' was the score that I looped most number of times in my Ipod last year.