04.18.2009

Watchmen Soundtrack, Tyler Bates

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:57 pm

As you may have seen on my Twitter page (or the sidebar on the right), I went to see the movie Watchmen on Thursday night. It’s the only film adaptation of what is generally accepted to be the greatest graphic novel/comic book of all time, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work of the same name. It was considered “unfilmable” for over twenty years, but director Zack Snyder (of 300 fame) did a terrific job and made a movie worthy of the book. I’ve heard that he used the graphic novel basically as a storyboard for the movie, and many scenes are recreated almost shot-for-shot; overall it’s probably the most faithful book-to-movie adaptation I’ve ever seen. The performances were all great, especially Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II. One of my few reservations was that the movie didn’t give the Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias character enough credit–he was too much of a pretty boy and not enough emphasis was given to his intelligence–but overall I vastly enjoyed it. (IMDB’s trivia page on the movie is rather extensive, and is an interesting source of information on the long process of making the movie as well as a compendium of many of the subtle references made to the book in the movie. Well worth checking out, if you’re interested.)

I really enjoyed the music, as well. Most of the soundtrack consisted of songs from the time in which the movie takes place–“The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan, “All Along The Watchtower” performed by Jimi Hendrix, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, etc. Some of the songs play with the action happening on screen; for example, “The Times They are A-Changin'” plays over a historical montage setting the context of the movie and “The Sound Of Silence” plays over the graveyard scene of The Comedian’s funeral. Other songs play against the action, for example when “Unforgettable” performed by Nat King Cole plays over the intense violence of The Comedian’s murder at the beginning. Both uses are very effective in their own way, and I was impressed at how well all of the songs (which already exist in a set form, and were chosen because of their fame in the era) were put to use in the film. It’s also worth noting that many of the songs were referenced in the original graphic novel, several being the basis of issue titles; another example of Snyder paying homage to the source material in as many ways as possible.

The movie also uses several “classical” cues like Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” for one of the Vietnam War scenes (the piece is referenced in the book, though not in that context). During the scene of Dr. Manhattan’s origin story, which takes place on Mars, the music played is Philip Glass’ “Prophecies,” from the movie Koyaanisqatsi; the eerie, otherworldly quality of Glass’ minimalism is a perfect complement to the isolation and (literally) otherworldliness of the scene.

I enjoyed the actual score by Tyler Bates too (many if not all of the choices of pop songs would have been made by the music supervisor). It was unintrusive, and mostly consisted of background atmosphere-type cues. The one moment that stood out, however, was the scene where Laurie and Daniel (aka Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II) decide to put their costumes on and go out adventuring, like they did in the old days. The music grew to a stirring, inspirational feel as the characters gained confidence and sensed old excitements coming back. The first thing that stood out was the music’s subtle homage paid to the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight scores, by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, in its rhythmic string pattern (I wrote about the Dark Knight score back in August). But scarcely before I began smiling at recognizing the reference, the score paid a much less subtle homage to Don Davis’ score for The Matrix, particularly part of the last cue “Anything Is Possible” which occurs when Neo comes back from the dead and realizes all of his powers inside the Matrix. It was practically Bates’ paraphrase of the Matrix cue. Both of the score references were to “superheroes,” of a sort, and indicated strong decisions to take up superhero-like powers–which, of course, was exactly what was happening in that scene in Watchmen. It was rather brilliant.

Watchmen was a great movie with a great soundtrack. The caveat is that there’s a lot of blood’n’guts and a few sex scenes, but I would recommend the movie highly to anyone who enjoyed the graphic novel. I rarely purchase film score albums, and even more rarely do I purchase soundtrack albums; but I’m considering both from this film. Well done, Zack Snyder and Tyler Bates.

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    The Drumless Drum on 04.19.2009

    Any soundtrack with Glass and Dylan can’t be a bad thing. Thanks for your review.

  2. Gravatar

    AJ Harbison on 04.20.2009

    Thanks for stopping by, Drumless Drum–glad you enjoyed the review!

    AJ Harbison

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