Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Composing Greatness: #2. Oscars 2018 Edition - "The Shape of Water"

Scene from The Shape of Water
Welcome to a very special edition of Composing Greatness. In this limited series, I will be looking at the five scores nominated for this year's Best Original Score category. To avoid favoritism, the list will be done in alphabetical order of composers and feature the same guidelines as the original series. This is meant to explore the music behind the great films of 2017, and provide insight into what makes each of them special and whether or not they deserved to be nominated at all. Join me all week as I listen to the  music, leave some thoughts, and hopefully sway you to check out these wonderful, wonderful scores.

Series Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Entry: The Shape of Water (2017)
Collaborators (If Available): Renee Fleming (Singer, "You'll Never Know")
Nomination: Best Original Score

Other Nominees:
-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carter Burwell)
-Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood)
-Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams)
-Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer)

Note: Listen to the score here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

What's So Great About It?

This is in every respect the perfect score for a prestige monster movie. The choice to have Alexandre Desplat mix the melancholic and romantic tones of a Parisian style with sci-fi elements like the theremin (or something like it) creates this disconnect that is still beautiful. What's more incredible is that it's not just a sentimental score, but one that embodies every facet of a monster movie. There's an excellent portion where Desplat pulls from his work on films like Godzilla and makes a chase scene that is lively and unforgettable, including the walking piano riff and the overall sense of urgency. This is a score that clearly was built with purpose, and no motif or track is out of place. It transcends typical genre music by making it something more complex in melody, making it beautiful in the process and showing that yes, traditional scores for unconventional styles can be just as great. All it takes is someone with the ingenuity like Desplat to find the heart of what makes this music work.

What's So Bad About It?

This is a bit difficult to pinpoint, in large part because this is a beautiful piece of work that captures something new and exciting in the fusion style of romance and horror. There's not too many notes that are jarring or out of place. I suppose if there was to be any criticism, it's that the chase sequences pull the listener out of the swaying harmony of the remaining score, having Desplat pull ideas that he also used in Godzilla.  It also has traces of Michael Giacchino in the piano selections. To be honest, this isn't much of a criticism, but it's hard to find any unless the idea of mixing Parisian with Universal Horror is something that bothers you. For me, it's quite the opposite.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

Here is where all of my cards are laid out. After several years of listening to Alexandre Desplat scores, I do honestly think that there's a good argument that he's currently the best/most exciting composer (even beating modern John Williams) because of the risks he takes while still making scores that are tonally accurate. The Shape of Water in particular belongs in the pantheon of flat out masterpieces that he's created, and I think it'll be hard for me to find a score from the remaining three that I love this much, even if Jonny Greenwood and Hans Zimmer both turned in stellar work. I think part of this enthusiasm comes from how unique the entire score is, but also that it manages to take something that wouldn't be out of place in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and puts it into the context of romance and frivolity. Usually a score has one or two tracks that I find myself disinterested in. However, Desplat has found the perfect balance and I welcome his second Oscar win. 

Up Next: Jonny Greenwood- Phantom Thread (2017) for Best Original Score

Rank the Nominees

1. Alexandre Desplat - The Shape of Water
2. Carter Burwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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