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SONIC DEATH MONKEY Soundtrack Reviews - Pan's Labyrinth

by Natasha Theobald

I have good news for you, and it is this: the makers of the soundtrack CD for PAN'S LABYRINTH have given us an unexpected gift. According to the liner notes provided by the film's director, Guillermo del Toro, even cues which were composed for the film and then discarded in the interest of sound design have been included here. The result is nearly seventy-five minutes of this elegant, lyrical, Oscar-nominated work from composer Javier Navarette.

Del Toro viewed his film from early in the process as a bedtime story. Thus, as he says, it all started with a lullaby. His first request of Navarette was this essential, the lullaby which, hovering, would inform the rest of the story. Del Toro, well aware that most composers dread the type of melody which he desired, eventually coaxed from Navarette those gentle tones which might lull a child to sleep. It is the sound of a humming voice that one first hears in the theater, awaiting this tale to unfold. That is how del Toro suggests one might listen to all of this music outside of the film -- in the dark, where mystery and fantasy find the space to form.

The rest, then, becomes a matter of variations on a theme. The director cites scores from Brazil and The Omen as perfect examples of film music that finds countless inspirations in and around a single theme. This, too, is the beauty of this soundtrack. It is not to say that the score is boring or repetitive. It is just that the encapsulated whole feels as if it belongs unto the world of its own making and to nothing else. The notes are filled with a sense of the fantastical and a passion which only seems obtainable by the truly innocent, those untouched by the cruelty or cynicism of a knowing world, such as the film's young heroine, Ofelia.

Composer Navarette mentions in his portion of the liner notes that the 3/4 time of the lullaby began to infuse the music meant to represent characters and feelings with goodness at their centers, this representation of a waltz. The magical elements of the story, according to him, are given an impressionistic style with piano, celesta, harp, and piano. Finally, real world elements related to war, in Spain and in the home, in the film were treated with the drama, tension, and enormity of action that they required.

Whether sitting with it in the dark or not, the experience of this soundtrack, for me, has elements of the mystical and threads of reality. I was struck, first, by the haunting quality of the humming voice. My favorite early moments, while not exactly spare, are unencumbered by needless, frivolous extra. Often the sounds are disparate, with a booming low quality created by cello or woodwinds, overhung high on top with searing, searching, soaring strings. The depth is not instrumental so much as it is emotional. While del Toro may claim that this music was, for the film, an absolute need, I'm not sure the same could be said about the music needing the movie. This music could score, as he says, in the dark, your next dream or fantasy.

This is not your typical, bombastic, movie score thrill ride, which is, frankly, what makes it so thrilling. It has an otherworldly quality as such a story would require, and, because of that, it is able to inhabit a special place, that of being original and extraordinary and set apart. In that respect, this music and its movie are truly a match made in whatever place such creations occur. It is an adventure, a discovery, a journey, a quest, with questions and answers, awkward beauty and ugly truth. It is memorable, to say the very least.

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originally posted: 02/22/07 19:41:11
last updated: 02/22/07 19:44:53
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