It’s often said that a great film soundtrack is one that the viewer doesn’t even notice while the movie is playing. As long as the music enhances the moment, there aren’t many circumstances where a filmmaker will want it to detract from the actions occuring on screen. However, when the movie isn’t there, and you’re listening to a composer’s work on it’s own terms, it probably isn’t as much of a compliment to note that the score still doesn’t stand out.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few moments here and there, John Brion’s score for Paranorman barely registers. While the second half is decidedly better than the first, I can’t think of any reason to listen to this score on it’s own. Having not seen the film, I’m sure the soundtrack works perfectly fine in the theater. On it’s own terms however, it sounds like a generic attempt to cross the musical styles of Beetlejuice and the Looney Tunes, with the whimsy and musicality of neither.
Made all the more disappointing is the fact that the soundtrack starts off extremely intriguing. With an initial track called “Zombie Attack in the Eighties,” things begin with a heavily synthesized throwback to the scores of the time. Mixed in with an actual orchestra, this dichotomy of sound sets a distinct tone that seemed to set up what I hoped was going to be a great listen.
I was disheartened to find that the next few tracks felt more and more generic. Finally, track five starts to show signs of life again with a bouncy little theme that is genuinely fun to listen to. This is one of the few moments in the soundtrack that I found myself replaying later in my head. Again, just as I started to get excited about the potential for the rest of the score, things immediately dropped back to generic filler music.
As I mentioned above, things do start picking up by around track 10 or so. I assume the film gets darker and more intense at this point as the soundtrack gets fuller, and Brion seems to start exploring with with atmosphere rather than just creating ambient noise for the background. With tracks such as “Zombies Attack” and “People Attack,” I imagine this is where the film gets really fun and it’s definitely the most entertaining part of the score, even bringing back the fantastic retro-eighties music from the first track.
While there is a lot to like in what Brion has done, I’ve listened to the soundtrack twice now and can barely remember anything I heard. I’m sure the music is perfectly acceptable in the context of the film, but it just doesn’t stand on it’s own merits. I may change my mind once seeing the film, but I highly doubt this is a soundtrack I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.