CD Review: Mutant Chronicles

By • June 15, 2009

Composer: Richard Wells
Label: Silva Screen
Suggested Retail Price: $8.99 (Amazon MP3)
Grade: A

There’s something about a green screen that can bring out a composer’s best imagination, especially as more and more films create worlds from the lime-colored nothingness that live-action actors are placed in front of. And just as CGI artists fill in that blank space with astonishing imagery, musicians’ notes are creating an equally vivid sense of stylized reality, from Edward Shearmur’s Korngoldian score to the retro sci-fi wonder of SKY CAPTAIN to Robert Rodriguez, Graeme Revell and John Debney’s jazzy noir spin to Frank Miller’s SIN CITY- a man whose lurid imagination also inspired David Newman’s ear-catchingly eccentric score to the greenscreen SPIIRT.

Now a relative newcomer named Richard Wells joins these ranks to create another tantalizing musical world with MUTANT CHRONICLES, a score that lends no small amount of emotional imagery to an already provocative, almost entirely in-computer steampunk planet of noble soldiers, battling monks and bio-engineered creatures that would give even Professor Xavier pause. MUTANT CHRONICLES one of those too good for theatrical play movies, which along with the equally noteworthy OUTLANDER have gone straight-to-DVD after a less-than-token release. But just as fans are already discovering that film (and it’s terrific score by Geoff Zanelli on La La Land) to be a worthy (if “real”) feast for sci-fi fans, MUTANT CHRONICLES will no doubt find its admirers when it hits DVD in early August – least of all for Wells’ music that’s been made available on Amazon MP3 (as well as hardcopy on the site’s English cousin). For with its gigantically ominous sound, Wells’ thundering score is the definition of production value, its rich, militaristic themes conjuring armies of valiant soldiers and bestial creatures out of nothingness.

Re-Teaming with English director Simon Hunter after the light-hearted genre mash-ups RAZOR BLADE SMILE and EVIL ALIENS, MUTANT CHRONICLES offers far weightier subject matter, namely the horrific fate that awaits the world from an alien machine that pumps out monsters by the thousands. In the liner notes, Hunter reveals how he gave Wells the task of creating a “brooding sense of doom.” It’s mission accomplished in spades, as Wells’ darkly imposing music putting no end of valiant responsibility on his heroes’ shoulders, beginning right off the bat with a staunch military theme. Their foes are given sinister brass, strings and metal percussion as sharp as a mutant claw. It’s an impressive clash that unweaves through MUTANT CHRONICLES, a score whose biggest accomplishment is that it could play just as well over a WW2 epic as this more unbelievable clash between human and alien-generated scum. For what Wells gets is that no matter how insane the imagery is, audiences will buy it when accompanied by an emotionally true orchestra.

Make no mistake that MUTANT CHRONICLES is gloriously big, booming stuff. Yet it’s also filled with real themes and melody, creating the kind of melodic construction that makes one quickly takes notice of an impressive composing talent at hand. For as doom-filled as most of his score might be, one of Wells’ biggest accomplishment is giving the characters a real sense of heart with an unexpectedly tender piano, or a choral requiem that makes the characters into holy warriors. As their mission into the belly of the mechanical beast progresses, Wells continues to bring in more interesting instruments and techniques, from snarling action to Asian winds and a bizarre dissonance, with all sorts of crazed samples slithering in once our heroes are on the conveyor belt to mutant-dom. About the only questionable bit here is a Spaghetti Western groove to give its tough-talking, seen-it-all soldier the proper Eastwood attitude. In any case, it’s a neat bit of business on the album.

Sure the imagery that MUTANT CHRONICLES slathers over an FX artists’ favorite color is cool as grunge heck. But add the powerful, thematic humanity of Richard Wells to the mix, and you’ve got the stuff of cult greatness at hand. Here’s hoping this deserving film and score achieve it with the tantalizingly bleak landscape it creates, as well as jetting its talented director and composer into stuff that will get an actual release. In the meantime, Richard Wells’ MUTANT music will doubtlessly unlock even more fertile, horrifically heroic worlds in the ultimate greenscreen of its listeners’ imaginations.

Jump into the MUTANT MP3 score machine at America’s Amazon, or get the British hardcopy here

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