CD Review: A Christmas Carol – Original Soundtrack

By • November 9, 2009

Composer: Alan Silvestri
Label: Walt Disney Records
Suggested Retail Price: $9.49 (MP3 Download)
Grade: A

You could say that every score is Christmas in the thirteen or so films that composer Alan Silvestri and writer-director Robert Zemeckis have collaborated on. Even from their first teaming on 1984’s ROMANCING THE STONE, Silvestri brought his gift for sunny, lush melodies and memorable themes to an otherwise suspenseful, synth-driven score in the Latin mode. But through the likes of three BACK TO THE FUTURE movies, CASTAWAY, CONTACT and the Oscar-nominated FORREST GUMP, Zemeckis has let Silvestri run amuck with the kind of unabashedly emotional, old-school scoring- the likes of which now scare directors who view any kind of music as being too manipulative for cinematic “reality.” Not so Zemeckis, who’s always given his favored court composer license to go over the top in the best ways- particularly when Silvestri needed to give life to the motion capture films that the director looks likely to dwell in for the near future.

While just about everything but the faces convinced in POLAR EXPRESS in BEOWULF, Zemeckis has certainly make strides with the age-spotted, red-nosed Ebenezer Scrooge- about as far an inverse visage that you can get from the cherubic Santa of POLAR EXPRESS. And while that score might have had just a bit of darkness amidst the blissfully sweet egg nog, those who might think themselves a bit too old for fairy tales will no doubt delight in the nightmares that dance amidst CAROL’s holiday jingles. For there’s more than a bit of BEOWFUL in this often terrifying (for kids at least) CGI re-jig of the Charles Dickens classic, as Zemeckis’ masterfully dark visuals have let Silvestri rip into what might likely stand as the ultimate Xmas horror sore.

It’s not like Silvestri’s trademarked gift for magical brightness isn’t a constant caroler here, as holiday chestnuts abound. But here it’s Silvestri’s ability to evilly warp them that stands as one of the big joys of this deliciously dark CHRISTMAS, as they become Scrooge’s march through Victorian England, or take on the terrifying, and mischievous manifestations of the life-changing ghosts who haunt everyone’s favorite skinflint. Sure bells ring with the spirituality of such other holiday classics as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, with enough choral hosannahs to make you believe in Santa and the true Xmas spirit. But beyond the beautiful inspiration that Silvestri is expected to deliver here, his score works in nifty, nasty tandem with Zemeckis penchant for black humor.

It’s a sound, and visual style that makes A CHRISTMAS CAROL play like a second, merry prankster version to Zemeckis’ great, and somehow neglected horror-comedy DEATH BECOMES HER, especially in the playful dark pizzicatos, solo woe-is-me violins, and the feeling of orchestrally biblical retribution for a lead character who goes against the natural order of things. Except here DEATH’s message to age gracefully is replaced by CAROL’s fateful urge to treat humans with Christmas cheer the year ‘round. And just as Zemeckis’ visuals go to surprisingly scary places, Silvestri’s use of pounding strings, ghostly bells and voice-filled evil become the musical equivalent of getting scared straight.

Silvestri’s always been a master of modular scoring, with the ability to change between melodies on a dime, veering from terror to wonderment and heartbreak, often within the course of a single cue. And that’s a good thing, as Zemeckis is usually, and understandably breaking the mood of A CHRISTMAS CAROL with jokes, as to not make the film too scary for the little ones. For Silvestri, the magic here is not so much using a lot of symphonic notes, but knowing when to dial them back for alternately dramatic, and humorous impact.

There are plenty of moments of bliss for Silvestri fans in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. For a film that never seems to stop zooming over the skyline of Victorian England, Silvestri whips his orchestra over the snowy city tops with the glee of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Ghost of Christmas Future chases Scrooge about with hellzapoppin’ glee, and the gossamer music for the Ghost of Christmas beautifully flows into a variation on Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem.” Devastatingly sorrowful strings flood Scrooge as he realizes Tiny Tim’s fate, a wall of orchestral sound that becomes chorally ominous as Ebenezer realizes his own horrible destiny. If Ebenezer’s sudden finding of a heart might seem just a bit fast, it’s Silvestri’s music that makes you buy the transformation with all of the accompanying God-bless-us-everyone rejoicement. And adding immeasurably to the stirring climax is the Silvestri / Glen Ballard tune “God Bless Us Everyone” which Andrea Bocelli sings with full, operatic bliss. It’s another memorable tune from the duo that wrote “A Hero Comes Home” for BEOWULF. And if that thrumming theme was the equivalent of marching into Valhalla, then “God Bless Us Everyone” shines with the kind of heartwarming, religioso majesty that’s what Christmas is really about- or so films like this tell us.

For those who might have found THE POLAR EXPRESS a bit high on the candy cane intake, Silvestri and Zemeckis’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL is definitely a better, maelifically bumpier ride on the road to yuletide revelation. And if any composer’s music embodied the ability of old school symphonic scoring to play the holiday human condition, then it’s Alan Silvestri. Robert Zemeckis has certainly given his career a wonderful life, a debt that Silvestri pays back in full for perhaps the most eternal Xmas fairy tale of them all. About the only reason to say “Bah Humbug!” is that A CHRISTMAS CAROL’s soundtrack will only exist on the MP3 ether. But it’s a small lump of coal in the glorious, grand scheme of this deliciously dark ode to Dickens.

Get your frightfully jolly holiday score here


By Gary Dalkin on November 17th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I’d buy it, if there was a CD release. My only criticism of the review is it really shouldn’t be headed CD Review! As for paying $9.49 for a compressed download – while there are thousands of actual physical CDs with far better audio, booklets and artwork remaining to add to my collection I’ll stick with those. Disney can keep their MP3 files.

By Gary Styles on December 30th, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Downloaded the full disc (you can only get the fabulous track including the voice of Bocelli if you buy the whole ‘album’) from Amazon and burnt my own CD (great for the technophobes in my family who, like you GaryD, want good old fashioned hardware!). With a bit of magic and jiggery pokery on word, also managed to cobble together a very convincing CD insert (back and front). What better way to while away the hours on a cold winter’s night. Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!

By Gary Styles on December 30th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

PS: I agree Disney are missing a trick here not releasing the soundtrack on CD!! Come on guys – don’t jump too far into the future when so many of your soundtrack buying audience are probably not so ‘with it’ on the technology front! Walt will be spinning in his grave at that little faux pas…

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