CD Review: Music From Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy – Original Soundtrack

By • September 13, 2010

Composer: Jacob Groth
Label: Silva Screen
Suggested Retail Price: $16.95
Grade: B+



Every now and then a young woman with an attitude will bolt from the foreign blue to make herself heard on our screens and stereos, from the ethereal French romance that Gabriel Yared heated up for BETTY BLUE to Eric Serra’s lethally exotic world percussion in LA FEMME NIKITA. But seldom has quirky erotic appeal matched bad-ass attitude with the subtitled impact of 24 year-old Lisbeth Salander, the bisexual, computer-hacking punkette whom composer Jacob Groth helped launch to international acclaim with 2009’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.


Though this sixty-plus Danish musician had been scoring movies since 1978 with VIL DU SE MIN SMUKKE NAVLE (translated as WANNA SEE MY BEAUTIFUL NAVEL?), it would take TATTOO for Groth to send an electric wave through the soundtrack world- a “Holy shit, who’s this?” effect comparable to first seeing the Mohawked Salander working her mad computer skills. And though this anti-heroine might have seemed slight, and got her ass kicked more than a few times by serious woman-haters, there was no mistaking that Salander could take any conspiracy foe down given the sheer force of Groth’s standout TATTOO score, a sound that now continues to evolve with the next two Salander pictures THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST- selections from which are well represented with this new Silva Screen MILLENIUM compilation.


Taking his cue from the late Swede author Stieg Larsson’s hit trilogy (books which are now just as popular here), Groth’s created the musical equivalent of two ants against the scheming, brutal System- insects that end up taking down seemingly insurmountable foes through sheer, biting persistence. Whether industrial or murderously fascist in nature, the forces that are out to stop Salander and crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist take the score form of monolithic, darkly melodic strings through which the blunted, yet very human emotions of this odd couple still manage to cut through. It’s a tug of war between the symphonic light and dark, but with inherent warmth that’s all about Larsson’s sense of righteousness.


Nearly always driving the exceptional playing of the Slovak National Orchestra is a cool, techno pulse that stands in for Salander’s ferreting about the Internet for clues. It’s old school scoring meeting the brash vibe of today’s youth-driven, and unceasingly rhythmic approach to action. Groth uses the instrumental combo to keep his trilogy tones fresh and accessible. Sure his sound might be as different as you can imagine from what an old fogey named John Williams’ did for JFK. But the idea of a ticking countdown to the ultimate Big Revelation, with a orchestra playing the anguish of The Innocent caught in the middle, is an integral and very effective part of what Groth’s going for here.


Next to the stellar performances of Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, the one creative certainty of the GIRL films is definitely Groth’s music. For while I haven’t seen HORNET’S NEST (let alone read the books), FIRE’s disappointingly bland retread of the infinitely superior TATTOO’s sins-of-the-past story has me wondering how the last film will turn out (though I have heard it’s a lot better than the second one). But if DRAGON TATTOO will likely be the best of the trilogy, this MILLENIUM album certainly proves that Groth didn’t rest on its laurels. With the pictures originally made for Dutch TV, its title television track “Millennium” sets up Lisbeth’s tortured, punk rock ethos with simmering guitar work and voices. “Blomkvist” next brings in the tantalizing mix of near-tragic strings with bubbling electronica, while “The Scheme” uses its gnarly samples in a menacing, yet clever way. Groth exhilaratingly unleashes the big guns in “Running Out of Time,” with the journalist’s symphonic forces coming to rescue the rock and roll vibe of Lisabeth.


Other exceptional cues include “Fire,” which uses bell-like percussion on top of a sympathetic string line, as always with darker musical forces gnashing underneath Groth’s tonal metaphor for female victimization. Abuse” is the suffocating dread of horrorshow strings, voices and pulsing chords. An electric guitar march and suspenseful samples lead us into “Zala Cottage,” while a lush orchestra reveals “More Secrets – Palmgren” with almost bemused, bucolic tension. Groth subtly reprises his sad, undulating TATTOO theme for “The Return of Salander,” the string lines still feeling sad and unresolved, summing up the somewhat pyrrhic triumph of good over evil in these films. Singer Misen Larsen is also back to do a grittier version of “Would Anybody Die For Me,” a heartfelt, darker plea for all of the females that the series’ villains have ground under their heels. And as Salander and Blomkvist say “Another Goodbye,” the tender bells seem just ready to distort, complementing the feel of Salander’s tough guy exterior as masking a little girl lost to abuse, despite how well she can now mete out payback to her victimizers.


Having exceptionally condensed the RED RIDING trilogy’s scores onto one album, Silva does a decent job of giving the selections from the last two MILLENNIUM pictures into a 41-minute listen. If I have any quibble, it’s that there’s isn’t more of Groth’s music to fill it up with, especially given that DRAGON TATTOO yielded a whole album on its own. But I suspect that this GIRL will keep on musically given, especially now that David Fincher is hard at work on an American remake that will hopefully not prove to be unnecessary. In the meantime, Groth’s musical adaptations of the MILLENNIUM TRILOGY prove him as an intriguing “new” musical arrival, a man who knows how to play Grrl Power with real impact, and best of all, an empathy that Larsson would no doubt approve of.


Conclude Lisabeth’s musical MILLENIUM here

Comments

By Andreas Heinz on September 13th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Hi Daniel, thanks for all your reviews and interview podcasts, I enjoy your thoroughness and excellent descriptions of your listening experiences of the soundtracks :-)

Just to clarify – from a Danish guy that still lives in Denmark and has seen two of the three movies: The first movie was meant for a movie theater release whereas the second and third was meant for a DANISH TV release – being a Danish production and all. The success of the first movie made way for a movie theater release of all three movies – but notice, that this takes place in Denmark and not The Netherlands where the Dutch people live :)

Keep the reviews coming!
Best, Andreas Heinz

By bluflake on September 15th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Well written & interesting review!

There’s one factual error though – the movies were originally made for the Swedish television, not Dutch. :)

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