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Saturday, 7 March 2009

Listening to the Watchmen

So much has been written and said about the newly released movie Watchmen that I don't think anything I can say about the movie will really add value to that. My only observation is that I thought it was great - I've read the source-comic once so was familiar with the story but wasn't so burdened with expectations that the movie had no choice but to disappoint, and it didn't.

But I will talk about the music, and specifically its use within the movie, which I thought as much as anything else in the film really set it apart, not only from other comic book movies, but from most other movies. I can only think of Tarantino's films using their soundtrack with such an impact.

Of course, you can buy the soundtrack now, but when I look at the tracklisting it's mostly made up of songs I already own, which is in contrast to Tarantino, who has a knack of finding obscure tracks and bringing them to the fore (think Jungle Boogie, Little Green Bag, Bang Bang, Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon, Battle Without Honor Or Humanity).

No, Watchmen is filled with almost obvious tracks, like Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin', Nat King Cole's Unforgettable, Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound Of Silence and that terrifying, but much-used, piece of classical music, Ride Of The Valkyries.

But that's just the impression you get from looking at the tracklisting on paper - when these songs are set in the movie, the effect was, for me, absolutely stunning.

I won't give any plot points away, but the first use of one of those tracks was during a brutal fight scene in someone's apartment, with the TV on in the background playing Unforgettable, a lovely, loungey, jazz ballad. The contrast between the action and the soundtrack added such another level of, well, beauty, that it immediately made them film a much classier affair than most others.

After the opening scene, the title sequence for Watchmen was absolutely brilliant - while a load of very expensive slo-mo shots set the background for the upcoming movie, Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' played out. Even as I write this, I can understand that if you haven't seen the film, that might not sound revolutionary, and it may even seem a little obvious. But again, the juxtaposition between the acoustic ballad, usually heard on telly played over black and white scenes of late-60s hippy protesters, and the graphically violent scenes on the screen, was almost breath-taking.

Leonard Cohen's original Hallelujah played out over a sex scene, succeeded in making me forget all about Rufus Wainwright's and Alexandra Burke's versions, when it hasn't when recently heard on the radio. Again, an arguably obvious track, but brilliantly slipped into the film.

There were several more examples of this, with probably the other most striking again coming from another oft-used track (Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound Of Silence), but again, its use over scenes of a rainy funeral turned the music, and the movie, into something special. I could go on with other examples, but you're better seeing them yourself.

The film finished with a slightly more conventional film/music tactic, by having a new band cover a classic, especially for the closing credits. My Chemical Romance do an okay job of Dylan's Desolation Row, but again, in the movie it just worked in a way that arguably that track doesn't when I now play it at home on the stereo. Incidentally, My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way is himself a comic book author these days, so being asked to do this must have been pretty close to heaven for him.

Of course, music in movies doesn't come cheap, especially by such esteemed artists as these - I heard that Watchmen cost something like $140m and I'd be willing to bet that a decent amount of that went on the music costs. Money well spent.

So whatever you think of Watchmen, I truly believe that in one respect at least, the music, Zack Snyder and whoever helped out there, did a truly great job.

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