Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Lost Countdown: No. 6

At last, a non-pretentious reason to love Lost! Anyone with two ears and a heart would agree with me on this one, surely.

The incredible genius of Michael Giacchino:

I had been exposed to Michael Giacchino's work before I even knew who he was, not realising how much I would come to admire him. The first few Medal of Honour games were where it was at for Nazi-killing WWII action before Call of Duty came along. His music so perfectly suited the games that they often barely seemed to be there, and all I can remember of it was stirring, atmospheric themes that drove the action along. Which is what you'd hope for.

It was after watching the first two seasons of Alias, in which he offered an entertaining variety of appropriately driven action soundtracks, that I began to take notice of his work. So much TV music is anonymous that you can take it for granted, and only a few TV composers (Bear McCreary, the late, great Shirley Walker) ever had enough of a signature sound to rise above the others. I could include Mark Snow, but his music is at once recognisably tinny and anonymously unimaginative, so much so that his music for Smallville is often indistinguishable from his X-Files work.

It's slightly different with W.G. Snuffy Walden. When he's working with Sorkin his work is nauseating and mawkish, but at least it's distinctive. God bless him for his Friday Night Lights soundtrack with Bennett Salvay; it might be more cuddly than the source material by Explosions in the Sky, but it is beautiful to listen to and perfect for the show. Giacchino's Alias soundtrack was distinct and memorable and certainly just right for the spy shenanigans, but it's not something that I would listen to outside the context of the show.

Then came Brad Bird's masterpiece, The Incredibles, and Giacchino's soundtrack was absolute perfection. Sassy, moving, urgent, and filled with John Barry stings that matched the magnificent Bond-style middle section. There were hundreds of things about the film that I loved completely, but I might have been most thrilled to see Giacchino reach the next level with such confidence. From that moment on I was crazy about him, the same way I had once been crazy about James Horner (shut up! His Aliens and Wrath of Khan soundtracks were amazing!), Jerry Goldsmith, Elliot Goldenthal, Carter Burwell, etc.

When it was announced he was going to be supervising the music on Criterion's gritty FPS Black, I was more excited about that than I was about the super-destructible environments and groundbreaking sound effects work, and even though he only did a couple of themes on it, it sounded amazing. His soundtrack to Sky High was also great, one of the many terrific things about that underrated movie. And then, about a year after it was shown on US TV, I watched the first season of Lost in about a week (Canyon and I were dealing with moving house and that show got us through the stress), and I realised Giacchino had written his masterpiece. Yes, even better than his subsequent Oscar-nominated soundtrack to Brad Bird's other best film, Ratatouille.

I remember people making fun of the montages that ended many of the first season episodes, the gooey ones that showed the castaways getting on with their new island life (often with Walt running around in slow motion and chasing Vincent), but they worked anyway, and it's a testament to Giacchino's work that they didn't come off as lazy and sentimental but actually moving. His greatest achievement (as far as I'm concerned) came with the final episode of season one, when Jin, Walt, Michael and Sawyer prepare to leave the island on Michael's raft. The piece of music, track 26 on the first season soundtrack, sounds like this. First time I listened to it at work on headphones, I burst into tears. Pathetic, I know, but it's the truth.

Sadly the soundtrack is marred by the dreaded Trumpet Fart of Doom, the heavily brassy "Phraaaaaaaaaaoooooong!" sound that comes in at the end of each episode when the happy montages segue into the shocking final moments (usually something to do with the Hatch). Also, some of the song titles are horrid (Thinking Clairely, Booneral and Shannonigans make my head hurt), and the second season is not as memorable, but if the third season soundtrack is released I'm definitely getting it. It had some stunning moments, and themes from the previous seasons were reintroduced and beautifully expanded upon.

Even if I thought the second season soundtrack was a little less startling, the overall achievement is still notable. It's one of the most complex, beautiful, chilling and ambitious musical projects on TV. It's a strong enough piece of work that Giacchino was able to perform a heavily orchestrated version of what has become known as Lost Symphony. ZOMG I would have loved to have been there that night!

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