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Byzantium by Javier Navarette (Review)

posted Aug 2, 2013, 8:14 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Aug 2, 2013, 8:15 PM ]

Javier Navarette is a relatively new composer when compared to some of the more legendary composers of Hollywood. He only scored Spanish films up until his gorgeous work on Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth in 2006 earned him an Oscar nomination, thus garnering attention from American filmmakers. Though slightly more popular, he is still mainly focused on more intimate scores, with a primary focus on horror and fantasy elements. He did the small Kiefer Sutherland film Mirrors, Joe Dante's The Hole, and the blockbuster wannabe Wrath Of The Titans. For Byzantium, Navarrete utilizes soloist instrumentation for an effectively bizarre sound with splashes of choir to create a more chilling musical tone.

The film is the tried and true tale of two vampires trying to blend in with a small town who are ultimately exposed. The music mostly plays it safe and low-key, with small bursts of colorful moments. It starts off rather lamely, things do not perk up until the chorus comes in with "The Coventry Carol," which leads in to an excellent Beethoven sonata. Not a strong start, but as the score plays on Navarette slowly introduces more interesting aspects into the narrative. The aforementioned sonata is more or less the main theme, as Navarette goes back to it several times throughout. It is effective scoring when paired with the picture (the piece doubles as source music that forms a bond between the two leads) but disappoints on a musical level. There is just not enough built around it to make for a satisfying score. "Whore" features some nice strings, but it then falls back on Beethoven to lead the way. "An Empty Island" is a wonderfully haunting cue that features structural synths and a noise that I can only describe as a mix between rain sticks and buzzing layered with strings and a soft choir. "My Mother Saw Her Chance" is a beautiful albeit short rendition of Beethoven's 'theme' with strings rather than piano. The climax is by far the highlight of the musical journey, starting with "Clara Immortal," with its rousing choral and string arrangement of Beethoven, through "Always," which uses electric guitar to send off the listener in an air of mysterious finality. "Love Dark" and "Blade From Byzantium" sit in between. Navarette uses guitar in the former really well, tweaking with the sounds and bass to create a truly eerie and unfamiliar noise rather going for straight melody. The latter is the go-to- cue to hear all the original elements he brings to the table. Percussion instruments and guitar take center stage in this action track, the only one found on the album. Despite the vigor in the performance, all the instrumentation is very particular and clear, giving the music that soloist sound that works so much in its favor.

Byzantium is an okay effort from one of the more interesting composers working today. While the music excites with interesting and unique sonic textures, as well as with beautiful piano and vocals, its reliance of Beethoven's sonata to carry the story forward bogs down the experience. The lack of a streamlined melodic approach is fine if that is what the film calls for, but in this case it feels like the music could have been amped up and threaded with a stronger, original theme.