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Houdini (Volumes 1 & 2) by John Debney (Review)

posted Sep 5, 2014, 12:59 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Sep 5, 2014, 12:59 PM ]

John Debney found the exact right balance for his last miniseries score in Bonnie & Clyde. This time Debney tackles Houdini, another historical figure explored in a miniseries. Here we have Debney taking the modern approach in trying to give Houdini a harsh razor’s edge. Usually when you hear of anything trying to “modernize” a historical event, style or figure it’s usually met with groans. I feel Houdini’s score will have equal amounts of appreciators, and those who find it off-putting. I fall somewhere smack dab in the middle. I thoroughly enjoyed the approach at some points, but for the most part it seemed like it was trying way too hard. In the end Houdini felt more like a Vegas show of the week instead of an exploration of a human being.

I think the question of “how to modernize” is an interesting question. Re-telling stories and re-exploring history will always be part of our culture as humanity. Most people see remakes and reboots as cheap ways for studios to cash-in, but they can also be ways to re-explore a story told by a different storyteller. While Houdini is neither a remake nor a reboot, it still is trying to bring a historically well-known figure to a modern audience. The score is the emotional backbone of any piece of visual storytelling, and here Debney’s score is indeed an integral part. It takes you through the motions, it presents dramatic situations but it also tries to be too showy. At some parts you could clearly tell it was temped by Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes, while other times it felt like a DJ spinning house music. Buried within the electronic soundscapes are some interesting and engaging tracks. You’ll come across them and actually feel something. The score does have a strange hypnotic power over the listener, but the overt electronic style can easily snap you out of it. Even though we have two volumes of score totaling nearly two hours of music, I found it hard to grasp the structure of the narrative. The music didn’t feel like it was building towards much. By the time it ends after two whole volumes of score, you aren’t left with any real lasting impression.

The two volumes of score for Houdini deliver lots of music, but even in two hours of assembled score I had a hard time finding the narrative’s footing. The stylistic approach works half the time, but mostly it makes you feel like you’re in some rave watching trapeze artists swinging under a blacklight. There are some engaging moments here, but again the hard electronic style can get in the way of it a lot. I can see the desire to try and do something fresh, but when the score doesn’t feel like part of the world the miniseries built, then the score calls too much attention to itself and becomes ineffective. I can see a few people really digging what Debney did here, but for me this feels like too much of a misguided approach.