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Isle Of Dogs by Alexandre Desplat (Review)

posted Apr 19, 2018, 5:03 PM by Kaya Savas

Ever since Alexandre Desplat took over as Wes Anderson’s composer of choice it always felt like a true match had been made. Desplat seemed to understand Wes’ visions and his scores always felt like they were born in the worlds that Anderson was creating. The collaboration continues with Isle Of Dogs where Desplat further proves he does his best work when working with a director that can inspire him.

You’ll notice a similar structure to Isle Of Dogs that you’ve seen in Desplat’s previous scores for Wes Anderson. Isle Of Dogs is heavily influenced with the sounds of traditional Japanese music, but the build and structure is very much a Wes Anderson and Desplat approach. Desplat’s scores for Anderson always seem to carry a bit of Ennio Morricone’s spirit in them in terms of scoring the narrative in movements with a very particular set of themes and motifs. Isle Of Dogs' charm comes from continuing that proven narrative structure, and by meshing Desplat’s original music with some source music that blends in quite nicely.

The score’s backbone is pretty much entirely based in percussion. Constant rhythmic percussion truly is what sets the pace for the entire film, whether it's the Taiko drumming by Kaoru Watanabe or the percussion in Desplat’s original score. The rhythmic beats almost become hypnotic as the film progresses, and the way it falls in line with the editing is extremely impressive. The fact that the music is so in sync with editorial cuts and camera movements for a stop motion film makes everything extremely awe-inspiring.

The emotional core of the film comes from its charm and style, and if you compare it to something like Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest Hotel or Fantastic Mr. Fox it just doesn’t stack up. You start to see some of the weaknesses of the film as a whole which trickles down to the score. As beautifully crafted as everything is, the score and the film rely a bit too heavily on appropriating Japanese culture to make the story feel unique. If you strip away the Japanese influences you are losing a huge chunk of what makes everything captivating. While Grand Budapest Hotel definitely adopted some Russian and Eastern European sounds, the score captured the story and characters much better. That’s not to say that Isle Of Dogs is a bad score, this score is terrific. However, in the grand scheme of the director’s and composer’s body of work, we are seeing similar tactics used here with less effectiveness. The score in the end works as a great editing and pacing device for the film, with some clever uses of switching from non-diegetic to diegetic. But in the end you wish there was more of the characters' personal quirks rather than the general overarching quirkiness of the score as a whole.