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The Book Of Life by Gustavo Santaolalla (Review)

posted Nov 15, 2014, 11:54 PM by Koray Savas

The Book Of Life is an animated feature about your more-than-typical true love fairytale, except this time around it is steeped in the unique Mexican culture revolving around the day of the dead. Guillermo Del Toro produces, with acclaimed musician Gustavo Santaolalla tackling the scoring duties. The music has a great warmth and heart to it, but on the other hand, it never seals its own identity. The film is "rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites," as put by 20th Century Fox, so I suspect that the score had to bend and work with competing songs.

There are two prominent themes, the main theme and a lullaby theme, both of which are fine on their own, but hardly get any development as the music progresses. As mentioned, Santaolalla put a lot of heart into the writing, and it shows in the performances. The music is guitar heavy, as to be expected, and features some really nice passages and rhythms. The orchestra is used for the more straightforward dramatic material, but most of the flavor and life of the score is derived from those guitars. Apart from the more touching cues, like "Sanchez Bullfighting History," some of the music utilizes a cheap archetypical sound to the instrumentation and use of trumpets. It reminds of something you would hear in Nacho Libre or the indie game Guacamelee, and detracts from the experience. There is also an unwarranted shift into hard rock towards the end of the album that sounds like  Robert Rodriguez wrote it. It is a harsh contrast to the acoustic gentleness that precedes the climax and feels like part of a different score.

Ultimately, The Book Of Life shifts too much in its sound to ever settle on a consistent mood. The music that is sprinkled throughout is pleasant enough, but the lack of a solid tone that can carry you through the musical journey leaves you feeling empty and unfulfilled. Santaolalla utilizes some great acoustics, and the demo songs are surprisingly good, but that missing cohesiveness prevents the score from becoming something more than a passing listen.