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The Light Between Oceans by Alexandre Desplat (Review)

posted Sep 30, 2016, 4:05 PM by Kaya Savas

The Light Between Oceans is based on the best-selling novel of the same name. It tells the story of a WW1 veteran and his wife living alone and manning a lighthouse. The couple miscarries as they try for a baby, but soon after the tragedy an infant in a rowboat washes ashore. They raise the baby as their own, seeing it as a miraculous gift. Years later on the mainland, they meet the true biological mother who shares that her husband and child were lost at sea after a shipwreck. The film plays out the moral dilemma of who are the rightful parents to the child. By looking at the film and just reading that synopsis one could have predicted that Alexandre Desplat would have gotten the job, and got the job he did.

It’s kind of funny how things can start to backfire when you see how Hollywood will try and shape the careers of composers. Desplat came to us from France and was immediately marketed as the period piece composer. His score to Girl With A Pearl Earring immediately typecast him as the guy who can make your period drama work, and his agents ran with that. And hey, it worked! Desplat monopolized the period drama landscape and he became marketed as the composer you want to hire if you want your movie to become Oscar bait. And it was true too, many films that won Best Picture or were at least nominated were scored by Desplat. Yet he never pulled an Oscar for his scores to these films, and then we saw a slight shift in direction. He began collaborating with Wes Anderson, and to me that was the best music he ever composed in his career, and guess what? He won an Oscar for it. We saw the new Desplat trying to shake away the “period drama” typecast with action movies like Godzilla and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. However, Desplat was recently fired off Star Wars: Rogue One and seemingly keeps falling back on period dramas such as The Light Between Oceans. And the only reason why all this should be mentioned, is because his music is becoming staler with each new period drama.

This is not to say Desplat’s music is ever bad, and with The Light Between Oceans it is by no means a bad score, but it’s gotten to a point where we just aren’t feeling the inspiration anymore. The music is going through the motions and doesn't really feel unique. We don’t get to feel these characters come to life and by the end of the score it feels like two copy/pasted characters that we’ve seen in every period drama before. Desplat does his best to regurgitate something new from a score he’s composed dozens of times before, but in the end it’s rather melodramatic and schmaltzy. Some piano and some strings are meshed together to sound elegant and nice, and ta da that’s the score to The Light Between Oceans. There’s not even anything interesting happening thematically or melodically, and by the end the whole score feels like a blur of the same. Does it get the job done? Sure. But it just feels like a score by a composer who is tired of the genre, the music feels tired and the emotions are hardly there.

I hope Desplat’s quest to escape the period drama continue to succeed, because based off this score not only does he seem tired of doing the same thing over and over but audiences are as well. It’s a real shame that things didn’t work out for him on Star Wars, but it looks like we’ll get to hear a Desplat sci-fi score after all with Luc Besson’s next film. And let it be clear that Desplat is not to blame for this watered down score, the industry is. Just like with actors, they typecast composers and milk them dry till all they’re known for is 1 thing. With so many other great composers like Abel Korzeniowski and Benjamin Wallfisch who would be perfect for a film like this, instead Hollywood goes with the guy who they think will give them a better shot at Oscar nominations. There is some nice stuff here that embraces that melodramatic period drama genre, but in the end it’s an extremely watered down version of what we’ve heard Desplat do much better on other films.