Saturday, July 29, 2006

HIGH NOTES: Die Another Day

This month’s “High Notes” entries are focusing on scores from movies that feature “cool guys with swords,” one of my wife’s favorite movie styles. My previous two entries highlighted “The Last Samurai” and “Gladiator,” both of which easily fit the previous description. So how does a “James Bond” film like “Die Another Day” find its way into this list? I’ll come to that, but first some of the “high notes” about this score.

“Die Another Day,” the blockbuster that turned out to be Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as secret agent 007, offered fans David Arnold’s third mission into the franchise. With his first Bond film, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Arnold set a tough standard to beat. I don’t think his third score matched that work, but he still delivers a great score that capitalizes well on the traditional “Bond” theme song. Some have faulted Arnold for relying too heavily on this theme, but I don’t share this complaint. Arnold relies on this theme but finds as many different ways as possible to employ it. Those quick to criticize Arnold should recall Eric Serra’s failed effort with “Goldeneye” which made the even greater mistake of ignoring the main Bond theme.

Arnold delivered some great pieces here. Perhaps the most rousing action cue comes early on with “Hovercraft Chase.” One of the most interesting things Arnold did was take elements of the music he’d written, have it performed backwards and then play it back in its proper order. This gives some of the music a staccato effect that works better than I’d have expected.

This score is just full of fun stuff. Another standout piece on this score: “Welcome to Cuba.” Arnold gives the Bond theme a Latin twist, and it works great. For someone wanting a more rock ‘n roll take on the Bond theme, Arnold combines his efforts with Paul Oakenfold for “James Bond Theme (Bond vs. Oakenfold).”

Perhaps the only controversial element to this movie’s soundtrack is what Arnold didn’t contribute: the title song. Let is suffice that Arnold is more than up to the task of crafting a kickass Bond theme song. One of his previous labors of love before landing the role as composer of choice for the Bond films was “Shaken and Stirred,” an album of James Bond songs updated and in many cases improved. So when Madonna was hired for the title song to “Die Another Day,” along with a bit part in the film, this wasn’t a snub overlooked by Arnold’s fans and rumor had it he was a little miffed about it, too. Let us hope this slight isn’t repeated with “Casino Royale” later this year.

I can say that I’m already excited to hear what Arnold will create for “Casino Royale.” In doing my online research for this “High Notes” entry, I came across an article on the James Bond fan site “MI6.” Arnold has said he will unveil a new sound for Bond within the new film in keeping with the new Bond, Daniel Craig. Thenew film promises to offer a darker, grittier Bond, and I suspect much of the new sound will be tailored to these attributes.

Other Scores by David Arnold:

Now, I did promise to explain how this movie best known for its hi-tech gadgets, chase scenes and fast women, could possibly qualify as a “cool guys with swords” movie. This movie features not only one but two good sword fight scenes. We’re treated to one with the coolest of the cool James Bond (played by one of my wife’s favs Pierce Brosnan) and the film’s bad guy Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). This one runs through a fencing club in London, and I have to admit that it’s a really good sword fight, especially from a film series not known for them. The second features the good and bad Bond girls, Jinx (Halle Berry) and Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). With the combo of swordfights and Pierce Brosnan, it’s probably little surprise this was a Bond film my wife, who doesn’t typically care for Bond films, actually liked.

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