Review by Brad Green:
Rippling their bodies like Arnie Schwarzenegger’s biceps, the overgrown serpents wait for lunch to come along. Creature feature movies are so benevolent to their monstrous stars. All they have to do is lurk about, and the screenplay delivers a tasty human smorgasbord straight into their jungle dining room. They even get a bit of sport hunting them down before the feast, kind of like getting to choose your live lobster from the tank at the front of a restaurant. The other guarantee is that none of the menu items will have anything like the survival instincts of an Arnie persona, and Steve Irwin definitely won’t be anywhere to be seen. It’s the beasties’ show, and it spoils the fun if the lunch actually comes out on top.
While a creature feature, especially a creature feature sequel, is never likely to win critical adoration, a major release of this kind does represent a significant opportunity for Australian composer Nerida Tyson-Chew--whose last big screen score was back in 2000, for the Yahoo Serious farce Mr Accident. Talk about going from slapstick to schlock-horror flick! Curiously, Tyson-Chew, did garner some experience with a reptilian scenario between times, as an orchestrator for Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, the film debut of that guy in the khaki shorts who would no doubt put the oversized wrigglers in their place.
Although the movie is American produced, the soundtrack is an entirely Australian effort: composed by Tyson-Chew, recorded by the Studio Orchestra of Sydney in their hometown and mixed by local audio engineering wizard Christo Curtis.
It could be argued that of all the elements in this style of film, the score has the most leeway for artistic success. The composer can go about creating anticipation and drama without necessarily reflecting the sillier aspects that are bound to appear on screen. Nevertheless, Tyson-Chew wisely resists the temptation to stamp too much personality on a formula flick, concentrating instead on evoking the atmosphere of the jungle and a suspense that coils as tight as a hungry constrictor.
Drums rumble low like the movement over a jungle floor, or slithering within a river, of denizens unseen but obviously hefty. Exotic pipes flutter overhead like leafy canopy. Lighter percussion rustles and clicks in random bursts, joining with muted sighs of brass and woodwind to suggest all manner of insect, amphibian and reptilian life. You wouldn’t get me venturing down a waterway here in a dubious riverboat. Well, not unless Steve Irwin was at the helm.
Tyson-Chew keeps a check on the action element, with a full swirl of strings and symphonic thunder only unleashed in the final two cues. Until then, melodrama comes in bursts. Sometimes via beating drums, but also by dint of rhythmically staggered strings that up the adrenalin. From go to woe, the sound is big and lush and every bit as slick as any Hollywood-produced soundtrack. Most impressive are moments where the composer builds menace through harmony rather than urgent pulse. Her voicings and instrumental balance are exquisite, and she has a particular flair for subdued dissonance and eloquent harmonic development.
While a thinness of both thematic threads on the one hand, and a lack of surprise twists on the other, deprive the score of real charisma, this is very much the nature of the beast. And its beasties. Classy orchestration rather than innovation is the strong point here, and that’s probably how it should be. After all, a composer bestowing a revolutionary score on a creature feature could be akin to a costume designer bedecking a celebrity croc hunter in cutting-edge haute couture.
Published February 24, 2005
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SCORE: Nerida Tyson-Chew
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.