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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The Raven is a fun but forgettable period thriller based around the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Directed by James McTeigue - still most famous for his work on V for Vendetta - the film is set in Baltimore in the 1840s and stars John Cusack as the famed author Poe, the twisted mind behind such classic tales of the macabre as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and of course the timeless poem from which the film takes its title. Already down on his luck, both financially and personally, Poe's life becomes even more difficult when it becomes apparent that a murderer is on the loose, and using the macabre deaths described in Poe's books as inspiration for real-life atrocities. Things become even worse when Poe's young paramour Emily (Alice Eve), the daughter of wealthy businessman Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) is kidnapped by the murderer, who begins taunting the increasingly frantic poet with mysterious clues and additional killings based on Poe's stories. To solve the crime, Poe teams up with the dogged and inquisitive detective Fields (Luke Evans), who must work together to solve the mystery before poor Emily takes her last breath and becomes one of the dear departed.
The music for The Raven is by the young but exceptionally talented Spanish composer Lucas Vidal, for whom this marks his first mainstream score. Originally from Madrid, 28-year-old Vidal overcame a brush with cancer before relocating to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music, eventually settling in Santa Monica, California, where he continues to live and work. Vidal scored the independent films Hammer of the Gods, The Immortal Voyage of Captain Drake and The Vanishing on 7th Street in 2009 and 2010, and received an IFMCA nomination for Breakout Composer of the Year for his excellent score for the Spanish-language thriller Mientras Duermes in 2011, prior to making his "proper" big-screen debut here.
One thing to make clear from the outset is that, in my opinion, Lucas Vidal has a huge career ahead of him. He has a deft touch with an orchestra, can write memorable themes in a variety of genres, and has a clever way of using his instrumental palette to superb effect that will stand him in good stead as his career progresses. Unfortunately, on The Raven, Vidal seems to have been handcuffed somewhat by the director and producer's desire to have the music be "modern" and "contemporary", despite its historical setting, which in film music parlance often means "make it sound like Hans Zimmer". Vidal's music for The Raven inhabits that sonic world that Zimmer and his Remote Control associates have made their own in recent years, with churning cello ostinati overlaid by various synthetic enhancements being the order of the day.
But, having said that, don't get me wrong - being asked to sound like Zimmer doesn't automatically mean that it's a bad score, and despite the stylistic straightjacket foisted upon him, much of the score is quite enjoyable indeed. After a moment or so of industrially-enhanced dissonant buildup, the opening cue "The Raven" emerges into a darkly throbbing theme with a heavy percussion undercurrent and strident, thrusting string writing, hinting at the danger to come. The lack of a truly memorable main theme is one of The Raven's weak spots - it's a score more concerned with creating moody textures and an overarching atmosphere of oppression than it is presenting a recurring thematic identity - but this is one of the score's few flaws, and Vidal's unusual use of his electronic and orchestral textures goes some way to making up for it.
Large parts of the score remind of me of Zimmer's score for The Ring, and its sequel scored by Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman, especially the tumultuous and undulating string performances in cues such as "Fields Arrives", "Rush to the Theatre", "The Mystery of Marie Roget", "Going to the Editor", the conclusive "In the Hospital" and the extended "The Entombment of Fortunato". These cues echo the relentless musical pulse Zimmer provided those scores, mirroring Poe and Fields' equally relentless race against the clock to save Emily from her fate.
Angrier music accompanies scenes such as "The Pit and the Pendulum", into which Vidal inserts an insistent, almost mechanized electronic effect to enhance the notion of impending doom as the counterweighted blade from Poe's nightmares becomes all too real for one unlucky victim. Later, cues such as "Man in Red Hat", "Searching the Theatre" and the thrilling "Edgar Chases the Killer" embrace a more straightforward action music style, with strong string rhythms and an increased brass section accompanied by various electronic percussion elements allowing the music to pick up a brisk pace and adopt an exciting, energetic feel. The score's big set piece finish, "Finding Emily" merges the two styles with two clever effects in the synth palette - an insistent heartbeat and a ticking clock, cleverly alluding both to the tell-tale heart of Poe's classic work (in which a murderous protagonist is tortured with a ceaseless and guilt-ridden thump-thump from under his floorboards), as well as giving a nod and a wink to Poe's own poisonous dilemma at the film's conclusion, which will make sense to anyone who has seen the movie.
However, even the supposedly lighter moments of elegance and romance, which in other scores would provide a thankful counterbalance to all the darkness, are tinged with dread; despite their powerful romance on-screen, the gentle woodwind theme in "Ladies Luncheon" does not emerge into a true musical depiction of the passionate relationship between Poe and Emily until the darkly tender "Finding Emily" and the dream-like "Poe on Bench" towards the score's conclusion. Instead, and for the most part, this is a dark score about dark deeds committed by evil people, inspired by a man with a twisted imagination. There's not much lightness here, and anyone expecting the overarching sense of gloom to be lifted once in a while will not find themselves adequately fulfilled in that way.
Truthfully, The Raven doesn't offer anything new beyond providing a decent film with a competent, effective thriller score. Scores like this have come and gone a dozen times before, and Vidal's work here - had it been the first music I had heard by him - would not have impressed me greatly with anything much beyond adequate competence and a decent sense of setting-specific darkness. However, I know what Vidal is capable of, and I fully recognize The Raven as a necessary stepping stone to bigger things. The Raven is workmanlike, appropriate, and often enjoyable for its action and suspense material, but it's unlikely to set the world alight and certainly won't bring Lucas Vidal many new fans amongst those who had never heard his music before. But patience, dear reader, for our Iberian friend has other things up his sleeve, and if my predictions are accurate it won't be long before he is anonymous never more.