Lakeshore Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/22/2012
It’s rare that a movie released in January turns out be something worth watching. Usually, that month serves as the dumping ground for the flicks the studios want to get rid of in preparation for Oscar season and the summer blockbuster months. The Grey was a movie one could reasonably dismiss as continuing that trend, but surprisingly, critics enjoyed it and it did decently at the box office.
Reviewing soundtracks is always a tricky game, especially when it’s an original piece of work and not a compilation of rock songs. The context behind a soundtrack is important, because, quite frankly, if a movie fails there’s little to no motivation to revisit anything about it, music included. There would not be many who would purposefully seek out The Grey just to listen to what Marc Streitenfeld came up with.
The most important thing that an original score can imbibe in a movie is the mood: the music is rarely meant to take away from what we are watching, merely complementing it instead. Imagine the ending to The Godfather Part II with the score of Star Wars behind it; the impact would be far less powerful without question. It is in this facet of the motion picture that The Grey really excels.
There’s a sparse, haunting theme that is introduced in the opening track, “Writing The Letter,” and is reprised multiple times throughout the movie. Watching in theaters, it immediately set the tone for what was to follow: a melancholic struggle of man’s inner demon set in the barren Alaskan landscape. It was an amazing cue, and was stuck in my head for days afterwards. Musically it is not complex whatsoever, but again it captures the essence of the film perfectly.
One might have seen the commercial previews for The Grey and made certain assumptions about its quality and direction – primarily that it would be an action film to the core. Instead, the moments of action are quick and devoid of the standard Hollywood fireworks we are used to these days. The score keeps in line with that vibe; there are moments where the energy picks up, but it is never busy for the sake of being busy.
I won’t reveal much of the plot, but it is not much of a spoiler to reveal that a major plot point in The Grey involves wolves. One of the other common threads that runs through the score for The Grey is the tracks that occur during the major encounters with the wolves, and how they are presented. I admire the brief moments of cacophony that evoke genuine tension, and the subtle sound effects Streitenfled employs to remind the listener of the constant threat.
While removing The Grey from its soundtrack inevitably weakens the listening experience, it does not destroy it. Streitenfeld manages to convey the emotions of the movie in such a way that the listener can still respond to them in a meaningful way. The bleak, sparse tone is still there, and there are some moments of tenderness played just perfectly that are still moving even with the removal of the picture to go with it.