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Welcome to Marwen (Alan Silvestri)

January 5, 2019

As a fan of both Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri, I am always terribly excited by the release of a new film and score by this creative duo. So how does their latest collaboration, Welcome to Marwen, fair? It’s a tricky film about a victim of a brutal attack who finds a unique therapeutic outlet to help him through his recovery process.

 

Robert Zemeckis’ latest film has so far received mixed reviews. The visual effects are unanimously praised, and some have commended the director for bringing a difficult story to life. It’s based on a true story… Mark (Steve Carell) is brutally attacked one day, pretty much wiping his memory of life before the attack. To aid his recovery he builds an art installation – a replica of a Belgian city during WWII. He fills it with dolls, some of whom represent the women in his live and one represents himself. Mark drifts off into this fantasy world where the wildest heroic adventures can come true. Not an easy story to explain… and whilst some critics have complimented Zemeckis on putting a spotlight on mental health issues, many more reviewers have criticised him for effectively turning Mark’s mind into a circus. Acting and character development have also come under fire.

Silvestri introduces his main theme right off the bat in “Welcome to Marwen”. It’s a heart-warming melody in a 3/4 time signature. The ‘hook’ to this tune is its reliance on rising triplets (and equally noticeable is the repetition of a single note at the start of this melody).  One of the things that Silvestri is pretty good at is applying his themes all throughout the score. Marwen is no exception. The theme reoccurs notably in “Finally Got It Right” (initially for harp and flute… reminding me of Beowulf‘s “A Hero Comes Home”), “You Got This” (clarinet and piano), “Beautiful Moon” (strings), “Crippled by Fear” (almost adagio-like), “They Can’t Hurt Me” (thin strings), “Marwencol” and the phenomenal “End Credits” suite.

Secondly, there is a military motif, which is also introduced in “Welcome to Marwen”. Brass and snare drum dominate this tune; but most striking about it are several syncopated sections, perhaps a little reminiscent of Predator. “New Girl in Town”, “Rise and Shine”, as well as the “End Credits” feature this military element, without a great deal of variation to be honest.  The two biggest action cues, “Hogie vs Meyer” parts one and two, surprisingly don’t utilise this military motif as much as you might expect. It’s there… but not very prominently. Still though, it’s pretty rousing stuff.

Cues like “Saved”, “Goodnight Girls”, “Wake Up Sweetheart”, “Marwencol” and again the “End Credits” feature a third melody – a gorgeous and sparkly theme that sounds like a possible love theme, and also has certain Elfman-esque magical charm to it. It’s in 4/4 with a descending motif in the background, whilst the theme itself is mostly ascending in nature. It’s probably my favourite theme from this score.

There is darkness here as well. “Magic” contains an ominous rhythm performed on the piano…but not on the keys; instead I suspect the snares are hammered and bowed directly (unless it from a sample library, but even so… that’s the effect he’s going for). This particular sound is repeated in “Magic”, “One Big Understanding” and to a lesser extent in “Crippled by Fear”. Elsewhere, “Never Love the Way I Do” and “Hate Crime” are also of a darker nature, though more orchestral in their execution.

There are a few more little nuggets scattered throughout the score. “Deja Spills Some Milk” features a see-sawing motif accompanied by harp glissandi that evoke memories of Death Becomes Her. It’s reprised in “Magic”.

Welcome to Marwen is as vintage Silvestri as they come. There is much to like here, as the story allows Silvestri to flex his creative muscles in various (and opposite) directions. The score moves from gentle drama to heroic military action and to sinister underscore – and it does it effortlessly. It’s not easy to pull off such a varied score; and I dare say it takes an experienced and confident composer with a strong identifiable style to make this work. Silvestri ticks all those boxes. Also noteworthy are the orchestrations – they’re rich and colourful. IMDB lists Mark Graham as the orchestrator, which might indicate a deviation from Silvestri’s regular collaborators.

That said, as much as I admire this score I’m struggling to really love it. It’s so ‘quintessential’ Silvestri that it’s almost a pastiche of his own style. I already mentioned Beowulf and Death Becomes Her, but the score is also reminiscent of Ready Player One, Contact, The Walk, Cosmos and thus inevitably Cast Away and Forrest Gump.  And the action cues… take your pick. Marwen is classic Silvestri, but it’s not a classic.

I don’t love it, but I do like it and I admire it. Certainly it’s grown on me after repeat listens. I mean… it has got some utterly gorgeous cues like “Marwencol”, and a cracker of an “End Title” suite, as well as plenty of rousing action music. It’s got a handful of recognisable themes and motifs that are repeated throughout the score – great for its structure and consistency. And it’s a very accessible score. I must say I am surprised that it did not make the Oscar’s short-list whereas Silvestri’s Avengers score did. Perhaps that’s a reflection on the movie’s performance. Ultimately your reaction to the Marwen score comes down to this – on a technical level it’s almost a masterpiece, but melodically it’s a tad derivative. Which outweighs which for you?

Welcome to Marwen, Alan Silvestri, Back Lot Music, 21 tracks, 57m [3.5/5]


Review by Pete Simons (c) 2019 Synchrotones.

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