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ScoreKeeper On Douglas Pipes' Bodacious MONSTER HOUSE Score!!

Greetings! ScoreKeeper here with a film music ear’s view of a movie that is causing a quiet stir since Monday night’s five city mini-opening.

Many people are flooding AICN talkbacks and other cyberspacial forums ranting gleefully about the film. I, most earnestly, echo their sentiments for the film overall but I would like to particularly herald one of the tastiest ingredients in this delightful summer treat...the score!

The score for MONSTER HOUSE was composed by stalwart neophyte, Douglas Pipes. Who is that? I don’t know to be honest and right now I really don’t care. I’ll let other folks dig up his story and disseminate it around the world. All I know is that Mr. Pipes scored one of the more nostalgic, entertaining, and energetic scores I’ve heard in quite some time. Like a resuscitating breath of fresh air, the music for MONSTER HOUSE takes on the role of the classic film score, quelling current trends of saturating films with dramatic mush that don’t seem born from within the story itself.

Douglas Pipes has hand-crafted a rich tapestry tailor-made for this film. Each note fills the peaks and valleys of the narrative with supple ease. And get this...there are actually sync points! So many film composers craft wonderful music but like a large blanket, suddenly throw it out over the film like a net hoping to snare a few lucky moments of narrative symbiosis. Not MONSTER HOUSE. From the opening frame to the final, the film is cleverly spotted and meticulously crafted to contour the narrative.

The score injects the right amount of emotional influence, corralling the audience into a collective emotional state while allowing each audience member the freedom to explore from the confines of their own individual imagination. That’s the beauty of a great film score. Great film music is not an emotional dictator telling you exactly what to feel and when to feel it, but rather it’s like your mother taking you to the playground, carefully watching that you remain within the boundaries of the park, but also allowing you the freedom to play on your own within those boundaries. That’s where the most effective emotional connections are made with a movie through its score.

Spotting a film (deciding where the music should begin and end) is an art all into itself mastered by the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and Elmer Bernstein to name a few. It’s nice to see Douglas Pipes treat the art of spotting for what it is. There’s certainly a lot of music in this picture but it’s almost more important to the story where there isn’t music. Those moments left unadulterated by music often further the concept of contained emotional freedom by allowing the audience a chance to experience the narrative within their own imaginations while simultaneously sharing a collective experience with others.

The score doesn’t pander nor is it pretentious. It’s pure terror, joy, excitement, wistfulness, and compassion all bound together by melody, harmony and a perceptive sense of rhythm. The themes are memorable and heart-warming, developing as the film unfolds rather than lackadaisically repeated with each passing scene. This film could have easily been wallpapered with two albums worth of tawdry 80’s tunes in order to help market the movie to target audiences. Instead, a higher, more artistic road, sympathetic to the material was taken, preserving the symbiotic relationship between the audience, characters, and story.

I can’t help but wonder if this film with this exact score would have made as large a splash with me had I seen it in the mid-80’s. In the context of other classic scores from that era it might have merely been another fine score plucked from a fruitful crop. But the fact remains that this film was made in 2006 and in this day and age where I feel the subtle nuances of effective film music are largely ignored, it makes its impression loud and clear that a classic film score is still not only warranted but demanded by great storytellers of cinema.

In the end it’s not his music which sounds classic but rather his approach to the material that follows a classic model. Beyond that, each subsequent note is as new and as refreshing as any score crafted in the 21st century. Its purpose in the film, its affect on the audience, and its lingering impression on the aural mind makes this one of the better film scores I’ve experienced in several years.

I still don’t know who Douglas Pipes is, but I bet it won’t be much longer before I find out.

- ScoreKeeper

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