Not a shocker. Even though The Hurt Locker was racking up awards, everyone talked about how they cried during Up’s 4-minute sequence showing of Carl and Ellie’s life together, and the music was prominent.
Up’s score is refreshingly old-fashioned – prominent themes, exhuberant instrumentation, and unafraid to express the emotion of the characters. There are musical allusions to classic films like the Wizard of Oz. The music breaks through. So many Hollywood scores are like wallpaper – tasteful wallpaper appropriate to the scene – but very few connect emotionally like Up. I’ve been a fan of Michael Giacchino ever since he scored the PS2 video game Medal of Honor: Frontline.
The Hurt Locker‘s score, by Marco Beltrami, is practically the opposite. It’s restrained to the point of being sound design as much as it is music. Dissonances and middle eastern modes make the deserted Baghdad streets dangerous and alien. Beltrami’s scores can be very restrained (including the recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma). Both films have characters who are strung out, thirsty, without sleep, and near death. His minimal style suits scenes of such exhaustion.
One hears complaints among composers that we’re in a very “cool” period for film scores – meaning that directors don’t want melodies, or anything that might be showy or obvious. Perhaps out of fear of condescending to the audience. Or perhaps out fear of sounding corny. The Hurt Locker, and also No Country for Old Men, are very much in this camp.
Either way, these 2 composers have styles that were well-matched to their respective films.