Wednesday, 02 April 2014 00:00

Soundtracking Divergent

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Dauntless, the moniker of Shailene Woodley’s character, “Tris’s” adoptive faction in this season’s most anticipated dystopian future-film, Divergent, does not do the accompanying soundtrack justice.  The motion picture soundtrack, released on Interscope Geffen A&M Records, under Summit Entertainment is, in fact, quite daunting to describe.

Where to begin?

Perhaps with a synopsis; Divergent is the first film adaptation from Veronica Roth’s beloved #1 New York Times bestselling debut three-part series of the same name. The story follows the choice and consequences of teenage Beatrice “Tris” Prior in a “dystopian society” apparently “set in what used to be Chicago.” It has been touted as the “New Hunger Games,” and reveled as a story sure to empower young people in decision making.

However, one critic said, “I was sorely disappointed. The book felt like a cynical hodgepodge of elements from other franchises...sorting from Harry Potter, kids living in a dystopian society finding themselves in mortal peril from The Hunger Games, and bland instalove from Twilight.”

Granted, we haven’t yet read the books, but even so we couldn’t have summed it up better ourselves -- all of those elements are not only apparent, but also seem emphasized in the film. Oddly enough, upon leaving the theater we heard one seriously distressed little boy lamenting that, “They changed EVERYTHING from the book!”

Moving steadily along, what about the music? Well, the film’s music supervisor, Randall Poster, is a legend in the business and we went in -- despite its mediocre reviews -- with high musical expectations. Actually we only went to see the film because of its rumored stellar soundtrack. This extremely hyped-up soundtrack even has its own web site, making it its own character in the film, in a way.

Like Alex Patsavas’s groundbreaking Hunger Games and Twilight soundtracks, Poster and composer Junkie XL recruited collabs from some of the biggest names in young-adult music culture to support the heroine’s story. Junkie also brought a very cool futuristic, young, and hip edge to the score by (very publicly) working with British songstress, Ellie Goulding.Ellie Goulding

In the score’s “making of” video, director Neil Burger says, “Ellie Goulding has a great voice that, in a way, gets you right into Tris’s head and makes it from her point of view, as well as to drive it forward in an incredibly energetic way.” Burger also noted prior that much of Goulding’s Halycon Days was considered for the film before the production team realized Goulding’s music and spirit essentially characterized Tris, and they then approached her with the concept.

While Goulding’s participation is great, one disgruntled Divergent fan’s comment that, “I’m not sure if I just watched a film or a two-hour Ellie Goulding promo video,” couldn’t be closer to the truth. Poster, too, worked with some extraordinary talent in compiling the soundtrack, but when it came to screen time, he clearly lost the battle to Junkie/Goulding’s score. We only noticed three licensed tracks throughout the film, and two of them were Goulding’s additional contributions to the sound track.

The third -- and best -- placement that stuck out was BANKS’s pulsating instrumental from her track “Waiting Game.” The dark synths aren’t just your average driving electronic accompaniment, there’s something darker and a little less controlled feeling about this track. It’s also not static, the track slowly builds and then retreats, which kind of leaves you hanging, but all the while there’s a layer of fuzzy white noise on the top of the track that creates a really unstable or unsettling feeling.

Sadly, the rest of the amazing soundtrack also punches MEGA panache with original and licensed tracks from artists like Zedd, Pia Mia, Snow Patrol, Tame Impala, M83, A$AP Rocky, Skrillex, including vocal cameos from Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar, but you wouldn’t know that from seeing the film. It’s like the best EDM album you’ll ever hear without the repetitive bass lines and aggravating synths coupled with really fresh modern tracks from the pop and rap spheres.

The soundtrack gets an A++ from us, but the film and the score left much to be desired, D.

We highly recommend you check out the album, our favorite track is M83’s “I Need You,” which is like a David Lynch/Bon Iver lovechild with large sweeping atmospheric synths and beautiful vocals. It’s got a gentle build and a phenomenally smooth sax line that casually and delicately ebbs and flows throughout the track -- it’s great.


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