Once again composer Alexandre Desplat has put together a score which perfectly captures and balances all the angles of the film it accompanies, and this is an unusual story to score. For those who don't know, the film is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald where the main character, Benjamin Button, ages backwards. Portrayed by Brad Pitt in the film, he starts as an old man and gets steadily younger. He meets and falls in love with a girl played by Cate Blanchett who ages in the normal direction. So it's not a case of boy meets girl, but more old man meets girl, morphing toward boy meets old woman, but with a happier time when their ages match in the middle. The backgrop to the film is New Orleans during the 20th Century ending with the floods which followed hurricane Katrina. In the film Benjamin Button accepts life as it comes and his ultimate fate and, in his own quiet way, he embraces a number adventures which touch upon aspects of life at the time. The songs from the soundtrack (which can be found on CD2) contain a lot of Jazz and music of the time period, which fits nicely with the setting in New Orleans. Alexandre Desplat's score complements this background and captures the direct simplicity of Button's approach to life, with a touch of the quirkiness of his reverse aging.
The score starts with a typically sparse Desplat orchestration with harp, piano and strings, augmented later by tuned percussion, horns and muted trumpet seemingly offstage. The theme is moderately paced and has a touch of bittersweet melancholy to it. The second track "Mr Gateau" develops the theme with a different accompaniment giving it just a little more movement. "Meeting Daisy" introduces new thematic material of a simple romantic nature, and "A New Life" has hints of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in its accompaniment while the woodwind play Desplat's favourite type of ostinato of repeating notes, before a tuba brings a comical interlude and the track ends with some sax runs. "Love in Murmansk" is a slow dream-like waltz with a little figure on cimbalom hinting at the Russian location, and this love-theme is retained on the next track "Meeting Again". "Mr. Button" is almost lively in nature, while "Little Man Oti" is almost entirely percussive, before "It Was Nice to Have Met You" completes the Murmansk section.
The score continues in this vein, with variations and development of previous themes and the slow pace and sparse orchestration giving the film a dreamy quality. Although there are harmonic tensions at times, the music is very easy on the ear, such as the reverberant solo harp of "Children's Dreams", and the dancelike waltz of "Daisy's Ballet Career". "Submarine Attack" is the darkest track in the whole movie, relying on the percussion section to carry the drama. "The Accident" is one of those film sequences put together as though the event was pre-determined by fate, and Desplat scores this as leading to the inevitable climax. Fate of course plays a role in the whole concept of the movie, and the music starts to get a little sadder as the reunited couple's ages start to diverge until "Love Returns" and the last waltz "Benjamin and Daisy" is played out on solo piano.
We are not going to say much more about CD2, except to illustrate how closely score and soundtrack fit together by observing that the final track on CD2 is also a waltz for piano solo, this time a ragtime waltz by Scott Joplin. The soundtrack double-album is available online at these links: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Please note that the listing for CD2 on the "Amazon.com" site stops at track 19 - this would be a pity if it does stop there, but perhaps it is simply an error in the listing.