An adaptation of Lois Lowry's 1993 young-adult novel, The Giver is set in 2048 and takes place in a seemingly perfect community, a utopia without any concept of sadness or pain. That is until a young man called Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is appointed as 'the Receiver of Memories' – the only person who possesses knowledge of the community's past, including the dark history of its creation. His eyes opened, Jonas realises that the place in which he's been living is built on a lie, and he seizes the opportunity to escape. With key roles played by Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, The Giver should probably have received better notices than it did but the film sank without a trace. However, singled out for much praise by music critics was the heavenly score by Marco Beltrami, another example of the strange dichotomy that occurs when an excellent soundtrack is composed for a misfiring movie.
Clearly Beltrami was inspired by the spiritual overtones that put most critics and audiences off – the concepts of paradise, love, freedom and despair offer juicy possibilities to a talented composer such as Beltrami, and he responds with one of the most beautiful scores of his career to date. The film's director Philip Noyce generally elicits effective scores from his composers, having worked with the likes of Graeme Revell (Dead Calm), James Horner (Patriot Games; Clear and Present Danger), Peter Gabriel (Rabbit-Proof Fence) and James Newton Howard (Salt). And The Giver continues the trend.
Fuse the melodic nature of Beltrami's very own Soul Surfer with the meditative qualities of Alexandre Desplat's writing, plus a soaring choir, and you get a general idea of what The Giver sounds like. In fact, the sensitivity also skews closely to the ethereal choral sections of the excellent I, Robot, although The Giver easily surpasses that score in its harmonic appeal. The exquisitely wrought balance between orchestra and vocals becomes immediately apparent in the "Main Titles", striking a gorgeously spiritual note and yet underpinned by the kind of precise orchestrations familiar for which Desplat is known.
There's also more than a touch of Ennio Morricone in Beltrami's score, and there can perhaps be no higher compliment; indeed, the master's presence has popped up in various forms throughout Beltrami's career, whether it's the occasional Spaghetti Western stylings of the Scream scores or the full-blown homage in the Oscar-nominated 3:10 to Yuma. The Morricone influence is especially apparent in the gentle "Jonas Gets the Gig" and "Colour", the latter also benefiting from a gentle piano undercurrent before strings and woodwinds lend a subtly purposeful sense to the music.
The use of strings to convey a sense of movement is also present in "Arriving at the Giver's", with more Desplat-esque mannerisms in the bubbling orchestrations. "First Memory" is a highlight: a gentle guitar is gradually picked up by soaring strings to brilliantly convey the sense of Jonas' awakening. "Gabriel Arrives" and "Do You See It" are shorter, more pensive interludes, although still attractive and in-keeping with the gentle tone of the soundtrack's first half. "Tray Ride" builds to a rapturous, lush finale, one of the most exquisite moments in the score as a whole. "Happiness & Pain" cleverly introduces the first subtle hints of discord in the form of thrumming electronics beneath the orchestra, the soundscape starting to be muddied ever so slightly as Jonas begins to comprehend the complexities of the 'real' world. The discordant strings and percussion at the track's close indicate the generally darker direction in which Beltrami will soon be heading, but for now, he restores the sense of calm. The ensuing "What Is Love?" begins with a piano solo of quite stunning grace and clarity, playing against which are the increasingly mournful strings.
"War", as the title suggests, is the first substantially dark moment in the soundtrack. The harsher electronics become much pronounced and anguished, indicating how the increasing realities of the outside world are impinging on Jonas' life. "The Kiss" is another brief moment of calm but the beauty this time is more strained, lacking the easy harmony of earlier in the score. Anguished strings perform a dual function in "Jonas Runs Away", adding a sense of emotion and also rhythmic movement with more input from the electronics. "Accelerated Training" reaches a memorable note of defiant heroism, electronic percussion thundering beneath the haunting choir, before "Escape from the Nursery" charges forward with an increasingly dynamic combination of rhythmic brass and strings.
"Desert Ride" reinstates the undulating strings and choir of the main theme before the harsher synths again take over, a sense of innocence replaced by brutality. The escalating tension in the string section of "Capturing Jonas" calls to mind John Powell's action scores, although the increasingly frenetic and harsh second half is pure Beltrami, the orchestra pushed to their absolute limits. Mixed in there are fragments of the central theme, suppressed under the increasingly synthetic nature of the soundtrack, a basic but effective device in signalling the dark secrets underlying the film's utopian setting.
"The Mountain and Despair" brings back the earlier electric guitar, plus clanging bells, to add more resonance to the score as it reaches its conclusion, which then arrives in "Rosebud", the longest track in the score. Desolate strings give a sense of exhaustion and subjugation but Beltrami subtly changes the mood, allowing the orchestra to attain more warmth before more electronic percussion and brass leads the soundtrack to a purposeful, noble conclusion. When the choir re-emerges in the conclusive "End Titles", the music shines, gloriously emotional and moving, and surely one of the most outstanding pieces of music in the composer's career to date.
Although Marco Beltrami's approach with The Giver is hardly innovative or revolutionary, it does possess genuine heart and sincerity. The underrated composer has shown a penchant for melody throughout his career, which is easily overlooked when one considers that he usually scores horror or action movies. The Giver is undoubtedly one of the composer's most attractive soundtracks, featuring an exquisitely mixed, sensitive balance of orchestra and choir.
It's also a score that cleverly mirrors the narrative of the movie, with the innocence and purity of the first half gradually overtaken by a gloomier sense of despair. Yet even amidst the darkness, Beltrami never forgoes his more tender side, allowing for a dynamic and accessible listening experience. As a film, The Giver is unlikely to linger in the memory but it would be a real shame if the score was to go the same way. It's less splashy and bombastic than many of this year's scores, but that doesn't mean it ought to be underestimated or ignored. In terms of craft and beauty, Beltrami's score is easily the equal of its more overhyped brethren. The score can be found as an MP3 download and will shortly be available on CD at the following links: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.