Following on the heels of Robert Zemeckis’ previous motion-capture endeavors, The Polar Express and Beowulf, A Christmas Carol is a lavish and spectacular motion picture, and much of its irrepressible spirit and wonder is owed to Alan Silvestri’s extroverted and uninhibited musical score.
Much use is made of the same lush and festive orchestrations and emotion found in The Polar Express: tolling bells, processional timpani, dancing chimes and nearly royal-sounding brass chorales resonate with symphonic might, clarity and dignity heard all too little in modern film scoring, and the resulting musical flavour is a delicious, sparkling one indeed, and it proves significantly more entertaining than Silvestri’s other blockbuster scores, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and G.I. Joe.
Traditional Approach in Silvestri’s Festive Score
The approach taken thematically in A Christmas Carol is definitely more traditional and religion-based, however, as well as more emotionally diverse, resulting in a more well-rounded holiday score.
Indeed, Christmas carols are used here with a perhaps not-too-surprising frequency, and their integration into the body of the score is often ingenious: note the gorgeous harp-and-choir rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” in “The Ghost of Christmas Past,” as well as the minor-key tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” transformed into an ominous, churning action motif in the breathlessly climactic “Carriage Chase.”
At times, Silvestri even quotes his carols in an entirely literal sense, with lengthy passages given over to fully-realized and robust classic renderings, such as “Hark the Harold Angels Sing,” heard in the joyous “Touch My Robe.”
Original Theme and Material in A Christmas Carol
The “Main Title” cue is a superb survey of Silvestri’s overall approach to the score, acting as a magnificent suite of traditional carols arranged seamlessly with one another, with Silvestri’s own original theme for the film weaving in and out of the enchanting mix.
That theme, besides being previewed extensively in the opening cue, is most fully heard in “Let Us See Another Christmas” (a tender woodwind variation), the dancing and playful “Flight to Fezziwig’s” (which contains a brief but extraordinary choral outburst of the theme), and the concluding two score cues before being fully realized in song form in “God Bless Us Everyone,” performed affably by Andrea Bocelli.
The theme’s tone is very conservative in its celebratory tone and traditional carol structure, allowing it to interact perfectly with the other carols used in the score.
Surprisingly Well-Balanced Christmas Soundtrack
The remainder of Silvestri’s original material is quite satisfying in its diversity and development, with amazingly macabre passages explored in “Marley’s Ghost,” “The Clock Tower,” “This Dark Chamber,” and “Who Was That Lying Dead?”, all of which exhibiting some of the most sinister orchestral and choral menace heard in any holiday film; these are cues brimming with deep chanting choirs, devilish violin solos and fiendish brass outbursts.
These dark and diabolical cues, along with the aforementioned “Carriage Chase,” provide some welcome and compelling balance to the cheery, fluent optimism heard in the score’s lighter cues; of which a memorable and lovely one is “First Waltz,” a tender cue which is aching and bittersweet in its simple beauty. Surely ranking as one of Silvestri’s most innocent and charming melodic ideas, it’s a pity it’s not longer: it is only one minute in duration.
Overall, the score is a joyous Christmas-themed musical delight, although some may find the traditional carol-based approach too obvious to find engaging or refreshing. However, the score’s immensely memorable and affable main theme, combined with the terrifyingly dark passages and a few thrilling action passages, give it a wonderfully layered personality not otherwise heard from Alan Silvestri in recent years.
The album makes a fine companion piece to The Polar Express, and those willing to dig beneath the heavy coating of obivous Christmas tunes and orchestrations will find a rich score that is solid and greatly entertaining in its own right. Highly recommended!