2CDs: Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)

March 3, 2013 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: La-La Land Records/ Released: November 29, 2011

Tracks & Album Length:  CD1: 20 tracks / (63:40) + CD2: 19 tracks / (40:29)

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Special Notes: 24-page colour booklet with liner notes by Daniel Schweiger / Limited to 3000 copies.

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Composer: Ennio Morricone

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Review:

Ennio Morricone reunited with The Mission (1986) director Roland Joffe for this uneven, grim chronicle of the Manhattan Project which led to the development of the first atomic bombs – a victory in terms of modern warfare, but a terrifying step closer to being able to obliterate the world.

Morricone seemed to grasp the opposing moralities, and his music is strangely tougher to digest than his most abstract improvisation work. La-La Land’s CD offers the complete score, plus a follow-up gallery of alternate and source cues on CD2.

To capture the story’s moral grey zone, an oft-repeated march is just a little misaligned in the harmonic department, and the selection of woodwinds are pitched a little too high, hinting at the military’s over-enthusiasm for building the ultimate weapon, whereas other cues are filled with contrasting sounds that rarely offer any moment of comfort.

Another recurring motif is the combination of disturbing sustained chords and descending figures with a pinched electronic tone and a descending figure on woodwinds, and for more emotional sections, there’s the gentle theme for Oppenheimer, performed by strings, and sometimes enhanced with wordless vocals. The stark contrast between the militaristic theme and slowly unfolding humanistic theme is bridged with Morricone’s familiar use of intersecting chords in which high, mid, and low tones are constantly shifting to create engaging dramatic statements. It’s a technique that’s sonically hypnotic because while the listener may expect a formal theme development or concluding statement, Morricone is more concerned with contrast and colours.

Fat Man has some similarities to the composer’s prior scores – fans can hear a bit of The Untouchables [M] (the propulsive, bass-heavy march; the saturated warmth that emanates from the strings), The Thing (clusters of pizzicato strings and the aforementioned electronic tone), and Frantic (extended segments of intersecting chords) – but it is a work where the sounds, like the film’s characters, are struggling with defined positions. In the end, the score’s darker elements are the victors, and like the story of the Manhattan Project, Morricone infers the dangers of a nuclear Pandora’s Box through his moody concluding statement.

La-La Land’s CD features a near-perfect mastering of the score; listeners need not make a single adjustment because the music has an unusually rich spectrum of highs, mids, and resonant low sounds, and the clarity of the instrumentation is striking. The bonus material is useful for contrast – allowing fans to trace changes in the final film versions – and Daniel Schweiger provides a lengthy production and score examination in the fat booklet. Only qualms with the album’s production: the track titles are in a very small font, and the red track numbers are impossible to read without some extra scrutiny.

The score’s severe grey zone makes Fat Man a challenging listen – without Oppenheimer’s theme, the score is utterly bereft of any hope – but it demonstrates the commentary a composer can achieve in spite of being restricted to rather narrow sonic parameters.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

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