Friday, March 29, 2013

Soundtrack Suggestion: Mama - Fernando Velazquez

by Fernando Velazquez

Not everyone has seen the movie, Mama, which started out as a youtube short which Guillermo del Toro decided to support and have as a full-length movie.  The movie explored the story of a couple that had to raise two young girls who were left alone in the forest for a number of years.  Or at least that was what they thought.

The soundtrack is just about four minutes over an hour long, with eighteen tracks in total.  The composer is not a new face in the industry.  But then again, not that many people have seen the movies he also worked on (such as El Orfanato and Devil).  This early, let me say this: If you want a soundtrack you can easily use, or cue a song and leave looping until you need to shift a scene, this is NOT the soundtrack for you.   This has gems, but man, it requires either great familiarity with the tracks, or a willingness to adjust to the music rather than the players more often.

Off the bat, the first track, The Car and the Radio (Track 01) opens with a shrill rising set of strings reminiscent of the signature sound of the Hitchcock movie, Psycho.  Then it quickly builds into a fast tempo suggesting danger in the horizon.  There are some strains that remind me of the soundtrack to M. Night Shyamalan's The Signs and The Happening, but then again admittedly very few horror movies come up with a completely unique score now.   By the time The Encounter and Main Title (Track 02) comes around, there's no denying this is a scary movie with almost Tim Burton-esque touches as the harmonies have an almost nursery rhyme touch with children's voices singing along.  I personally felt this pulled away from seeing the atmosphere as real horror, however, and more towards theatrical horror.  I admit being biased towards the use of paino keys in a horror track, however, which makes me love Helvetia (Track 03) but sadly around the 3 minute mark, the track itself changes in mood and feel, which reduces its usability in a game.  Game scenes tend to require loopable tracks given players may take far longer than preferred in discussing a scene out.  Then by the later half of the track, it shifts back to the soft piano which I felt should have been the whole theme of the track.  (And yes, it ends with panic again.  So scratch that as making the track that useful.)  What Happens Now (Track 05) suffers from the same problem of not having a solid theme in a single track.  Victoria and Mama (Track 08) could have been a signature piece, but again shifts too often within its own flow.  Scare and Lucas Wake Up (Track 11) has it very bad, with very contrasting tunes in a single almost four minute track.  I list You Guys Talk a Lot (Track 14) as a hopeful track below, but trust me even that was a bit of a forced category, given the mood still is more tense than hopeful.  Last Hypno (Track 15) was very promising, but again rises from a calm introspective feel to growing tension near the one minute, thirty mark, which I felt could have been instead a whole new track.  There's almost silence in the one minute forty mark, but then it returns sounding like a whole new piece with cymbals and tense strings, then by the two minute mark we leap back into a hopeful piano piece.  Ultimately, the soundtrack can get frustrating to use in games, unless you are the type who can adjust the scenes to the music on the fly.

Observation Room (Track 07) is one of the most useful tracks, as it carries a heavy atmosphere without relenting.  The track is nicely loopable too.  The Painted Wall/The Doll (Track 09) is somewhat loopable, but sadly still a challenge to use.  Good Night (Track 16) is my favorite of the soundtrack, and I feel is the main reason I'd buy the soundtrack.  Its nicely touching with its emotive piano without becoming kiddie the way Pan's Labyrinth does.

The titular track, Mama Fight (Track 17) is a barrage of horns that tries to scream you into horrific submission, and while not as effective as The Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth, it does have its own notable impact as the horns blare against the dizzying strings.   And the final track, Last Reel (Track 18) is an oddity for me.  Running thirteen minutes and thirteen seconds long, the track opens as if the horror has not ended (which I feel is because most films are trying to do the final surprise horror moment nowadays).  One minute into the track, the music shifts to an extended moment of panic that dissolves into a chorus of hope by the fourth minute.  But again, even before the fifth minute is reached, that hope is replaced by a pumping series of bars that remind me more of Matrix Revolutions.  Clearly, the idea is to highlight the last heroic moment against the monster, but aurally it comes off as being undecided on what mood to indulge in.  Your false sense of victory hits at the six minute mark, but seemingly gets thrown out of an echo of Night on Bald Mountain by the seventh minute.  Eight minute onwards, we have the choral of voices telling you all is well, but the ten minute mark reminds you there is loss accompanying the victory.  At eleven minutes in, the strains are so high it feels almost.. divine.  As if all you need is some massive sign saying, "Happily Ever After."

Mama OST track suggestions
WTF moment: The Car and the Radio (Track 01), Helvetia (Track 03), What Happens Now (Track 05), Scare and Lucas Wake Up (Track 11), Mama Fight (Track 17)
Introspective/calm moment:   A New Home (Track 04)
Tense/mystery moment: The Encounter and Main Title (Track 02), Voices from the Other Room (Track 06), Observation Room (Track 07), Victoria and Mama (Track 08), The Painted Wall/The Doll (Track 09), Wilson Pass (Track 12), Vic In the Laptop Archive (Track 13)
Hopeful moment: You Guys Talk a Lot (Track 14), Good Night (Track 16)
Drama/sad moment: Desange Folder (Track 10), Last Hypno (Track 15)

Best Used In: Chaos.  Confusion.  Scenes where you can never feel too safe.  Zombie games can work, but that's assuming you aren't after quiet moments of fear. More Resident Evil than Silent Hill.   Best used by those who are very willing to give extra effort in familiarizing themselves to the tracks, and knowing when the shifts occur.

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