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Soundtrack review: Wonderstruck (Carter Burwell – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Wonderstruck (Carter Burwell – 2017)


Based on Brian Selznick’s critically acclaimed novel, in WONDERSTRUCK Ben and Rose are children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfold with mesmerising symmetry. Carter Burwell wrote the score and it’s his second one this year where children are involved.

In the past couple of years Carter Burwell has distanced himself from the Coen Brothers movie sound that has been his bread and butter for many years and turned towards a more lyrical piano based approach to film scoring. This brought us last year’s “The finest hours” which is one of his best ever scores and, earier in 2017, “Goodbye Christopher Robin”. I instantly recognise a slow paced woodwind motif from “The finest hours” in “Taking pictures”. Movies about kids and their imaginary worlds should have a score that sounds magical in order to make sense to me, at least these are my expectations. I think for me the most special score of this kind is Patrick Doyle’s “A little princess” but that is a different kind of composer with a different kind of style. The music of “Wonderstruck” is elegant, quiet and serious, maybe a little bit too serious for my taste. I was expecting joy, fantasy, the real world is grim enough as it is. Once again in “Runaways” I hear motifs from “Finest hours” and these are two very different types of movies. Then again maybe the movie is more serious than I imagine.

Setting aside my expectations, the music is elegant and beautiful; it doesn’t stray from the orchestral path Carter Burwell puts it on and it lacks big emotional moments or even regularly emotional moments to make me really connect with it. It might sound strange that I am complaining about a beautiful orchestral score but for me it stays too quiet and too much in the background without making a big impression. I hear the cues, I like them, then I forget about them as the music doesn’t leave a lasting impression on me. It’s almost as if I was in a lounge where the piano man keeps playing this music while other more interesting things are happening in the room.

For a score called “Wonderstruck” that’s not a lot of that going on in the standalone listening experience; Carter Burwell continues to explore his quiet lyrical paths but this is a small step back from “Goodbye Christopher Robin”. Burwell fans will appreciated the sound nonetheless. I am very curious to see how the music fits in the context of the movie.

Cue rating: 78 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 7 / 61

Album excellence: 11%

07 Ride To Hell’s Kitchen
14 The Museum Beckons
25 The Panorama

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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