Music in the movies: Robert Rodriguez

News Glen Chapman
28 Jun 2010 - 17:42

Glen provides a rundown of Robert Rodriguez’s compositional work, from the family-friendly Spy Kids series to the full-blooded comic adaptation, Sin City...

Robert Rodriguez has long been known for being a very hands-on filmmaker, having tackled all aspects of film production. His forays into composing, however, have produced mixed results over the years.

Here's a run through of his efforts to date:

Spy Kids 1, 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams & 3-D: Game Over (2001 - 2003)

Rodriguez's involvement with the score for his highly entertaining Spy Kids trilogy increased as the series progressed. The first film was scored primarily by Danny Elfman and John Debney, but featured contributions from Rodriguez and Los Lobos on a few of the musical cues. Given the collaborative nature of the soundtrack, it's not the most cohesive score around but certainly has its high points. The Elfman-penned theme and the Rodriguez and Los Lobos collaboration Spy Wedding are both outstanding pieces.

For the second film of the series, Rodriguez teamed up with Debney to write material that would be performed by the Texas Philharmonic Orchestra (who Rodriguez formed) and recorded in a local school. As a score it works much better than its predecessor. A number of genres are utilised, but whatever style is attempted there's an added Latin twist to give the piece its own identity. Without this it could have run the danger of being merely generic.

The first score that Rodriguez went solo on is perhaps the weakest of the three. It's not terrible by any means, but it suffers in comparison to its predecessors and at times seems a little overplayed and predictable.

A fourth entry to the series is expected in 2011, and will be released through Disney. I think it's safe to expect Rodriguez to handle the score.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)

For the soundtrack for Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Robert Rodriguez wrote the music and formed a band to perform the material as well as playing guitar and producing the material. The band went by the name of Chingon and have contributed material to Kill Bill: Volume 2 and Planet Terror.

Their debut soundtrack is rather fantastic and is easily the best work heard in any of Rodriguez's movies. In addition to the material from Chingon, a number of the cast members also perform material, the majority of which was written by Rodriguez.

Sin City (2005)

Along with regular collaborators Graeme Revell and John Debney, Rodriguez provides a score that plays with film noir traditions with a level of flair that matches the visuals of his adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book series.

Rather than each of them collaborating on the score as a whole, they instead each scored a section of the movie individually. Rodriguez tackles That Yellow Bastard and adopts a dirty sax sound to drive the pieces, adding an edgy, dirty feel that is reflective of what's on screen.

Revell composes the music for The Hard Goodbye, which focuses on the character Marv (brilliantly portrayed by Mickey Rourke). Whereas Rodriguez's pieces feature sax prominently, Revell's work uses instrumental percussion with flourishes of electronic instrumentation. There's a sense of urgency to the pieces that mirror Marv's journey. The pace eases on Her Name Is Goldie and Goldie's Dead as the relentless percussion makes way for tender flute pieces.

Debney tackles The Big Fat Kill, and it is his work that follows the noir traditions the closest, and in the process produces some of the more emotive and finest pieces of music on the soundtrack. The soundtrack as a whole is an incredible piece of work, with the three sections sitting together well despite being tackled by different composers.

The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl In 3-D (2005)

Rodriguez again calls on Revell and Debney to contribute to one of his soundtracks for his largely disappointing 2005 kids' movie. This is a much less successful collaboration than was heard on the soundtrack for Sin City, but shares a similar approach in the sense that each composer provided a score for specific parts of the story. The bulk is provided by Debney and Rodriguez, with Revell only providing the cues for the character of Mr Electric.

Nicole Weinstein is also credited with a contribution on the soundtrack, which suffers in the same way that the soundtrack for the first Spy Kids movie did, in that it doesn't feel like a cohesive piece of work.

A collaborative approach may have worked for Sin City and will no doubt work for the sequel, but for films such as this I feel that Rodriguez would be better off tackling score duties solo. He's certainly proved himself capable.

Planet Terror (2007)

This Rodriguez-composed soundtrack for the stronger of the Grindhouse double features is clearly heavily influenced by John Carpenter, which is no bad thing by any means. Rodriguez apparently listened to a lot of Carpenter's compositions whilst writing this and making the film so it's hardly a surprise that some of his influence crept through.

There are also elements of spaghetti western themes and industrial music, the latter of which could be attributed to the presence of Revell who again returns to provide a contribution to another classic Rodriguez score that perfectly encapsulates the tone of the film.

Shorts (2009)

Shorts presents one of the more uneven attempts at kids cinema for Rodriguez. It's a film that has an interesting concept, but the execution is somewhat flawed, and the film doesn't really live up to the promise and lacks the overall charm of the best of the Spy Kids series.

It's functional rather than outstanding for the most part, but overall the score is fairly uninspiring and doesn't differ drastically in overall mood and sound to his solo work for Spy Kids 3-D and his segment for The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl In 3-D.

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