It's a curious dichotomy that, despite almost always being mildly disappointed, I still look forward to John Debney albums. However, I can honestly say that, aside from a small handful of his scores (notably Cutthroat Island although, let's be honest, the best bits sound like David Arnold), none of them are in the least bit memorable. There's rarely anything inherently wrong with them, but neither do they stand out, with the temp track usually seeping in all over the place. Nobody easily forgets the themes to Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Goldfinger, Star Trek, but is anyone likely to spot something by Debney in a line up? Harsh, but if you can, hand on heart, give me a Debney score or theme that the average member of the public would recognise on its own, I'd be staggered. Ok, so there are plenty of composers who haven't reached general levels of public recognition, but given the sheer volume of music he writes each year, there's always the hope that one might be a classic.
Anyway, onto The Ant Bully, another step on the increasingly crowded and decreasingly impressive CGI movie market. This one is from Warner Brothers who previously made Jimmy Neutron (also scored be Debney) which, despite being relatively primitive in design and rendering, got good reviews for its quirkiness. After the gorgeous and amusing A Bug's Life and the witty Antz, I can't help but think that the insect arena has been well covered (and both of the aforementioned are superb, with great scores) on celluloid. Still, The Any Bully is passable summer child friendly entertainment. After the above rant, you'd be surprised if I said this was an outstanding Debney score, so I won't. However, it's yet another of his well wrought, busy orchestral outings, but with only fleeting glimpses of inspiration. The opening promises a slightly tribal, percussive score, but this turns out to be fairly short lived and is soon displaced by the usual mixture of orchestral bluster and the occasional hard warming moment. While pleasing enough, the Parade theme lacks any real distinction, indeed I couldn't honestly say whether it appears again in the score as all melodies seemingly wipe themselves from the brain the minute they finish.
Given that the film is set partially in the human world and partially in the ant world, it's surprising that each realm doesn't get its own distinct sound world. The action is, unsurprisingly, very well written; Debney certainly knows his way round the orchestra so stand outs like Destroyer and Wasp Attack are energetic and splendidly exciting. It's just unfortunate that Launching the Attack is bits of Going After Rourke and Just Do It, from James Newton Howard's superior Atlantis, with Howard's themes taken out. While this all seems a bit harsh, I must concede that The Ant Bully is still great entertainment, albeit of the disposable sort. Where, ten years ago, the album would have been a nifty half hour, just under a whole hour seems a little long and there are more than a couple of brief cues that could have been omitted without any great loss. It's frustrating to review Debney's scores as his technical facility is always impressive and he can write in all manner of styles, but when Randy Newman can be inspired to write half a dozen cracking themes on six legged adventures, that Debney can't manage one that sticks in the mind, it's just a touch depressing.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
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