Aural Fixation: Expectation vs. Execution – A Look at the ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ Score

I have been an advocate of “Trent Reznor, Composer” after being blown away by the score he created for The Social Network last year (along with Atticus Ross) and was excited when I heard they were teaming back up again with director David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When the first teaser trailer for the film dropped, set to their pulse-pounding version of “Immigrant Song” (featuring Karen O), I was clamoring to hear more of the “turned up to eleven” sound that seemed like it would permeate throughout the “feel bad movie of Christmas.” Unfortunately, this in-your-face attitude seemed to live in this song alone and did not extend to the rest of the score.

After releasing a six-track sampler (which you can download here), I realized this score was going to be much more subdued than their previous collaboration, but I was still intrigued and hopeful of what was to come. After hearing the music in the context of the film during a screening this past week, I couldn’t shake the surprising feeling I had when walking away from it – disappointed.

I wrestled with this impression because I had been so excited for this score and started to wonder if my expectations had been too great going into it. Within the film, the music was sometimes barely noticeable and when it did start to turn up the volume, it seemed to confuse the tone of certain scenes, sending me to the edge of my seat only to have that anxiety never reach any real climax. This feeling of frustration rather than excitement left me confused rather than engaged (which, in hindsight, could have been Reznor and Ross’ intent for a film about confusion and misinterpretations). Where the score for The Social Network seemed to give us a peak into the character’s withheld emotions, the score for Dragon Tattoo seemed to muddle the emotions shown on screen.

After reading various interviews with Reznor (such as the one fellow FSRer Jack Giroux did for The Film Stage), I knew that rather than working with a more finalized version of the film (as they did with The Social Network), Reznor and Ross composed the score for Dragon Tattoo as the film was being put together. This ended up leaving the duo with hours of unused music, which they then put together into a three-disc opus making up the film’s accompanying soundtrack. But it left me wondering – will this be three discs of near ambient noise punctuated with electronic pulses and stings or will it feature brilliant pieces of music that unfortunately hit the cutting room floor while the film was being edited?

Dragon Tattoo started off promisingly enough with the version of “Immigrant Song” that got me excited in the teaser trailer, and hearing it in all its glory through Dolby surround speakers was intoxicating (and probably the reason why I’ll be losing my hearing in the next few years since I always want music louder and louder). Granted, the opening credits were a bit disjointed from the rest of the film, I took it almost as a music video prelude and was captivated by the images (seemingly covered in tar) that were slightly off-putting, while still working as a mesmerizing accompaniment to the music.

Even when things begin to pick up a bit on tracks such as “Oraculum,” I continued to feel my ears wanting more as they waited for fuller bass or more electronic guitars to flesh out the songs. I am a huge fan of electronic scoring and it made me wonder if I actually prefer when it is rooted in classic orchestration (like the more piano heavy Social Network score) rather than a score like this which was more about sounds and tones rather than full instrumentation.

In a story where we do not quite know what is going on and do not have all the pieces to the puzzle, it is an interesting and different approach to creating the musical backbone which certainly works, but never seemed to resonate with me. “Please Take Your Hand Away” and “Under The Midnight Sun” bring in some more dissonant piano elements (similar to that of Renzor and Ross’ past collaboration), but here the piano felt stripped down and vacant, much like the remote island Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) finds himself on and thus working to support and reinforce the story (and location) seen on screen.

The covers Reznor and Ross tackle seemed to be the strongest efforts from “Immigrant Song” to Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” (featuring Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig). While the score certainly worked within the film and did help to create the confusing and disjointed world Mikael and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) find themselves in, it never fulfilled the expectations I had for it. Even in the moments when I was fully engaged in the film, I found myself wishing there was something more when it came to the music. Much like Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), I felt like there should be something more there sonically and wish I could hire my own Mikael to find it.

This soundtrack will be released on Tuesday, December 27th through The Null Corporation.

Disc 1?

  1. “Immigrant Song”
  2. “She Reminds Me Of You”
  3. “People Lie All The Time”
  4. “Pinned And Mounted”
  5. “Perihelion”
  6. “What If We Could?”
  7. “With The Flies”
  8. “Hidden In Snow”
  9. “A Thousand Details”
  10. “One Particular Moment”
  11. “I Can’t Take It Anymore”
  12. “How Brittle The Bones”
  13. “Please Take Your Hand Away”

Disc 2

  1. “Cut Into Pieces”?
  2. “The Splinter”?
  3. “An Itch”?
  4. “Hypomania”?
  5. “Under The Midnight Sun”?
  6. “Aphelion”?
  7. “You’re Here”?
  8. “The Same As The Others”?
  9. “A Pause For Reflection”?
  10. “While Waiting”?
  11. “The Seconds Drag”?
  12. “Later Into The Night”?
  13. “Parallel Timeline With Alternate Outcome”

Disc 3

  1. “Another Way Of Caring”?
  2. “A Viable Construct”?
  3. “Revealed In The Thaw”?
  4. “Millennia”?
  5. “We Could Wait Forever”?
  6. “Oraculum”?
  7. “Great Bird Of Prey”?
  8. “The Heretics”?
  9. “A Pair Of Doves”?
  10. “Infiltrator”?
  11. “The Sound Of Forgetting”?
  12. “Of Secrets”?
  13. “Is Your Love Strong Enough?”

Was there a soundtrack or score you had high hopes for that did not live up to your expectations? What did you think of Reznor and Ross’ score for Dragon Tattoo? Is anyone going to spring for the $300 deluxe soundtrack option?

Allison has always been fascinated by the power music has when paired with an image – particularly its effect in film. Thanks to a background in recording and her days spent licensing music to various productions (including, of course, movies), Allison can usually be found sticking around to see all the songs noted in a film’s credits and those listening to her iTunes inevitably ask, “What movie is this song from?”

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