Today we’ll continue with our exploration through the filmography and soundtracks of David Fincher. As we’ve seen throughout this series, soundtracks pull a lot of weight in establishing the tone of a film. We hear their differences, and use them as emotional cues to further connect with the characters on screen.
Last time, we discussed Fincher’s second film, “Seven”, and its soundtrack by Howard Shore. We went ahead and skipped Fincher’s feature debut, “Alien 3”, because, well, it’s “Alien 3”. No explanation necessary. That’ll be the only movie in Fincher’s filmography that we gloss over.
Which brings us to “The Game”, Fincher’s third film, which came out in 1997. It’s soundtrack, like the one for “Seven”, was composed by Howard Shore. It stands in contrast to the oppressive drones of Fincher’s previous film, and instead hones in on the emotional state of a single character.
“The Game” follows the story of a wealthy investment banker (Michael Douglas), who is given a mysterious gift to participate in a game that integrates in odd ways with his day to day life. Over the course of this mystery thriller, the lines between the banker’s real life and the game become blurred. As he becomes more and more uncertain, hints of a larger conspiracy reveal themselves.
Howard Shore’s piano driven score sets a tone of elegant melancholy from the opening sequence, in which old family videos of the young Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) flit across the screen.
Throughout the film, we get flashbacks to Van Orton’s childhood through these videos. And they are always accompanied by Shore’s reflective and eerie touch. The melodies rarely resolve, the notes trailing off in broken rhythms, signaling the broken state of Van Orton’s subconscious, and the trauma of his father’s suicide that still haunts him.
One of the more impactful tracks in the film is “House Of Pain”, which starts with Shore’s hesitant piano. The track soon builds with a swelling orchestra that cranks up the suspense and unsettling sense of paranoia that creeps into Van Orton’s mind.
Likewise, the minimalist piano melody in “Illegal Surveillance” accomplishes the same thing. It’s hard not to share Van Orton’s discomfort as he stares at the life-sized clown doll, and frames of the childhood videos flash by to show a dead body in the same position. Paired with the haunting, repetitive notes of the piano, we feel the same sense of unease as the game begins.
Even during some of the more action-packed sequences of “The Game”, Shore’s score remains pensive. In one scene, while Van Orton is being chased by a dog, we don’t get any percussive drums or driving horns. Only a gentle swell of strings and more piano. The effect is an unfamiliar display of action that we usually don’t see in movies. The soundtrack stays focused on Van Orton’s character, and continues to drive home the message that things aren’t quite the way they seem.
As we saw in “Seven” Fincher likes to use the absence of music to amplify the intensity of a quiet, suspenseful scene. This works extraordinarily well in “The Game”, allowing Howard Shores’ quiet piano melodies to creep into the background, growing as Van Orton’s life continuously unravels.
Van Orton isn’t a likable character. From the get-go, he’s presented as a modern day Scrooge, concerned only with his money and his business. It’s through Shore’s score that we can even empathize with him in the beginning. The soft, emotional piano juxtaposed with the pictures of a young boy who lost his father allow us a window into Van Orton’s character.
This is one of the few soundtracks we’ve covered that doesn’t have a single popular song in it. Luckily, Howard Shore’s score does a stand up job of carrying the emotional weight, and provides an easy entrance for an audience to connect with the protagonist.
That about wraps up our discussion of Howard Shore’s soundtrack to David Fincher’s “The Game”. Next time, we’ll be moving on to the soundtrack for Fincher’s fourth film, “Fight Club”.
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