Low budget shows up on the soundtrack if not on the screen


August 12, 1999|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

`Runaway Bride'

Music from the Motion Picture (Columbia/Soundtrax 69923)

`The Blair Witch Project'

Josh's Blair Witch Mix (Artisan CHA0120)

`Deep Blue Sea'

Music from the Motion Picture (Warner Bros. 47485)

`Run Lola Run'

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (TVT 8220)

`Mystery Men'

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Interscope 90345)

Not having a major studio's support hasn't kept small, independently distributed films from having an impact at the box office this summer. Indeed, the imaginative, low-budget horror film "The Blair Witch Project" has done as well at the box office as a number of the season's would-be blockbusters.

But there is one place where the big studio releases have a decisive advantage: CD stores.

Simply put, it's impossible for a production company with limited resources to license the sort of music a major studio can. And that makes a world of difference on soundtrack albums, where having big stars can mean the difference between the top of the charts and the bottom of the remainders bin.

Take the soundtrack album from "Runaway Bride," for example. It would be hard to imagine a song that sums up the restless, romantic nature of Julia Roberts' character as aptly as U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It's equally hard to imagine such a song coming cheap.

But that's what we expect of such a soundtrack -- something big, anthemic and familiar. So even when the performances themselves are new, the music on "Runaway Bride" is safely tethered by familiar faces, including Eric Clapton ("Blue Eyes Blue"), Shawn Colvin ("Never Saw Blue Like That") and the Dixie Chicks (the delightful "Ready to Run").

By contrast, you'd have to be a pretty devoted college rock fan to be familiar with the music on the "Blair Witch Project" soundtrack, "Josh's Blair Witch Mix." Ostensibly the contents of a "mix tape" left in character Joshua Leonard's car stereo, the album offers selections by such creepy, cultish bands as Laibach, Bauhaus, Type O Negative and Skinny Puppy. It's not quite the stuff of which hit albums are made, but it does create a mood. Indeed, there's something so oddly out-of-time about the music here that even listeners who don't normally like dark-and-arty alt-rock will be drawn in by the sense of atmosphere it evokes.

Atmosphere is barely a consideration with the rap-heavy soundtrack to "Deep Blue Sea." Instead, this is a pop album masquerading as a movie score. OK, so it does have LL Cool J -- who not only appears in the film, but executive-produced the soundtrack -- offering a plot synopsis in the form of the ominously catchy "Deepest Bluest (Shark's Fin)."

But the rest of the album is straight hip-hop pop, with LL doing his darnedest to match the pop appeal Will Smith has had with the "Men In Black" and "Wild Wild West" albums. Given that Uncle L.'s sound is generally harder than Smith's, it's not surprising that there's more edge to the music on "Deep Blue Sea." But that doesn't mean it lacks for hooks, as Chantel Jones' soulful remake of "I Can See Clearly Now" and Natice's itchy "I Found Another Man" make plain.

Including the star on the soundtrack album isn't always an advantage. However nice it may be thematically to have actress Franka Potente contribute vocals to several of the techno tracks on the "Run Lola Run" soundtrack, the truth is that she runs and acts far better than she raps or sings.

There's something oddly drab about this score. Even though the music from this German film is meant to emphasize the breathless intensity of Lola's task -- to make enough right moves in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend's life -- the bland electronica included here jogs more often than it sprints. From the sound of the album, you'd never guess that Germany has its own galaxy of established techno stars.

Even a big-budget soundtrack doesn't have to rely on established stars for its pop appeal. For instance, even though the soundtrack to "Mystery Men" boasts a smattering of genuine hits -- including Smash Mouth's ebullient "All Star" and the Trammps' immortal "Disco Inferno" -- some of its most endearing moments come from lesser stars.

So even though John Oszajca's name won't ring any bells, anybody with a fondness for slinky, T. Rex-style glam rock will likely adore his gong-banging "Back in 1999." Likewise, there's something slyly infectious about the Dub Pistols' ska-tinged "Keep Keep Movin'," while Jill Sobule's cheerily percussive "Rainy Day Parade" offers an unexpectedly appealing blend of bossa nova and Brian Wilson.

"Runaway Bride": * * *

"Blair Witch' Mix": * * 1/2

"Deep Blue Sea": * * *

"Run Lola Run": * *

"Mystery Men": * * 1/2


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