• Ben Erickson

Child's Play

Bear McCreary is one of the most sought after composers working in Hollywood today. His scoring duties for 2019 alone have included Happy Death Day 2U, The Professor and the Madman, Rim of the World, the roaring Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and now Child's Play, with another horror film by the name of Eli set to release later this year. Child's Play opened this past weekend, a remake of the 1988 slasher of the same title directed by Lars Klevberg, with Chucky voiced by Mark Hamill. Just one in a growing line of classic horror reboots, Child's Play puts a modern twist on the voodoo roots of the possessed doll, which develops violent tendencies as an unregulated artificial intelligence. To learn about the structural details of McCreary's score I highly recommend visiting his blog, where the composer posts detailed accounts of his scoring projects (see Child's Play blog post). Wonderful as the score for Child's Play is I will not be analyzing it myself as McCreary's blog covers just about everything you could want to know, though it bears repeating that recording "The Buddi Song" early on was crucial in helping Mark Hamill find the voice of Chucky. I will also note that the Buddi theme on accordion had a Randy Newman vibe to it at points which brought a favourable Toy Story harmlessness to the homicidal doll. That said, the score for Child's Play presents an opportunity to discuss other aspects of the composition process oft overlooked. On listening to film scores it is easy to forget just how many steps are taken between the composer and the product; notation, capability of the musicians, recording technologies, post-production editing and re-editing, speaker quality, the impression of the music based on the visual presentation, etc. The audience experience is almost impossible to predict, and the divide between the intentions of the composer and the perceptions of the audience may well be enormous. McCreary was able to circumvent several of these steps in Child's Play by performing each member of his toy orchestra himself, layering the score some 30 or 40 odd times. The composer initially intended to use his own recordings on a provisionary basis until more musicians could be hired to record, but on hearing the substitute cues Klevberg decided to use them for the film. This ownership over the score guaranteed that the final product would be every bit as close to McCreary's original perception of the score as possible, though this is not to say he was without help. A string quintet and children's chorus were hired to record, the latter of which was replaced by McCreary's vocals.

  • In his blog McCreary mentions having made the transition to Cubase notation software while scoring Child's Play, the same program recently praised by Alan Silvestri during his tenure on Avengers, which we can likely expect to see used by more and more composers.

Additional musicians were credited at the end of the film, beyond those listed in McCreary's post, including sound designers, mixers, choir masters and so forth, and this was frankly nice to see. Despite not having necessarily made it into the film, the contributions of these supplementary musicians did not go ignored, as is so often the case in film credits. Even today, just about everyone who walks by a set during production is credited thanks to the tireless efforts of their unions, but when it comes to the music we might be lucky to get the name of the orchestra hired, never mind individual musicians. Likely the solution to this problem is far more dynamic than what the facts present, but Child's Play should be considered an example to follow in this regard. Lastly, the re-recording of Joe Renzetti's theme from the 1988 original for the 2019 Child's Play soundtrack is worth considering, bearing in mind that the re-recording – "Child's Play Theme (1988)" – has no bearing on this review as it does not appear in the film. This in itself seems like a bit of a missed opportunity on part of the director however as Chucky purists would no doubt have noticed had the original theme returned for the end credits, as it had been used in the 1988 Child's Play. Now, if you are like me you may be predisposed toward older recording technologies. Much of my adoration and love for old scores stems not only from their compositional achievements but also their vintage sound quality, a distinction not far from the 'vinyl versus digital' argument: is vinyl actually better? No, it is different, but you are allowed to have a preference. The original recording of the Child's Play theme is virtually the same composition as the re-recording, but here the maturation of the recording technology is so vastly evolved it presents an entirely different listening experience. Comparing the two, McCreary's vocals by far outweigh those of the children's chorus from the original recording, this being the only notable difference balance-wise, and there is the change-up from synthesizers to the toy orchestra to consider, but the real distinction comes from the quality of the mix. In this case, as with most modern scores, the mix has been cleaned. What I mean by this is the appreciable omission of white "background" noise and reduction of overtones, resulting in a quality of sound usually described these days as 'metallic' or 'sharp'. Again, these observations on the old theme have no bearing on the review and are merely made for interest's sake. Where this review is concerned... by any objective standard, McCreary's score for Child's Play is one of the best components of the film, even noted by several mainstream critics for the capable justice it brings to a film that otherwise suffers. As for myself, Child's Play solidifies McCreary's status as composer of the year and caps off his latest streak nicely. It seems to me there are three definitive features that mark McCreary's success of recent years: 1) his reverence for older scores – I have touched on this a little in discussing Renzetti's theme, but the simple fact that McCreary felt it necessary to go back to the roots of the character (and every sequel he has scored for that matter) gives no end of joy to his listeners; 2) the transparency and openness with which he shares his process – the composer's blog posts are always illuminating and generous, and endearing of many fans; and 3) his music – and on this last, need I say more?