Music to accompany drama has a distinguished history, never more so since the invention of film, reaching a point in contemporary cinema where music can dominate the entire picture. The otherwise excellent John Williams scores for the Harry Potter films are examples of excess. Smaller productions, like this charming Australian film, use music more carefully, and in my opinion, more appropriately. Nigel Westlake ensures the film’s modest aims are not bashed about the head by the music.
One of our finest composers, Westlake has moved effortlessly between concert hall and film studio; his music for Babe, being one of his most successful scores. Paper Planes could almost be categorised as a rescue film. The boy rescues himself from obscurity, his father from depression. Westlake matches the various moods well, from quieter and often moving moments, to the triumphant scenes matching the boy’s success and excitement. Here, the buoyant main theme is given its head very effectively. One of the composer’s greatest strengths is orchestration. In this case the use of harp and woodwind, which at times enable the music to be shot through with air and light.
The MSO play the music well and with exuberance, although why a named orchestra was needed to record the score is curious; usually studio musicians, expert in their field are all that is required. It doesn’t make this fine low-key film any better.