After a year and a half, the 'August' pieces fit

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"August Rush" is a sophisticated fairy tale in which three characters are defined by the music they perform and find the correct paths in their lives through sound.

Music is so integral to the film that composer Mark Mancina spent more than a year and a half working on it -- an unusually long time for a live-action film.

"August" centers on the title character, a young musical prodigy, played by Freddie Highmore, who believes against all odds that his real parents would find him if they could only hear his music.

August's parents are played by Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The film is a happy return for Meyers playing a musician, though a little more low-key than his glam rocker character in 1998's "Velvet Goldmine." Russell and Rhys Meyers practiced intensely on their instruments -- she on cello and he on guitar -- to be able to perform onscreen.

Mancina says he wrote the final musical piece first. (No, we're not going to give away the ending.) "That way I could take bits and pieces of the ending piece and relate it to the things that are happening in (August's) life," he says. "All of the themes are pieces of the puzzle, so at the end it means something because you've been subliminally hearing it throughout the film."

Warner Bros., which opens the film Wednesday, is hosting several in-school music programs across the U.S. as well as working with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.

"The heart of the story is how we respond and connect through music," Mancina says. "It's about this young boy who believes that he's going to find his parents through his music. That's what drives him. He's not driven to be the greatest composer in the world; he just wants to find his mom and dad. It's a strong and clear idea."

The studio's marketing push is heavily supported by Sony, which issued the soundtrack Nov. 6. Music and visuals from "August" form the foundation of a music mixer component on the film's Web site, augustrushmovie.com, where fans can create their own music/film mash-ups and then upload them to YouTube, MySpace and other viral communities.

"August" also features original songs written by John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting.

Chuck Crisafulli contributed to this column.
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