Category Archives: Soundtrack Reviews
Note: This review is a short version of a more detailed look conducted in a post on my companion site, ChadTalksMovies, titled “My Adventures on Barsoom.” Check it out!
I’ve made it clear in the past that Michael Giacchino is one of my favorite composers, and I might have even called him the best composer out there today; his ability to so effortlessly switch between genres is impressive, with him composing excellent scores for such contrasting films as Star Trek (my review), Up, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review). My recent obsession with all things John Carter/Barsoom-related has introduced me to Giacchino’s score for the 2012 Disney film for the first time. As expected, it’s wonderful.
The soundtrack opens with Giacchino’s beautiful, sweeping theme representing the world of Barsoom; after listening to it for the first time, I walked away whistling it. In the theme, he has managed to capture the majesty and splendor of the planet, both as described by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the original A Princess of Mars novel (my review) and as shown in the film adaptation, but it also embodies both the adventure at hand and the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris. This quickly fades into something more ethereal and otherworldly, led by a solo voice and eerie strings, serving as a backdrop to the opening scene that describes the plight of the dying planet.
There is a lot of diversity found in this score, with Giacchino switching between a larger, more triumphant sound (“Carter They Come, Carter They Fall,” “The Prize is Barsoom”) and something that is more mysterious and appropriately unearthly (“The Temple of Issus,” “A Thern Warning”). He also makes heavy use of voice, with either the choir or a single voice making an appearance in just about every track. The dexterity of the human voice gives it the ability to fit right in with the “unearthly” style of music mentioned as well as with the more tender, intimate moments of the score, such as at the start of the track “A Change of Heart.” They even fit in perfectly during the more aggressive, war-like bits of music, such as in the latter half of the track “The Prize is Barsoom.”
The Tharks are an indigenous species on Barsoom, not human-like in appearance, and they are represented well here by heavy percussion with a sort of tribal, primitive sound to it. It’s appropriately aggressive, just like the Tharks themselves. Giacchino uses strings to great effect, with the bowed instruments often acting as the driving force beneath the rest of the orchestra, usually playing an ostinato eighth note line, occasionally interjecting with a quieter version of theme heard in the other instruments. The strings also have many beautiful moments on their own, playing soft, warm melodies that emphasize the beauty of the world and the tenderness shown between Carter and Dejah Thoris.
The original John Carter stories as written by Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired many generations of scientists, writers, and even filmmakers. Among those was George Lucas, whose Star Wars saga borrows many elements of story and character from Burroughs’ work. It’s an ironic twist, then, for me to point out that there are parts of Giacchino’s score here that are reminiscent of John Williams’ score to Star Wars. No, nothing is ripped off, but there are certain points in the score when I can definitely hear the nod to Williams’ work, which is a nice touch that familiarizes the film a bit. You can even hear some of Giacchino’s Star Trek in here, though there’s nothing blatant enough to upset me. These three films all take place on foreign planets/in space, so the feel of them is similar (though Star Trek is definitely more sci-fi than the other two) and the music shares common elements of the genre.
Despite the fact that the film was not received very well, Giacchino’s score has received universal acclaim because, well, he’s awesome. With his score to John Carter, Giacchino has ventured into yet another new territory for him – that is, the territory of space fantasy – and has emerged victorious. His interpretation of John Carter’s Barsoom is on as grand a scale as the original book, but he also captures the more personal moments between our hero and Dejah Thoris. His ability to switch styles so quickly, from a majestic main theme to an aggressive percussion rhythm for the Tharks to ethereal strings/voices for the planet of Barsoom itself, makes the soundtrack just as epic as the film itself.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
1. “A Thern for the Worse” 7:38
2. “Get Carter” 4:25
3. “Gravity of the Situation” 1:20
4. “Thark Side of Barsoom” 2:55
5. “Sab Than Pursues Princess” 5:33
6. “The Temple of Issus” 3:24
7. “Zodanga Happened” 4:01
8. “The Blue Light Special” 4:11
9. “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall” 3:55
10. “A Change of Heart” 3:04
11. “A Thern Warning” 4:04
12. “The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen This Month” 2:35
13. “The Right of Challenge” 2:22
14. “The Prize Is Barsoom” 4:29
15. “The Fight for Helium” 4:22
16. “Not Quite Finished” 2:06
17. “Thernabout” 1:18
18. “Ten Bitter Years” 3:12
19. “John Carter of Mars” 8:53
Total Length: app. 75 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of the film here!
2 Comments | tags: a princess of mars, barsoom, dejah thoris, Disney, disney pixar, Disney/Pixar, edgar rice burroughs, ghost protocol, john carter, John Williams, Michael Giacchino, mission impossible, mission impossible: ghost protocol, Pixar, Star Trek, Star Wars, up | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Randy Newman is back with Pixar for the first time since composing the score for Toy Story 3 back in 2010, which is great since he composed the score for the original film, Monsters, Inc. His score for that film had a jazz-oriented main theme that worked really well for it, and I was hoping for more of the same for Monsters University. While we definitely get “more of the same” here, it’s unfortunately not the “same” that I was hoping for.
The first half of this album or so fails to impress me at all. It sounds like nothing more than another Randy Newman score, which, unfortunately, isn’t much of a compliment. Don’t get me wrong – the sound of Randy Newman’s music very much IS Pixar, but a little variation would have been nice, or at least some more extensive reference to the original film’s score. We certainly do get some reference to the original score in the track “Field Trip,” where we hear the theme from “Enter the Heroes” as well as the chase theme from the first film, which can be heard in the Monsters, Inc. track “Mike’s In Trouble.” Anyways, I digress. I actually do have some good things to say about this score.
Newman did a good job of composing the Monsters University alma mater, which, in its slower instrumental form (as heard in “Goodbyes”), is slightly reminiscent of this theme from John Williams’ score to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – in a good way! Both themes have the same warmth to them. Also, despite my complaints regarding the lack of inclusion of themes from the original score, the quotes that were used were used well, bringing a smile to my face as soon as I heard them. Newman also utilizes what sounds like a marching band (specifically a drum line) to really bring the fact that this takes place at a college into focus, and it works wonderfully. As mentioned before, Newman’s music IS Pixar, or, at least, classic Pixar, so watching the film with his score playing in the background was like stepping back into my childhood. Also of note is the track titled “Roar,” credited to Axwell & Sebastian Ingrosso, which is a fun dance tune.
Randy Newman isn’t exactly the most “original” composer out there, as evidenced by the fact that much of this music sounds like his previous work; I can hear bits of Toy Story in “First Day at MU” and bits of A Bug’s Life (my review) in “Rise and Shine,” with several other similar instances popping up here and there. However, all of that is completely, perfectly okay compared to the opening of “Did You Do This?,” when he completely and blatantly rips off his own theme to A Bug’s Life. Make sure you click on both of those links because I want you to be as angry about it as I was when I first heard it…I probably shouldn’t have been driving at the time. Not even Hans Zimmer has been that blatant about borrowing from his previous work! …it frustrates me.
Maybe I’m being overly critical for something like this. Like I said, Newman’s score does a great job of bringing familiarity to the world presented in Monsters University, and despite that one HUGE problem and the score’s general tendency to be pretty forgettable, it’s a decent score overall. I have my qualms with it, but it serves its purpose just fine for the average listener and in the context of the film.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
1. “Main Title” 0:52
2. “Young Michael” 3:58
3. “First Day at MU” 4:32
4. “Dean Hardscrabble” 3:19
5. “Sulley” 0:48
6. “Scare Pig” 2:00
7. “Wasted Potential” 1:16
8. “Oozma Kappa” 3:16
9. “Stinging Glow Urchin” 2:34
10. “Field Trip” 3:57
11. “Rise and Shine” 3:00
12. “The Library” 3:44
13. “Roar” (performed by Axwell & Sebastian Ingrosso) 2:55
14. “The Scare Games” 6:00
15. “Did You Do This?” 2:00
16. “Human World” 2:07
17. “The Big Scare” 3:02
18. “Goodbyes” 3:11
19. “Mike and Sulley” 1:12
20. “Monsters University” 1:34
Total Length: app. 56 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
1 Comment | tags: a bug's life suite, axwell, axwell & sebastian ingrosso, axwell and sebastian ingrosso, Disney, disney pixar, Disney/Pixar, enter the heroes, field trip, first day at mu, Hans Zimmer, inc., Indiana Jones, indiana jones and the last crusade, John Williams, monsters, monsters incorporated, monsters university, Pixar, Randy Newman, rise and shine, roar, sebastian ingrosso, the last crusade, Toy Story, Toy Story 3 | posted in 3, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
I am often critical of Hans Zimmer’s work due to the tendency of his music to often sound the same. I was especially skeptical going into his score for director Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel; not only did he face the challenge of coming up with original material that didn’t sound too much like his scores to Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy, but he was also following in the footsteps of arguably the best film composer of the twentieth century, John Williams, who composed the now-iconic theme to Superman (1978). John Williams is my all-time favorite composer, so Zimmer was up for quite the challenge indeed: could he impress me?
This score contains an outstanding amount of variety. The first track, “Look to the Stars,” is appropriately ethereal as it plays during a scene taking place on Krypton. It contains hints to the main theme, which doesn’t appear until later, and it ends with a driving string melody that builds anticipation into the upcoming fight scene. Other tracks on the album have this sort of supernatural quality as well, including “Sent Here for a Reason” and “Krypton’s Last,” the latter of which also contains an emotional lament played on what seems to be a viola. This music serves as Clark’s tie to his home world.
Emotion is expressed in all sorts of ways in this music; we hear the aforementioned lamentations for a lost planet (which is later heard in “I Have So Many Questions” as Clark interacts with the “ghost” of his Kryptonian father), we hear the anger felt by Zod through a string ostinato overlayed with heavy brass and aggressive percussion (“You Die or I Do,” “I Will Find Him,” “General Zod”), and we hear Clark Kent’s curiosity for answers regarding his past in the form of a juxtaposition between the ethereal music heard on Krypton with an early piano iteration of what will become the main theme for his Superman persona. It is this conglomeration of emotional themes of all shapes and sizes that makes this score so effective as both a companion to the film and as an affective stand-alone work, helping you to envision what the characters are experiencing without the aid of a movie screen.
Regarding the main theme, Zimmer has somehow managed to capture everything that I thought and felt about Superman as a character and as an American icon in a simple piece of music. On the soundtrack, this theme is first heard in the track “Sent Here for a Reason,” but it appears more entirely on the track “This is Clark Kent.” It starts out as a simple theme on the piano, but it eventually falls into what can best be described as a “groove,” joined by percussion and gaining an extra layer of fullness as the character becomes more certain in who he is meant to be. It gains even another layer as Superman becomes a fully-realized hero, consisting of strings playing sixteenth notes, brass fanfare, and screaming electric guitar, bringing both the theme and the character full-circle in an incredibly satisfying way.
No superhero film score would be complete without its action music, of which there is also plenty to be heard here. Fueled by a team of twelve of the world’s best percussionists, the action music here is aggressive, impactive, and powerful. It always drives the movement on screen forward in a way that is more supportive than obtrusive, but that’s not to say that Zimmer doesn’t have his moments of glory while you watch the film; tracks like “Terraforming” and “This is Madness!” pack as literal a punch as Superman does in the film (in a good way), and “Flight” features a different type of action music that is driven as equally by the resonant French horn choir with voice accompaniment as it is by the percussionists.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beast of a track titled “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook),” which essentially serves as a suite for the entire score. Sitting at nearly half an hour long in length, it is jam-packed with just about every bit of music that you hear in the other tracks, but here they flow together into a giant, coherent work of art. Dare I say it? This track is a masterpiece – a true testament to Hans Zimmer’s complete capabilities as a composer.
So, did Zimmer impress me here? The answer is a resounding “YES!!!!!!” This score is ultimately my favorite score that he has ever composed, and it even surpasses my love for Williams’ original Superman theme, which is quite a feat in itself. Though you likely won’t be walking away from the theater with the theme stuck in your head as might have been the case with Williams’ theme, Zimmer has managed to capture all of the hope, nobility, and power of Superman in his score to Man of Steel; Williams’ theme accompanies Superman well, but Zimmer’s theme IS Superman, and I look forward to his work on the inevitable sequel. Bravo, Mr. Zimmer. Keep up the outstanding work.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Note: I purchased the Deluxe Edition of this album on iTunes, which is what the following track list is from. I highly recommend the Deluxe Edition, but the link to the Standard Edition is provided below as well.
Disc 1 – Flight
1. “Look to the Stars” 2:58
2. “Oil Rig” 1:45
3. “Sent Here for a Reason” 3:46
4. “DNA” 3:34
5. “Goodbye My Son” 2:01
6. “If You Love These People” 3:22
7. “Krypton’s Last” 1:58
8. “Terraforming” 9:49
9. “Tornado” 2:53
10. “You Die or I Do” 3:13
11. “Launch” 2:36
12. “Ignition” 1:19
13. “I Will Find Him” 2:57
14. “This Is Clark Kent” 3:47
15. “I Have So Many Questions” 3:47
16. “Flight” 4:18
Disc 2 – Experiments from the Fortress of Solitude
No. Title Music Length
1. “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” Hans Zimmer 5:27
2. “Man of Steel” (Hans’ Original Sketchbook) Zimmer 28:16
3. “Are You Listening, Clark?” Zimmer 2:48
4. “General Zod” Zimmer, Junkie XL 7:21
5. “You Led Us Here” Zimmer 2:59
6. “This Is Madness!” Zimmer, Junkie XL 3:48
7. “Earth” Zimmer 6:11
8. “Arcade” Zimmer, Junkie XL 7:25
Total Length: app. 119 min.
iTunes Album Links – Standard Edition, Deluxe Edition
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
1 Comment | tags: Batman, Christopher Nolan, clark kent, flight, general zod, hans original sketchbook, Hans Zimmer, henry cavill, John Williams, krypton, kryptonian, kryptonite, man of steel, michael shannon, mr. zimmer, Superman, terraforming, this is madness, zack snyder, zod | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
In 2010, electronic music group Daft Punk collaborated with Joseph Trapanese on the score for director Joseph Kosinski’s first directorial effort, TRON: Legacy. This year, Trapanese is back with a new collaboration for a Kosinski film, this time with Anthony Gonzalez of M83. Like the score to TRON: Legacy (my review), the focus is on a more electronic sound mixed with traditional orchestration, and the result is quite satisfactory.
The second track of the album, “Waking Up,” perfectly communicates the grandeur of the film, albeit an empty grandeur, if that makes sense. In fact, much of this score gives us a glimpse into the largeness of the world and the hugely epic moments, such as in “Drone Attack” and “Canyon Battle.” Tracks like “Losing Control” are a bit more muted, but the anxious undertones of low strings and electronic pulse with the overlaying high strings become more and more aggressive before being joined by the brass in a dramatic sort of fanfare that seems to emulate all of Jack Harper’s questions and doubts as he struggles to find his place in this world. “Radiation Zone” is incredibly dissonant and becomes more and more agitated, representing the conflict Jack faces in crossing into the radiation zone and the surprises he encounters there.
One thing I liked about this film, though, was its ability to move effortlessly from big, majestic sets and action scenes to the more intimate moments of contemplation and searching for answers, which the score does great as well. The opening track of the album, “Jack’s Dream,” sounds appropriately ethereal, representing the fuzziness of Jack’s “memories,” and “Horatius,” is filled with a constant pulse that drives it forward, but the quieter nature of the track fuels Harper’s question-asking. The following track, “StarWaves,” is much more personal, acting as background music to a scene between Jack and Victoria in the swimming pool. One of the final tracks on the album, “Undimmed By Time, Unbound By Death,” seems to almost be a reference to the title track from Chariots of Fire, composed by Vangelis; both tracks feature an electronic opening before transitioning into a piano-based theme, though the Oblivion track is decidedly more muted (and less likely to be the go-to song for clips of people running).
Those of you who have read my previous soundtrack reviews know that one thing I always harp on is composers who reuse themes from their previous film scores. While Daft Punk and M83 were credited as the main composers for TRON: Legacy and Oblivion, respectively, Joseph Trapanese had a hand in both compositions, and you can hear some similarities between the two. Thankfully, though, nothing is blatant enough to point out, with the fact that TRON: Legacy‘s score is a bit more electronic-based and Oblivion‘s is more orchestra-based, effectively distancing the two to make them stand out on their own merits.
A film score’s goal is to make the film it accompanies even better and to enhance the emotions and action shown on screen; for the most part, the score to Oblivion does its job. There were one or two instances while watching the film when I thought that the music could have taken a little bit more of a backseat to the visuals and dialogue, but those thoughts never lasted long because of how fun the music is. The bonus goal of a film score is to be entertaining when listened to outside of the film, and there’s no doubt that Gonzales and Trapanese have accomplished that here as well. M83’s score to Oblivion manages to continue the recent positive trend of famous music groups composing for films in a great way.
Note: I purchased the Deluxe Edition of the album on iTunes. For only $3 more, you get more than 45 additional minutes of music. Completely worth it!
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Jack’s Dream” 1:30
2. “Waking Up” 4:18
3. “Supercell” 4:19
4. “Tech 49” 6:01
5. “The Library” 3:27
6. “Horatius” 2:31
7. “StarWaves” 3:41
8. “Hydrorig” 2:23
9. “Crater Lake” 1:28
10. “Unidentified Object” 2:32
11. “Odyssey Rescue” 4:12
12. “Return from Delta” 2:22
13. “Retrieval” 6:48
14. “Earth 2077” 2:23
15. “Revelations” 1:43
16. “Drone Attack” 3:26
17. “Return to Empire State” 6:41
18. “Losing Control” 3:57
19. “Canyon Battle” 5:58
20. “Radiation Zone” 4:12
21. “You Can’t Save Her” 4:59
22. “Welcome Back” 1:47
23. “Raven Rock” 4:35
24. “Knife Fight In a Phone Booth” 4:39
25. “I’m Sending You Away” 5:40
26. “Ashes of Our Fathers” 3:32
27. “Temples of Our Gods” 3:16
28. “Fearful Odds” 3:11
29. “Undimmed By Time, Unbound By Death” 2:27
30. “Oblivion (feat. Susanne Sundfør)” 5:57
Total Length: app. 114 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
1 Comment | tags: anthony gonzalez, chariots of fire, daft punk, deluxe edition, iTunes, jack harper, joseph kosinski, joseph trapanese, m83, oblivion, tom cruise, tron, tron legacy, vangelis | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
2012 was a fantastic year for film, and, for the first time, I’ve seen a majority of the nominated films, including all nine Best Picture nominees, all five Best Animated Feature nominees, all five Best Live Action Short Film nominees, and all five Best Animated Short Film nominees. I also own and have listened through all five nominated Best Original Scores. Needless to say, I feel relatively prepared enough to type out my own predictions list for this year’s Academy Awards, with a little help from various other people’s lists in the technical area. Just to clarify, though: this does not necessarily reflect my personal favorites (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen Mychael Danna’s score to Life of Pi for Best Original Score), but it instead shows what I actually think will win.
I’ll give commentary for the first six awards and will simply list the rest.
P.S. If something is linked, it’s a link to my personal review of that material, if you’re interested in reading.
Best Picture: Argo
When I first decided that I was going to type up one of these, I argued with myself for a long time over whether or not Argo would win the Oscar for Best Picture, but now I’m almost positive. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, there have only been three instances ever when the winner of the Best Picture Award did not also win the Best Director Award, so, since Ben Affleck isn’t nominated for Best Director, I was leaning more toward Lincoln/Spielberg for the Best Picture/Director awards, but Argo has gotten enough steam built up behind it to snatch the Oscar, and rightfully so.
Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Had he been nominated, I think that Ben Affleck would have won this award for directing what is sure to win Best Picture, Argo, but, since he’s not, Spielberg seems to be the best choice. He has a long history of bringing us excellent films, and Lincoln was no exception. However, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Ang Lee received the award for directing Life of Pi, but I don’t expect that’ll happen.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
I wasn’t able to see The Master, but of the other four nominees there is no doubt that all four actors did fantastic jobs in their respective roles, but I think that Day-Lewis will take the cake after his incredible portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s latest film. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get the award, but, if I had to make a second guess, it’d be for Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
I may have this one completely wrong, as Jessica Chastain also seems to be a popular pick for her role in Zero Dark Thirty (which I don’t agree with), but I think that Lawrence was the definitely the best of those nominated. I must admit to not having seeing The Impossible, but I’m pretty sure that the winner will be either Lawrence or Chastain, and my hope is for Lawrence.
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained
I’ve changed my mind about four times while trying to write this because both Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz in Django Unchained and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln were fantastic and are deserving of the Oscar. However, I do believe that Waltz’s performance shines just a bit brighter than Jones’, putting him at least slightly ahead in my book.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
I am almost completely confident that Anne Hathaway will win this award. While Sally Field was a great Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacki Weaver did a fine job in Silver Linings Playbook (I haven’t seen The Master or The Sessions, but I’m sure that Amy Adams and Helen Hunt were great as well), but I think that Hathaway’s stunning performance of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” is reason enough to justify her receiving the Oscar.
Best Writing – Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke for Amour
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio for Argo
Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
Best Documentary – Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Best Documentary – Short Subject: Open Heart
Best Live Action Short Film: Curfew
Best Animated Short Film: Paperman
Best Original Score: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi
Best Original Song: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth for “Skyfall”
Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty
Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables
Best Production Design: Les Misérables
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Misérables
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Film Editing: Argo
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Leave a comment | tags: Abraham Lincoln, Academy Awards, adele, alan arkin, amour, amy adams, ang lee, anna karenina, anne hathaway, argo, ben affleck, best actor, best actress, best adapted screenplay, best animated feature, best animated short film, best cinematography, best costume design, best director, best documentary feature, best documentary short, best film editing, best foreign language film, best live action short film, best makeup and hairstyling, best original score, best original screenplay, best picture, best production design, best sound editing, best sound mixing, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best visual effects, Bradley Cooper, bryan cranston, chris terrio, christoph waltz, curfew, daniel day-lewis, django unchained, helen hunt, i dreamed a dream, jacki weaver, jennifer lawrence, jessica chastain, john goodman, les mis, les miserables, life of pi, Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, michael haneke, open heart, Oscars, paperman, paul epworth, predictions, president, quentin tarantino, Sally Field, searching for sugar man, silver linings playbook, skyfall, Steven Spielberg, thaddeus stevens, the master, the sessions, tommy lee jones, wreck it ralph, zero dark thirty | posted in Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Thomas Newman is a composer who I’m fairly familiar with; I own his soundtracks for Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Help, all of which are pretty good. BUT they are all quite outside the action genre, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that Newman was composing the score to the newest James Bond film. I must admit, I was a bit unimpressed during my first listen, but over time, especially after seeing the film, I’ve grown to really enjoy it and was happy to see it nominated for Best Original Score at the 85th Academy Awards.
The very first track, “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul,” opens with the familiar trumpet notes heard in David Arnold’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” from Casino Royale (2007), called “The Name’s Bond…James Bond.” This transitions into a sort of groove that takes us completely through the opening chase sequence through the bazaar and on top of the train. It perfectly captures the excitement and anxiety of the moment, pushing forward with brass and an energetic percussion beat. There are a lot of these action-packed tracks that match the action-packed film, including tracks such as “Granborough Road,” which uses mainly strings to drive the music forward and closes with a soft rendition of the “James Bond Theme” on guitar, and “Welcome to Scotland,” which relies again on brass and percussion. A wonderful moment in the soundtrack is heard in “Breadcrumbs” when we’re treated to a more complete rendition of the main theme, typical of the James Bond films of old.
The score is not without its light moments though, which is appropriate since this is one of the more thoughtful and contemplative of the film series. “Day Wasted” features a shimmery sort of electric background before the strings come in with gentle interruptions that hint at the main theme. A later track, “Mother,” which almost sounds like it has a couple of featured voices, though it may just be an instrument that emulates the voice. Halfway through the track, warm brass sounds join the mix, helping to emphasize that Bond is home again and is being faced with his past. Other more gentle tracks include “Enjoying Death” and “Close Shave.”
Newman has done a fine job with the music to Skyfall after taking over from David Arnold, who had composed the scores to five previous Bond films. My one disappointment is that, aside from the main theme, the bits of Adele’s “Skyfall,” and a couple of instances of repeated musical ideas, there isn’t another unifying theme heard throughout the soundtrack. I had the same complaint in my review of James Newton Howard’s score for The Bourne Legacy, which lacked the unifying theme heard in John Powell’s scores to the original Bourne trilogy. Despite that disappointment, the score to Skyfall is an excellent action film score, which you don’t often get.
I would be remiss to not say a couple of things about Adele’s “Skyfall,” the title song for the film, though it was not composed by Newman (bits of it can be heard in the soundtrack tracks “Skyfall” and “Komodo Dragon”). It’s probably my favorite Bond title song (that I’ve heard), and I’m certain that it will win Best Original Song at the 85th Academy Awards.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” 5:14
2. “Voluntary Retirement” 2:22
3. “New Digs” 2:32
4. “Sévérine” 1:20
5. “Brave New World” 1:50
6. “Shanghai Drive” 1:26
7. “Jellyfish” 3:22
8. “Silhouette” 0:56
9. “Modigliani” 1:04
10. “Day Wasted” 1:31
11. “Quartermaster” 4:48
12. “Someone Usually Dies” 2:29
13. “Komodo Dragon” 3:20
14. “The Bloody Shot” 4:46
15. “Enjoying Death” 1:13
16. “The Chimera” 1:58
17. “Close Shave” 1:32
18. “Health & Safety” 1:29
19. “Granborough Road” 2:32
20. “Tennyson” 2:14
21. “Enquiry” 2:49
22. “Breadcrumbs” 2:02
23. “Skyfall” 2:32
24. “Kill Them First” 2:22
25. “Welcome to Scotland” 3:21
26. “She’s Mine” 3:53
27. “The Moors” 2:39
28. “Deep Water” 5:11
29. “Mother” 1:48
30. “Adrenaline” 2:18
31. “Old Dog, New Tricks” 1:48
Total Length: app. 80 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
2 Comments | tags: Academy Awards, adele, best original score, best original song, Bourne trilogy, casino royale, daniel craig, david arnold, finding nemo, james bond, James Newton Howard, Jason Bourne, lemony snicket, series of unfortunate events, skyfall, The Bourne Legacy, The Help, Thomas Newman, wall-e | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Mychael Danna sort of came out of nowhere for me. The first of his film scores that I’d ever heard of was his score for the 2011 film Moneyball, a score that was minimal but effective. A brief look at his Wikipedia filmography reveals other such scores as (500) Days of Summer, Capote, and Little Miss Sunshine, none of which are films that I’ve seen, let alone heard music from. Despite my unfamiliarity with Danna’s work, though, his score for Life of Pi is enjoyable and fits in nicely with the film.
The soundtrack opens with the track “Pi’s Lullaby,” which is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Though I don’t think it’ll win, its soothing vocals and relaxed accompaniment are nice to listen to. Bits of this track are heard throughout the score in different forms, building onto the character of Pi Patel with each occurrence. The sitar, a guitar-like instrument traditional in Indian music, is featured prominently in many tracks, emphasizing the heritage of our main character, but the Indian-inspired music fades with Pi’s family’s move to Winnipeg, Canada. In fact, in the track “Leaving India,” there is a moment when we hear bits of “Pi’s Lullaby” played by (what I think to be) the ney, a wind instrument that is often heard in Middle Eastern music, but this is taken over by a similar Western instrument, the flute.
Danna does an excellent job with incorporating vocals into the score to evoke emotion. For example, in the track “First Night, First Day,” we hear a low male vocal drone with a solo soprano line sung over it. Eventually, other female chorus members join in, giving the whole track an air of both remorse and mystery, alluding to Pi’s recent tragedy with the loss of his family and to his unknown future while stranded alone at sea. Another instance of good choral work is toward the end of “Back to the World,” in which we can sense Pi’s mixed senses of relief in returning to civilization and disappointment in the loss of Richard Parker.
Not all of this score is so depressing, though. “Piscine Molitor Patel,” which serves as the backdrop to Pi’s explanation of his name, features some schmaltzy accordions that fit in the with the bits of the story involving Paris and French (his first and middle names are derived from the name of a well-known public pool in France). As I mentioned in my review for Alexandre Desplat’s score for Argo, there is also a beatboxing segment in this track, a trait shared by both scores…unusual, but it doesn’t seem inappropriate for either film. Another “fun” track is “Flying Fish,” which comprises of a string melody that starts off light and bouncy and grows a little weightier as the track comes to a close.
While I do enjoy all of the music presented here, the reason that I don’t place it as high as Desplat’s score for Argo or Williams’ score for Lincoln (my review here) is because much of it is so repetitive. The same themes are presented over and over again from track to track, and, though this could be interpreted as a conscious decision on Danna’s part to emulate Pi’s increasingly mundane day-to-day routine in his music, I think that it is unnecessary. There are complex emotions and ideas presented in the film, and I think that the score could have done a better job of highlighting all of these.
That’s not to say that it’s not still a pretty great score, though. Danna has composed a score that generally fits the film well, and it’s certainly pleasant to listen to. The score for Life of Pi walked away with the Golden Globe, but I don’t think that it’ll get the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Who knows, though? I’ve been wrong before. It’s entirely possible that my view is skewed since I’m partial to Williams’ scores.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Pi’s Lullaby” 3:42
2. “Piscine Molitor Patel” 3:39
3. “Pondicherry” 1:12
4. “Meeting Krishna” 1:51
5. “Christ in the Mountains” 1:13
6. “Thank You Vishna for Introducing Me to Christ” 0:55
7. “Richard Parker” 0:54
8. “Appa’s Lesson” 1:06
9. “Anandi” 0:55
10. “Leaving India” 1:20
11. “The Deepest Spot on Earth” 0:48
12. “Tsimtsum” 2:49
13. “Death of the Zebra” 0:33
14. “First Night, First Day” 3:45
15. “Set Your House in Order” 2:10
16. “Skinny Vegetarian Boy” 2:16
17. “Pi and Richard Parker” 2:14
18. “The Whale” 2:02
19. “Flying Fish” 0:49
20. “Tiger Training” 1:22
21. “Orphans” 1:36
22. “Tiger Vision” 4:31
23. “God Storm” 3:42
24. “I’m Ready Now” 3:21
25. “The Island” 1:59
26. “Back to the World” 8:20
27. “The Second Story” 4:02
28. “Which Story Do You Prefer?” 2:05
Total Length: app. 66 min.
iTunes Album Link
1 Comment | tags: 500 days of summer, Academy Awards, Alexandre Desplat, argo, best original score, best original song, capote, golden globes, John Williams, life of pi, Lincoln, little miss sunshine, mychael danna, ney, pi patel, pi's lullaby, piscine molitor patel, richard parker, yann martel | posted in 4, Books, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Long-time Spielberg collaborator John Williams has a history of composing some of the most iconic scores in film history; Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were all brought to life by his incredible music. In his old age, Williams has slowed down a bit, but his scores to the 2011 films War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin were just as excellent as always. With War Horse, he took a more minimal approach than he typically has in the past, relying on gorgeous strings and warm brass to bring a feeling of intimacy to the film that fit the tone of the film. He uses this same approach with Lincoln, and the result is breathtaking.
The music in Lincoln perfectly embodies the American spirit. There is grandeur, there is majesty, there is conflict and resolution, there is emotion…Williams has captured it all. Much of this album is more solo-oriented, which helps with that intimacy that I mentioned before. The first track, “The People’s House,” opens with a single clarinet melody, low and calm, evoking visions of long hours spent in the Oval Office making decisions for the better of the country. Throughout the soundtrack, we are treated to solos from clarinet (“The People’s House,” “Equality Under the Law”), trumpet (“The Purpose of the Amendment,” “The American Process”), horn (“The Southern Delegation and the Dream,” “Father and Son”), and piano (“The Blue and Grey,” “Remembering Willie”). Each solo instrument brings forth a different emotion, enabling Williams to exploit these associations to accentuate the feelings in a particular scene. These emotions are made even more powerful once the solo instrument is joined by the full orchestra; the strings bring a warmth that reminds me of family and responsibility.
“The Blue and Grey” (obviously referring to the uniform of the Confederate Army) is a somber sort of track that hints at the tension between the Union and the Confederacy, while “With Malice Toward None” conveys Lincoln’s sense of duty to his country. “Father and Son” goes on to highlight Lincoln’s tentative relationship with his son in the midst of his presidential responsibilities, a sentiment that is continued in “Remembering Willie,” a terribly emotional track that echoes the grief felt by a distraught mother and her empathetic husband. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” captures a grand moment in history with the timidity appropriate for such a solemn occasion, and it also expertly uses a choir to represent the almost spiritual element of the occasion.
Just on a quick aside, there is a short motive heard throughout the film that sounds nearly identical to a similar motive from Randy Newman’s score to the Disney/Pixar film A Bug’s Life. Compare this from “The American Process” to this excerpt from “Flik Leaves” on the soundtrack album for A Bug’s Life. Also, considering the fact that Abraham Lincoln is buried in Illinois, I thought it to be a nice touch that this score was appropriately recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
I could go on and on and on some more about this soundtrack, but I digress. It should be obvious that I think quite highly of Mr. Williams and his music for Lincoln. I think that it perfectly represents all of the complicated aspects of one of America’s most celebrated presidents: his dedication to his country, his love for his family, his moral dilemma in doing the right thing. John Williams’ score to Lincoln is film scoring at its very finest, proving that, even at 83, he’s still got it.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
1. “The People’s House” 3:43
2. “The Purpose of the Amendment” 3:07
3. “Getting Out the Vote” 2:49
4. “The American Process” 3:57
5. “The Blue and Grey” 3:00
6. “With Malice Toward None” 1:51
7. “Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom” 2:17
8. “The Southern Delegation and the Dream” 4:43
9. “Father and Son” 1:42
10. “The Race to the House” 2:42
11. “Equality Under the Law” 3:12
12. “Freedom’s Call” 6:08
13. “Elegy” 2:35
14. “Remembering Willie” 1:51
15. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” 2:38
16. “The Peterson House and Finale” 11:00
17. “With Malice Toward None (Piano Solo)” 1:31
Total Length: app. 59 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
2 Comments | tags: 1865, A Bug's Life, appomattox, april 9, chicago symphony orchestra, confederacy, confederate army, confederate states of america, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, equality under the law, father and son, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Jaws, John Williams, Jurassic Park, Lincoln, oval office, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Randy Newman, remembering willie, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, Superman, The Adventures of Tintin, the american process, the blue and grey, the people's house, the purpose of the amendment, the southern delegation and the dream, union, union army, War Horse, with malice toward none | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Alexandre Desplat is a composer who I haven’t been familiar with for long, but it’s no secret that I really enjoy his film scores especially those of the past couple of years (see my reviews of his scores to The King’s Speech and Rise of the Guardians). His score for last year’s Ben Affleck film, Argo, is no exception…it’s nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Desplat’s music has always been characterized by a beauty unparalleled by his contemporaries. This beauty is apparent from the very first track, “Argo,” which opens with a lovely solo on the ney (a flute-like instrument known for its use in Middle Eastern music), backed by soft, harmonious strings and an ominous drone on the tonic, leading to a faster-paced melody on an oud (a guitar-like instrument that also features in Middle Eastern music), with a sort of anxious undertone. This background anxiety is present throughout most of the score, which is fitting due to the fact that anxiety is a large part of the action in the film. Anxiety is not the only emotion expressed in this score, though; we also hear longing (such as in the track “Missing Home”), despair (“Sweatshop”), and relief (“Cleared Iranian Airspace”)…Desplat’s talent for emulating emotion through his music is evident.
One of my favorite parts of this score is that Desplat composes differently depending on the setting of the action on screen. For example, throughout most of the soundtrack we are treated to a style of music that brings to mind the Middle Eastern culture, which makes sense because most of the story takes place in Iran…this is why such instruments as the previously mentioned ney and oud are used so prominently. However, in “The Mission,” we hear a completely different style more reminiscent of traditional American film scores, with a sweeping string orchestra and quite typical harmonies. This theme is later heard in the track “Cleared Iranian Airspace,” but the genius of it all is that neither of these tracks are completely “American”…”The Mission” ends with the return of the ney, hinting at the journey that the main character will soon be taking, and “Cleared Iranian Airspace” starts with dissonance, representing the tension of the situation, eventually clearing out into the American-style theme mentioned before.
Parts of Argo sound similar to some of Desplat’s previous compositions, though not in a way that is frustrating (I’m looking at you two, Zimmer and Elfman!). The main instance of similarity (that I heard) is in the track “Held Up by Guards,” which sounds faintly like a theme from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, heard here in “Showdown.” Like I said, they don’t sound exactly alike, but definitely noticeable (to me, at least). Also worth noting is the fact that both the scores to Argo and Life of Pi (composed by Mychael Danna), which is also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, feature beatboxing (Argo – “Hotel Messages”; Life of Pi – “Piscine Molitor Patel”), which isn’t typical of usual film scores. However, it works well in both cases.
Alexandre Desplat is one of the best composers of our day, a fact supported by his fantastic score for an equally fantastic film, Argo…it certainly deserves its nomination for Best Original Score at this year’s Academy Awards. Will it win? I’m not sure, but with his top-notch emulations of emotion and beauty and his appropriate usage of Middle Eastern music to reflect the setting of the film, Desplat’s score for Argo is one of the best of 2012.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
1. “Argo” 3:38
2. “A Spy In Tehran” 4:18
3. “Scent of Death” 3:26
4. “The Mission” 2:08
5. “Hotel Messages” 2:04
6. “Held Up By Guards” 5:32
7. “The Business Card” 2:56
8. “Breaking Through the Gates” 3:51
9. “Tony Grills the Six” 3:30
10. “The Six Are Missing” 3:22
11. “Sweatshop” 1:32
12. “Drive to the Airport” 3:45
13. “Missing Home” 3:00
14. “Istanbul (The Blue Mosque)” 2:18
15. “Bazaar” 3:46
16. “Cleared Iranian Airspace” 6:02
17. “Hace Tuto Guagua” (performed by Familion) 3:40
Total Length: app. 59 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. Read my review of this film here!
4 Comments | tags: Academy Award, Alexandre Desplat, argo, beatboxing, ben affleck, best original score, cleared iranian airspace, dhpt2, familion, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, harry potter and the deathly hallows - part 2, life of pi, middle eastern, mychael danna, ney, oud, pi patel, piscine molitor patel, rise of the guardians, The King's Speech | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
*Note: I purchased and will be reviewing the Special Edition of Howard Shore’s score to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which features several extended and additional tracks. It is worth the extra money!
I’m a relatively new fan to Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth, but I’m familiar enough to know how fantastic Howard Shore’s scores to the original films are. As a result, I was quite excited to hear his score for the first of the three films based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit, called An Unexpected Journey, and I was right to be: Shore’s music holds just as much fantasy and adventure as it did all those years ago.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens with some familiar themes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most prominent of these is the theme for the Shire/Bag End, heard in “My Dear Frodo,” “Old Friends,” and in a couple of other tracks throughout. Another is the theme that I associate with the One Ring, which doesn’t make an appearance until “Riddles in the Dark.” The genius of these familiar themes is that they are not exactly the same as they were in the original film trilogy; each theme is a slight variation from the way it was originally heard in The Lord of the Rings. In fact, the theme for the One Ring is teased throughout the first half of the score, all the way up to the moment it is finally revealed in “Riddles in the Dark.”
Aside from what is familiar, Shore has composed quite a bit of new material, which is altogether lighter in nature than that of The Lord of the Rings; after all, this is a younger Middle-Earth, a Middle-Earth that exists several years before the return of Sauron. Tracks such as “An Unexpected Party” and “The World Is Ahead” display this lightness, but that does not mean that darkness is not present in this score. Tracks such as “An Ancient Enemy” and “Warg-scouts,” among others, reflect this darkness and the building threat of the mission at hand.
Shore’s greatest strength is his use of choirs to convey emotion and to build upon the music in a way that instruments cannot do alone. Even in his use of choirs we hear variety, from the use of a heavy, deep men’s choir in tracks like “An Ancient Enemy,” a boys’ choir such as in “The Hidden Valley,” or a full chorus such as in “Out of the Frying Pan.” Also, his incorporation of Tolkien’s original text for songs (which he also did in The Lord of the Rings film series) is wonderful, heard in the Special Edition bonus track “Blunt the Knives” and in the main theme for the film, “Misty Mountains.” Speaking of this theme, “Misty Mountains” is heard at several points throughout the score and conveys the same sense of purpose and adventure as the his themes for the Fellowship or for Théoden King. One of my favorite moments in the score is in the track “Over Hill,” where he juxtaposes the “Misty Mountains” theme with the theme for the Shire.
I could go on and on forever talking about this score and how fantastic it is, but I’ll leave that to you to discover. Howard Shore may not have quite the track record of John Williams or Hans Zimmer, but his work on The Lord of the Rings and now on The Hobbit is unparalleled – a masterpiece in every sense of the word. While the scope of The Hobbit is not as great as the story that follows it, the score is worthy of occupying the same world, living up to every expectation Shore set for himself. Also, as I mentioned before, the Special Edition is worth the extra money, so go for it!
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
1. “My Dear Frodo” 8:03
2. “Old Friends” (Extended Version) 5:00
3. “An Unexpected Party” 4:08
4. “Blunt the Knives” (performed by The Dwarf Cast, Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:01
5. “Axe or Sword?” 5:59
6. “Misty Mountains” (performed by Richard Armitage and The Dwarf Cast) 1:42
7. “The Adventure Begins” 2:04
8. “The World is Ahead” 2:19
9. “An Ancient Enemy” 4:56
10. “Radagast the Brown” (Extended Version) 6:37
11. “The Trollshaws” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 2:08
12. “Roast Mutton” (Extended Version) 4:56
13. “A Troll-hoard” 3:38
14. “The Hill of Sorcery” 3:50
15. “Warg-scouts” 3:02
1. “The Hidden Valley” 2:49
2. “Moon Runes” (Extended Version) 3:39
3. “The Defiler” 1:14
4. “The White Council” (Extended Version) 9:40
5. “Over Hill” 3:42
6. “A Thunder Battle” 3:54
7. “Under Hill” 1:54
8. “Riddles in the Dark” 5:21
9. “Brass Buttons” 7:37
10. “Out of the Frying-Pan” 5:55
11. “A Good Omen” 5:45
12. “Song of the Lonely Mountain” (performed by Neil Finn, Extended Version) 6:00
13. “Dreaming of Bag End” 1:56
14. “A Very Respectable Hobbit” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:20
15. “Erebor” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:19
16. “The Dwarf Lords” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 2:01
17. “The Edge of the Wild” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 3:34
Total Length: app. 128 min.
iTunes Album Link (Special Edition)
P.S. – Read my review of the film here!
3 Comments | tags: an unexpected journey, baggins, bilbo, bilbo baggins, fellowship of the ring, frodo, frodo baggins, gandalf, Howard Shore, j. r. r. tolkien, jrr tolkien, Lord of the Rings, lotr, middle-earth, one ring, return of the king, sauron, the hobbit, the hobbit: an unexpected journey, two towers | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews