Category Archives: 4.5

Argo (2012) – Alexandre Desplat

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

-Chad

P.S. Read my review of this film here!

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The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – John Williams

2011 was a great year because, after a four-year wait, we got not one but two new film scores by John Williams. The first of these was The Adventures of Tintin, which, along with Williams’ score to War Horse, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

While War Horse‘s score was decidedly more dramatic, The Adventures of Tintin‘s score is whimsical and fun, as well as quite reminiscent – in a good way – of Williams’ earlier scores. For example, “The Secret of the Scrolls” features a mysterious theme that reminds me of both “The Map Room” from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark score and the latter portion of “Diagon Alley and the Gringotts Vault” from Williams’ score to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; all three have a simplicity to them that promotes thought and emanates a sense of wonder and magic.

The title track, “The Adventures of Tintin”, is catchy and sleuthy…at least, that’s the way I hear it. It’s heavily influenced by jazz, which is a bit different from the typical John Williams stuff but entirely welcome and refreshing. In contrast with this new style, Williams returns in full force with his leitmotifs – a musical phrase that represents a specific character/event/place; there are specific themes written for Snowy, the Thompsons, and other characters, including Tintin, but my favorite has to be the leitmotif representing Captain Haddock. First introduced in “Captain Haddock Takes the Oars”, Haddock’s theme begins as a sloppy, drunken low wind melody, but it transforms along with the character into something sturdy and impressive, as heard in “The Clash of the Cranes”.

Williams combines all of these elements – jazz, simplicity, references, and leitmotifs – to create something adventurous in the old-fashioned sense of the word and, overall, truly amazing. Despite the fact that it’s an animated film, The Adventures of Tintin boasts a score that could make just about any action/adventure film jealous. Though its themes may not be as instantly iconic as those now associated with Star WarsIndiana Jones, or Superman, it takes turns in paying homage to each of these classic film scores in a way that is fresh and new. At 80 years old, John Williams has “still got it”.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “The Adventures of Tintin” 3:07
2. “Snowy’s Theme” 2:09
3. “The Secret of the Scrolls” 3:12
4. “Introducing the Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase” 4:08
5. “Marlinspike Hall” 3:58
6. “Escape from the Karaboudjan” 3:20
7. “Sir Francis and the Unicorn” 5:05
8. “Captain Haddock Takes the Oars” 2:17
9. “Red Rackham’s Curse and the Treasure” 6:10
10. “Capturing Mr. Silk” 2:57
11. “The Flight to Bagghar” 3:33
12. “The Milanese Nightingale” 1:29
13. “Presenting Bianca Castafiore” 3:27
14. “The Pursuit of the Falcon” 5:43
15. “The Captain’s Counsel” 2:10
16. “The Clash of the Cranes” 3:48
17. “The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale” 5:51
18. “The Adventure Continues” 2:58

Total Length: app. 66 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – I didn’t want to taint the body of the review with something like this, but I have to mention it: there is a moment in “Presenting Bianca Castafiore/Renee Fleming” when the soprano hits a high sustained note and breaks glass…loudly…ON THE ALBUM. And I absolutely despise it.


The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Hans Zimmer

I don’t have much time to type this out before I go to the theater for the Batman trilogy IMAX screening, so I won’t be going track by track.

Though some of this music is taken from the previous two films’ scores, Zimmer introduces some pretty cool new themes that add a lot to the character of the album. “Gotham’s Reckoning” starts with a rhythm of two duples and two triples, which repeats through the rest of the track. This rhythm serves as Bane’s theme, and it is the musical version of the chant heard in the various trailers for the film. Sure enough, the chant comes in about halfway through the track, adding a level of anxiousness to it all; presumably, this is being chanted by Bane’s army, which, along with the random bursts of brass and aggressive percussion in the background, makes this track all the more terrifying.

Another highlight is the following track, “Mind If I Cut In?”. It opens with some eerie strings which moves into a lengthy piano solo. It brings a bit of a chill down my spine. A later track, “Despair” is really cool because it contains the best instance of the Batman theme (ascending minor third) that I’ve heard out of all three soundtracks; it’s just so pure and heroic-sounding, despite what the title may imply.

Speaking of titles implying things, “Necessary Evil” leaves me stumped – who is the title referring to? Is it Bane’s way of justifying his crimes? Or is it Batman realizing that the only way to stop Bane is to break his one rule, i.e. kill him? I sort of doubt that it’s the latter because Batman “truly [is] incorruptible”, but the track provides the emotional sound that could accompany a weighty decision like that.

There are lots of great moments to point out and talk about, but I could go on and on and on. It boils down to this: this is Hans Zimmer’s best Batman score yet. It features a pleasant mix of old and new, with new bits of music that give a glimpse into the kinds of difficult decisions and situations that Batman must endure in the film, and it concludes the trilogy in a truly impressive way.

Since Newton Howard didn’t return to collaborate on this score, Zimmer tackled it all on his own. I was worried that it would be too “Zimmer-y” for me, but he did an overall fantastic job. In fact, I’d say that the score for The Dark Knight Rises is better musically than its predecessor. As for how it enhances the movie…well, you’ll have to wait for my movie review tomorrow!

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “A Storm is Coming” 0:37
2. “On Thin Ice” 2:55
3. “Gotham’s Reckoning” 4:08
4. “Mind if I Cut in?” 3:27
5. “Underground Army” 3:12
6. “Born in Darkness” 1:57
7. “The Fire Rises” 5:33
8. “Nothing Out There” 2:51
9. “Despair” 3:14
10. “Fear Will Find You” 3:08
11. “Why Do We Fall?” 2:03
12. “Death By Exile” 0:23
13. “Imagine the Fire” 7:25
14. “Necessary Evil” 3:16
15. “Rise” 7:11

16. “Bombers Over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix)”  5:50

17. “The Shadows Betray You”  5:21

18. “The End”  6:13

Total Length: app. 69 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


The Dark Knight (2008) – Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

“Why So Serious?”

Opening with eerie sirens, this track doesn’t have a lot of organization or anything like that to it – that is to say, it’s chaotic, which defines the Joker. Played during the opening of the film when we’re first introduced to the character, the various sounds that range from aggressive to contemplative to insane give us our first impressions of who the Joker is and what he is capable of. Even the percussion beat that we hear throughout gives you the feeling of chaos.

“I’m Not a Hero”

Featuring a low string melody that is heard throughout the film, the coolest part about this track is that you can hear the Batman theme (the ascending minor third that I mentioned in yesterday’s Batman Begins post) played lightly in the background. This Batman theme repeats over and over again as the track goes on. Toward the end, there are a couple of random bouts of action theme with echo-y sounds and light rhythmic percussion underneath. The last 30 seconds or so are more heroic sounding, which fits in with this scene in the film; I believe this track is played as Batman makes his visit to Hong Kong and…well, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it.

“Harvey Two-Face”

This track contains the theme for both Harvey Dent and Two-Face, if you couldn’t guess that from the title. Played in the strings, this melody is weighed down with responsibility, and the occasional horn solo adds a bit of a heroic tinge to it. Percussion is introduced about 2 minutes in, and everything becomes a bit more driven with purpose and emotion, possibly indicating Harvey’s transition from noble district attorney to corrupted government official. The last 3 minutes or so drops into a slow piano theme, followed by the string melody heard at the start which gets more and more intense as the track draws to a close. As a whole, this track gives us a glimpse into the conflict within Dent.

“Aggressive Expansion”

The start of this track is just as aggressive as the title implies, but then it slows to some atmospheric stuff that probably accompanies a dialogue-heavy scene or something like that. The aggression returns at the end of the track, bringing us a light version of the heavy action theme heard later in the score.

“Always a Catch”

Opening with the sirens used throughout the film that indicate that something SERIOUS is about to happen, it soon moves into a quiet bit of music that fades to the end. Perhaps a lead-in to the next track –

“Blood On My Hands”

This theme is played on the lower strings at first, and it has a heavy sort of emotion to it. Taken from Batman’s line in the film about how he’s already got enough “blood on [his] hands”, this track gives a theme to Batman’s worry that he’s not doing the right thing.

“A Little Push”

Starting with a simple enough bit of ambient music, about halfway through it becomes corrupted and twisted…much like the character of Harvey Dent.

“Like a Dog Chasing Cars”

Featuring some more of the Batman theme over a heavily rhythmic background, the main theme in this track is introduced by the French horns before being joined by the strings. It gets more and more action-y as it goes on, and we hear some of the cool brass parts at about 2:10 or so, which goes on until the last minute or so. In this last minute of the track, we hear what I sort of consider to be an anti-Batman theme; there is a sustained note that, instead of ascending a minor third, descends a whole step.

“I Am the Batman”

Mostly atmospheric, this track is played during the scene when Alfred tells the story of the jewel thief in Burma…not much to talk about here. A nice ambient track, though, and it ends with something similar to the siren at the start of “Always a Catch”…perhaps communicating the moral of Alfred’s story – “some men just want to watch the world burn”.

“And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad”

This track features the action-y theme, and it also contains something interesting: there’s a sustained note that you would assume to be the Batman theme, but it never goes anywhere. You get the sustained note, but that’s it.

“Agent of Chaos”

Most of the stuff heard here is stuff that we’ve already been introduced to, but it’s all mixed together to start with a brooding, anticipating action theme that moves into the sirens, meaning WATCH OUT! And, sure enough, we go into MORE action-y stuff that actually contains some new themes, including high string quarter notes over a lower string melody – a very cool effect. The ending is depressing though, as it features another slow piano solo and sad strings underneath. The contrast between this and what was heard earlier really makes this ending feel pretty heartbreaking.

“Introduce a Little Anarchy”

This is the coolest track on the album. It features the full-fledged action theme with an awesome underlying cello/bass counter-melody kind of thing, along with several interjections by the Batman. This track embodies all that is awesome about Batman – well, the fighting side of him, at least, and it’s non-stop action from start to finish.

“Watch the World Burn”

This track can be heard during the scene when Harvey has kidnapped Gordon’s family. You can hear the emotional tension between Dent, Gordon, and Batman as they try to negotiate the safety of the children and beg Harvey to blame the men most responsible for Rachel’s death. It ends with emotional-sounding strings that are a bit chaotic, again representing what Harvey has become.

“A Dark Knight”

This track is really long (more than 16 minutes) and features lots of different stuff…so I’ll let you listen to it on your own!

OVERALL

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard have come together to create something even better than their score to Batman Begins. Though I would only give the music itself about a 9, the way it is used in the film is extremely effective and pushes it over the top. This album, like its predecessor, does a fantastic job with capturing both the emotional and action-y sides of Batman. Also, make sure to check out the bonus digital disc available on iTunes, containing almost an hour of new music!

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  1. “Why So Serious?”          (9:14)
  2. “I’m Not a Hero”          (6:34)
  3. “Harvey Two-Face”          (6:16)
  4. “Aggressive Expansion”          (4:35)
  5. “Always a Catch”          (1:39)
  6. “Blood On My Hands”          (2:16)
  7. “A Little Push”          (2:42)
  8. “Like a Dog Chasing Cars”          (5:03)
  9. “I Am the Batman”          (1:59)
  10. “And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad”          (2:28)
  11. “Agent of Chaos”          (6:55)
  12. “Introduce a Little Anarchy”          (3:42)
  13. “Watch the World Burn”          (3:47)
  14. “A Dark Knight”          (16:15)

Total Length: app. 74 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

I used this Wikipedia page to figure out when each of these tracks is played in the film.

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


The Hunger Games (2012) – James Newton Howard

When I first read the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, I was thinking to myself the whole time, “man, these books were written to be made into movies!” With that mindset, I was imagining a film score for the book while I was reading, and, though I’m not a composer, I was pretty satisfied with how it sounded in my head.

I haven’t listened to many film scores by James Newton Howard, but I was familiar enough with his work to be excited when he was announced as composer for The Hunger Games. I counted down the days until the score was released and bought it as soon as it was posted on iTunes. For the most part, I was pretty satisfied.

My favorite part about this score is how minimal it is most of the time. Panem is a post-apocalyptic country some time in the future, so why would you have a big, fully-stocked orchestra recording music for it? You wouldn’t, and Newton Howard does that perfectly. The main motif for District 12, as heard in the opening track, “The Hunger Games”, is uniquely soloistic and simple, making it profound when it is placed later in the score during the actual Hunger Games themselves in the track “We Could Go Home”.

However, there are a few moments when the full orchestra is appropriate, and Newton Howard scores these equally as beautifully, as heard in “Horn of Plenty” (the Panem national anthem, composed by the band Arcade Fire and orchestrated by Newton Howard) and “Searching for Peeta”, as well as in another track or two. Generally, the Capital is given these larger orchestrations, representing the prosperity found in the city. The contrast between the minimal themes for District 12 and the big moments for the Capital is striking, sort of embodying the class/quality of life shift between the two areas.

As much as I enjoy the majority of the score, I have one HUGE complaint: “Rue’s Farewell”. Is it pretty? Yeah, sure. Is it all that it could have been? NO! Where’s the five-note whistle that we heard in every single TV spot for the film? I had hoped that this track would be a memorial to the character based around that motif, but we don’t get that. Why, Newton Howard? WHY?!

Aside from that, and the fact that it’s WAY too short, James Newton Howard’s score for The Hunger Games is a score that works on multiple levels, despite the criticism I’ve heard from others who didn’t care for it. Give it a shot! It’s a great score for a great film.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “The Hunger Games”   1:10

2. “Katniss Afoot”   1:49

3. “Reaping Day”   1:35

4. “The Train”   1:27

5. “Entering the Capitol”   1:28

6. “Preparing the Chariots”   1:05

7. “Horn of Plenty”   1:59

8. “Penthouse/Training”   3:36

9. “Learning the Skills”   1:41

10. “The Countdown”   1:58

11. “Booby Trap”   2:37

12. “Healing Katniss”   3:04

13. “Rue’s Farewell”   5:00

14. “We Could Go Home”   1:15

15. “Searching for Peeta”   1:27

16. “The Cave”   3:13

17. “Muttations”   4:45

18. “Tenuous Winners/Returning Home”   3:25

Total Length: app. 44 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – John Powell

2010 was a good year for animated movies, bringing usToy Story 3Tangled, and Despicable MeHow to Train Your Dragon was also released in 2010 and featured an incredible instrumental score by composer John Powell, who was relatively unknown to me at that time.

The score of How to Train Your Dragon has a very Celtic feel to it to tie in with the Viking characters, with lots of bagpipes, fiddle, and even some harpsichord. There are parts that have an almost swashbuckling kind of sound to them, like in the track “Focus, Hiccup!”

The real appeal of the score to HTTYD is the sheer number of memorable tracks, with my favorites being “This is Berk”, “Forbidden Friendship”, “See You Tomorrow”, “Test Drive”, “Romantic Flight”, “Coming Back Around”, and “The Vikings Have Their Tea”. “Romantic Flight” features one of the most beautiful themes I’ve ever heard in a movie, while “Test Drive” is just incredibly fun.

Overall, John Powell’s score to How to Train Your Dragon presents everything you could want in a movie score and has quickly climbed to my list of favorites. I have very little (if anything) to complain about with this score.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “This Is Berk” 4:10

2. “Dragon Battle” 1:54

3. “The Downed Dragon” 4:16

4. “Dragon Training” 3:10

5. “Wounded” 1:25

6. “The Dragon Book” 2:22

7. “Focus, Hiccup!” 2:05

8. “Forbidden Friendship” 4:10

9. “New Tail” 2:47

10. “See You Tomorrow” 3:53

11. “Test Drive” 2:36

12. “Not So Fireproof” 1:12

13. “This Time For Sure” 0:43

14. “Astrid Goes For A Spin” 0:43

15. “Romantic Flight” 1:56

16. “Dragon’s Den” 2:29

17. “The Cove” 1:10

18. “The Kill Ring” 4:28

19. “Ready The Ships” 5:13

20. “Battling The Green Death” 6:18

21. “Counter Attack” 3:05

22. “Where’s Hiccup?” 2:43

23. “Coming Back Around” 2:51

24. “Sticks & Stones” (Written and performed by Jónsi) 4:17

25. “The Vikings Have Their Tea” 2:03

Total Length: app. 72 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad