Tag Archives: composer

The Help (2011) – Thomas Newman

I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.

Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.

Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotionalEach track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.

I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Aibilene”      3:07
2. “Them Fools”      2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake”      1:22
4. “Mississippi”      3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations”      1:43
6. “The Help”     2:18
7. “Jim Crow”      1:45
8. “Skeeter”      1:03
9. “Miss Hilly”      1:13
10. “Write That Down”      1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List”      3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs”      2:03
13. “First White Baby”      2:00
14. “Celia Digs”      2:06
15. “November 22”      1:11
16. “Not To Die”      1:28
17. “My Son”      2:50
18. “Trash On The Road”      1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful”      2:56
20. “Constantine”      4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials”      1:32
22. “Sugar”      1:49
23. “Amen”      3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue”      2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)”      6:29

Total Length: app. 60 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

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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!


The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) – Harry Gregson-Williams

I’ll be completely honest with you all…I’m not a huge fan of Harry Gregson-Williams. His film scores just generally seem pretty lackluster to me. That being said, I’ve owned this score for a long time and never paid much attention to it, expecting myself to dislike it. But guess what? I really enjoyed it!

The first two tracks aren’t anything special, though “Evacuating London” has a wonderfully mellow piano solo, a nice groove with orchestral accompaniment, and a few cool small hints to the upcoming main theme (listen to “To Aslan’s Camp”). Gregson-Williams’ score really starts to get interesting around the third track, “The Wardrobe”, which first introduces us to Narnia. Everything is completely different now: this new world is represented with a score that is truly other-worldly, and I don’t mean in an extra-terrestrial way. The primary instruments switch from strings to flute-like and stringed instruments with unique timbres that really help you to envision the strangeness and wonder of this new place.

One of the things that HGW does really well in this score is integrate choral elements, especially in “A Narnia Lullaby”, “From Western Woods to Beaversdam”, and “Only the Beginning of the Adventure”. The voices fit in really well this idea of harmony between the creatures (discounting the White Witch and her gang, of course) and with a unity between the children and the other members of Aslan’s forces.

I do have a few issues with this score. Though “The White Witch” is malicious enough, I think that HGW could have better embodied the cold nature of the witch. For example, the usage of eerie high strings and using the dissonance in a different way could have really made it better, in my opinion. Also, several of the themes, though awesome alone, were WAY overused, like the melody heard in “Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus”. This line of music is incredibly beautiful, but it’s repeated forever and ever (amen) throughout the entirety of the track’s four minutes, and this isn’t the only melody that repeats like this; the main theme heard in “To Aslan’s Camp” is used over and over again throughout the entire score, albeit sometimes with different instrumentation or in a different mode or rhythm.

And I have to point it out: while listening, I heard what I swear was the main theme from Gregson-Williams’ later score, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but I can’t for the life of me find it at the moment…you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Despite its faults, Harry Gregson-Williams’ to this first installment in the Chronicles of Narnia film series is pretty excellent…a pleasant surprise to me, since I wanted so badly to dislike it. Instead, tracks like the mysterious “The Wardrobe”, “To Aslan’s Camp”, and “The Battle” left me wishing that the soundtrack wasn’t so short. The short length doesn’t take away from the fantasy presented in this score, though, so check it out!

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  1. “The Blitz, 1940” – 2:32
  2. “Evacuating London” – 3:38
  3. “The Wardrobe” – 2:54
  4. “Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus” – 4:10
  5. “A Narnia Lullaby” – 1:12
  6. “The White Witch” – 5:30
  7. “From Western Woods to Beaversdam” – 3:34
  8. “Father Christmas” – 3:20
  9. “To Aslan’s Camp” – 3:12
  10. “Knighting Peter” – 3:48
  11. “The Stone Table” – 8:06
  12. “The Battle” – 7:08
  13. “Only the Beginning of the Adventure” – 5:32
  14. “Can’t Take It In” (Imogen Heap) – 4:42
  15. “Wunderkind” (Alanis Morissette) – 5:19
  16. “Winter Light” (Tim Finn) – 4:13
  17. “Where” (Lisbeth Scott) – 1:54

Total Length – app. 71 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


The Social Network (2010) – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

The hype for director David Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network was strong and, in my opinion, deservingly so; I seem to like it more and more every time I watch it. However, I didn’t expect to like the soundtrack, composed by Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Atticus Ross. Being a big fan of Alexandre Desplat’s score for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, I was rooting for (and expecting) his score for The King’s Speech to win. At the time, though, I hadn’t heard the scores to either The Social Network or The King’s Speech, so, when The Social Network took the Academy Award for Best Original Score at the 83rd Academy Awards, I decided to buy both and decide for myself which I liked more, expecting the Desplat to win.

To my surprise, I liked The Social Network’s score more.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score to this movie is, to say the least, unconventional. Most of the time you hear an orchestra in the background of a film, not a bunch of electronics and guitar, but that’s exactly what you get in The Social Network…and it’s delightful.

From the haunting piano melody of “Hand Covers Bruise” (which acts as the theme for the film) to the underlying excitement of “Intriguing Possibilities” to a sort of experimental electronic rock in “Eventually We Find Our Way”, Reznor/Ross’ score delivers in every way I can think of: excitement, atmosphere, tension, emotion, etc.

My favorite tracks are “In Motion”, “Intriguing Possibilities”, “Pieces Form the Whole”, and “Carbon Prevails”, and the arrangement of the classic “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is reminiscent of the work of composer Wendy Carlos (TRONThe Shining).

The score for The Social Network has something in it for everyone, whether you are a fan of the film or not. Check it out!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1.”Hand Covers Bruise”  4:18

2.”In Motion”4:56

3.”A Familiar Taste”  3:35

4.”It Catches Up with You”  1:39

5.”Intriguing Possibilities”  4:24

6.”Painted Sun in Abstract”  3:29

7.”3:14 Every Night”  4:03

8.”Pieces Form the Whole”  4:16

9.”Carbon Prevails”  3:53

10.”Eventually We Find Our Way”  4:17

11.”Penetration”  1:14

12.”In the Hall of the Mountain King” (Edvard Grieg)  2:21

13.”On We March”  4:14

14.”Magnetic”  2:10

15.”Almost Home”  3:33

16.”Hand Covers Bruise, Reprise”  1:52

17.”Complication with Optimistic Outcome”  3:19

18.”The Gentle Hum of Anxiety”  3:53

19.”Soft Trees Break the Fall”  4:44

Total length: app. 67 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Cars (2006) – Randy Newman

The score to the Disney/Pixar film Cars was composed by Randy Newman, who was also responsible for the scores to all three Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, andMonsters, Inc. However, like most of Pixar’s film soundtracks, there are a few songs in the track list that are lyrical.

In the case of Cars, nearly half (9 out of 20) of the tracks are vocal songs, and 4 of those were written specifically for the film. I’ll briefly walk through each of these 9 tracks before getting to the actual “score”.

The first track on the album is “Real Gone” by Sheryl Crow. This is one of the songs that was written for the film. This song, aside from just being lots of fun and making references to cars, has lyrics that fit Lightning McQueen’s character at the start of the film: “you got your blinders on”, referencing the things placed to side of a horse’s eyes so that it can only see straight ahead, refers to McQueen’s love for nothing but himself and his career.

Next is Chuck Berry’s “Route 66”, which is on the album for obvious reasons that I hope I don’t have to explain. John Mayer has another decent version of this song available on the album.

Rascall Flatts’ version of Tom Cochrane’s 1991 hit “Life is a Highway” is also included on the album for obvious reasons, but it also has a set of lyrics that fit in well with the themes of the film, found in the bridge:

“There was a distance between you and I

A misunderstanding once

But now, we look it in the eye.”

This chunk of lyric could fit either Lightning’s relationship with Sally, which grows from a mutual annoyance to a blossoming romance, or with Doc, which starts with a lack of communication/understanding but becomes a strong teacher/student or father/son relationship.

Brad Paisley wrote two songs for Cars the first of which is titled “Behind the Clouds”. The lyrics in this song talk about the silver lining that can be found in situations that appear bleak at first, i.e. Lightning getting lost and trapped in a near-ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Which turns out to be a blessing! Yay for songs that fit the story!

The third song on the soundtrack that was written for the film is titled “Our Town”, composed by Randy Newman and performed by James Taylor. This song, a Grammy winner and Academy Award nominee, reveals one of the morals of the film: what you have is only what you make of it, and no one can take it away from you. An awesome message, and one of the reasons why I love Pixar (even if Cars is far from my favorite).

“Sh-Boom”, a 1954 song by The Chords, is played during the scene where McQueen and the citizens of Radiator Springs restore the city to look the way it did in its heyday as a surprise for Sally. I wasn’t alive back then, but this song just seems to define the 50s for me. It’s relaxed and fun and perfect for this scene in the film.

The final lyrical song written for the film is another by Brad Paisley, this one titled “Find Yourself”. (On a quick side note, I now have Cars to thank for the presence of country music on my iPhone! Who’da thought it’d ever happen?!) This song, like “Our Town” is particularly poignant because it talks about how, though we may lose our ways in life sometimes, it’s at those times that we’re lost that we often discover who we really are and what we really want, as Lightning does in the film.

The final lyrical song included on the soundtrack album is Hank Williams’ “My Heart Would Know”, which, as far as I can tell, has no lyrical connection to the story, merely serving the purpose of establishing the setting/context/feel of the film.

And now we (finally) move on the the actual film score by Randy Newman. Unfortunately, Randy’s film scores are often like Hans Zimmer’s and Danny Elfman’s in the sense they sound the same a lot of the time (certainly not Randy’s themes, just his background music usually), and the first two instrumental tracks, “Opening Race” and “McQueen’s Lost”, do nothing to prove that theory wrong. “Opening Race” reminds me of some bits from Toy Story, while “McQueen’s Lost” has an entire 7-second section of music that almost sounds exactly like a theme from A Bug’s Life. (go to YouTube and compare :37-:44 of “McQueen’s Lost” to :34-:40 of “The Bird Flies”)

Luckily, Randy completely switches gears in the next track, “Bessie”, which suddenly turns into what could easily be mistaken for the intro to a country/western song. Thank you, Randy! Although there were hints of Toy Story again in the next track, “Dirt is Different”, and in a couple of other tracks later on, Randy sticks to a Western-feel, occasionally bluegrass-y, that is for the most part refreshing and different coming from him.

I don’t want to go into too much (more) detail, so I’ll sum it up.

Overall, while a bit familiar, the country feel to Cars’ instrumental score, in addition to the excellent vocal tracks that accompany it, makes this a better soundtrack than I initially expected. My favorite track is “McQueen and Sally”.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

1. “Real Gone” Sheryl Crow 3:22

2. “Route 66” Chuck Berry 2:52

3. “Life Is a Highway” Rascal Flatts 4:37

4. “Behind the Clouds” Brad Paisley 4:09

5. “Our Town” James Taylor 4:07

6. “Sh-Boom” The Chords 2:26

7. “Route 66” John Mayer 3:25

8. “Find Yourself” Brad Paisley 4:11

9. “Opening Race” 2:05

10. “McQueen’s Lost” 2:29

11. “My Heart Would Know” Hank Williams 2:27

12. “Bessie” 0:59

13. “Dirt Is Different” 1:28

14. “New Road” 1:17

15. “Tractor Tipping” 1:22

16. “McQueen & Sally” 2:00

17. “Goodbye” 2:42

18. “Pre-Race Pageantry” 1:31

19. “The Piston Cup” 1:52

20. “The Big Race” 3:07

Total Length: app. 53 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman

After listening through Danny Elfman’s score to Spider-Man (2002) yesterday, I checked out his score toSpider-Man 2 (2004) today. Again, this is in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Spider-Man reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, and Emma Stone.

I didn’t really have any expectations for Elfman’s sequel soundtrack, so I went into listening through it with a fairly open mind. I’m wrapping up my second listen-through as I type; I’m pretty unimpressed.

That’s not to say that I didn’t really enjoy it, though. It just fell victim to the Danny Elfman/Hans Zimmer Effect: it sounds the same as the first. The Main Title, as exciting in the second film’s score as it was in the first’s, is overused throughout, and much of the music seems to be a basic rehash of what was done in the first film’s score. I didn’t feel like I was listening to a different soundtrack like I should have.

That being said, Elfman managed to compose a couple of tracks that stand out as being pretty fantastic. “Doc Ock Is Born” introduces a theme for arguably the best Spider-Man villain, a theme that is used again multiple times throughout the film. “At Long Last, Love”, is a pleasant mix of emotion and themes from the first film – a moment that is appropriate for the main theme to be used. Despite the overuse of the main theme, Spider-Man 2’s score manages to improve just a bit on the first film’s score.

Overall, as enjoyable and fun as Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man 2 score is, it isn’t much different than his score for the first Spider-Man film, with a couple of exception tracks. However, it IS better-composed than the first film’s score, so bonus points for that. If you’re debating on buying it, take a listen to the tracks on YouTube or Spotify first and decide whether it’s different enough for you.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  1. “Spider-Man 2 (Main Title)” 3:21
  2. “M.J.’s New Life/Spidus Interruptus” 2:31
  3. “Doc Ock Is Born” 2:23
  4. “Angry Arms/Rebuilding” 2:51
  5. “A Phone Call/The Wrong Kiss/Peter’s Birthday” 2:06
  6. “The Mugging/Peter’s Turmoil” 3:21
  7. “The Bank/Saving May” 4:27
  8. “He’s Back!” 1:50
  9. “Doc Ock’s Machine” 1:42
  10. “Train/Appreciation” 6:16
  11. “Aunt May Packs” 2:51
  12. “Armageddon/A Really Big Web!” 6:28
  13. “The Goblin Returns” 1:36
  14. “At Long Last, Love” 2:59
  15. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” – Performed by B. J. Thomas 3:14

Total Length: app. 48 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad