The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)

Final Musings: A classic Williams adventure score with great intellectual depth. It may not have the concert arrangements we expect of the maestro, but this is one of the legend’s best scores in recent years. Williams is clearly still at the top of his game and he once again shows his competition how film scoring is really done.

When I got the CD, I thought to myself “Its finally here”! It’s been a while since we’ve seen the maestro be an active player in the industry. Having only composed a single score in the last 5 years, the film score world suffered from a drought. Being an ardent devotee of John Williams, you can imagine the terrible agony I had endured during those dark times. Although we did have Indiana Jones 4 to satisfy our thirst for some time, 3 years went by without the maestro in the film score world. So the question is…was it worth the wait? YES! And no doubt about it!

I’ve been looking forward to the film for quite a long time as well. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson being amongst my favourite directors, I was quite excited to see what they would come up with. But let me say it here and now that I know almost next to nothing about Belgian comics by Herge. I’ve heard about them and even once skimmed over the one about Congo in French, but I honestly don’t know much about the comics, so forgive any inaccuracies in my analysis in accordance with context.

What can I say about the music? Well, John Williams definitely delivers, on all accounts and it is probably one of his best efforts in the last decade. Tintin is a fantastic score and solid evidence that the maestro is still at the top of his game. What may initially surprise listeners is the jazzy, comical nature of the score in general. I myself have never been a big fan of jazz but this is really some infectious material that you can’t help but snap your fingers to. But for people not fond of the style, you don’t have to worry. While the jazz style pops up all across the score, it has a variety of other sides to enjoy. That’s a huge feature of Tintin. It’s an extraordinarily colourful score that pretty much encompasses the different styles of Williams. You’ve got the Johnny Williams jazz from the 60s and the classic exciting JW action from the 70s and the 80s. Yes, this classic Williams action….not modern complicated JW material (which in itself is extraordinary as well). You’ve got the drama and nobility, wonder and intricacy from the 90s and the 00s mixed in there as well. There is a bit of everything for everyone to feast on in this score.

Another concept to love about the score is, as others have mentioned, the fluidity of the score. There is always consistent movement with colourful orchestrations all throughout the score. The woodwinds are always chirping, the pulsating strings and heroic brass are almost omnipotent, and to act as the icing over the cake; you have lovely creative European instrumental accents such as the accordion, the organ and other musical colours. Yet despite the hyperactive nature of the music, the music does not really fall under the act of “mickey-mousing”, and don’t let the jumping notes mislead you because this music is VERY listenable and EXTREMELY enjoyable! There are tons of thematic bursts that I believe are meant to precisely address what’s on screen and yet it is overall quite enjoyable. I suppose this must work extraordinarily on film (can’t see that till Dec. 21…whoopee ☹)

This brings me to the next marvel of the score. The thematic integrity put into this score is nothing short of absolute brilliance. He utilizes an abundance of themes and motifs to portray the story. There is the jumpy, heroic theme for Tintin. There is the mysterious, snake-like theme for the Unicorn (quite prominent). There is a bubbly theme for the Thompsons and a swinging sea-shanty flavoured theme for Captain Haddock (this receives some great development). And of course I can’t go on without listing the delightful scherzo-like theme for Snowy, the dog. Other motifs include a theme for the Red Rackham, a chase/action theme (that finally gets developed in The Adventure Continues) and an exotic tune for what I believe is Bagghar city. Now, here comes the best part. While all these themes are very memorable and receive a great deal of development, it’s the leitmotivic nuances that make this score a wondrous technical feat There are many moments where Williams intelligently overlaps motifs and themes harmonically or hints at them appropriately in context in such subtle yet clever ways, not unlike how Shore did with the Lord of the Rings. To really convey this technical feat, I think I’d like to go through a cue-by-cue analysis.

1) The Adventures of Tintin
The musical adventure begins with an unexpected jazzy arrangement of the main theme (Tintin’s theme). The style genereally sounds like a great fusion of Cantina Band, Knight Bus, Catch Me if You Can and the Terminal. I’m hoping we’ll get a fun intro for this cue in film. The track might initially irritate people (or fascinate others), but after a couple of listens, I find it hard to believe anyone would not be tapping their feet to this track. I’ve come to adore it. But being the brilliant composer he is, the maestro decides to hint at the story in the intro. JW foreshadows what’s about happen at about 2:10 where you hear a related sped up variation of the Unicorn theme only to be followed by a statement of Tintin’s theme again. Brilliant.

2) Snowy’s Theme
Snowy receives a thematic identity along the lines of a scherzo that is passed by many different sections (ranging from high woodwinds to brass). It actually receives many appearances and significant development throughout the score. For instance, Snowy has a chase variation that is more imminent in displaying danger (you’ll hear it at about 1:01). In addition the piano riffs in this track are delightful.

3) The Secret of the Scrolls
Some people may find it superficial to say so, but I really do LOVE the Unicorn theme. It’s reminiscent of the awe-inducing nature of the Ark theme and the slithering nature of Voldemort’s theme. The B version of the theme is a snake-like motif that plays out at 0:24. At about 1:34, Snowy’s theme breaks in to stir up a little fun only to be followed by eerie statements of the theme and its B-Phrase along with a threatening close.

4) Introducing Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase
The cue opens up with the comical theme for the clumsy Thompsons (again I may be wrong at this…but that’s what a clip from the movie seems to convey :P). At about 0:53, the accordion breaks into very fun music. We then hear a hint of the B phrase for Tintin’s theme (this is my guess) at about 1:10. It receives a fuller statement at about 1:28 (yet still incomplete). The phrase appears one more time later. Then at about 1: 56, you hear this plucky motif that might resemble a “brain blast” moment for Tintin, or basically when he’s solving a mystery. At 2:28 you hear Snowy’s chase music. To add on, 3:02 you hear Snowy’s full theme and it dominates the rest of the track till it closes with another ominous ending. This cue is all good fun and it probably portrays the almost “mickey-mousing” style in the score.

5) Marlinspike Hall
The cue opens up with an ominous statement of the B phrase of Tintin’s theme (again, I’m presuming things here). At about 0:40, some great classic William’s action fun breaks out briefly before Snowy interrupts it all. The B phrase then briefly shows up. The cue is pretty ominous from there with even a brief statement of the Unicorn theme. The “brain blast” motif shows up again at 2:13 (think Tintin walking back and forth pondering on a mystery). Now I believe Marlinspike Hall is related to Captain Haddock (his ancestral home I believe….). On that note, Williams conveys this musically at about 2:41. How? Well listen carefully and you’ll notice that little passage you’re hearing is actually Haddock’s own theme inverted. It’s the theme backwards! This is followed by an epic trumpet call of the B phrase of the Unicorn Theme. Its tiny hints like these that make this score so brilliant.

6) Escape from the Karaboudjan
We now arrive at the score’s first official action track. And it’s very epic! At this point, all your doubts about the greatness of this score should be erased because this is some fantastic classic JW action. The cue opens up with the B phrase of Tintin’s theme then it goes into the pulsating action that the classic Williams has been so well known for. The trumpets really roar around here and fragments of Snowy’s theme and statements of Tintin’s theme are scattered everywhere. I personally adore the moment at 1:42 that goes on to soar to epic proportions. At about 2:25 you hear some sort of menacing motif (maybe it stands for a villain?). To add on, 2:46 you hear the first statement for the exotic theme for the treasure. This is really fantastic stuff and portrays Williams at his A game.

7) Sir Francis and the Unicorn
Alright, while there is still a lot of excellent 5 star stuff left after this….but let me say that this cue is my favourite on the entire album! The moment I heard snippets of the pirate music on the samples, I fell in love. Then I heard it on Erik’s show and I broke down into tears of joy. This, ladies and gentlemen is how Williams has stayed on top in the film music world for so long! The cue opens up with a choir to signify a flashback (judging from the new trailer). The horns open up the Unicorn theme. And then the theme gets blown to operatic proportions! Its huge, its massive, it sends shivers down your spine. It’s a lot like what the Map Room cue was for Raiders of the Ark. The pounding the timpani, the menacing brass, the soaring theme….its just so powerful! And then at 2:14, the music hits the pirate, sea-faring battle music! I LOVE it! Zimmer could have learnt a thing or two from this for his recent POTC disappointment. The motif is catchy, swinging and great. At 2:24 you hear Red Rackham’s theme. With lovely flute accents all around tweeting here and there. Listening to this, you’re definitely getting a sense of a sea-faring battle along the lines of what Korngold would give us. At 2:54 you hear the Unicorn theme in its operatic fashion again with flutes screeching out the Red Rackham theme on the upper levels. After more of the Red Rackham material, The Unicorn theme returns in perhaps the grandest fashion you’ll hear on the score (appropriate considering the ship is sinking) and the flutes emphasize the Red Rackham theme again. This cue is simply BRILLIANT! The cue ends off with a powerful organ and a very eerie quote of the Unicorn’s theme as the flashback fades away. Ingenious!

8) Captain Haddock Takes the Oars
Well this cue introduces the original version of the Haddock’s theme (although you do hear its inverted version in Marlinspike Hall). This is one of my favourite themes in score. Its nautical, sea-shanty nature is reminiscent of Korngold (as many others pointed out before me). It’s a fun theme that receives quite a bit of development throughout the rest of the theme. From 1:40 you hear dissonant renditions of Tintin’s theme would elude you at first, but after a couple of listens you understand Williams notions. Thematic manipulations such as these are consistent throughout the score and will impress listeners.

9) Red Rackham’s Curse and the Treasure
This track opens up with Red Rackham’s theme. Then we hear the theme for the treasure. This theme receives significant development. After its first statement, you hear heavy chords that remind you of the Sir Francis and the Unicorn sequence (a hint perhaps). Following this is the action motif that gets further developed in The Pursuit of the Falcon and the Adventure Continues. The main theme of the aforementioned cues play out at 2:28 or so. After some quotes of the Unicorn Theme the exotic treasure theme shows up again. You hear dark menacing hints of Tintin’s theme followed by a fragment of the Unicorn theme booms in an epic fashion only to be followed by more of the Bagghar theme that goes on to eventually build to an extraordinary climax that might send people back to the Temple of Doom. Fantastic stuff here!

10) Capturing Mr. Silk
The score lightens up a bit here. This is basically a comical cue that is amusing. You eventually hear a statement of Haddock’s lovely theme only to be followed by the Thompsons theme and more jazzy stuff (with woodwinds, accordians and piano). A fun cue indeed.

11) The Flight to Bagghar
Some more awesome Tintin action is prevalent here. You hear a fun rendition of Haddock’s theme and then Tintin’s theme peeks in at 1:12. After some great JW action (twirling woodwinds and blaring trumpets), Haddock pops in yet again at 1:49 and thematically dominates the rest of the cue generally. Really, this cue is all about Haddock’s Theme and it truly is a treat to listen to the brilliant manipulations that the theme goes through within 3 min.

12) The Milanese Nightingale
This is some light and some fun French music that acts as source-like music. Its good fun but is probably one of the weaker cues. It drags you back into the mystery at the end by quoting the Unicorn theme.

13) Presenting Bianca Castafiore
This cue will probably be skipped the most. It’s a classical piece dominated by Renee Flemming’s voice and ends with a shattered glass effect. While it is a fun listen, it’s more like source-like music again (more so than the former cue).

14) The Pursuit of the Falcon
This is one of the strongest action cues (and that’s saying A LOT). Some may argue it is the best track in the album (although I believe that title belongs to Sir Francis and the Unicorn). It starts with quoting the theme from before with racing woodwinds. You hear very awesome action with intense flute lines meant to represent the falcon. Seriously, the flute work in this cue is absolutely stunning. Its at moments like these that you realize Williams just can’t be beat. At about 2:24 you hear a menacing rendition of the B phrase of Tintin’s theme. While the B phrase already structurally resembles the Unicorn theme, its darker renditions attempt to mix up the identity of Tintin and the Unicorn. This signifies the close connections between the two concepts. The big highlight of this cue is the fantastic statement of Tintin’s theme here. It receives its most glorious treatment in the entire score at around 4:17. Magnificent stuff! People who doubted the strength and memorability of Tintin’s theme should listen to this. The eerie quotes of the B Phrase of Tintin from 4:40 onwards really bring the Unicorn theme to mind. It’s a very intelligent theoretical idea (too bad I don’t know why its done…perhaps there is a significant connection between the ship and Tintin…maybe people who know the story well could fill that in :P).

15) The Captain’s Counsel
While I have tons of favourite tracks from the score, this is among them. The beautiful emotional statements of Haddock’s theme are brilliant. Williams intelligently bends Haddock’s bubbly, comical theme in a lovely statement of beauty. This is why I love Williams so much. No one these days can do what he can with his themes. Following this, you hear the mystery solving plucky motif at 1:35 only to be followed by the Thompsons theme.

16) The Clash of the Cranes
Well the adventure of album is not over yet (don’t know about on film). This is one of the great action cues in the score (and the final one). We first hear growling brass (reminding you off classic Williams action) with strings subtly alternating on the action theme you’ll hear on concert format in The Adventure Continues. A few references to the Unicorn’s theme, Snowy’s theme while even Rackham’s theme pops in for a bit. A bit of Haddock’s theme in the second half which is eventually followed by Tintin’s theme and the Thompson’ theme occupies the final half. Very entertaining!

17) The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale
This conclusive finale opens up with a warm and fuzzy statement of Tintin’s theme that has for some reason lost a bit of its former power/glory and shine. But Snowy’s theme pops again with the same infectious energy as always. The music then arrives at a noble statement of Haddock’s theme. We then take an odd turn into an ominous setting of unease (guess the mystery is not over yet :P). Great moody stuff that appears here leads us into more eerie statements of the Unicorn theme. I suppose Haddock’s theme is placed prominently here due to his connection to Marlisnpike Hall. At 4:07 we hear the exotic Bagghar theme that’s been absent for quite a while. Moreover, the music states a variation of the Unicorn theme and plays a really fun rendition of Haddock’s theme that builds into hell of a finale with the Unicorn theme!

18) The Adventure Continues
This is the concert arrangement that is set aside for the end credits I believe. This is also among my favourite cues. Oddly enough, it doesn’t quote any of the major themes in the score. However it does expand on a theme that is prevalent throughout the second half of the score along with a motif or two. This cue is fun and extremely addictive so be cautious while approaching this cue because once you listen to it, you won’t be stopping for quite a while. I absolutely love the first false ending! I do enjoy the false endings by the way. In brief, a most magnificent finale to a most magnificent score!

In final analysis, this is a fantastic score that sums up all the sides of the maestro’s adventure sound we’ve come to love. This is definitely a score you come to appreciate more with every listen. It takes a couple of repetitions to be truly fascinated score. Even so, there is not a SINGLE dull moment in this swashbuckling musical adventure. And yet oddly enough, I’ve noticed some people complaining about a lack of a memorable theme. There are some extraordinarily delightful themes that very memorable in the score. And Tintin’s theme itself is amazing! Seriously, John Williams is to be commended for crafting Tintin’s theme. It may be brief in its structure, but its an extremely flexible theme. This works to the score’s advantage as Williams can easily manipulate in various forms. Simply listen to its dark and mysterious forms in cues like Red Rackham’s Curse and the Treasure and Escape from the Karaboudjan. To claim this theme isn’t memorable is ridiculous. Haddock’s theme also deserves credit for its flexibility. Simply listen to The Flight to Bagghar to get a taste of how impressively Williams molds and manipulates this theme. These themes aren’t “subtle” and they are all classic, catchy Williams tunes. What the big problem and misconception with most people will be is the lack of a concert arrangement for Tintin’s theme. It is odd that it is not present in the score and it sure would have helped if it were. The lack of a really full statement of both the A phrase and the B phrase of Tintin’s theme in a concert fashion may have caught people off guard. I definitely think the theme is memorable but a great concert arrangement would have put this theme alongside the legends of the Raider’s March and Hedwig’s Theme (although I would argue that this theme is still that memorable). Perhaps we’ll hear an arrangement of such fashion in the upcoming sequels. But for now, Williams has proved that he is still at the top of his game. And to think, War Horse might even surpass this. The wait was worth it….the drought is over my friends! I honestly believe I’ve found the best score of 2011 so far (well as far as I’ve heard them).

Rating: * * * * *

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