The Woman in Black (Marco Beltrami)

Final Musings: What we have here is an undeniably effective score in context but something that is incredibly dull and dreary on album. While the score is not atonal in a sense, its noise and drivel is nearly unbearable, leaving very little room for any harmonic appeal. Even the more thematically driven moments are far too oppressive in its nature to truly enjoy. Besides 15 min of some orchestral beauty, this score lacks any harmonic appeal. Hence this is a score to appreciate on film more so than on album.

Susan Hill’s 1983 chilling horror novel has seen its fair share of adaptations. Its radio, television and theatrical adaptations might attest to the reputation the novel had. But the 2011 film would be the first feature film to take on the tale. It would also be the first opportunity for star of the Harry Potter series, Daniel Radcliffe, to branch out in film since the end of his hit franchise. The film was surprisingly well received by critics for its credible handling of an old-fashioned horror tale. It showcases Daniel Radcliffe as a young lawyer and father who has certain visions which would go on to lead him into the usual predictable circumstances. This isn’t a flick with gore, but rather the eerie suspense of the stories of old in the genre.

Signed on to the project was horror master, Marco Beltrami. It was hardly a surprise, considering the composer’s expertise with the genre. Beltrami has often shown off his talent in the genre with melodic and harmonious strengths in his stronger efforts like Mimic. To go on, the composer had quite a year in 2011, especially in terms of horror with the haunting score for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. His first 2012 venture ran along the lines of Beltrami’s lesser works, further proving the composer’s strange hit-and-miss trends in the quality of his work. While the score has a basic foundation of melody and lyricism, it certainly won’t be the most pleasant listening experience for fans eagerly awaiting the harmonious appeal of his 2011 work. Read the rest of this entry »


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Andrew Lockington)

Final Musings: 2012 starts off with a very great swashbuckling adventure score. Whereas the first score was an refreshing entry into the genre that brought back the glory of symphonic adventure scores of the past, Andrew Lockington takes that sound and expands it to offer a more unique and well rounded score. While it has it is not without its fair share of minor faults, you can’t help but think with greater themes, new musical colours and thrilling action material, Lockington seriously delivers to meet the high expectations made of him. Listeners will not finish this score unimpressed.

 It’s clear that today’s films have generally come to focus less on stimulating narratives and more on visual spectacles (as shown clearly by successful blockbusters like Transformers). And in that case, what better place is there to exploit than the fantastical worlds of Verne’s creations? Unfortunately, the modern film adaptations are certain to make Verne turn in his grave. The former film, Journey to the Center of the Earth was only worthy of some note due to its special 3D release. And with an inherently flawed plotline and its shallow characters, the film was clearly an excuse for shoving a bunch of colourful CGI shots in the faces of the mainstream audience. Avoiding the unspoken laws of Hollywood commercial flicks, the summer success of the film would have the studios demand a sequel that would milk out any marginal potential profit the premise still had left. There was little ambition for the film to begin with, having a completely new cast that included Dwane Johnson (aka the Rock) and surprisingly veteran actor Michael Caine, the plotline follows Sean’s (the only recurring character) venture to a mysterious uncharted island while bonding with his new stepfather as a family experience. As expected, the sequel was frowned upon by critics and suffers from an even greater lack of redemptive entertainment value.

While the film may have nothing salvage, lovers of film music did have a great score to look forward to. Returning to the franchise is the relatively newcomer Andrew Lockington. The young Canadian composer started from his humble beginnings as an orchestrator (having worked for the likes of Mychael Danna) and quickly rose to prominence. In a time where generic films like these were treated with bland scores that followed the trends of the composers of Zimmer’s clone army, Media Ventures (or rather Remote Control Productions), Lockington made a surprising burst into the industry with his two excellent scores for 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and The City of Ember. 2008 was a big year for the composer where a great fan base flocked to the fresh and vibrant sound of his music. Interestingly enough, his major foray into the industry was not unlike the monumental success of David Arnold’s own entry. Read the rest of this entry »

Music Muse Awards 2011

2011 was a quite a strong year in film scores, easily surpassing the last 3 years in consistency and quality. Of course, there was little doubt of that to begin with. Film score fans everywhere were eagerly the comeback of the long absent maestro, John Williams and boy he did not disappoint! Along with that, the year was ripe full of emotional, with Mark McKenzie’s touching religious tones and Marianelli’s heartbreaking classicism. Moreover, 2011 was a year for many foreign composers like Kolja Erdmann with the fantastic Russland, Ludovic Bource with the nostalgic The Artist along with the return of rising stars like Arnau Bataller, Abel Korzeniowski and Qigang Chen. It was extremely hard deciding and compiling all these favourites and disappointments and I hope there is something for you to take out of it. Enjoy (or despair!). Read the rest of this entry »

Black Gold (James Horner)

Final Musings: James Horner delivers an epic that is worthy to sit amongst his classic predecessors’ ventures into the deserts of Arabia. With a soaring theme of great grandeur that sings the song of the sandy plains almost as well as Jarre did with Lawrence of Arabia, this score will impress in its most glorious moments. The haunting vocals add an incredibly rich sense of authenticity that is to be commended. Yet the score is largely an intimate one and while the subtlety of the score may not be for everyone, Horner strikes gold with this excellent balance of emotion and majesty. A  triumph of 2011.

The 2011 film Black Gold was a project close to director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s heart. The ambitious epic was a throwback to the flair of the big films of the 50s and 60s with its stunning production values, and having a strong cast that includes prominent actors such as Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas and the rising star, Freida Pinto, films like this are just not seen in the industry anymore. And it’s a shame that Black Gold did not receive greater attention for films of such scope are sadly rare to witness and relish these days. The movie is based on the novel, The Great Thirst, which tells a tale of two warring leaders that agree to a truce to leave the desert lands of the Yellow Belt as neutral territory. In order to maintain loyalty, one of the clan leaders is forced to forfeit his two sons as hostages so that conflict would not be provoked. Years later, it is found to be that there are massive of deposits of oil found in this unmanned land, and now the idea of the potential fortune threatens both clans with war. The film brings up the important issue of black gold while addressing the history of Arab revolts in the Middle East.

To go on, the stunning cinematography of the film and its gorgeous visuals often pay homage to the infamous desert film, Lawrence of Arabia. And a film of such great scope would need an equally inspired score that would attempt to reach for the success of Maurice Jarre’s score, which became an instant classic upon its release. Film composing veteran, James Horner was signed on for the task. This would be the third collaboration between the director and the composer; their past works including The Name of the Rose and Enemy at the Gates. It has been said that director Jean-Jacques Annaud went to L.A. seeking a composer only to find himself showing the film to James. Unfortunately, the budget for the film couldn’t make room for an A-list composer like Horner. Yet Horner was apparently so impressed with the film and its potential that he decreased his fees so that he could make it on with the project. Often following up on the director whenever he could, it was clear that Horner approached this film with a sense of genuine passion. Read the rest of this entry »

Russland (Kolja Erdmann)

Final Musings: Kolja Erdmann may not be well known outside of his homeland, but his work for Russland is definitely warranting some more attention. A score of magnificent scope in its choral splendor and orchestral lyricism, listeners will be blown away by the stunning music of this score. While some may find some hints of influence from Zimmer’s score for King Arthur, this score still offers some of the best material of its year. Ladies and gentlemen, if you have not done so, make it a priority to obtain this hidden gem of 2011.

Countless nature documentary features have attempted to get the importance of environmental protection to mainstream audiences by dazzling them with the stunning beauty of planet Earth, and this is done often with great success (look to BBC’s infamous Planet Earth series or the Blue Planet). Russland is the cinematic incarnation of the series Wildes Russland (Wild Russia). The German production team definitely approached the concept with great ambition in mind, and it’s hard not to argue for their success. Spending over 3 years of filming to capture over 100, 000 miles of land within 600 hours of raw material is indeed quite a feat. They really hoped to capture all of Russia onto their film. The film’s scope is impressive with absolutely stunning imagery and an epic portrayal of Russia’s landscapes. It is interesting to note that usually nature documentaries of grand scope come along with scores of equal scope as shown by Geroge Fenton’s countless efforts for BBC productions. It is the one genre that film score fans can still count on for grand orchestral scores.

Kolja Erdmann does not fail to attest to this notion. The German composer has often scored a variety of nature features in his homeland and with this score; Erdmann seems to be giving it his all. The score is colossal in scope and surprisingly dramatic. With dark and mature tones, the music suggests an epic along the heights of big Hollywood pictures such as Gladiator or Ben-Hur (although the actual scores of these films could not be more different). In fact, the music can be so massive at times that one cannot help but think how a work as impressively dominant as this could be attuned to footage of narration over shots of nature. Russland must be an impressive documentary indeed to feature such a score. There is much to love in a production like this. It features rich themes, dynamic orchestral colours and rousing choral work to consistently keep listeners in awe. Read the rest of this entry »

W.E. (Abel Korzeniowski)

Final Musings: Lovers of A Single Man will be glad to hear Abel Korzeniowski take that sound in a more potent, romantic direction, accordingly giving them one of the most beautiful scores of the year and a fantastic example of how simplicity can often work wonders. Unfortunately, the narrative arc of the score suffers from the classic case of “director picks on the composer” scenario. In a clash between pop and traditional sensibilities, a score with fantastic potential is slightly diminished in its impact. Nevertheless, this score is a treat that no film score fan in their right mind would miss.

America’s “queen of pop”, Madonna has often tried to spread her wings beyond her pop career, yet not always with successful results. Having been panned by critics for her directorial debut, the short film, Filth and Wisdom, it seems that Madonna did not intend to give up in this specific field. Now advertised as Madonna’s directorial debut of a full feature film, W.E. is the veteran star’s attempt at creating an artsy Oscar-bait film. Often proclaiming it as her “dream project”, Madonna’s film hasn’t really improved her standing in the film world. W.E. is about a woman in the modern day by the name of Wally Wintrhop. Wally, fascinated by the infamous affair between King Edward VIII, the only British monarch to have abdicated the throne and Wallis Simpson, the woman who stole his heart. Throughout the film, she begins to realize that it was not the perfect love relation she thought it was and finds herself connecting to Wallis through her own romantic struggles. Critics found themselves baffled by the lack logic in the over-stylized film and the overbearing precedence that is given to the fashion driven elements of the set rather than the narrative. The film has often been dubbed as a “perfume commercial, or a feature-length documentary on shopping tips on expensive designer tips. One of the more redeeming features of this project however, is Abel Korzeniowksi.

Korzeniowski is an extremely talented composer who has scored many Polish films with amazing scores (and yet often underrated) like Copernicus Star. Madonna was first introduced to the polish composer through fashion designer Tom Ford’s own critically acclaimed directorial debut, A Single Man. Bewitched by the bittersweet nature of the solo cello work and the alluring string writing from Korzeniowski’s highly effective, Golden Globe nominated score; Madonna became adamant on obtaining the same sound for her own film. After all, the singer did hope to mimic the stylized nature of Ford’s production, so why not share some of the successful production elements? And so, after having approached Tom Ford on his thoughts, the man was hired for quite the adventure. Read the rest of this entry »

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Hans Zimmer)

Final Musings: Hans Zimmer delivers yet another disappointment. The themes are anonymous in nature, the mixing is downright awful and the album is a hazardous listening experience. However, the action music can be enjoyable for some and there is a sense of genuine spirit in the Romanian music that shows that Zimmer had fun creating this score. Unfortunately, the score ends up being less a score and more of a compilation of ‘jamming sessions’. Fans looking towards Zimmer’s return to his better works will leave this album, severely disappointed.

Guy Ritchie’s entertaining (and some devotees of Arthur Conan Doyle might say blasphemous) adaption of the universally known stories of Sherlock Holmes fared surprisingly well, especially against the box office titan that was Avatar. With the stellar pairing of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law eager for more, and the great revenues, it wasn’t surprising to see studios push for a sequel. This new film, Game of Shadows (Shadows, not Thrones ;)) is largely based off of Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem in which we are introduced to Holmes’ equal and greatest rival, Professor James Moriarty. While disappointment is the usual routine with sequels, critics found the film to be surprisingly entertaining, or as Roger Ebert likes to put it, “high caliber entertainment”.  I’m not sure if he would say the same for the score.

Returning with the crew for the sequel is Hans Zimmer. Zimmer has been quite busy with assignments this year as is expected of one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood. While the composer has occasionally proven himself worthy of his prominence with some of his great work, the man’s recent work has been rather disappointing. If one were to look specifically at this case, it would require a look over the shoulder to the first film. With Sherlock Holmes, Zimmer surprised many of his critics with some of his most humorously fresh and comically engaging material in quite a while (especially at a time where his predictable style became tiring). While the main theme may herald back to Jack Sparrow’s quirkiness and several of the composers trademark “Zimmerisms” are apparent in the score, rarely has he packaged them in such a way. Saturated in eclectic Celtic and gypsy tones (much like an Irish pub), the score was an incredibly entertaining and refreshing experience for fans who were tired of Zimmer’s more predictable side. Back in 2009, Zimmer was still going strong with great scores like the blood-pumping Angels and Demons and the more intelligently stimulating score for the drama, Frost/Nixon. Yet after the composer’s success with his bland score for 2010’s Inception, the composer has rarely failed to disappoint with horrible album releases for Rango and half ass efforts for On Strangers’ Tide (can’t forget the excruciatingly painful remixes of latter, can we?). Yet to the few Zimmer fans clinging on to the hope that Zimmer will prove  his critics wrong, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows seemed like the ideal opportunity. One could argue that a good deal of hype was built towards this score. Considering how the Celtic flavor and the gypsy tones really worked to the previous score’s favour, you can imagine the expectations set with this score. And Zimmer’s trip to Slovakia for further research and inspiration for the gypsy music certainly helped maintain the hype (but that’s what these publicity stunts tend to do). People will probably approach the score expecting the refreshing, creative, undeniably fun experience that was the first score. Unfortunately, this will most definitely not be the case with this score. Read the rest of this entry »