The Amazing Spider-Man (James Horner)

Final Musings: Horner delivers big time with his masterfully crafted web of musical ideas. A bold theme, enticing action and a creative musical atmosphere are tightly woven together by the meticulous spider that is Horner. The product? One of the best super-hero scores to come out in a while. Prepare to be taken on a fun adventure back to old-school comic book film scoring.

 With nearly every successful franchise receiving either a reboot or an endless course of needless sequels, it seems like Hollywood might be running out ideas for their usual cash-in blockbuster flicks. Marvel’s latest, The Amazing Spider-man might just be the most pointless of them all. Having only been released 5 years after the conclusion Sam Raimi’s own successful Spider-man trilogy, the need to reboot a remarkably recent, well-appreciated franchise was baffling. The film ended up being an enjoyable effort however. Critics praised director Marc Webb’s capable directing and the gratifying ensemble cast. Although even in its success, the film couldn’t escape its inevitable complaints of redundancy in its already-done origin concept. Now, with the path that film music in the comic book universe has taken, James Horner was certainly the last person anyone would have expected to get this assignment. So it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that it took some begging from the director to get the famed titan of industry to sign on. The veteran composer has only made one venture into the superhero genre with his exuberantly heroic score for The Rocketeer. But with a career like his, expectations were pretty high for this score. On the other hand, fans were also worried and waited in fear to see if Horner too had fallen victim to the modern scoring methodology; a contagion that seems to have caught the best of composers in the genre.

So what do we get in the end? One word is all you need to describe the score. Refreshing. That’s it. This score, in every sense of the word is refreshing. It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air after a tiring line of texture-based, ostinato-driven, Zimmer-style scores for our beloved heroes in their ever colourful tights. Horner’s score is explicitly old-fashioned in its nature. With a helluva bold main theme (something you don’t hear much these days in summer movies), the composer guarantees his score a prominent presence in film. And contrary to the naysayers of the striking scores of yesteryear, Horner’s music works remarkably well to aid the film (to the point where even film critics found themselves in admiration of the music). There is a lot to like here. Read the rest of this entry »


Prometheus (Marc Streitenfeld)

Final Musings: There is much to like in Prometheus. The orchestrations are top-notch, the atmospheric qualities are commendable and the sense of wonder is well conceived. Streitenfeld gives us a score that works quite well in context. But it ultimately ends up being a score that’s rather forgettable by the end. The lack of experience on the composer’s part shows in the music. And when an assistant composer’s contribution –only minutes in length – overshadows the entirety of your work, you know you haven’t quite nailed the assignment.

To say there were great expectations for Ridley Scott’s long awaited return to the science fiction genre is quite the understatement. Oddly enough, the director has only made two forays into this side of film, those being Alien and Blade Runner. Yet the British filmmaker is responsible for singlehandedly revolutionizing the genre as we know it. Alien is universally known for being amongst the finest of science fiction with its masterful degree of craftsmanship rarely seen in today’s films. And after a seemingly endless chain of ridiculous sequels and crossover films, fans were eager to see the esteemed director set the franchise back in shape with his quasi-prequel, Prometheus. What audiences ended up receiving however was a visually stunning piece of work filled with big ideas but ultimately bogged down by absurd character flaws and plot holes. While there is great potential with the film, Promethleus ultimately ends up being the “love it or hate it” film of the year.

The Alien franchise has always been very diverse when it came to its musical sensibilities. From the challenging eerie tones of Jerry Goldsmith’s work for the original Alien to the snare-ripping action of James Horner’s contributions to James Cameron’s sequel Aliens to the dense avant-garde techniques of Goldenthal’s work for the final entry of the trilogy, Alien 3, each approach never really bore any resemblance to each other, despite their individual merits. Signed on to score the latest entry of the series is Scott’s most recent collaborator, composer Marc Streitenfeld. The young composer worked under Zimmer’s massive production company for many years before being sought out by Scott for 2006’s A Good Year to replace his previous collaborator, veteran Hans Zimmer himself. Streitenfeld has had the privilege of scoring every Ridley Scott production since. Now considering the modern blockbuster scoring methodology that Zimmer’s clones have so clearly established, one would expect a film like Prometheus to be scored with the awful sound design concepts of Jablonsky’s intellectually devoid score for Battleship in mind. But listeners will be surprised to hear Streitenfeld offer a more organic and intelligent alternative. Read the rest of this entry »

Snow White and the Huntsman (James Newton Howard)

Final Musings: With Snow White, James Newton Howard offers a formulaic entry in his career which at times does succeed to impress while at other times, leaves you in pain. It’s disappointing to hear the composer incorporate a lot of generic material (much of which is harsh on the ears) in a genre that has often brought out his best material. But while this pales in comparison to his greater works, this score can still be a treat for the composer’s fans,  for it’s still full and ripe with Howard’s characteristic lyricism.

There seems to be no end these days to modern retellings of fairy tales; a fad arguably spawned by Tim Burton’s absurdly successful Alice in Wonderland. And whether it’s the comedic, over-the-top approach or the dark revisionist’s angle, the results largely remain the same. Rupert Sanders’ directorial debut is the second Snow White feature film of the year and certainly the better of the two, but that doesn’t say much. Expectedly, an array of well-conceived sets, colourful visual effects and an amusing performance by Charlize Theron is all there is to salvage the film from a mess of uneven acting, poor scripts and blatant clichés set up to lure in Twilight fans. Signed on to the project is composer James Newton Howard, a man who has become quite the veteran in scoring fantasy films. Having dabbled in the genre with fantastic entries like Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender, it’s not hard to see why the thought of Howard scoring a Snow White film a la “warrior princess mode” have left his fans drooling in anticipation. The finished product however might not have ended up with the same result.

In a way, this score is almost to James Newton Howard what Avatar was to James Horner or Alice in Wonderland to Danny Elfman. Yet whereas those two scores were highly effective mergings of the best compositional facets of their respective careers, Snow White and the Huntsman falters in many regards. The score draws inspiration from half a dozen of his past scores including Snow Falling on Cedars, The Village, King Kong and Lady in the Water. Accordingly, the music is full of Howard’s trademark lyricism and majesty that he regularly employs in his fantasy works. But considering the modern approach taken with this score, the composer does choose to deviate from his more traditional fantasy scoring in its constructs. Rather than scoring the film with consistent blown-up orchestral or choral grandeur, Howard chooses to dominate the score with more intimate solo instruments, especially his characteristic piano material, although the former is still present. While this is no major detraction in itself, other problems do exist. Read the rest of this entry »

Dark Shadows (Danny Elfman)

Final Musings: Dark Shadows is an effective combination of the previously established sounds for Sleepy Hollow and The Wolfman. The level of thought put into this score is rather admirable with well executed orchestrations and themes. But the lack of accessibility in the harsh electronic effects and the overbearing dissonance play to the score’s downfall. Nonetheless, with repeated listens, this score can offer a rewarding experience.

Dark Shadows is definitely one of the stranger things to have aired on daytime television back in the 60s. The gothic soap opera made quite the impression on its cult following with its bizarre supernatural elements and the memorable character of the 200 year-old vampire Barnabas Collins. Director Tim Burton was quite the fan himself so it wasn’t long before he would take premise under his wing for his own take on it. As with most Burton films, the film features great visuals and top-notch acting. But where the film really fails is the schizophrenic nature of the storyline and direction. Dark Shadows often varies between gothic fantasy, dark horror and outright comedy as it knows very little about what it wants to be. Luckily, Burton’s long time collaborator, Danny Elfman didn’t partake in this crisis. The composer wisely chose to keep the film grounded by scoring it as a straightforward Burton film of the horror fantasy genre. The resulting product is a rather effective score with far more direction than the film itself.

Dark Shadows has a rather well crafted score that has a fair amount of thought put into it. Firstly, it’s pretty clear that Elfman wanted to provide the movie with a dramatic musical atmosphere akin to Robert Cobert’s own work for the source material. Consequently, at several moments the score effectively emulates the sound of a soap opera, and in this regard, the orchestrations are executed with exquisite precision. The alto flute is used capably as a throwback to its popular status in the early 70s. It’s often utilized with echoing descending phrases as heard consistently throughout the work (developed in cues like “More the End?”).To go on, Elfman also expertly uses various electronic effects (often abrasive in nature) that include slurring electronic pitches and cackling sound effects to reflect the outlandish nature of this particular soap. The intention could not be clearer in moments like 1:04 in “The End?” (the bass in enhanced in a menacing melodramatic fashion so common in many of these melodramas) or 0:24 in “Barnabas Comes Home”. There are also other little nods like the emphasis on the vibraphones. And so its hard to deny that attention to detail in such retrospect is quite admirable. Read the rest of this entry »

The Avengers (Alan Silvestri)

Final Musings: Fans expecting the Alan Silvestri of yesteryear will ultimately be leaving this score disappointed. While the score offers rather entertaining highlights in its peak, it falls more along the lines of a rather generic entry in the composer’s career. The score falls short with the main theme and the lack of inspiration consequently makes this score a wearisome listening experience. Regardless, it still stands above the drivel that accompanies most modern blockbusters these days and for that perhaps there ought to be some gratitude.

Marvel’s long term cinematic plan finally came to be fulfilled with 2012’s The Avengers. Over the course of many years, the popular comic book studio has worked hard to unleash productions of their most formidable heroes so that they may be gathered to make the penultimate blockbuster, making millions on the way of course. There were high expectations riding on this film, and it did not disappoint. Financially, the film already broke several records in its opening weekend, having surpassed even the final Harry Potter film with its opening weekend grossing. It also served as a strong entry in television director Josh Whedon’s career as it managed to please critics with its intelligent dialogue and charismatic crew.

Now the Marvel films have always been rather colourful in terms of musical style. The scores for these ventures have ranged from mundane Remote Control Production clones for the Iron Man franchise to the symphonic heights of the Spiderman films. Hired for this assignment was action veteran Alan Silvestri. In a world where the Hans Zimmer/Remote Control methodology seems to be forced upon the most respectable of composers, even in the superhero genre (as recently shown by Patrick Doyle’s Thor), Silvestri seems to be a man who can be counted on to provide a more traditional, orchestral score. His recent work for Captain America: The First Avenger proved that the composer was still capable of his rhythmic force and bold themes.

Considering the nature of the film, Silvestri approaches the film more with the stylistic flavour of his disappointing effort for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. So the unreasonable folks expecting the return to the soundscape of Back to the Future and Judge Dredd are bound to be disappointed. The score is exactly one might expect for a film like this. The snare-ripping action, the dissonance for suspense, and the brassy thematic statements common to Silvestri’s career are all there. Electronic accents are also heard throughout the score to attune to the setting and personality of the movie (as heard in moments like 1:36 in “Assemble”). Stylistically speaking, there isn’t anything new this score has to offer. But perhaps this thought is exactly what fans are looking for considering the radically changing trends in today’s film music. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hunger Games (James Newton Howard)

Final Musings: If you expected a bold adventure score, this isn’t your score. But if you’re a fan of James Newton Howard’s atmospheric works like Snow Falling on the Cedars, then you will probably enjoy this. Regardless, this score is definitely worth some repeated listens and careful attention. There is great merit to this work and one can’t help but appreciate the fine amount of thought put into it. It may be flawed, but it is definitely something to appreciate.

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy quickly rose in popularity upon its release. Yet it’s likely that even she didn’t predict the massive financial success that the film would open up with. Having hit box-office records with having the 3rd best opening weekend (preceded by The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) and the biggest opening for a non-sequel, the release of the potential upcoming film adaptations were confirmed. There are probably several factors that lent to the film’s success. And whether it’s the fact that people may be using The Hunger Games as a substitute for the large gap that the Harry Potter franchise left in the film industry, or simply the endless promotion for the production, the studios definitely found a new cash machine to milk. Perhaps its fortune is also in debt to the intriguing premise. The Hunger Games tells the tale of a girl named Katniss in a dystopian future where a male and female tribute of adolescence are picked from each district to fight to death in an event to amuse the elitist society of the Capitol of the nation. Despite some of the flaws of the movie and the narrative’s similarities to Battle Royale, it was well liked by both critics and mainstream alike.  A potential franchise of such hype inevitably leaves many endless possibilities in terms of the music. Initially, fans were enthralled to hear about Danny Elfman’s designation as the composer. However, due to schedule conflicts, Elfman would soon be replaced by James Newton Howard; a man who seems to have a talent for producing well crafted replacement scores (namely King Kong) in a short amount of time. Does he do the same this time around? He does, but perhaps not to everyone’s liking.

To really analyze this score, one would have to pay careful attention to its use in film. At times it works remarkably well in the picture while at certain moments, the keen listener might find it to be rather uneven. In fact, many viewers will be surprised by the fact that much of the music heard on film is actually not by James Newton Howard. And while the mention of source music often induces a great deal of skepticism from the film music community (and unbelievable enthusiasm from more mainstream fanboys), this is actually a particular case in which it works well. Highlights include the intriguing vocal melody composed by T-Bone Burnett near the beginning of the film known as Katniss’ Lullaby (a.k.a. Deep in the Meadow Lullaby). And some will probably be disappointed to learn that the Capitol Anthem was actually composed by Arcade Fire, although it was arranged, adapted and utilized as an actual theme by Howard. Oddly enough, James Newton Howard had 80 minutes of music written out for the film, and with only 30-40 minutes actually used in film (the rest being replaced by source music), one can’t help but wonder what Howard had planned. Read the rest of this entry »

John Carter (Michael Giacchino)

Final Musings: With John Carter, we have Giacchino showing off his different stylistic sides in a grand musical adventure. To hear all of the composers’ sounds that have become loved amongst many, evolved in such a way is a true treat for any film score collector. If you don’t like your themes obvious and overly optimistic, then this score might not be for you. But if you’re the kind of person who loves his/her adventure scores orchestrally dynamic, thematically rich and ethnically diverse, then this score will likely be a big wet kiss on the mouth from your own beautiful Martian princess.

Fresh off its publication in 1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars became an instant classic of science fiction literature. The reputable tale tells the story of a veteran of the American Civil War who gets transported to the planet of Mars in the midst of his search for gold. There, he associates himself with the various creatures and attempts to help a Martian princess solve the plight of her people. Despite the strange and perhaps silly nature of the plot, this book is arguably one of the most influential tales of early science fantasy literature. The revolutionary book gave birth to a new generation of science fiction and continues to inspire many iconic films today such as the ever popular Star Wars. The fact that nearly a century has gone by without a proper film adaption owes itself to the bizarre case of production lingo that dates as far back as 1931. Various attempts at a full feature film adaptation were taken on over the course of time (beginning with the notion of an animated film) but the dream was only fully realized with 2012’s John Carter. The film was however met with poor critical reception for it offered very little to audiences. Being a dull film with a plethora of silly moments, John Carter only had its respectable visual effects to lure viewers in. Unfortunately, many of the film’s strongest features offers little appeal if only for the fact that all of it has been done before with a far greater degree of mastery. Yet knowing mainstream audiences, the film will likely make enough cash to warrant a predictable sequel.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature of this film is Michael Giacchino’s long awaited score. The composer’s humble beginnings are very well known to the film score masses. Beginning with his fantastic scores for the successful Medal of Honor video games to full feature blockbuster film such as the recent Super 8 and eventually earning his first Oscar for Up, Giacchino has reached to such heights of popularity that he has been given daring (or rather, ridiculous) titles such as that of the “next John Williams”. 2011 was a surprisingly weak year for Michael Giacchino, but fans will likely be pleased to apprehend that he offers one his best scores with John Carter. Read the rest of this entry »