Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Prisoner by Rupert Gregson-Williams (Review)

Rupert Gregson-Williams is usually a name associated mainly with Adam Sandler comedies and some Dreamworks Animation films. Oh yeah, and he’s the little brother of one of the best composers working today. Fortunately I don’t have to make an effort in writing to state how much of a singular voice he is. His writing thus far in his career hasn’t been anything stellar, it’s true. He has had some good scores but finally we have something that makes us sit up and take notice.

The Prisoner was a miniseries on AMC and Rupert got assigned scoring duties. The score is fantastic. The score is a very subtle one, but it’s one of constantly ascending emotions. Utilizing electronics in a way that his brother does he is able to weave a blanket of intrigue and curiosity. There is also a sense of emptiness and longing within the soundscape of the score. I was surprised at how powerful this quiet and somewhat unthematic score turned out to be. The main reoccurring theme is a seemingly out of place waltz that pops in and out.

If I had to describe this score in one word I would say “delicate”. It’s a delicate weaving of sounds that form an atmospheric blanket. It’s not hard to dub this as Rupert’s most mature and complete work to date.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 by Lorne Balfe [Themes By Hans Zimmer] (Review)

So, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was poised to be the most anticipated game of all time. Was it? Pretty much, yeah. It blew away sales records and pre-order records. The fact that it was a muti-system game definitely helped. So, music-wise the first Modern Warfare was a huge iconic success. Stephen Barton and Harry Gregson-Williams delivered a hard electronic sound that followed in the Hans Zimmer tradition of the “modern warfare” sound. This “sound” was established in 2001 when Hans Zimmer scored Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. A score that would forever change how we would expect “modern warfare” to sound. In that time many composers have tried to mimic that sound that Zimmer set as the standard (Newman’s score to Jarhead / Elfman’s score to The Kingdom).

The big question was who could fill the shoes of the one-two punch combo of Barton and Gregson-Williams? How about the master and owner of the “modern warfare” sound himself? Yes, it was revealed very late in the game that Hans was indeed doing the score. What boggled me was how he was going to fit it into his busy schedule then of course we learned once the game came out that in the credits Hans Zimmer was only credited with doing the main themes, very much like Harry Gregson-Williams did on the first Modern Warfare. Hans’ collaborator Lorne Balfe was the head composer as he lead a team of half a dozen other composers who all helped finish this massive project in a short amount of time.

The score is pure vintage Hans simply put. It meshes his sound that he created with Black Hawk Down with the good ol’ action music of the 90’s that he pioneered. Yes, it’s synthesizer heavy but so was Black Hawk Down. It’s thematic and melodic and carries the action and the gameplay. Some elements will stand out as being familiar. The airport massacre is very reminiscent of Hans’ work for The Joker in The Dark Knight being it’s more of an exercise in sound design in an overall soundscape to hone in on a certain emotion of terror and uneasiness.

The weaknesses? The score fails to be a cohesive whole. With so many composers working on the game in such a short time that was bound to happen. There is nearly 7 hours of music in this game. The themes get muddled and we get more or less themes for certain levels rather than a “main” theme for the entire game like Harry did for the last one. Yet, Zimmer shows us yet again that scoring is a collaborative process just like every other aspect of filmmaking. I asked Atli Örvarsson who worked on the score what the scoring process was like and he said “MW 2 was really a team effort but I'd say Lorne pulled it all together and definitely deserves the credit. I did mostly the Favela stuff.” As of now Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer have confirmed that an official iTunes release of the score is planned, but as of this writing there is no release date set.

*NOTE: The cover art provided is art that I created and is not official.

Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier by Jim Dooley (Review)

Out of nowhere comes the digital release only of James Dooley’s score to the PSP game, Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier. Thing I love most is finding great scores in the most unexpected places. Who would think such a low profile game would get such a wonderful effort from Dooley? Well, it does.

The opening track kicks things off in the good ol’ Zimmeresque swashbuckling fashion. So many parts of this score are reminiscent of the Pirates scores. They have “adventure” written all over it. There are some weaknesses to the score. Some of the tracks are clearly meant to be background music to the gameplay, and while that was expected I can’t help but compare every game score to the greater ones.

In my book the top two game composers are Harry Gregson-Williams and Michael Giacchino. Those two have made video games huge chunks of their careers. Giacchino being especially impressive because he really only scores FPS’s which really lack dramatic structure and are more about the action. Yet his Medal Of Honor scores are FANTASTIC!

Now, Dooley’s effort is an extremely fun one. I wasn’t expecting huge dramatic arcs for a Jak & Daxter game for the PSP. However, when looking at it as a standalone effort it lacks in that part. The rest of the score is extremely fun and listenable though, but when listening through I got the sense that no other track lived up to the explosiveness of the first track. He implements a chorus for the action heavy tracks, which made me smile because they reminded me of his Position Music work for trailer music.

In the end this is a great score from an unexpected place that is worth a look. It’s tons of fun, and even though this is a fully synthesized score it still packs a fun emotional wallop.

The Fourth Kind by Atli Örvarsson (Review)

Atli Örvarsson’s latest effort is a unique and fresh scoring style to the horror genre. Lately the “horror” genre has mainly been monopolized by either Steve Jablonsky (all the Michael Bay produced remakes) or Charlie Clouser (Saw franchise). While The Fourth Kind can be considered a “B” movie it is nonetheless a very hard concept to score. The score itself acts more like an atmospheric ambience using simple melodic progressions. Atli also incorporates haunting female vocals and some bizarre insect-like percussion.

The female vocals are my favorite part of the score as they are part of the main theme. They remind me very much of the solo vocal that was in his score for Babylon A.D. which was Agora’s Theme. The hallow vocals give the score the sense of the unknown, which is most appropriate. The insect-like synthesized percussion I mentioned earlier weaves in and out and adds a very unique element.

Towards the middle of the score we lose all the familiar rhythms and melodic structure and stray into atmospheric ambience. If anyone is a fan of Akira Yamaoka’s scores for the Silent Hill game franchise then you may know what I mean when I say atmospheric ambience. The track “They’re Not From Here” really stands out in that sense.

While the film itself may have been a poor execution on an interesting subject the score nonetheless rises above and stands on its own. It has Örvarssons style all over it and so many hauntingly beautiful elements that I must recommend it even to the casual listener. Just a note, the film ends with a series of descriptive texts. My rule is that if the film ends in texts summing up events and the composer can make the texts dramatic then you know the score is doing its job.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are by Carter Burwell (Review)

Carter Burwell continues his collaboration with Spike Jonze with the long delayed and much anticipated Where The Wild Things Are. Filming began in 2005 and this film has been delayed for over a year due to complications and re-shoots. The final product is an incredibly astounding and surprisingly adult result.

I remember reading Where The Wild Things Are as a child and I’m sure many others in my generation do as well. The film itself takes the themes of loniness and acceptance and shines them under a more mature light than what we originally remember. Burwell’s score accompanies these emotions with perfection in his trademark simplicity. The main theme “Lost Fur” is merely comprised of a few plucks on a bass and a solo piano while accented by a guitar.

The music does make a transformation once Max enters the world of the Wild Things. Once he gains acceptance and feels needed and understood the music sheds its dreary isolated tone and brings us back into the light. Karen O’s songs work seamlessly with the score as they bring us back to those childhood moments of fantasy and wonder where we own the worlds we’ve created. The film spirals back down to reality really fast as things fall apart and our characters come to realize that worth and happiness are not easy to come by. The emotional conclusion is carried all by Burwell and then ends on an incredibly touching note. This is one hell of a score not just because it’s simple in its emotional effectiveness, but because it can seamlessly work with another artist’s creations for the musical soundscape of the film. This isn’t a kiddy film and Burwell did not deliver a kiddy score.

Burwell’s score is a digital download only on iTunes and Amazon MP3 while Karen O’s songs for the film did get a CD release. I recommend getting both of them for your solo listening experience. It’s definitely worth it.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves by Greg Edmonson (Review)

Greg Edmonson returns to the successful Sony franchise for the PS3. Game scores have become a new breed. Looking back at game music history is fascinating. I can honestly say that today game scores are identical in function to film scores. Michael Giacchino helped blur the lines with his magnificent work on the Medal Of Honor series, but real credit goes to Norihiko Hibino who scored Metal Gear Solid for PS1. That score was the first game score that had to work with characters and cinematic developments or in simpler terms a story with a hero and a goal.

What Greg Edmonson has done here is successfully created a sound for the Uncharted universe. In what can best be described as a modern take on classic adventure scores this score is massive in scope and scale. Percussion, strings and brass work in grandiose arrangements to transport you to the story’s exotic locales all the while keeping tension and excitement at a maximum.

I definitely think that this score is a huge improvement over what he did for the first game. He does use many variations of Nate’s Theme throughout the game. Instead of blatantly placing it in the score like say the James Bond theme he will instead weave it into the arrangements to avoid it being “cheesy” or just over the top. New this time around is the use of vocals. At first you’ll get airy female vocals, which is perfect for the exotic and mysterious aspect of the story. Later as you plunge deeper into darker territory he’ll bring in the droning throat singing male vocals, which is a perfect accent since the game deals with Shambhala and throat singing is a custom of the Inuit people in that part of the world.

All in all Greg Edmonson has found his shining achievement. I never got into his music because looking at the nature of his filmography it ranges from shows like Firefly and King Of The Hill to some obscure films. Uncharted is an amazing musical accomplishment and stands with Harry Gregson-Williams’ work for the Metal Gear Solid franchise and Michael Giacchino’s work as some of the best game scores of all time. It works as background score for the gameplay and seamlessly transitions between cutscenes and gameplay to mesh the two in a way where you feel the entire game is one huge cutscene and your experiencing it front and center. This album is a digital download only just like the first score. So check for it on iTunes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Best Scores Of The Year . . . So Far

10. The Taking Of Pelham 123 by Harry Gregson-Williams: Harry reunites with longtime director and collaborator Tony Scott for the first time since Deja Vu. This time the score is a little less thematic and more atmospheric. You still have plenty of Harry’s signatures throughout. While it’s not nearly anywhere near his best work it still provided the film with it’s identity and made it a “Tony Scott Film”.

9. Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince by Nicholas Hooper: Nicholas Hooper returns to score his second Potter film. This time the score is more brooding than anything else. It never steps up to be anything great but provides just enough thematic material to squeak into the list of this mid-season check in.

8. Up by Michael Giacchino: The summer of Giacchino was a pleasant one. With three high profile scores to kick off the summer Up was a fresh and heartwarming emotional journey that was uplifting (no pun intended). The score has a wide range even if it isn’t all that thematic and that’s why it’s a notable one.

7. District 9 by Clinton Shorter: I love surprises. I wasn’t expecting anything going into this film, but what accompanies the story was an intense and emotional score that comes out of nowhere from a nobody. Clinton Shorter (who?) has some experience but this is his first high profile work. The score is surprisingly emotional with the use of vocals and simple thematic material that brings to mind Hans Zimmer.

6. Public Enemies by Elliot Goldenthal: Elliot Goldenthal working with Michael Mann again was sort of a huge deal since the last film they did together was Heat. The thing with Michael Mann, which must be challenging for composers is that they compose a score knowing it will be interwoven with songs. Mann is known for handpicking his song selections beforehand and he usually always uses them in the film. Goldenthal does an excellent job of working with the songs to create a sonic landscape. The score is clearly influenced by Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line (Mann even used a track from the score in the film and Hans got special thanks in the credits). Overall there isn’t much score, but what’s there works and works well.

5. The Brothers Bloom by Nathan Johnson: Nathan Johnson is a relatively new composer to the industry. He scored Brick which was directed by his cousin. This time around his cousin had a completely different film at his helm. The score oozes with a jazzy ragtime feel. It bleeds with a unique voice and definitely establishes itself early and keeps itself in the spotlight. This is his only his 3rd score ever so I’m sure we have a lot to look forward to.

4. Star Trek by Michael Giachino: When J.J. Abrams was announced as the director it was also assumed that Giacchino would be the composer. Instead of looking back at what Goldsmith did for the series he went back to what Courage did for the series on the original television show. The score is all Giacchino and brings to mind his scores to the Medal Of Honor game series. His theme is grand and in charge without being campy. It was a great summer score.

3. Angels & Demons by Hans Zimmer: Hans follows up his score to The Da Vinci Code in what can best be described as angelic music mashed with demonic music. He blends electronics to represent the science aspect of the film and religious chants to represent the historic and religious aspects of the film. The score is extremely aggressive. It hits the ground running and stays that way, which is necessary since not a lot is happening on screen. It’s thematic, it’s loud yet surprises you with moments of beauty that call back to The Da Vinci Code. It’s everything a summer Hans score should be.

2. Sin Nombre by Marcelo Zarvos: Here is the first score of the year that I can honestly say should be in the Oscar race. Marcelo Zarvos is an extremely talented composer and hear he shows just how he can carry a story solely through sound. Ethnic themes carry most of the score but just listening to how it plays out from beginning to end one can easily envision the story in their mind. Foreboding tension is placed within the arrangements and it’s what progresses everything forward. This is a high recommendation. Everyone should check this score out.

1. Moon by Clint Mansell: The last time Mansell composed anything for “space” was for The Fountain and I truly feel that score is one of the best composed in the last decade. I wasn’t going in expecting anything close to The Fountain, but what I discovered was a score so radically different yet emotionally fulfilling. A mix mash of electronics with the piano taking precedent over any other instrument. I guess one could call it a minimalist score especially based off the solo listening experience, but the layers it builds are impossible to describe in words even though Mansell strives on simple melodies. It creates the sense of isolation, the sense of living in one dimension, the sense of confusion but most impressively it allows you to feel what it’s like to have a big huge something missing from within and what it feels to have the desire to fill that void. Clint Mansell is an amazing composer and this is one hell of a score for one hell of a movie. You won’t see this score nominated, but it’s most likely gonna stay at the top of the year for me come December 31st when I recount the entire year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public Enemies by Elliot Goldenthal (Review)

Elliot Goldenthal reunites with Michael Mann for the first time since Heat. Goldenthal is a very talented composer and with Public Enemies he provides a very simple full sound to support the film.

Now with Michael Mann you can expect lots of handpicked songs by him as evident with his recent films. In fact most of his films except for Last Of The Mohicans utilize songs just as much as score. He definitely uses them as an editing tool and you can tell in the film. With Michael Mann though he makes sure the score works hand in hand with the song choices. You can watch Collateral and Miami Vice and see how they blend together to create the sonic identity of the film, which is the same case with Public Enemies.

Score-wise there isn't that much, but what's there is fantastic. It's tense and brooding and slowly growing and growing until the final piece that closes out the film. There are a lot of strings and they swell in and out. One theme uses a solo piano. It's a very simple score. I'm guessing that every piece of music is here on the soundtrack, because honestly there isn't much else in the film. You also get a selection of period songs and some modern interpolations of classics such as "Bye Bye Blackbird". Zimmer collaborator Bruce Fowler did some orchestrations and provides one track of music too.

What makes this CD worth owning is the piece "JD Dies", which is the capstone of the score. It's the piece that accompanies the climax of the film, which on its own is one hell of a scene. The tone and structure reminds me very much of The Thin Red Line by Hans Zimmer. Clearly that score was influential here since Michael Mann used a track from The Thin Red Line in the film and thanked Hans Zimmer in the end credits. Goldenthal's piece slowly builds and builds and erupts with a tragic downturn and an abrupt end. Those who have seen the film know exactly how well this piece works in the film; it carries the entire scene.

Anyway, even though there is only a minimal amount of score in the film what's there is pretty good. It's simple and effective, which is all you can ask for. It's not a great score that will be remembered, but it definitely stuck with me after I saw the film.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen by Steve Jablonsky (Review)

Probably the most anticipated blockbuster score of the summer right up there with Giacchino's Star Trek and Hooper's upcoming Harry Potter score. Well, I waited to write a review until after I saw the film since this release is only a pathetic 44 minute sampling of a 121 minute score.

What we have on the CD is all of the new stuff Jablonsky did for the film, and originally I thought all of the great themes he established in the first score would appear in the film. Sadly they only pop in once in awhile. We do have some good stuff here. The "new" theme can be heard right off the bat in "Prime". That theme is echoed in tracks like "Infinite White" with vocals by the lovely Lisbeth Scott. Then there's the standard action staple of the heavy male chorus that defines the Decepticons, which Hans made famous with his 90's action scores.

Overall there are some great tracks here in full Jablonsky style, but it's lacking that structure that I loved from the first film and the first score CD. After watching the film and listening to the CD it was pretty much anticlimactic. I was waiting for it to go rise and rise, go full throttle then bring us back down like the final battle in Mission City from the first film. We don't get that here, and not even in the movie. I loved the first movie but thought this one was pretty bad. The score never rose to the occasion and level as the first film and was lost amidst the poor structure, pacing and story of the film. It's honestly a better standalone listen than in the film. The tracks with Lisbeth Scott are amazing.

Another thing that really hurt this score was Linkin Park's involvement. I don't know whose idea was it to toss them in the scoring process, but it's really rediculous. Fine, they wrote a song for the end credits but let's keep it that way. I don't need the heavy rock to emerge every few scenes as the "NEST" theme. So, we have some good stuff but it's not at all what I was hoping for. I enjoyed the score, but not the movie. There is so much left to be desired here and I hope a more complete release is coming down the line, but for now I guess this release will have to do.

Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs by John Powell (Review)

John Powell returns to score the light animated fare, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs. The first film was scored by David Newman and was completely forgettable. Powell brought his fresh sound and style to the series with Ice Age: The Meltdown in what was one heck of a score. I still listen to that one all the time.

In the second film he established some themes that he touches base with in this score. So, we get lots of variations on these well known melodies that ooze with Powell's style. He has two trademarks that define him above all other composers; one is the way he strings his melodies in a sort of descending notion and the other is of course his percussion. Many of you may remember his amazing "Mini-Sloths Sing-A-Long" from the second film which is a perfect example of his percussive style. He goes a bit easy on the percussion with this score, but it's there (just a bit subtle) and I love it.

I guess one could argue that this score is just more of the same, but so what? Scores are one of the most important aspects of tying franchises together. Yes, there are the occasional "copy and paste" scores, but don't worry because you never get that with John Powell. Another complaint some people may have are the incredibly short track times. Yes, there are 44 tracks with some only 30 seconds long, but Powell fans should come to expect this. His score albums are gapless so they are meant for continuous listening. There are a few long tracks that provide a better solo listening experience, especially "End Credits" which sums up the album nicely.

Overall I'm happy to have another John Powell score in my hands. When stacked up against the second score and all his other animated scores this one does fall short, but that doesn't mean that this isn't an incredibly fun listen. I found the second one to have more emotionally driven music that really defined him as a composer, but this one almost gets there with the last few tracks. So, enjoy this one because we won't get any John Powell till Paul Greengrass' Green Zone.

The Last Confederate by Atli Örvarsson (Review)

Atli Örvarsson's The Last Confederate sees the light of day on CD and digital download. Probably a film that many have never heard about but Atli's score here is a real hidden gem. The score is subtle and very quiet. The main theme has that timeless feel to it and it truly does transport you. A few solo instruments backed with strings make up the majority of the score.

Those familiar with Atli Örvarsson's style may be surprised at the overall soundscape of the music. The simple melodic cues are reminiscent of his style, but the score overall has a delicate atmosphere that we haven't heard from him before and in that sense it's incredibly refreshing. Tracks like "A Defining Moment" definitely have his action style imbedded within it, but it's all done with a traditional feel.

Overall this was a great little treasure to be finally released. If you're looking for a CD hard copy versus iTunes lesser quality digital release then go to to order it. It's worth taking a chance, especially if you're fans of period pieces. I think anyone who liked Jones' & Edelman's work on The Last Of The Mohicans or Zimmer's The Last Samurai should enjoy Atli's work. That's not saying that all films that have "Last" in the title have similar scores though. Overall an astounding subtle score that creates larger emotions through small and simple melodies.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Taking Of Pelham 123 by Harry Gregson-Williams (Review)

Just as X-Men: Origins leaves theaters we have another Harry Gregson-Williams composed film entering theaters. This time we have another Harry and Tony Scott collaboration. Off the bat I have to say that Tony and Harry are one of the best Director/Composer collaborators working in the industry today. All of Tony's movies have a distinct soundscape and you can thank Harry for that. This is the 7th Tony Scott film in a row that Harry has composed for. Quite a testament.

Fans will recognize all the Harryisms that are present in all of Tony Scott's films. It's not as blatant as in Domino, but there are a few pieces that will stick out to those who know them. Quite honestly the score is pretty subdued for what I was expecting, and not in a bad way. This isn't a loud score like Man On Fire or Deja Vu. There are some percussive action cues, but nothing too grand. There isn't a real theme that you can grasp onto either, which in my book immediately drops it in my ranks.

I love Harry and I love it when he composes for Tony Scott, but looking at the other 6 scores he's done for him this one doesn't stack up to say Man On Fire or Deja Vu. So, those expecting a Spy Game, Man On Fire or Deja Vu score may be a bit disappointed. In Harry's defense though the score works well in the film. It doesn't step over the great acting that's happening on the screen. This is a very enjoyable score but a lack of any real thematic material may make it unmemorable for some as a standalone listen. It's a casual listening experience. Nothing too intense or emotional. Recommended for Gregson-Williams fans only.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Angels & Demons by Hans Zimmer (Review)

Well, here it is. Hans' long awaited follow up to his amazing score to The Da Vinci Code. Now, The Da Vinci Code was a flawed film adaptation but it wasn't all bad. I can honestly say it would have been a terrible bore without Hans' score. The motifs carrying through that lead up to the wonderful CheValiers De Sangreal segment were breathtaking. It had a very classic feel in a modern way.

Hans takes the themes and atmospheres from The Da Vinci Code and turns them on their side a bit for Angels & Demons. We still have this angelical religious atmosphere but you can feel the darkness biting on its heels every step of the way. Some of the tracks are incredibly intense. The choral arrangements are breathtaking and the score has a pulsing life to it. There are some percussion segments that felt uncharacteristic of Hans and more along the lines of Harry Gregson-Williams, but they keep the pace moving. Zimmer fans will find some arrangements similar to his score for Hannibal, which I guess not coincidently was a score to a film that took place in Florence.

Hans has a few soloists featured on the score. Most notably is Joshua Bell on the violin, which I'm sure was recommended by James Newton Howard after he used him for Defiance. Longtime collaborators Heitor Pereira is the featured guitarist and Martin Tillman on the cello. Each of them providing personal performances to their instruments as they accent Hans' music.

The album finishes off with a variation on the popular CheValiers piece that closed The Da Vinci Code. You can also get a bonus non-album track titled "H20" by going to You have to sign up for updates, but once you do you immediately get the bonus track. Overall, this is a great score by Hans. It doesn't feel like a rehash of The Da Vinci Code, which I think some people were expecting. It's a great continuation on the themes, moods and atmospheres he built with the first score. It's definitely more aggressive and bleeds of the Zimmer style. Bravo.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek by Michael Giacchino (Review)

J.J. Abrams and Michael Giacchino continue their longtime collaboration and Giacchino takes on one helluva task with scoring Star Trek. Let me state that I am not nor have ever been a Star Trek fan. I have not seen any prior films or show in the series, but I am fully aware of the music that Alexander Courage, James Horner and the great Jerry Goldsmith have all contributed to this legacy at one time or another.

Giacchino tosses everything out the window and provides his own take. His theme is nothing grand but it's a motif used a lot in the film and works extremely well. As you know gone are the days of the "theme". Hans' style has caught on and almost every franchise reboot is completely void of any heroic thematic material minus Bryan Singer's Superman, which holds onto John Williams' theme for dear life. Star Trek is full Giacchino style and any fan of his will pick up on all the great easter eggs. The overall sound of the score can be summed up by saying that it's Cloverfield toned down and combined with Medal Of Honor. In fact there are pretty much some exact copy and paste moments in the score from his Medal Of Honor scores, which I love. He uses a chorus to enhance the epic feel of it and let me tell you that it will get the hairs to stand up on the back of your neck. In the beginning there is a scene, which J.J. Abrams loves to do with Giacchino. He'll let the sound drown out and let the score take center stage. I like to call these "Sad Giacchino Moments" because it's his tear jerker music. People who watch LOST and have seen M:I:3 will know what I'm talking about.

The only real complaint I have here is the outrageously short release this score got. It's only 44 min when the complete score was 100 min. So we barely get half of the music represented on this release, which is a crying shame. At least we got something, right? Anyway, the score is a blast and I enjoyed it immensely. Giacchino pays homage to Alexander Courage by using his theme in the end credits, which is a hearty 9-minute suite. J.J. Abrams and Giacchino continue to be one of the top Director/Composer teams in the business. His score for Star Trek is as grand as can be without getting bogged down with campy thematic material. Great job, Giacchino!

X-Men Origins: Wolverine by Harry Gregson-Williams (Review)

So, I was looking forward to this movie for one major reason. That reason was Harry Gregson-Williams. His last score release was nearly 1 year ago with Prince Caspian, which was an amazing score. John Powell was the last composer to leave his mark on this franchise, and when I heard Harry was taking the helm I got super excited.

I'll stop dancing around and get right to the point. This score is okay. It has it's moments and plenty of Harry's signatures layered throughout. He carries some percussion over from Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare and some vocals that remind me of Kingdom Of Heaven. It's a symphonic score layered with his signature electronics. I think the biggest thing I was disappointed about was that the score never really took off. It reaches a level and pretty much stays at it during the entire film. Surprisingly the film also lacks any major thematic or melodic material. There isn't a tune in the score that you can put your finger on and associate it to this score. So in that sense this score is floating around without a real identity. The best stuff here in my opinion is the music for Kayla, who is Wolverine's love interest who ends up getting killed. There are hints at some touching music there, but again the story leaves no room for it to blossom.

I can't really blame Harry for this one because honestly the movie was just plain awful. There wasn't anything in the film worth remembering and the writing is laughably bad. Everything seems rushed and the story is an utter mess. Harry composed this score knowing well that they would probably continue the franchise, but most likely with a different director and a different composer. In the end there a few pieces that are fun to listen to, but as a huge Gregson-Williams fan it didn't meet my expectations. The score never rises to stand on its own and it's lost within the picture. Looking forward to his score for The Taking Of Pelham 123, because when Harry and Tony Scott team up it never disappoints. Wolverine is a standard score for a less than stellar movie. The film was lucky enough to get this much effort out of Harry.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Tudors: Season 2 by Trevor Morris (Review)

Trevor Morris won an Emmy award for his amazing score to the first season of the Showtime series. He continues here in what has become his most complete and well rounded work to date. Morris composed around 4 hours of music for the second season and gave us around 77 minutes on this release; so it's more of a selection but works extremely well as a standalone listen.

The score is string based and is mostly moody strings but occasionally you'll hear some percussion come in. The score always seems to be teetering on suspense and romance. In other words it's a very romantically suspenseful score. There are some ascending cues that resonate swelling emotions and are very beautiful. Towards the end of the album the music becomes more airy and you can tell by the tracks kind of how things resolve and it's reflected in the music. The way I describe the second half is a series of emotional echoes. Listening to the music definitely gives your mind a sense of reflecting back on things, but it never becomes "period" music. There is a timeless feel to it infused with Morris' modern style.

What I love this time around is that he takes the main theme motif and infuses it in a few cues to ground the score. I think what the first season had was tons of amazing music but no grounding. Here he cycles through a few motifs. One of them is a single female vocal that echoes despair. A few times the Hans sound came through such as in "Dreaming Of Anne Boleyn" and "Confessions & Arrests". You can definitely hear the East India Trading Company motif from Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, which made me smile.

Trevor Morris' score is a fantastic listen. It embodies the feel of the emotions rather than the period, but it also never lets you forget that it's rooted in the modern style. I've been listening to his music since he started out and I can honestly say this has impressed me the most as a complete sound and voice from one of today's talented composers. I can't wait for the season 3 release!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Maurice Jarre (1924-2009)

(from the BBC website)

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has paid tribute to Oscar-winning film composer Maurice Jarre, who has died in Los Angeles at the age of 84.

Mr Sarkozy called French-born Jarre, whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia, "a great composer" who produced "majestic and full-bodied works".

Jarre also won Academy Awards for Dr Zhivago and A Passage To India.

His last public appearance was in February at the Berlin Film Festival, where he won a lifetime award.


Mr Sarkozy added: "By working with some of the greatest filmmakers in the world, he showed that music can be just as important as pictures to make a beautiful and successful film."

French culture minister Christine Albanel called the composer a "creative, modern musician who showed a perfect mastery of sound".

"His music provided a counterpoint to the pictures and formed one with the film," she added.

Jarre rose to prominence relatively late in life, writing his first score for a French short film in 1952.

His breakthrough came in 1962 when provided the soundtrack for the epic Lawrence of Arabia, for which he was awarded an Oscar.

He went on to compose music for more than 150 films.

A further six Academy Award nominations came Jarre's way for his scores on other high profile films, including hits like Ghost, Gorillas In The Mist and Witness.

The musician also earned two Bafta Awards, four Golden Globes and a Grammy in a career rich with accolades.

His scores enhanced the work of some of the film industry's greatest directors - among his collaborators were David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Luchino Visconti.

He also wrote symphonic music for theatre, ballet and television, including the 1970s mini-series Jesus of Nazareth.

Jarre, who moved to the US in the 1960s, was married four times and is the father of Jean-Michel Jarre, a pioneer of electronic music.

His other son, Kevin, is a screenwriter based in the US.

At the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, event director Dieter Kosslick paid tribute to Jarre saying: "Film composers often are in the shadows of great directors and acting stars.

"It's different with Maurice Jarre - the music of Doctor Zhivago, like much of his work, is world-famous and remains unforgettable in cinema history."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Scores In 2009: A Look Ahead

So, 2009 is well underway. We’re just about done with the studio dumpster section of the year where all the studios dump their “too much to drink, what was I thinking?” projects. With the summer, fall and winter ahead we have plenty of high profile movies to look forward to. With high profile movies come high profile scores and there are plenty of composers to watch out for the rest of the year as their sounds bring to life the movies we are all looking forward to.

I’ll start off with Michael Giacchino who is gonna have a pretty good year. You can currently hear him every Wednesday night on LOST as season 5 wraps up another amazing season for him on the show. Varese will release his Season 4 score in May so we have lots of LOST to sink our teeth into. Giacchino’s last film score was Speed Racer last year and while the score was fantastic the movie fell under the radar. This summer brings up 3 Giacchino scores that I cannot wait to hear: Star Trek, Land Of The Lost and Up. Star Trek reunites him with J.J. Abrams and is bound to be stellar. Giacchino said himself that he plans on overlooking Goldmsith’s work on the series and focus on Alexander Courage’s original thematic material.

Another big event will be Michael Mann’s Public Enemies which will feature a score from Elliot Goldenthal who has been rather absent from the world of film. His last score was 2007’s Across The Universe but let’s face it; the score wasn’t the focus there. This will be his second feature with Mann the other one being Heat in 1995.

We also have a Terrence Malick film to look forward to and Malick films usually mean musically driven images. Malick has never worked with the same composer more than once and I’m guessing it’s because he isn’t that easy to please. I’ve heard about stories of friction and arguing between him and his composers mainly from Hans Zimmer and James Horner. However, every Malick film has given us some of the greatest music in film so at least greatness comes from the creative fighting. Alexandre Desplat is doing the score for The Tree Of Life and it’s worthy to note on your radar.

Carter Burwell has another Coen Brothers film which is always something to take note of. He’ll also be co-composing Where The Wild Things Are which has Burwell written all over it.

Eyes are on Danny Elfman as he takes over The Terminator franchise. All I’m hoping for is not another mess of a score like The Kingdom if he decides to go in that direction. He’ll also be composing for the remake of The Wolf Man, which is just a tad ironic. It’s ironic because he stole the original Wolf Man theme and made it the Batman theme for his score to Burton’s 1989 film. So, will he keep that theme for the remake? If he does then The Wolf Man will be going around to Batman’s former theme and that would be kind of funny.

Okay, Hans and company. 2009 is Hans’ “take it easy” year. His only score is Angels & Demons. He did the music for The Burning Plain but that was last year and the film is only now getting distribution. Still waiting on his tour announcements so that should be exciting when it happens. Harry Gregson-Williams is doing Wolverine and apparently is going symphonic for it? Should be amazing. There’s also The Taking Of Pelham 123, and anytime Harry and Tony Scott get together it’s cause for rejoicing. Expect a synth heavy intensity that only Harry can deliver in this age of modern scoring. King of animation, John Powell will be doing Ice Age 3 and that should be tons of fun to hear. He’s also doing the Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon flick, Green Zone. I expect a Bourne type score which isn’t bad since I loved Powell’s Bourne scores. Steve Jablonsky is doing Transformers 2 so theaters will be able to give their sound systems a good workout with that score. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood will give Marc Streitenfeld a test of his abilities, which I’m not worried about. Marc has been part of Zimmer’s team for a long time and is fully capable of keeping his personal style and adapting to the setting. It’s not like he’s going in with no experience.

Later this year we have a Scorsese film and it’s still unannounced if Howard Shore is going to score it, Avatar brings us our first James Horner score in quite some time, and actor Jason Schwartzman will enter the composing realm with his score for Funny People. 2009 looks to be a promising year of score driven films and hopefully will provide for a better selection at the Oscars next year. While I am sad there will be only 2 Hans scores this year I can’t wait for him to go on tour. So, here’s to some great music to come in the following months.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monsters Vs Aliens by Henry Jackman (Review)

Dreamworks Animation films usually have 1 thing in common, and that is a Hans Zimmer or Zimmer associated score. With 2009 being the year of only 1 Hans Zimmer score he has given fellow composer Henry Jackman his first solo effort. Jackman has been working under Zimmer since 2006 as an additional composer doing lots of work on the last two Pirates films and The Holiday notably. Monsters Vs Aliens is Jackman's first solo effort and boy it's a breath of fresh air. Not to say I don't love the whimsy sounds of Rupert Gregson-Williams, but something about this score just feels fresh. While he utilizes electronics the majority and heart of the score is orchestral.

Early on in the score Jackman sets up with the two major themes. They are subtly played throughout the score. The monsters theme can first be heard in "Meet The Monsters" and it has this great folky jazz vibe. The full-out version of the theme is the track titled "Monster Mojo". The other theme which can be heard slightly in the first track kind of becomes the main theme even though Jackman never really beats us over the head with it. It can be heard in full glory in "The Ginormica Suite" and while I hate saying it the sound is very Zimmeresque. There is that simplicity and light heartedness that reminds me of Zimmer's lighter scores and it does indeed bring a smile to my face. While Hans did serve as Executive Score Producer this is clearly a Henry Jackman score.

The entire score is a really fun listen. It has a certain bounce to it that is hard to describe, but it'll keep you listening. Jackman has certainly impressed me with what has to be one of the greatest freshman efforts to come from an RCP composer in a long time. Bravo. So, get the score and give it a listen. It's really great to play in the car and it's a nice light way to break out of the winter months of heavy serious scoring into the summer months ahead.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Outlander by Geoff Zanelli (Review)

Now, before you laugh let me get this off the bat. While Outlander may be one of the most laughably bad plots I've ever heard of I can say that Geoff Zanelli's score stands above the clouds and becomes an incredibly amazing standalone experience. So much so that I am actually a little bit curious as to how it works in the film.

The CD is released in a limited pressing of 1500 units by La La Land Records and is a worthy purchase indeed. I think what I like most about Outlander is the varying thematic material presented. Zanelli provides us with that full orchestral/synth sound for the Vikings that is heard in the very first track. I always hate to pinpoint what Zimmer score an RCP composer's score sounds like, but it's a great reference point.

King Arthur immediately jumped into my head because of the full sound and harsh percussion. The futuristic sounds have some synth elements and structure that actually reminded me of Black Hawk Down especially the second half of "Gunnar's Raid". Now, the fact that I'm referencing all these Zimmer scores doesn't mean that Outlander is just a Zimmer rip. It really is a fun and thematic score with that Zanelli feel. The great part is when these two sounds clash and form a synthesis of the two worlds. We lose that Old World feel and we lose that Sci-fi feel and gain something new, which is always refreshing. The greatest part for me is hearing familiar arrangements and structures that I've heard in previous Zanelli scores, and that tells me he is a composer with a unique voice which is very rare today.

Zanelli's music has really grown lately and even though he may be scoring these laughable films like Outlander and Hitman I feel like he's getting a better feel for what he can accomplish in different genres. The fact that he's doing films like Ghost Town and then jumping into something like Outlander is great to see. He is stretching himself and not limiting himself to a certain area. Outlander is a fun score and is worth the purchase even if you have zero interest in the movie and its silly plot.

Race To Witch Mountain by Trevor Rabin (Review)

Trevor Rabin's latest effort is another digital release only and can be found on Amazon MP3 and iTunes Plus. As a person who grew up listening to Rabin I can tell you witch of his scores are fantastic, which of them are great, which of them are okay and which of them are not so memorable. Rabin has only been composing since 1996, but has quickly established himself as one of the great electronic composers working today. Now, we are all adults here and can admit that Rabin doesn't compose for Academy Award winning films, but that doesn't mean his scores are bad. Race To Witch Mountain is however not so great.

Unfortunately with this score we are not getting anything remotely new or fresh. I couldn't even put my finger on a theme here. As a T-Rab fan I have to say I enjoyed hearing those familiar arrangements that evoked memories of scores past. "Tracking The E.B.E's" is by far the best track and it has Rabin written all over it. The pulsating strings laid on top of an electronic beat definitely gives that National Treasure feel, but it strives in its simplicity. All we have here is a great action beat which ends in a very Rabinesque manner.

So, Race To Witch Mountain won't be looked back on as anything memorable and even for Trevor it was disappointing and I don't say that often. It's not a terrible score, but for the standards I've come to expect from one of my favorite composers I can't hide the fact that I was disappointed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Unborn by Ramin Djawadi (Review)

David S. Goyer continues to prove that he is just absolutely awful. Thank goodness Christopher Nolan was in charge of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Anyway, Ramin Djawadi continues his collaboration and reunites with Goyer after composing Blade Trinity for him. Here we have yet another Michael Bay produced horror film, except this time we get to see what Djawadi has up his sleeves instead of Jablonsky.

The score I'm afraid is exactly what you'd expect it to be. Lots of high strings and synth percussion laid underneath. There isn't anything bad about the score in fact it's a lot more thematic versus the atmospheric scores we've heard from Steve Jablonsky the past few years. It just saddens me that great composers like Djawadi have to deal with these horrible films from horrible filmmakers. There isn't much room for creativity when the story itself is a piece of poo.

Anyway, that's for a different discussion. The highlight of the track is the first track which actually is used for the end credits of the film, but it's the most thematic and structured out of everything on the album. There are a few other thematic tracks, but nothing that will wow you.

Unfortunetly due to the awful material Ramin had to work from there isn't anything memorable. I enjoyed the listening experience because I'm a fan, but horror scores don't leave much room for creativity these days. You'd probably have to look back to Hans Zimmer's Hannibal or The Ring for the last truly great horror score.

Frost/Nixon by Hans Zimmer (Review)

I know this is a little late, but for some reason I never got around to reviewing it. Hans Zimmer closes out another stellar year with his minimalist score to Frost/Nixon. The score finds a pulse and goes on it. It's very unique and definitely completes the wide array of genres we've seen Zimmer attempt in 2008 like The Dark Knight to Kung Fu Panda.

The main motif is a cello based cue that dips in and out throughout the score. It's a score that works incredibly well with the image. I also applaud the restraint shown yet still managing to incorporate thematic material. I mean, scoring a dialogue based film fueled mainly by the performances is no easy task. While watching the film I kept feeling like I wanted the score more upfront and I can tell it was pushed back in the mix, but there were definitely a couple scenes that relied heavily on the score. You really notice the score come front and center in the third act of the film and it basically carries you right to the final image on screen.

It's another amazing score from Hans and it closes another fantastic year for him.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Analysis (Another Music Tragedy)

So, the Oscars have come and gone again.  I'm glad to see that the ceremony has gone back to being a "show" instead of an assembly to hand out awards.  Hugh Jackman was a refreshing surprise and his numbers definitely struck with me.  The little skit with James Franco & Seth Rogan was great as was Ben Stiller dressed as Joaquin Phoenix.  So as a show it was a success.
Let's get to the nitty gritty.  The awards.  Any surprises? Not really.  In fact I have constantly been dissapointed in the recent years with the lack of competition at the Oscars.  Is that saying something about the quality of movies being put out?  I don't know, but there isn't any surprises anymore in terms of winning.
Now, to get to what I really want to talk about; the music.  Let start off by saying that I hate the Music Branch at The Academy.  There are so many flaws with their system that I won't go into them.  What I hate most is the fact that The Academy sets up rules but breaks them whenever they want.  They broke their rules when Babel won an Oscar for Best Score and later admitted that they didn't realize it would have been disqualified from contention if  the proper research had been done.  This year they disqualified The Dark Knight only to reinstate its eligibility after an uproar from the public.  They also allowed 4 producers to get nominated for The Reader, which is a violation of the rules.
A.R. Rahman walked away with two Oscars last night.  He currently has more Oscars than Ennio Morricone (0 for score 1 lifetime achievement), Hans Zimmer (1), Jerry Goldsmith (1), Danny Elfman (0), Thomas Newman (0), Bernard Herrmann (1), Elmer Bernstein (1).  Does anyone else see anything wrong?  As much as I loved Slumdog Millionaire this is the biggest Oscar Music Tragedy since Gustavo Santaolalla illegally winning back to back Oscars a few years back.  Slumdog had almost no score in the film yet got nominated.  A.R. Rahman worked with countless amounts of other artists on the music (something I don't care about but the Academy disqualifies for), and the score is all synth (again, don't mind but the Academy frowns on).  He also got nominated for a song that repeats two words over and over to a techno loop and as amazing as that scene was in the film the song itself doesn't represent the heart of the film like Bruce Springsteen's The Wrestler or Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino.  Those songs got snubbed because of the flawed voting system.
So, again another undeserving score wins the Oscar when the deserving Alexandre Desplat walks away empty handed.  Another year goes by where The Academy shows that all you have to do is win the popularity contest at the time to get a handful of Oscars.  It also shows that the number of Oscars or nominations is in no way a measure of how good of an artist you are like The Academy wants people to believe.  If that were true  then A.R. Rahman and Gustavo Santaolalla would only need 1 more Oscar to be "as good" as Max Steiner.  Again, I loved Rahman's work on Slumdog and his win for "Jai Ho" was well deserved, but after the hoopla of Babel and the recent damning of Hans Zimmer and fellow composers by The Academy it only shows just exactly how little authority the Academy Music Branch has.  Grammy's gave it to The Dark Knight, IFMCA gave it to The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button just to point it out.  Slumdog Millionaire's score was not bad it just didn't deserve to win.


About Me: I love film, it's everything to me. I believe the key ingredient to a film is emotion, that's all that matters in a movie. That's what I love about film. It’s exploriFont sizeng everything that goes into making the audience connect emotionally and exploring the human condition.

Hans Zimmer is the reason why I got into film. He is my idol to say the least. His music opened up something in me when I was a kid and ever since I’ve been in love with score and think it’s the most important aspect of a film. Hans pushes simplicity and he preaches that a score must be able to stand apart from the film, because if it doesn’t it’s merely just there to fill space. Listening to scores has taught me more about filmmaking than I thought possible; from structure to story arcs as well as mood and atmosphere. I have a bookshelf full of every Hans Zimmer CD released as well as every CD released from his collaborators. I can't count how many times Hans' music has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I've been pretty much listening to nothing but scores my entire life. The marriage of image and sound is amazing to me. It's what separates film from any other art form. My mom says that Fantasia was the first movie I ever saw and I watched it intently from my baby rocker, so that could explain a lot.

Sergio Leone is my favorite director. The man knows how to craft a film. He uses long duration takes that have incredibly deep focus. I love films that let the images tell the story. They are masterpieces of cinema. Terrence Malick is a close second to me, watch The Thin Red Line and thank me later.

About The Blog: The blog will basically be a way for me to publish my score reviews, any articles and links to interesting stories going on in the industry. I'm not musically trained, I don't read or write music, I don't play any instrument so my view on scores will be from an aesthetic viewpoint.  I don't write film or DVD reviews anymore, but as a filmmaker I'll write on certain things that go on in current events as they come up.