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.