Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dialogue on Soundtracks

Anyone who has listened to enough soundtracks and score albums has come across this scenario:
Listening to the album and suddenly a voice appears.  Sometimes over the music itself, sometimes just a short track of the characters speaking.  So much narration!

Often baffling, often irritating, but sometimes enjoyable...Dialogue on Soundtracks.  Love them or hate them, they are ridiculously short tracks that can thankfully be skipped.  

Here's a handful of film soundtracks those that do that I've heard or encountered over the year.  I've included the composer's name just because.  Have a favorite or least favorite?  One I didn't mention?  Leave a comment below!

Angela's Ashes [John Williams]
Apollo 13 [James Horner] (long stretches of scenes)
Blade Runner [Vangelis]
More Music from Braveheart [James Horner] (almost a whole album of dialogue)
Conan the Barbarian [Basil Poledouris]
Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Alexandre Desplat] (second disc of dialogue and jazz standards)
Desperado [Los Lobos]
The Devils Advocate [James Newton Howard] (stay for the Al Pacino rants)
Ed Wood [Howard Shore] (the Amazing Criswell narrates)
From Dusk Till Dawn [Graeme Revell]
More Music from Gladiator [Hans Zimmer]
Green Lantern [James Newton Howard] (the Green Lantern oath)
Halloween [Tyler Bates]
Hannibal [Hans Zimmer] (unbearable dialogue and score)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas [James Horner]
The Ipcress File [John Barry]
Mississippi Burning [Trevor Jones]
The Muppets [Christophe Beck] (come for the songs, stay for the 15 dialogue tracks)
Muppets Most Wanted [Christophe Beck] (more song intros)
The Nightmare Before Christmas [Danny Elfman] (with unused narration)
Out of Sight [David Holmes]
Patton [Jerry Goldsmith] (Patton's great speech)
Rango [Hans Zimmer]
Romeo + Juliet: Music from the Motion Picture 2 [Craig Armstrong]
Saving Mr. Banks [Thomas Newman]
The Shadow [Jerry Goldsmith] (the Shadow knows....)
Shaun of the Dead [Pete Woodhead/Daniel Mudford]
Six Degrees of Separation [Jerry Goldsmith]
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan [James Horner] (Where no man....)
Tron: Legacy [Daft Punk] (the Grid...)
WarGames [Arthur B. Rubinstein]
War of the Worlds [John Williams] (smooth narration by Morgan Freeman)
The Tarantino collection: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vol 2, Django Unchained

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Quick Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Music composed by Danny Elfman
Conducted by: Rick Wentworth
Orchestrated by: Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker,  John Ashton Thomas, Timothy Rodier, Edward Trybek, Peter Bateman
Additional music and arrangements by Paul Mounsey, Chris Bacon, Peter Bateman, John Ashton Thomas
Score Recorded at AIR Studios, London
Album time: 50 minutes
Available on Relativity

Still relatively new to the animated film scene, Danny Elfman has worked with Disney (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Blue Sky (Epic) and now DreamWorks (Mr. Peabody & Sherman).  John Powell might be the only other composer who has worked with those 3 animation companies.  And that's actually what this score sounds like: a bit of Elfman and a bit of Powell in a blender.

With that said, here's the rundown of the album.  

With a flurry, the upbeat main theme begins in Mr. Peabody’s Prologue.  Moments appear between instruments, showing off a piano and saxophone motif (very Pee-Wee's Big Adventure).  There are plenty of Elfman-y happenings throughout the score, especially the beginning.  We get hints of a harpsichord and brass fanfares, before a reference to La Marseillaise (France's national anthem) as they travel to their first destination.  Reign of Terror! finds our characters in a tough spot, with the suspense clearly in the music, alongside the heroic Marseillaise making an appearance.  His trademark wordless choir appears, with busy writing and triumphant statements of the main theme.

The Drop Off is a sweet track, featuring the main theme before the piano and saxophone motif.  The Dog Whistle and The Cherry Tree are short cues, with a little bit of cartoony qualities.  A Deep Regard is a tender moment with the secondary/sentimental theme.  Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) is the John Lennon song, which is fine since there aren't 2 separate score and song albums.

Dinner Party is more hurried music, a mix of fanfares and flourishes.  The Petersons/The Wabac Machine, begin with some drama, before some cartoony moments.  The main theme makes an appearance as well as standard Elfman elements.  The track goes right into Aquarela do Brasil, an arrangement of the Brazillian samba heard just about everywhere.

Off To Egypt changes the style of the music - shaped by the flavor of location.  The main theme appears with some dramatic flare.  The Wedding Exodus begins with an old-Hollywood (think Ben-Hur) fanfare as well as an Egyptian-style variation of the main theme.  Hammer-Time has a bunch of cartoony moments, very Carl Stalling.  The Flying Machine features the secondary theme, heard earlier in A Deep Regard.  The music turns from sentimental to frenzied with the main theme and choir making an appearance with this flying sequence.  The main theme bounces around a few times before the finish.  Trojan Horse begins with the secondary theme, before getting busier and building up.  There is a burst of Latin choir (inspired perhaps by John Williams' Call of the Champions?) before leading into a march and sneaking music.  The secondary theme gets another reference at the end.

War/Disaster kicks up the action, with some heroic horn blasts, fanfares and great statements of the main theme.  The music from here on in the album really picks up, really showing Elfman's strengths.  A solo piano takes over with the sentimental theme before picking back up.  History Mash-Up is the highlight of the album (and probably score).  Beginning with some drama, it morphs from genre and style to another: twangy and mandolin, La Marseillaise, and Egyptian fanfares.  A charging variation of the main theme enters, as well as a harpsichord La Marseillaise, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a French waltz, and some booming low brass.  

I'm A Dog Too is more of the sentimental theme, including some solo piano.  The music builds with the brass and snare drum, with the choir coming into the front later.  Fixing the Rip leads back to action music, with some moments sounding like Elfman's older style.  The sentimental theme becomes charged to a great finish.  Back to School brings us back to the piano and saxophone motif which builds to a grand finale.  

Aquarela do Brasil (Coda) is another fun arrangement of the popular tune, with bits of La Marseillaise and Here Comes the Bride.  The Amazing Mr. Peabody is a semi-scene with Stephen Colbert shouting out instruments for Peabody to play.  Finishing off the album is the skippable song Way Back When from the band Grizfolk.

Elfman's further foray into animation really suits him nicely.  The score is lively with some great melodies.  The score doesn't stay too long in one area, not letting it too much Mickey-Mousing.  The themes work in the many settings and arrangements throughout the score.  The main theme is one of the hummable theme (and in a major key) from Elfman's recent output, and the secondary sentimental theme is sweet and also pretty flexible through the score.  While they both make many appearances, they don't seem repetitive and the album doesn't overstay its welcome with its length.  Overall, a fun score matching the film's fun and humor.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Glimpses of Godzilla

As scoring continues for Godzilla, here are some behind the scenes photos of the recording sessions.  With the score by Alexandre Desplat, it is being recorded at Sony (MGM) Studios with the Hollywood Studio Symphony (instead of Desplat's standard London Symphony).     









Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Collaboration in Pictures 3

We continue a look into the photo journal of the director/composer relationship: Collaboration in Pictures 3. You can view the earlier entries here: Part 1 & Part 2.

Christophe Beck (center), Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee (Frozen - 2013)

Carter Burwell (l), writer Charlie Kaufman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (2005)

Michael Giacchino (r), Brad Bird (Ratatouille - 2007)

Pino Donaggio (l), Brian DePalma

Philip Glass (r), Godfrey Reggio
Hand Zimmer (r), Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code - 2006)

James Horner (r), Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind - 2001)

John Williams (l), George Lucas (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones - 2002)

Henry Mancini (l), actor Craig Stevens, Blake Edwards (Peter Gunn)

Brian Tyler (l), Justin Lin (Fast & Furious - 2009)

Marc Streitenfeld (l), Ridley Scott (Body of Lies - 2008)

Patrick Doyle (l), conductor Simon Rattle, Kenneth Branagh (Henry V - 1989)

Patrick Doyle (middle), Regis Wargnier, Kenneth Branagh

Howard Shore (r), Martin Scorsese (2007)

Marc Shaiman (r), Rob Reiner (2007)

Robert B. Sherman (l), Richard M. Sherman (m), Walt Disney

Marco Beltrami (r), James Mangold (The Wolverine - 2013)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Quick Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Music composed by Alexandre Desplat
Orchestrated by Alexandre Desplat, Mark Graham
Conducted by Mark Graham
Music supervisor: Randall Poster
Score Recorded at Air Studios, Abbey Road Studios
Album time: 55 minutes
Available on ABKCO Records

Director Wes Anderson and composer Alexandre Desplat continue their collaboration with their most recent film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  This of course following Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012), with 'Fox' nominated for an Oscar, and 'Kingdom' with only about 20 minutes of original score.  With The Grand Budapest Hotel, we get more orchestral score than probably ever in a Wes Anderson film.  Included are some Russian folk melodies, which compliment the Desplat score.


Here is my rundown of the album, no spoilers except in track titles.


The album begins with s'Rothe-Zäuerli (performed by Öse Schuppel).  Say that ten times fast.  It's a nice vocal track that sets our ears to the Alpine-style music we'll hear on the album.  Alpine horns begin the score in the short track, The Alpine Sudetenwaltz.  Mr. Moustafa is a charming track full of plucked instruments (notably zithers and balalaikas), and the cue serves as the main theme for the film.  Like more of the score, it balances right between the minor and major keys.  Overture: M. Gustave H is another light track, with the bells and zithers in the forefront.  Even listening to the album straight through, many tracks end abruptly.  


A Prayer For Madame D features the main theme, with a slight variation.  The New Lobby Boy carries a new melody, overlapped and interspersed with the main theme.  Concerto For Lute And Plucked Strings (composed by Antonio Vivaldi) fits with the plucking heard in the Desplat score and was heard in the film's trailer.  Daylight Express To Lutz will take you back to the sounds of Fantastic Mr. Fox, ending with a timpani and percussion cadence.  Schloss Lutz Overture has a nice Gothic organ, mixed in with the plucked zithers.


The Family Desgoffe Und Taxis contains the main theme with slight changes instrumentation like the percussion and humming choir.  Last Will and Testament begins with the foreboding organ before returning to the main theme.  Up The Stairs/Down The Hall is a quick track of jingly bells, to describe it in a few words.  Night Train To Nebelsbad is more of that Mr. Fox travel music, (something clearly Desplat and Anderson connect with).  The similar music continues in the short The Lutz Police Militia.  Check Point 19 Criminal Internment Camp Overture is a short sting introduction (11 seconds!).                                     

The Linden Tree (performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra), a beautiful Russian folk song performed on balalaikas.  J.G. Jopling, Private Inquiry Agent begins with the organ transitioning into the main theme, before the wordless male choir comes in, adding another texture into the theme.  A Dash Of Salt (Ludwig's Theme) features more percussion and hand clapping.  The Cold-Blooded Murder Of Deputy Vilmos Kovacs combines several variations and textures heard earlier in the score, with the twangy sounds, organ moments and shuffling rhythm.              



Escape Concerto has the wide variety of percussion with the electric bass line heard earlier in the score.  The War (Zero's Theme) is a slower variation on the main theme.  No Safe-House continues where the last track left off, slowly picking up the speed before the "bum bum" choir jumps in at the last second.  The Society Of The Crossed Keys brings the orchestra to a crescendo, features more various percussion and pizzicato adding in several layers.  I think this track stands out among some of the others.  M. Ivan continues the electric bass, shuffling snare drum.

Lot 117 begins with an organ pattern, with the twinkling bells heard earlier making an interesting polyrhythm.  Third Class Carriage is another slower variation on the main theme, with the tremolo instruments having an almost shimmering effect.  The twinkling bells make another appearance as well.  With Canto At Gabelmeister's Peak, we get the longest track on the album.  The style and themes from past tracks continue, with nice choral moments.  We get some sections of vocal sections of the Kyrie Eleison and organ.  A Troops Barracks (Requiem For The Grand Budapest) start with the snare and brass section before introducing more melodic material featuring timpani, bells, organ and balalaikas.  

Cleared Of All Charges features more of the upbeat variation of our themes.  The Mystical Union features whistling alongside the balalaikas and zithers in that shimmering effect.  Kamarinskaya, the Russian folk song (performed again by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra) is a lively tune, fitting nicely with the original score heard earlier.  Traditional Arrangement: "Moonshine" perfectly encapsulates everything about the score, tossing all the parts of the score and instruments and choir into a raucous track ending the album.

It is nice to see a longer original score for a Wes Anderson film, but I found much of the album one-note and repetitive at first listen.  Thankfully there are more layers and small changes that can be appreciated more with each listen.  And I understand if some listeners don't make it past the first.  I will say that the score works well in the film, and besides the organ and other certain spots the score is mainly quiet underscore to the quick dialogue.  The short tracks (Thomas Newman is notorious for them) make the album sometimes a hard listen.  The flow of the album feels stop-and-start because of the short tracks with abrupt endings.  It doesn't seem like that in the film, because of the quick edits in the film.  But thankfully the music is lively with a nice momentum and a good main theme.  I enjoy the classical influences and Hungarian/Russian influences on the score, and should make many musicians run out to play balalaikas, zither or cimbalom.  

I can tell from the score that Desplat and Anderson share a vision.  The film style and musical style share the complexity of layers, and meticulous details.  The backgrounds and settings of Anderson's films feel like the musical equivalent of Desplat's unique orchestration and instrumentation.  Clearly they've been able to work well through Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom and now Grand Budapest Hotel.  I hope this collaboration continues with more quirky and whimsical music to hear.