Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quick Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Music composed by Danny Elfman
Music conducted by Rick Wentworth
Music orchestrated by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker
Additional music by Chris Bacon, TJ Lindgren
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London
Album running time: 76 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

2010's Alice in Wonderland was a great hit score for Danny Elfman, providing one of his best scores for director Tim Burton.  The film itself was a bit rocky, with questionable CGI and an overly complicated plot.  (It was, on the other hand, a massive 3D hit at the box office....so here we are with the sequel).  This time, Burton is just producing and has The Muppets (2011) director James Bobin at the helm.  It is meant to match the look of the first film with bright colors still everywhere.

The main theme (Alice's Theme) was a breakout hit for Elfman and some of his best in recent years.  If you loved the theme and choir, Alice Through the Looking Glass has reprises galore.  The theme does go through variations aplenty, more so than the last film.  Also included prominently is the Little Alice Theme, used briefly in the last film.  Other returning themes include one for the Cheshire Cat and the Memory Theme (used at the end of the first film as she remembers her experiences in Underland).  For new themes, we get the Time Theme, a Russian-esque sound.  The elusive theme for the Hatter also makes appearances in spots outside of the Suite.   

Like the album for Goosebumps (2015), the score is arranged from tracks 1-20 as an album arrangement with the rest being "bonus tracks".  The album works as played, but below I've put them in correct film order for convenience.  Here's an album track rundown, perhaps giving you a sense of his thematic usage.  

The album begins with Alice, a 6 minute suite of the main Alice Theme in all its glory.  It transitions to the full statement of the Little Alice Theme, Time's Theme and the Memory Theme.  The latter theme (a bit reminiscent of Goldsmith or Shore is used for some of the poignant moments in the score).  Saving the Ship is the best cue on the album and weaves in Alice's Theme nicely.  It is heroic in moments, with standard Elfman strings and brass and bit more interesting orchestration.  Little Alice Theme even gets a brass-led variation at the finish.  

Watching Time is full of sliding strings representing the Cheshire Cat and clock-like material.  A ticking rhythm is throughout the cue as Time's Theme makes its first appearances.  It's a hard theme to catch, often blending into the orchestral texture. The cue ends with a strong statement of the theme.  Looking Glass begins with a few haunting reprises of the Little Alice Theme before getting into a flighty reprise of Alice's Theme among action sections in addition to solo vocals and organ.  To the Rescue is a short cue, starting with a fanfare and more of the Cheshire motif before adding a more somber choir section.

Hatter House begins with slowed down variations on sections of Alice's Theme. It's on the quiet side, a bit of melancholy is heard by instrumental solos, an ominous rendition of the Hatter's Theme, and ending with a pronounced statement of Little Alice's Theme.  The Red Queen stays in the low strings and woodwinds with some strong brass bursts before it picks up to action version of Alice's Theme. The Chronosphere breaks apart Alice's Theme to little bits, using it in a comedic setting.  The bulk of the track is epic action.  These large action parts are classic minor-key Elfman with swirling strings and choir.


Warning Hightopps returns to the reflective side, letting solo instruments take part of Alice's Theme.  Tea Time Forever is a bit darker, utilizing tolling bells but switching to a cartoony mood.  Oceans of Time is a sweeping cue, with the themes for Little Alice, Alice and Time all converging and blending.

Hat Heartbreak returns us to the celeste and some tender string underscoring.  Bits of the Hatter's Theme is tossed in, sometimes buried around other instruments.  Asylum Escape brings us back to Alice's Theme in full action mode.  Elfman's chance to bring the portions of the theme in this setting is a great choice.  Just like in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Elfman is showing his mastery of some great action material, using a large orchestra in new ways and still fitting in thematic material.  Hatter's Deathbed is a bit somber, with solos instruments taking parts of Alice's Theme.  A solo flute and then solo horn take over with Hatter's Theme.  Little Alice's Theme is taken over nicely with strings, harp and choir.  

Finding the Family is back to the sweet and tender celeste material heard earlier.  The music becomes a bit bolder with the entrance of the low brass.  Time Is Up is another great action cue - a big orchestral epic.  Time's Theme and Alice's Theme are tossed around throughout, and the action briefly stops for Little Alice's Theme.  World's End begins with a music box rendition of Little Alice's Theme and vocal soloist before a crescendo to the Memory Theme in its biggest statement yet.

Truth returns to the calm style from before.  Little Alice's Theme gets a touching reprise as does a sprightly Hatter's Theme.  There are some great moments in this track, led by Little Alice's Theme.  The Memory Theme gets a fitting reprise in Goodbye Alice, and that melody fills the entire track before the chord progression hints at Alice's Theme.  Kingsleigh & Kingsleigh is basically a choral reprise of Alice's Theme giving one last vocal "Alice!" before fading away. 

Seconds Song is a quick bit of a song that should remind listeners of Elfman's own singing on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Oz the Great and Powerful.  Friends United is a whimsical underscore with fragments of Hatter's Theme hinted at.  Time's Castle is a bit more mysterious (utilizing the Cheshire motif), ticking aspects before launching into Alice's Theme.  The Seconds shows off Time's assistants, using the metronome-esque metal sound to match their design.  Clock Shop is a dramatic moment of Time's Theme and a hint of Alice's Theme.  They're Alive provides some dark underscore for the backstory of the Red Queen.  Story of Time is a nice cue, with a mysterious rendition of Hatter's Theme blended with Little Alice's Theme.  Time's Theme makes a march appearance and Little Alice's Theme seems a bit more distant and daunting.  The album ends with the skippable pop song Just Like Fire (performed by Pink).            

For 'Looking Glass', Elfman added to his material from the first 'Alice', letting many old themes expand and have some variants.  Elfman purposely didn't add too many more new themes, instead expanding on themes relating to Alice's childhood (Little Alice) and the Hatter's theme.  His large action cues (Saving the Ship in particular) are some of the best material on the album.  

For track order, it will be something like: Track 2, 4, 5, 22, 6, 27, 23, 24, 3, 8, 11, 9, 12, 10, 26, 25, 13, 14, 7, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 1, 21

The Alice Theme is still the best part of both films and I'm glad it's reoccurring in this score.  The first Alice was one of Elfman's best recent scores and while this doesn't reach the same levels, plenty of aspects make this a great listen.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Scoring the Series: X-Men

Scoring The Series continues with a look back at the X-Men films.  In the multiple films over the years, there have been six different composers.  Here are the credits to each film with some scoring photos tossed in.   

X-Men (2000)
Music composed by Michael Kamen
Conducted by Michael Kamen
Orchestrated by Robert Elhai, Michael Kamen, Brad Warnaar
Recorded and mixed by Stephen McLaughlin
Recorded by the L.A. Allstar Orchestra
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox)

X2 (2003)
Music composed by John Ottman
Conducted by Damon Intrabartolo
Orchestrated by John Ottman, Pierre André, Rick Giovinazzo, Damon Intrabartolo, Frank Macchia, Christopher Tin
Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox)



X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Music composed by John Powell
Conducted by Pete Anthony
Orchestrated by Brad Dechter, Bruce Fowler, Randy Kerber, John Ashton Thomas, Suzette Moriarty, Rick Giovinazzo, Kevin Kliesch, Conrad Pope, Walt Fowler, Ken Kugler
Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy
Recorded by the Hollywood Studio Symphony

Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
Conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams
Orchestrated by Ladd McIntosh
Recorded by Joel Iwataki
Recorded by the Hollywood Studio Symphony
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox)

X-Men: First Class (2011)
Music composed by Henry Jackman
Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith
Orchestrated by Stephen Coleman, John Ashton Thomas, Noah Sorota
Additional music by Chris Willis, Matt Margeson, Dominic Lewis
Recorded by Frank Wolf
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox)

The Wolverine (2013)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami
Conducted by Pete Anthony, Marco Beltrami
Orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Rossano Galante, Mark Graham, Jon Kull, Dana Niu, Patrick Russ
Additional music by Buck Sanders, Brandon Roberts, Marcus Trumpp
Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox)



X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Music composed by John Ottman
Conducted by Jeff Schindler
Orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Rick Giovinazzo, Jason Livesay, Nolan Livesay, John Ottman, John Ashton Thomas 
Additional music by Kristopher Gee, Jason Livesay, Nolan Livesay, Lior Rosner, Marcus Trumpp, Edwin Wendler
Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox) 



X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Music composed by John Ottman
Conducted by Jeff Schindler
Orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Rick Giovinazzo, Andrew Kinney, Jon Kull, Jason Livesay, Nolan Livesay, John Ashton Thomas
Additional music by Edwin Wendler
Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (20th Century Fox) 


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Quick Review: The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book
Music composed and conducted by John Debney
Music orchestrated by Kevin Kaska
Music recorded at Sony Scoring Stage
Music recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes
Original themes by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, Terry Gilkyson
Album running time: 74 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Disney continues the new tradition of live action remakes of classic animated films, this time reviving 1967's The Jungle Book.  The original had a score by George Bruns, and songs by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman and Terry Gilkyson.  Not unlike the previous live-action remakes, this film doesn't stray too far from the source material at all.  Mainly, that includes the use of the 1967 songs and quotes from the original score. 

The first two tracks are updated versions of The Bare Necessities (sung over the end credits by Dr. John and The Nite Trippers) and Trust In Me (sung in the end credits by Kaa actress Scarlett Johansson).

The score begins with Main Titles (Jungle Run) featuring an amazing new arrangement of the Mark Mancina's Disney castle logo (possibly the first appearance on album).  It segues into a bit of the exotic flute solo from the opening of Bruns' original 1967 score.  It transitions to the jungle run section, with wild percussion and bamboo flutes.  The brass have some moments to shine as the string section swirls around.  Wolves/Law of the Jungle is the first to introduce Mowgli's Theme, a long phrased melody that represents Mowgli and his home growing up with the wolves.  It's a beautiful theme that that begins in the woodwinds that grows to eventually add choir.  

Water Truce has an ethereal opening before getting into a jaunty section followed by a nice brass moment and another reprise of Mogwli's Theme.  Rains Return continues the jungle atmosphere through percussion and woodwinds, with the choir adding in.  Mowgli's Leaving/Elephant Theme begins with a sorrowful section with strings and woodwinds passing a melodic idea around.  It transitions to another bold statement of Mowgli's Theme.  The music grows even stronger as the elephants march by Mowgli and Bagheera on their trek.  

Shere Khan Attacks/Stampede tears right into the orchestra, utilizing brass rips, jungle percussion patterns and bamboo flutes.  The action material works really well here.  Kaa/Baloo to the Rescue is immediately disconcerting with the shimmering strings.  The exotic flute sound of the Bruns score relays most of Kaa's material.  The melody to Trust in Me loops and adds menace before the low brass and low male choir enters.  Even in the darkest moments, the main theme is repeated on a solo flute.        

Honeycomb Climb is a bit more playful and adventurous, using the bassoon to represent some of Baloo's comic moments.  The Man Village, a somber track, gives us more woodwind solos and another reprise of the main theme.  A sense of danger looms over the start of Mowgli and the Pit, adding to the drama of Mowgli's journey.  Before long, a tender variation of The Bare Necessities emerges.  Monkeys Kidnap Mowgli returns to the pounding percussion heard earlier.  Horn calls and xylophone glissandos add a new orchestrated texture not heard earlier.

Arriving At King Louie's Temple is full of suspense, staying ominous throughout (there's a bit in the middle that's reminiscent of the Ark music in Raiders).  Twanging percussion among high pitched strings keep the mood in check.  Cold Lair Chase gets the jungle percussion, choir and brass moving in another strong action cue.  The melody of I Wanna Be Like You gets a handful of statements in some ingenious variations.  The action continues in The Red Flower with a charging string motif.  The low men's choir is extremely effective as the rhythm pounds away.  The melody of Trust In Me gets a choir variation (this time just used ominously and not related to Kaa).  

To The River continues some of the darker elements heard in previous tracks.  The pulse-pounding rhythm continues through as the string motif and men's choir returns.  The main theme gets a very brief reprise.  The drama continues in Shere Khan's War Theme with his motif used among thrilling brass and percussion.  The stakes continue to be heightened in Shere Khan and the Fire.  The entire orchestra brings their all with the ranges of each instrument being explored.  Near the end of the cue, Shere Khan and Mowgli's themes come head to head.  

Elephant Waterfall brings back the elephant theme heard earlier, as they bring peace back to the jungle.  It's back to the noble somber style for the main theme, and it makes for a touching moment.  In Mowgli Wins the Race, Debney uses the variation of Bare Necessities from the trailer (arranged by The Hit House).  It's a great moment that Debney added onto, and while the track is short, it's a highlight for most fans.  The Jungle Book Closes gives us reprises of the main themes in a big sweeping style as the film ends.

The album ends with two more songs that are used over the end credits - the updated version of I Wanna Be Like You (sung by Christopher Walken).  The new lyrics are from Richard Sherman, who sat in for a few sessions with Debney.  Then we get another version of The Bare Necessities (sung by Bill Murray and Kermit Ruffins).  

This is possibly John Debney's strongest film score in quite a while.  Having a deep connection to the creation of the original animated film, he seems to have brought all he could to the score.  With the marvelous CGI animated...well...everything but Mowgli, Debney brought a sense of realness to The Jungle Book.  We connect with the animated settings and characters because of Debney's work.  From the serene jungle to its fiercest creatures and scariest settings, the score enhances that.  It also makes the score tell a complete story on the album - the full arc of our main character is explored.  

I have to also give large credit for blending the musical worlds of 1967 The Jungle Book and a 2016 listening experience. The way he incorporated the music by George Bruns worked well, and served almost as a guidepost and wink to those that knew what came before. The songs used in the film were a bit distracting from the largely serious tone, but of course I understand why director Jon Favreau had to use them.  Still, it's Debney's strong score that carries much of the film.  It has a little bit of something for everyone and worth tons of listens.      

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Shakespeare on Film

Since the invention of film, William Shakespeare's works have appeared in countless adaptations.  It is said that some of the first Shakespeare films date back to 1900.  Many silent and sound version of his quintessential plays have made it to the silver screen in the 1910s-1930s.

Notable example:
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).  Directed by Max Reinhardt, it contains a star-studded cast and fantastic dance sequences.  It is also the film that brought Erich Wolfgang Korngold to Hollywood, re-orchestrating Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music.

Through 1930s-1960s, actor Laurence Olivier took to the screen with several high profile Shakespeare adaptations.  Musically, Olivier went with mainly classical composer William Walton to score As You Like it (1936), Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), Richard III (1955), and Othello (1965).

Notable example:
Hamlet (1948).  Considered the definitive filmed version was directed and starred Laurence Olivier.  While his other Shakespearean scores contain fantastic material (complete with period-sounding styles, harpsichords and folk songs), Walton's Hamlet is a darker score fitting the melancholy tone of the play.

Walton's music for Henry V was turned into two different suites, and remain both popular as film music and as part of Walton's classical repertoire.

Marlon Brando brought The Bard to the screen with Julius Caesar (1953), with a supurb score by Miklós Rózsa.  One of the most popular film adaptations is Romeo and Juliet (1968).  The lush score by Nino Rota had the love theme become a heavily recorded radio hit.  Roman Polanski's extremely dark take on Macbeth (1971) used a fascinating variety of music by the avant-guarde group Third Ear Band.

With actor/director Kenneth Branagh, Shakespeare plays had a resurgence in the 1990s. Utilizing fellow actor/composer Patrick Doyle, the duo have collaborated on several play adaptations - Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love's Labour's Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).

Notable example:
Henry V (1989). The film debut of Doyle and directorial debut of Branagh happens to be their strongest. While the score brings out the best of the story as William Walton did years before, the battlefield tracking shot with the stirring Non Nobis, Domine is a spectacular piece of film music. Doyle also appears as the solo singer at the beginning of the scene.

Doyle's Overture and "Sigh No More Ladies" from Much Ado About Nothing are also some of his best works for Branagh.  

Several interesting Shakespeare scores appeared in the 1990s and beyond. Baz Luhrmann's updated and anachronistic Romeo + Juliet (1996) features a gentle score by Craig Armstrong.  Elliot Goldenthal provided scores to Julie Taymor's Titus (1999) and The Tempest (2010).  Utilizing a wide range of orchestral styles and instruments, the scores provide a unique atmosphere to the film.


Notable example:
Coriolanus (2011).  Ilan Eskheri's modern sound matches the grim, modern setting of the tragedy.   

There are plenty of other plays put to film, and several more added every few years.  Of course there are other versions, like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) with a score by Richard Gibbs, West Side Story (1961) with the stage score by Leonard Bernstein, Shakespeare in Love (1998) with a Stephen Warbeck score, and the Japanese interpretations Ran (1985) with a score by Toru Takemitsu and Throne of Blood (1957), music by Masaru Sato.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Top 10 Scores Turning 20 in 2016

Back to our musical score time machine!  It's hard to believe that 20 years ago was 1996.  Here's a look back at 1996 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 20!

Let's start the ranking!



10. Mars Attacks (Danny Elfman)

After a film apart, Elfman and Burton return with the campy/wacky sound of the 50s.  Interesting percussion, electronics, choir and Theremin help sell the over the top comedy style.     

9. Twister (Mark Mancina)
Mancina brought a strong Western flavor with a mix of electronic guitars to this disaster flick.  The choir moments are particularly memorable and the movie benefits from a thoughtful score rather than noise.  
8. Mission: Impossible (Danny Elfman)
After the departure of Silvestri, Elfman was tasked for an operatic orchestral score with the jazz influences of Lalo Schifrin's original theme.  Elfman features some nice flute, percussion, and bass work while focusing on a new action theme and love theme.  

7. Emma (Rachel Portman)
This score is pure Portman, a sweet and romantic score to match the source material.  Her melodies, warm string sound with woodwind solos have been duplicated - and sometimes by Portman.  With this score, Portman became the first film composer to win an Oscar.    

6. The Rock (Nick Glennie-Smith/Hans Zimmer)
This score is a slice of the mid-90s.  The score features music by Zimmer in the same vein as Crimson Tide, and most material by Glennie-Smith and Harry Gregson-Williams.  It's cheesy, action fun.       

5. The Ghost and the Darkness (Jerry Goldsmith)
The score for this has something of every style - a sweeping epic, frightening lion motifs and a strong choral African elements and a stirring main theme.    

4. DragonHeart (Randy Edelman)
Okay, I like sweeping romantic epics.  This certainly fits the bill within a few seconds of the main titles.  His mix of electronics and orchestra add to the strong thematic work. You've probably heard the main title after being used in many movie trailers. 

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Alan Menken)
While Menken is known for his songs and use of songs incorporated in the score, this one feels like a separate score. The serious tone is represented by powerful choral chants and tolling bells.    

2. Star Trek: First Contact (Jerry Goldsmith)
After a few films off, Goldsmith returned to the franchise with this strong entry.  His main title theme and Klingon motif make reprises.  His son Joel (of later Stargate fame), added a few cues based on other material.  The most memorable part of the score is the new pastoral theme representing the first contact.    

1. Independence Day (David Arnold)
In a perfect example of a score elevating a film, Arnold adds an orchestra boldness in its militaristic and patriotic approach.  The main fanfare is fantastic, orchestration really lets the orchestra shine and he even brings the warmth for the more human side of the story.  A solid score from start to finish.      





Honorable Mentions:
Muppet Treasure Island (Hans Zimmer), Fargo (Carter Burwell), The Phantom (David Newman), The English Patient (Gabriel Yared) , Michael Collins (Elliot Goldenthal)

Any favorites of yours from 1996 that I didn't include?  Comment below!