Sunday, July 13, 2014

Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Music composed by John Powell
Conducted by: Gavin Greenaway
Orchestrated by: John Ashton Thomas, Andrew Kinney, Randy Kerber, Dave Metzger, Tommy Laurence, Pete Anthony, Germaine Franco, Jeff Atmajian
Additional music/arranging by: Paul Mounsey, Anthony Willis
Score Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, AIR Lyndhurst
Album time: 68 minutes
Available on Relativity Music Group

How to Train Your Dragon 2 continues the adventures of hero Hiccup and his dragon Toothless.  It's also the follow-up to the massively successful How to Train Your Dragon (2010), both a box office gem and two time Oscar nominee (Best Animated Feature and John Powell's first nom for Best Score).  Both the first film and score are personally held in high regard, I was slightly nervous yet optimistic about this score.  Taking more personal time out from scoring, Powell has done only animated films since 2011, including Rio, Kung Fu Panda 2, Happy Feet Two, The Lorax, Ice Age: Continental Drift.  This year he also scored the sequel Rio 2.

For lovers of the first score, I can say this score can be held proudly next to it.  The strong themes from before appear throughout the score, often with variations in context and orchestration.  Three major new themes appear in this score, one for Valka, villain Drago and for the song For the Dancing and the Dreaming.  These themes are often interwoven with past themes for some breathtaking moments.

It is hard to talk about some of the score/film without spoilers, and even the track names spoil - so I give fair spoiler warning here.    

The score opens with Dragon Racing - a knockout track full of magnificent writing and rousing returns past themes.  One of the highlights of the album, this track will bring you back right into the sonic world Powell started.  The Berk theme is used a lot in the track, but the flying theme with choir will put a smile on your face.    

Together We Map The World is a sweet track, with a great melody heard later.  There are bits of lighthearted moments to match the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless.  Hiccup the Chief/Drago's Coming begins with a tender rendition of the romantic theme heard in Romantic Flight.  The second half introduces the large choir and propulsive rhythms for Drago.  The Berk theme appears slightly hidden under different arrangements.  

Toothless Lost sounds frantic at points, with the choir crying out and the melody heard earlier in Together Map the World.  Should I Know You begins with the gentle female choir and Valka's theme before combining with statements of the Berk theme.  Valka's Dragon Sanctuary is another highlight of the score (and film).  Utilizing the choir and Valka's theme and the Map the World theme, there are some magical and majestic moments.  Losing Mom/Meeting the Good Alpha begins with a bit of drama before a tender version of Valka's theme rising to a stunning choir crescendo and dropping off to a piano solo.

Meet Drago begins with Drago's theme over a metallic rhythm and choir.  His music is menacing at times with quick fluttering blasts, with an exotic flare.  In addition, themes from the past film make appearances.  Stoick Finds Beauty has some more great usage of a choir and woodwind solos.  The bagpipes make a subtle entrance with Valka's theme.  Flying With Mother (another highlight), begins with a twinkling intro right into Valka's theme.  The melody becomes slightly rollicking, with the addition of female choir and the change for the theme to get a lively full orchestral rendition.  For The Dancing And The Dreaming begins as a Celtic tune whistled by the characters, before adding lyrics and turning into a quick jaunt.  The song has some comedic moment interruptions, but is a great tune (written by Powell and Jonsi).  The melody has been compared to a theme from Brave, and they certainly do share some Celtic DNA.  

Battle Of The Bewilderbeast is a massive cue - featuring Drago's fluttering blasts and Hiccup's heroic theme.  The flying theme makes an appearance with more excitement and choir this time around.  The momentum races to the end with the brass charging ahead until the percussion tag.  Hiccup Confronts Drago begins with a martial version of the Dancing Dreaming theme.  The bagpipes arrive with a repetitive pattern over a brutal percussion pattern.  Stoick Saves Hiccup lets Powell transform themes like Valka's into powerfully emotional moments.  The moment the choir comes in is spectacular.  Stoick's Ship continues that emotion, with the orchestra, bagpipes and choir bringing the Dancing Dreaming theme into another powerful moment.  The swell of the main Dragons theme - first starting as a clear trumpet duet is fantastic.

Alpha Comes To Berk builds slowly, until it reaches the heroic main theme.  It also contains some of the brass and choir bubbly sound heard earlier.  Toothless Found builds on past themes to an exciting climax full of brass, choir and lends itself to some triumphant moments.  The heroics continue into Two New Alphas, a mixture of the film's themes ending with a bow on top.  The new themes already feel familiar at this point, and give the score a nice extension of the musical world from the first film.  We end with one more flying theme appearance.  The album ends with Where No One Goes (sung/co-written by Jonsi).  It actually appears early in the film (and end credits) and is based on themes by Powell.  I prefer this song to their song on the last film - Sticks & Stones.             

It was worth the Powell hiatus to hear his continuation of the How to Train Your Dragon series.  While the first film had so many standout cues, this score fits right next to it.  The new themes are strong and match the tone of the past themes.  As I probably mentioned before, the use of choir in this score is fantastic.  The tone of the film really let Powell expand the world and give a bit of maturity to the music.  While parts of the first film had more lighter music, this score sounds more grown-up, like the film's characters.  I know they plan on making this at least a trilogy, and I can't wait to listen and see what happens next.  This album begs to be listened to and enjoyed over and over again.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Composers Going Ape!

There must be something about scoring any of the Planet of the Apes seems like it makes the composers go ape!  Just for fun and amusement, here are some scoring session photos with our ape-like composers Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spotlight On...Planet of the Apes

The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the Planet of the Apes series.

Follow the films - like the classic original, the forgotten sequels, remake and popular second reboot.  Spanning a few decades, these films have scores by Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, Tom Scott, Danny Elfman, Patrick Doyle and Michael Giacchino.    

Here's a look back on the Planet of the Apes films score by score. 

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Goldsmith employed many tricks to give this score an otherworldly feel.  Notably the exotic percussion, atonal brass and ram's horn.  He pushed the boundaries of a symphony orchestra with its modern sound.  Oscar nominee.  (Just listen to: Main Title, The Hunt, No Escape, The Revelation-Part II)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Music by Leonard Rosenman
With Goldsmith moving on to score Patton, Leonard Rosenman was brought in.  Also known for his innovative techniques Rosenman's score is more brash and atonal.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Captured, Underground City, Off to War)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Goldsmith returned to this sequel and again, got musically creative.  Adding more of a groove, he added groovy jazz elements (steel drum and electric guitars included).  While considered one of the better films in the franchise, the score was not released separately until 1997.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Interrogation, Mother and Child)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Music by Tom Scott
Saxophonist and composer began his film score career with Conquest.  The exotic percussion and horn calls return, as well as jazz elements for this darker film.  Like before, this score wasn't released until 2001.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Subjugation Soul, Revolution)

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Rosenman returned with his avant-garde style, following past patterns with new themes.  The action material is creatively handled, and also includes some melodic material near the end.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Mutants Move Out, The Battle, Only the Dead)

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Music by Danny Elfman
With this re-imagining/remake, Elfman brought the booming percussion and brass - atypical of his usual style.  The score is more tonal and melodic than previous Apes scores, the bombastic rhythms keep this score interesting.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Hunt, Preparing for Battle, Return)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Music by Patrick Doyle
In this reboot, Doyle branched out of his typical style and more into the modern blockbuster sound.  Many great musical moments happen in the calmer sections, but his swirling strings fit well in the larger action moments.  (Just listen to: Bright Eyes Escapes, Muir Woods, Caesar Protects Charles, Caesar's Home)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Music by Michael Giacchino
To be continued....

Check out the others!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Quick Review: Maleficent

Music composed by James Newton Howard
Conducted by: Pete Anthony
Orchestrated by: Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, John Ashton Thomas, Peter Batman, Marcus Trumpp
Score Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, AIR Lyndhurst
Album time: 72 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Maleficent is the newest film in the line of rebooted fairy tales to hit movie theaters. Following in the the footsteps of Disney's Alice in Wonderland (2010) with music by Danny Elfman and non-Disney's Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) with music by James Newton Howard. It was probably this film and his work with Disney in the past that got him this reboot. (Side bar: keep a look out for more fairy tale adaptations like Cinderella, Into the Woods, Alice in Wonderland 2 and Cruella).

Either way, Howard has been successful in the fantasy and adventure storytelling and this score is no different. Here is a the score rundown.

The album begins with Maleficent Suite, an introduction to the tone of the score as well as many thematic ideas heard later. The hypnotic curse motif pattern draws you in, as well as the use of choir. About halfway through, the magic unfolds more into a large orchestral entrance. A solo piano lullaby and female solo vocalist finish off the suite.

Welcome to the Moors sets up the quasi-medieval setting. This short magical cue is a bit reminiscent of JNH's Peter Pan and his early 2000s Disney scores. Maleficent Flies continues the mood of the last track (as well as music heard in the Suite). The choir is very Peter Pan-like, with a rising orchestral chord progression and the past theme gets a large orchestral rendition. Battle of the Moors is an action cue, full of low brass, choir and percussion.

Three Peasant Women keeps the light medieval sound as Go Away. Strings and woodwinds (lots of flute) keep popping in and out. We get a beautiful horn solo, taken over by the oboe. Aurora and the Fawn returns us to the playful magical setting before sliding into the darker side, with martial brass and percussion. A great theme emerges in this track, which appears later in the score. The Christening begins with a sliding to a dark epic sound. The hypnotic curse motif from the Suite appears, which builds up to some sampled percussion and the motif heard in Battle of the Moors. This sets up a choral section, almost a funereal march sound.

Prince Phillip contains a gentle, ethereal sound. The strings enter with a tender theme ending with a gentle high-register bassoon solo. The Spindle's Power flits around before revealing a large orchestral section and the hypnotic curse motif grows with some low-end electronic bass rumbles accentuating the orchestra. You Could Live Here Now features a great cello solo and gentle moments in the choir and harps. Path of Destruction returns us to the evil motifs heard earlier. We get a few brass blares and a sense of urgency.

Aurora in Faerieland features some woodwind solos over a lulling string and harp section. Overall, a beautiful track with some great string and clarinet writing. The Wall Defends Itself is full of dissonance and brass blares in this short cue. The Curse Won't Reverse is built upon the hypnotic curse motif over swirling harps and strings.

Are You Maleficent? features melancholic string writing. The Army Dances builds on the dissonance before turning into a dark waltz. Think half way between Elfman and Zimmer. Phillip's Kiss and The Iron Gauntlet feature more gentle harp and piano and woodwind solos. The latter has an hints of darkness under the surface. True Love’s Kiss features a sweet piano solo, and the sweeping romantic theme heard in the suite.

Maleficent Is Captured is an all-out action cue. Each section compliments each other, with the odd-metered rhythm section never gets too in the way. The action subsides every now and then to give bits of melody and superb brass moments. There are some nice variations of past themes, including one grand statement. The Queen of Faerieland is a standout track, reprising some past themes. The choir of Welcome to the Moors returns, and the dark waltz appears for a second. Once Upon a Dream is the song from the original 1959 Disney classic Sleeping Beauty (theme by Tchaikovsky and sung by Lana Del Rey). The originally cheerful song is given an eerie arrangement, with the accompaniment fitting the score.

The score to Maleficent really surprised me. Having been disappointed by some of Howard's recent work, I was glad to hear some music that really awed me. He works well in the fantasy genre, with scores like Peter Pan, Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender. This score easy surpasses Snow White and the Huntsman in terms of quality of score. This score has many quiet and warmhearted moments, with plenty of great string and woodwind writing. The use of choir is particularly notable and adds a lot of enjoyment in the album. The album flows like water (JNH joke anyone?) and the mix between gentle and dissonant action seems right for the disc. The themes are present and get more noticeable with more listens, perhaps not grabbing as some listeners might want on the first go. There are so many little moments (and big moments) worth listening to in Maleficent, which makes me want to listen to it more. And you should too.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Brief History of Cue Numbering

One of the most important features of the production of a film score are the Cue Numbers.

Since the beginning of music scores on film, there has been one definite way of matching scenes and sound.  With a feature film, the film is divided into reels - or literal reels depending on what time period you are looking at.

When the score is spotted with the director, music editor and composer (among others), the film gets divided into the sections.  All this information is relayed on a Cue Sheet.
Cue sheet example is from Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith, 1968)
Below it shows the Reel & Part, Cue Title, and how many instruments needed in each section.  Click to zoom in.  

There are 3 main ways that cues have been numbered - they all basically say the same information in a slightly different way.
1. This way is found on a lot of early films through the 1940s, simply numbering each music cue.  In this case, it is M:100, showing the first cue of the film.  It also shows the cue name, "Main Title" and the credit for the arrangements.  Note: this is what is known as a condensed score.  That is, condensing all the instrument parts in a easy to read page for the conductor.
Example 1 is The Quiet Man (Victor Young, 1952) -
M:100 Main Title
2. For a long time (found a lot in the 1960s-1970s), the standard system of cue numbering was Reel Number, Part Number.  For example, Reel 7, Music Cue Part 2 would be written as R7P2.  Telling the same information, as before, but giving the exact music cue placement in the reel.  Note: it's said that Star Wars character R2D2 got his name using this format - this time referring to Reel 2, Dialog Track 2.

Example 3 is The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams, 1980) -
R1P3/R2P1 Luke's Escape

Example 2 is Damien: Omen II (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978) -
R5P4 Broken Ice
3. The now standard numbering system across the majority of composers is the 1M2 system.  This gives the same information as before, this time with "1" representing reel 1 and "M" stands for music, and "2" representing the 2nd music cue in that reel.  So Reel 7, Music Cue 2 would be written as 7m2.  Since most recent scores follow this format, I've included a few examples showing the cue names/numbers.

Example 4 is Broken Arrow (Hans Zimmer, 1996) -
1M1 (untitled)

Example 5 is Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace (John Williams, 1999) -
6M5 Droid Battle

Example 6 is John Carter (Michael Giacchino, 2012) -
7m54 Part 5 End Titles

The examples are endless, since every film has some cue numbering system.  Certain composers and music editors prefer certain numbering system.  For a film like Hatari! (Henry Mancini) used 1A, 1B, 1C, etc.  For a composer like Bernard Herrmann, Roman numerals were often used as a cue number or cue title.  For the film like Taxi Driver (Herrmann), he used the 2nd method and Roman numerals combined like this: R3P1 - VI, R3P2 - VII, R4P1 - VIII.  

Of course, that's just the numbering, there are tons more stories to tell about the cue titles...