Scoring Photo

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Quick Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Music composed by Brian Tyler
Music conducted by Brian Tyler, Allan Wilson
Music recorded by Philharmonia Orchestra

Music composed by Danny Elfman
Music conducted by Rick Wentworth
Music orchestrated by Steve Bartek, Peter Bateman, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker, Ed Trybek
Album running time: 78 minutes
Available on Hollywood Records

The score history for this newest Marvel installment is a tricky one. With Alan Silvestri the original go-to of Marvel scores (composing both Captain America and The Avengers), the mantle was handed to Brian Tyler (who in turn composed Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World). Even with other films and composers in between, these two blockbuster composers have had their work featured in the most of the Cinematic Universe. Along came Danny Elfman (with his own superhero film resume) tasked to compose an hour of music to Avengers: Age of Ultron a few months before the film's release. So now Tyler and Elfman share "music by" billing. Such last minute large replacements can be a disaster for score fans and sometimes hurt the film rather than help. The resulting album is a combination of both composer's work, almost alternating (compared to the split album like Last of the Mohicans (1992)). For convenience in the rundown below, I've color coded Tyler's tracks blue and Elfman's tracks red.

The album begins with Avengers: Age Of Ultron Titles, which overlays the recent Marvel Fanfare. In the brief dark cue, we're introduced to Ultron's theme, which surfaces later in full. Heroes is where the blending of the composers begins. It mainly introduces the New Avengers theme (Elfman) with Tyler-style percussion clanging and string ostinatos while mixing in the Avengers theme (Silvestri). It's nice to hear such a big opening cue for the film and possibly more Avengers theme references than Silvestri used. Rise Together starts right off with a bombastic sound and choir with Tyler showing off his orchestral chops. Listen for the Iron Man theme (Tyler) is referenced near the end. Breaking and Entering is a strong action cue, which lets up for an interesting and mysterious theme on piano. It Begins, which starts the film, contains another Avengers theme reference and the New Avengers theme as our heroes leap onto the screen for the first time. Woodwinds flutter with the strings in a few moments that definitely sound Elfman-esque.

Birth of Ultron seems to teeter between a major and minor key, featuring Iron Man’s theme on piano as things shift to a more ominous sound. Ultron’s theme also makes a more full appearance here. Ultron-Twins features a plaintive cello representing Scarlet Witch among the booming effects before the dark low choir voices enter for most of the cue.

Hulkbuster is a straightforward action cue, with all the Tyler-trappings and even a bold statement of the Iron Man theme. The action is loud and kept up throughout, except for an action reprieve near the end. Can You Stop This Thing? has a short burst of action and tense drama. Sacrifice is a somber track for mainly strings. The quiet moment suits Tyler and the eventual crescendo works quite nicely. Farmhouse is another relatively quiet track, with a New Avengers reference at the beginning. The acoustic guitar, piano and solo clarinet adds to the down-home feel for the most human/character-driven section of the film even if it feels completely separate from the rest of the score.

The Vault is a generic action cue with some added African-style drumming and some quick string and percussion licks at the end. The Mission simmers with an electronic beat, while feeling a bit aimless. Seoul Searching picks the action up, with the brass ripping ahead. We also get a few heroic fanfare moments mixed in. Inevitability/One Good Eye brings the cello solo back with more urgency as the action starts. It’s an over the top action cue, exploring new sounds and textures in the orchestra. The Avengers theme makes two brief appearances.

Ultron Wakes utilizes some interesting orchestral techniques and a hidden Avengers theme in this short cue. Vision is almost ethereal and offers some nice writing to balance the forthcoming action cues. The Battle pulls more orchestral tricks out of the bag and features cameo appearances of the Avengers theme and the Thor theme with some other standout action moments.  Wish You Were Here features the pseudo love theme heard earlier in the album with a strong build to the end. The Farm reprises the tender guitar and strings heard earlier before building his New Avengers theme around the Avengers theme.    

Darkest of Intentions contains a lot of racing string patterns, with the low brass powering through most of it. As it relaxes near the end, the love theme appears in the strings. Fighting Back has a snippet of Iron Man built into the action cue, as well as Ultron's theme as the track charges forward. Avengers Unite brings the main statement of the New Avengers/Avengers themes with a little dose of Spider-Man-style swirling strings and choir. Shame the track is so short, but it's a great moment.  
Ultron's theme is featured heavily in Keys to the Past, keeping a moody and atmospheric sound throughout. Uprising is a grim track with pounding percussion and almost in Silvestri-mode near the end. Outlook combines the Tyler/Silvestri mix, with a heroic statement of the Helicarrier material.

The Last One is one of the quieter tracks and uses the love theme prominently. Nothing Lasts Forever starts in a somber mood with a horn solo reprising the Iron Man theme, but the track is chock full of Silvestri and the New Avengers theme. New Avengers – Avengers: Age of Ultron reprises the titular theme in the most rousing rendition on the album. In a wonderful full orchestral arrangement of the Elfman and Silvestri main themes, we send our characters off to their next Marvel Cinematic Universe film.      

What will the musical future of Marvel be in the coming films? For not scoring more than his Marvel films in 2011 and 2012, Silvestri is still the prominent voice with his themes appearing in 3 other MCU films. Elfman was wise to intertwine his theme with Silvestri's; both showing up at the prominent heroic moments of the film. While Tyler composed new themes for the film (love theme, Vision and Ultron), most are buried and require a few good listens to even pick them up. It is easy to identify each composer's track, especially knowing their specific tendencies. But thankfully their tracks don't clash with each other and provide a decent listening experience. Unfortunately, most of the score is pretty forgettable on album and often lost in the film mix. After all, who wants to hear music when there are almost 2 hours’ worth of CGI creations loudly fighting each other?  

The album is a whole other story. I'm glad to get a representation by both composers, with Tyler at 49 minutes and Elfman at 30 minutes. Two of Elfman's tracks are labeled as unused, and most seem to be in non-chronological score and aren't the film versions. Not to mention more direct quotes of Silvestri's music from The Avengers not on the album.

For me, while strong and providing some good cues, it's Tyler's weakest MCU score, but I'm glad Elfman stepped in with some excellent action and non-action music for the series. Multi-film continuity is tricky with so many composers involved.  I would be great to hear more Elfman, Tyler and Silvestri.  But it could be worse, we could be hearing a lot more Henry Jackman on the horizon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

10 Best Scores Turning 10

We took a trip down memory lane with some film scores turning 20 this year.  Let's turn our attention to a shorter nostalgia trip with the best scores that came out 10 years ago - in 2005.

Let's start the ranking!

10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Danny Elfman)
A mix of his zany early film work and his modern orchestral writing, Elfman has a strong main theme and sentimental side.  And who can forget the bizarre Oompa Loompa songs.     

9. Cinderella Man (Thomas Newman)
Most of the score is a quiet and introspective score with several piano solos and Irish influences.  Newman lets most of the score simmer, making the triumphant and melodic finale even more impressive.  

8. Zathura (John Debney)
A fun action-adventure score borders on the campy side, with a strong main theme and sci-fi tropes that the film covers.  Stay for the strong brass and choir moments.    
7. King Kong (James Newton Howard)
Much has been written about the replacement and quick schedyle of this score.  But regardless, Howard’s music expertly captures the grandeur of Kong and the island and the sentimental side of the story.   
6. Munich (John Williams)
One of Williams’ darker scores, it features quiet minor melodies alternating with brooding sections.  The variations of Avner’s theme (and rich string writing) make this score stand out.  
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Patrick Doyle)
Doyle took over the franchise adding more source music to the magical world, including the waltzes, Quidditch music and a strong Voldemort theme.  While it doesn't have much continuity with the past scores, he crafted a strong score on his own. 
4. Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (John Williams)
2005 was the ending for the Star Wars prequels.  Familiar motifs from all films help tie the scores together in addition to strong new action music and some of the most emotional music in the series.  
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams)
Beginning a franchise is never easy.  Built on a strong theme and some great action moments, Narnia also has some electric violin, solos by Lizbeth Scott and interesting electronics.
2. Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams)
Williams skillfully crafted an elegant Asian-styled score, complete with the matching instrumentation and artful solos by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman.  I don’t need to say any more, it’s a top notch score.      
1. Kingdom of Heaven (Harry Gregson-Williams)
From the beginning of the Director's Cut overture, Gregson-Williams brings the Crusader's story to life with an epic and intimate score.  The sublime choir moments and fitting ethnic elements really bring an extra layer to this magnificent score. 

Any favorites of yours from 2005 that I left off?  Comment below!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

10 Best Scores Turning 20

Now here's something that will probably make you feel old.  Let's take a trip down nostalgia lane by looking at some of the Best Scores Turning 20 Years Old in 2015 - that's right, scores from 1995.  

Let's start the ranking!

10. (Jerry Goldsmith) Goldsmith's adventurous score for this Arthurian legend makes up for the lackluster film and wooden acting.  The strong themes stand out, as well the choral section at the climax.  The original album didn't do the score justice, but has remained one of the top epic Goldsmith scores.

9. (John Williams) While the film and score are generally forgotten, the elegant orchestral and jazz settings are worth the listen.  The sweeping and romantic theme paired with the piano solos make this score stand out.

8. (Alan Menken) Built on the foundation of the songs (also by Menken), the score also balances the line of comedic-animated score with the dramatic sections, later refined in his score to 'Hunchback'.   
7. (Alan Silvestri) Another example of a strong score for a weak film, Silvestri lays down the orchestra action throughout the score.  The theme is bold and exciting and stays a top Silvestri action score.  
6. (James Newton Howard) This bold action adventure score didn't save this film from sinking.  The main theme is heroic and the score is full rousing action material with interesting electronic effects.   
5. (Hans Zimmer) It's hard to separate the score from the film to this Bruckheimer blockbuster.  From the macho brass title theme to the synthesizers, percussion and choir, this is one of the scores that set the pace for many films to come.   
4. (John Debney) Arguably Debney's best score, and one of the best swashbuckling action scores since the Golden Age.  From the sweeping love theme to the main thematic material, it is an enjoyable listening experience from beginning to end.
3. (Randy Newman) Newman's style plus the animated slapstick style made an interesting mix, leading the musical style for Pixar's many projects.  Punctuated by his memorable song melodies, the jazz and western influenced score bounds with energy.
2.(James Horner) One of Horner's strongest efforts on film, the sweeping and romantic melodies make this score memorable.  With the mix of traditional orchestral music with the Irish/Scottish musical elements, this score remains extremely popular.  Not to mention, finale music is breathtaking.
1. (James Horner) One score that ratchets the real-life drama with the stirring trumpet solos leading the launch and splashdown.  Clearly a milestone year for Horner, the film wouldn't be the same without the emotional swells of this score.    

Any favorites of yours from 1995 that I left off?  Comment below!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Quick Review: Cinderella


Music composed by Patrick Doyle
Music conducted James Shearman
Music orchestrated by Patrick Doyle, James Shearman
Score performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Air Lyndhurst Studios
Album running time: 85 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Never straying far from its fairy tale roots, Disney presents a live adaptation of the beloved Cinderella.  One of the top Disney animated classics, this version of 1950s Cinderella is a more straight-forward retelling, rather than story or character altering film.  I am not going to compare this score to the animated score by Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace, since they share no connection.  

Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, also marks the 11th collaboration with the Oscar-nominated Patrick Doyle.  Besides the beautiful costume and production design, the music creates a world for this story, between realism and fantasy.  Doyle weaves several musical themes throughout the story, as he is known to do.  The main themes include: Ella’s theme, a Love Theme, a lively childhood motif, a Stepmother’s motif, and a variation of the traditional tune Lavender’s Blue.

We begin the album with A Golden Childhood, representing Ella’s life with her father and mother.  It begins sweetly, with flute and string trills.  The music has a lush sound right away, giving the opening a very warm, magical feeling.  We also get hinted at the first reference to Lavender’s Blue, representing the song her mother sang to her.  The orchestra begins to swell before bringing the childhood motif on celeste and piano which gives way to a slower Lavender theme. 

The Great Secret begins almost hushed, with a lovely cello solo in the forefront as hints of later thematic material is used in this tender track.  A New Family presents a new light piano and string melody, while the low woodwinds and strings present the Stepmother’s motif.  Life and Laughter is a purely classically styled piece, one of the waltzes utilized in the score. 

The First Branch is a short, sweet track with an arpeggiated piano part.  Nice and Airy contains Ella’s theme – sneakily hidden among the harpsichord and playful pizzicato.  Orphaned is full of rich and dark string writing, before going into lighter territory.  A haunting cello solo opens The Stag, and transforms into a galloping and rising orchestral moment as Ella rides off.  The music reflects the Prince’s hunting party with a big orchestral grand statement.  As they meet, the music turns lyrical with a bookended cello solo as a horn and flute take over Ella’s theme.  The theme rises to its full sweeping statement.

Rich Beyond Reason begins like another charming waltz and ends with a childhood motif reprise.  Fairy Godmother begins with a melancholy adaptation of Lavender’s Blue, with some light choir and celeste added in for a magical sound.  Pumpkins and Mice continue the lighthearted style from the previous track which builds into an orchestral climax for Cinderella’s coach transformation.  A solo violin takes on the Lavender’s Blue tune, before going into a stunning Cinderella’s Theme complete with choir (I’m sure anyone who knows the story can guess that moment).  The theme continues into You Shall Go, letting it take over with varying orchestration. 

With Valse Royale, Doyle introduces the first of his royal ball “source” music.  Before you can ask “Where’s that beautiful Cinderella’s Theme?,” Who Is She provides the most shimmering and stunning cue of the film as she enters the ball.  Halfway through the track, Doyle adds a love-at-first-sight theme for Ella meeting the Prince before bringing out a full orchestral rendition of Lavender’s Blue. 

La Valse de L’Amour is the music for their first dance – based on their love theme.  La Valse Champagne is another source waltz.  La Polka Militaire, another source dance is based on the childhood motif heard at the beginning of the film (for you smart listeners).  La Polka de Paris continues the dance music throughout the lengthy ballroom sequence.  As Ella and the Prince slip away, they make their way to A Secret Garden.  Ella’s theme is paired down to its simplest of melody on harp and bells, before turning into the love theme.  As the chimes are heard, the rhythm picks up and the strings are let loose to the finish. 

La Polka de Minuit is another (and final) quick-paced dance source.  Choose That One starts some of the chase music, with chimes tolling.  Pumpkin Pursuit is the true action cue of the score – with the strings taking off in rapid patterns with the brass showing off.  The Slipper returns us to the tender strings (and cello solo) heard earlier in the score, and adding a shimmering orchestral sound in this short cue. 

Shattered Dreams is full of melancholy, with flute and English horn blending together.  We hear the Stepmother’s motif in the lower strings/woodwinds while the choir stays in the background and rises to the end. 

Searching the Kingdom brings Ella’s theme into a comical and light 18th century arrangement with a forward momentum.  Trilling flutes, trumpets and harpsichord really make this track enjoyable.  This style has been done by Doyle for other Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations and work well in this film.  Ella and Kit begins with a slow version of Lavender’s Blue (tying into the sung version not heard on the album) before a solo piano takes over the theme with some new chords underneath and counter melodies added.  Courage and Kindness brings the Love Theme back on piano and flute.  Celeste and harp arpeggios sparkle as the strings take the melody.  Cinderella’s theme is brought back, with a brief cello reprise of the Love Theme.  Lavender’s Blue is also reprised with piano and lush strings before the chimes and choir push the finale forward with one last reprise of Cinderella’s Theme. 

Strong (sung by Sonna Rele) is based on Doyle’s themes is a fine end credits song.  The album also includes the other two end credit songs – A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes (sung by Cinderella herself, Lily James) and Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (sung by Helena Bonham Carter).  Both of these songs from the original 1950 animated film don’t appear in the film, but add a nice connection to the remake.  Digital releases of the album include instrumental (i.e. karaoke) versions of the finale three tracks. 

Fitting in a musical world between Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Brave (2012), Doyle’s themes match the style and fairy tale environment of Cinderella.  Utilizing the orchestral colors for the romantic fairy tale and magical elements, Doyle brings a lush sound and memorable themes to the film.  Branagh really lets Doyle’s music shine in the film and adds emotional weight to a story we’ve all heard before.  Longtime collaborators James Shearman and the London Symphony help bring the musical performances to life.  Many parts sound like Harry in Winter from ‘Goblet of Fire’ (2005) in style and orchestration.  Still, the score feels fresh throughout, even using the folk song Lavender’s Blue (known to some from a separate Disney film).      

It’s no understatement to say how much source dance music Doyle wrote for the production, some of which were written before or during production.  I can understand how some listeners will skip or delete these tracks for a different flow of the album.  The love theme was one of Doyle’s first parts written for the film, with Branagh wanting something simple and hummable.  The themes weave together seamlessly, all part of a bigger picture.  This score is completely worth a listen.  One of the top scores I’ve heard this year and beautifully matched with the visuals of the film.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Double Oscar Nominees

With so many composers scoring multiples of films each year, it's not surprising that composers have received multiple nominations from the Academy Awards. It almost seems like a given through the Academy history that any composer's double nomination will cancel each other out. The times the composer has won against themselves has only happened in 1941, 1977 and 2014.

A few things to note:
1. Notice the prolific writing and mass nominations of Max Steiner, Victor Young, Alfred Newman and John Williams.

2. Just by submitting a score for nomination from 1937-1945, you could receive a nomination, hence the multiple double and regular nominees.

While it's not as rare as you think, here is a list of those double (or triple) occurrences throughout the Academy Awards history.


The Charge of the Light Brigade – Max Steiner
The Garden of Allah – Max Steiner

Army Girl – Victor Young
Breaking the Ice – Victor Young

Dark Victory – Max Steiner
Gone with the Wind – Max Steiner
Gulliver's Travels – Victor Young
Golden Boy – Victor Young
Man of Conquest – Victor Young
The Rains Came – Alfred Newman
Wuthering Heights – Alfred Newman
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Alfred Newman

Arizona – Victor Young
The Dark Command – Victor Young
North West Mounted Police – Victor Young

Since You Went Away - Max Steiner
Adventures of Mark Twain - Max Steiner

**All That Money Can Buy – Bernard Herrmann** [WINNER]
Citizen Kane – Bernard Herrmann
Ball of Fire – Alfred Newman
How Green Was My Valley – Alfred Newman
Lydia – Miklós Rózsa
Sundown – Miklós Rózsa
Suspicion – Franz Waxman
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Franz Waxman

I Married a Witch – Roy Webb
Joan of Paris – Roy Webb
Silver Queen – Victor Young
Take a Letter, Darling – Victor Young

Double Indemnity – Miklós Rózsa
The Woman of the Town – Miklós Rózsa


Spellbound - Miklós Rózsa
The Lost Weekend - Miklós Rózsa
A Song to Remember - Miklós Rózsa, Morris Stoloff
Captain Kidd - Werner Jansson
Guest in the House - Werner Jansson


Death of a Salesman – Alex North
A Streetcar Named Desire – Alex North


An Affair to Remember – Hugo Friedhofer
Boy on a Dolphin – Hugo Friedhofer


Images – John Williams
The Poseidon Adventure – John Williams


Obsession – Bernard Herrmann (posthumous nomination)
Taxi Driver – Bernard Herrmann (posthumous nomination)

**Star Wars – John Williams** [WINNER]
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – John Williams


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – John Williams
The River – John Williams


Empire of the Sun – John Williams
The Witches of Eastwick – John Williams


Born on the Fourth of July – John Williams
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – John Williams


Little Women – Thomas Newman
The Shawshank Redemption – Thomas Newman


Apollo 13 – James Horner
Braveheart – James Horner


A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – John Williams
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – John Williams


Memoirs of a Geisha – John Williams
Munich – John Williams


The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams
War Horse – John Williams


**The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat** [WINNER]
The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

Back through 1995-1998 the Academy split the music category to Dramatic Score and Musical/Comedy Score.  There were a few times that a composer was nominated in both - but nobody walked away with a win in both.


Nixon - John Williams (Dramatic)
Sabrina  - John Williams (Comedy)


Good Will Hunting  - Danny Elfman (Dramatic)
Men in Black - Danny Elfman (Comedy)


Pleasantville - Randy Newman (Dramatic)
A Bug's Life - Randy Newman (Comedy)
The Thin Red Line - Hans Zimmer (Dramatic)
The Prince of Egypt - Hans Zimmer (Musical/Comedy)

Bonus x2:
From the 1940s to the 1980s, there was a separate category called Original Song Score and Adaptation.  In 1974, two people were nominated in ALL three categories - Best Original Score, Best Song Score, Best Original Song.

John Williams - 

Cinderella Liberty (Song "Nice to Be Around")
Cinderella Liberty (Dramatic Score)
Tom Sawyer (Original Song Score/Adaptation) [Shared with the Sherman Brothers]

Marvin Hamlisch - 

The Way We Were (Song "The Way We Were")
The Way We Were (Dramatic Score)
The Sting (Original Song Score/Adaptation)

And Marvin Hamlisch WON FOR ALL THREE.