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Monday, February 16, 2015

Quick Review: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Music composed by Howard Shore
Music conducted by Conrad Pope
Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, James Sizemore
Score performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Wellington Town Hall

Special Edition running time: 108 minutes
Available on Water Tower Music

After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson and Howard Shore round out the Hobbit trilogy with Battle of the Five Armies.  While many a movie-goer and Tolkien fan have complained endlessly about the stretching of the original text to three films, I'm here to talk about the score.  Each film has continued the thematic world that Shore created for Lord of the Rings, with a few themes being held over into The Hobbit.

Without mentioning every moment, I wanted to continue my rundown of major themes and their variations.  Some of these themes first appear in the previous installments, so I'll include those links here: An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) and The Desolation of Smaug (DOS).  Without further ado, here is my rundown of 'Five Armies'.

As the film starts moments after the previous film, we begin with Smaug's destruction of Laketown.  The album begins with music from this scene, Fire and Water.  Like the ending of the DOS album, we get a heavy dose of Smaug's slithering dark theme with the themes for Girion and Bard woven in.  The familiar horn call of the Erebor theme ends the track.  Shores of the Long Lake has more variations of Bard's theme, the Laketown politicians theme, and the stunning Tauriel and Kili love theme (reprised from DOS).

Beyond Sorrow and Grief begins with the lower male voices in the fantastic House of Durin theme, with references to the Erebor theme and Smaug's theme.  Guardians of the Three (a score highlight) revisits some Lord of the Rings themes.  First we get the Lothlorian theme (which also appeared with Galadriel in AUJ).  We also hear snippets of Necromancer theme, now definitely related to Sauron's theme.  While this track hammers the darker side, a welcome action variation of the Rivendell theme appears alongside Gandalf's theme.  The choir stands out in this cue as it gets darker.

The Ruins of Dale begins with a statement of Laketown's theme.  A plaintive version of the Shire theme appears for the first time in this score.  Generally a dark track with pounding drums, Gandalf's theme makes a bold appearance at the end.  The Gathering of the Clouds features several DOS themes being built up - including material for Thranduil and the Mirkwood elves.  The Erebor and Durin statements make appearances, with a war-like style.  Mithril utilizes the creepy "dragon sickness" motif that reappears throughout many of Thorin's sequences in addition to haunting versions of Smaug's theme.  Building upon the war style, a nice statement of House of Durin's theme leads to the mash-up of villainous themes heard in Bred for War.

A Thief in the Night corresponds more with Bilbo, using his "sneaky" motif from the previous scores.  The Arkenstone's theme makes a brief appearance in this overall subdued track.  The last half of the track contains a darker variation on the Woodland Realm.  The Clouds Burst keeps the strings dissonant, with a solemn version of Thorin's theme.  We also get the first references to Dain's theme (new for the film) heard later in the battle cues.  With the titular battle at hand, the Erebor theme and Dain theme make appearances among strong string writing and majestic orchestral statements.  

The Darkest Hour starts the second disc off with a dramatic version of Gandalf's theme.  Continuing the battle between good and evil, we also get variations on the various Orc themes and pounding percussion musically squaring off against the House of Durin, Thorin and Erebor theme.  The most interesting is the hymn-like variation on the Laketown theme near the end of the cue.  One of the album highlights is Sons of Durin, naturally utilizing the Durin/Thorin/Erebor theme combo.  This is possibly the most stirring cue, matching the "Lighting of the Beacons" from Return of the King.            

The Fallen first uses the Woodland elf theme as a ghost-like lament.  A Shire reprise is hinted at, before the tension returns and the militaristic drums emerge.  The themes for Legolas/Woodland trade off heroically between Tauriel's theme in Ravenhill.  The Tauriel/Kili Love theme is hinted at, to return in a later track.  To The Death brings the struggle of hero and villain with a trade off of themes through the pounding action.  The fist-pumping moment occurs with the reprise of the "Nature's Reclamation" theme (in a new setting to boot!), a favorite of mine from the Lord of the Rings trilogy scores.  

Courage and Wisdom features one of the emotional reprises of Thorin's theme.  The choir also reprises the Tauriel/Kili theme as well as a slower version of her theme.  The most surprising is the thematic cameo of the Fellowship theme, instantly recognizable within the score and matching the connection on screen to the LOTR trilogy.  

The Return Journey musically begins the connecting tissue back to the Lord of the Rings.  After a noble statement of Thorin's theme, we turn to the Hobbit and Gandalf's themes.  The familiar tone of the Shire theme on whistle sends us back to the actual Shire - which continues in There and Back Again.  A sneaking reprise of the History of the Ring theme appears, giving us a hint of what is to come for Bilbo in the next films.  Rounding out the film score is another warm reprise of the Shire theme.

For the end credits, Pippin actor Billy Boyd sings The Last Goodbye.  It's a lovely way to end the Hobbit trilogy, and the choice of singer really connects the two trilogies.  However, the song suffers from the Into the West-syndrome - it sounds far too similar to the Oscar-winning song from Return of the King.  But after Neil Finn's Song of the Lonely Mountain and Ed Sheeran's I See Fire, this is my favorite of the songs in the Hobbit trilogy.  The strummed guitar style fits nicely as well as the gentle orchestral accompaniment.                       

Ironfoot is the suite of Dain's theme - with it starting right off the bat with bagpipes.  Both the theme and this soaring version are among the highlights of the album.  The track also contains some of Bard's heroic motif, and some action-oriented Laketown reprises.  As bonus tracks, we get Dragon-sickness and Thrain (the latter from the Extended Edition of DOS).  Both have interesting music and expand on material heard earlier in the scores.                 
When the Lord of the Rings trilogy was all the rage back in the early 2000s, we couldn't have guessed we would get more Tolkien adaptations (or three, given the film splits).  We also couldn't have guessed that Howard Shore could contribute more to his musical world, which awarded him 3 Academy Awards.  The musical themes expanded with a wealth of new material, even if it didn't all transition from one film to the next.  The thematic continuity between all 6 films is impressive, and his ability to weave them emotionally pays off for the listener/viewer.  There are some great standouts cues in this film, and I find myself pressed to rank The Hobbit scores. 

In my opinion, The Hobbit didn't live up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (an almost impossible task).  I do have to credit Shore's action and emotional writing, in addition to the leitmotivs expertly passed from film to film.  I'm sure we'll never get an epic set of films like the ones in Middle Earth, and probably not from Shore or Peter Jackson again.  It is fitting to give the characters and creative team a final goodbye - best summed up in the lyrics to the credit song: "I bid you all a very fond farewell."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Screen Credit Quiz (Round James & James)

It's time for a Screen Credit Quiz!  My last quiz (found here) was identifying Alan Silvestri from Alexandre Desplat.  For this quiz, let's confuse everyone and have each film either composed by James Horner or James Newton Howard.  Enjoy! 

Put your guesses in the comments! And have fun!!













Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Scoring Stages: CTS Studios

CTS Studios
London, England

Cine-Tele Sound Studios Ltd was formed originally in 1956 at Kensington Gardens Square in London's Bayswater district. Smaller than some scoring stages, the convenient location had top sound equipment run by Eric Tomlinson and John Richards. By the 1960s, the studio became a recording spot for composers John Barry, Henry Mancini, Ron Goodwin and Burt Bacharach.

By 1972, CTS moved to the Wembley location (De Lane Lea Music) adjacent to Wembley Stadium - known as The Music Centre. Due to the odd acoustics, the Wembley sound in the 1970s was distinguishable and by the mid-1980s the equipment received an upgrade while the location underwent acoustic renovation. With the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium set to begin in 2000, the studio complex closed and eventually was demolished in 2004.

After the acquisition of CTS Wembley in the late 80s, it became known as CTS Lansdowne. Following the 2000 closing, the CTS staff set up recording at the Watford Colosseum with inaugural scores by Alan Silvestri and Howard Shore (The Mummy Returns and the Lord of the Rings, respectively).  CTS Lansdowne closed its doors in May 2010.

Films scored at CTS Bayswater:
Dr. No (1962) - Monty Norman (including the first recording of the James Bond Theme)
From Russia with Love (1963) - John Barry
Charade (1963) - Henry Mancini
Zulu (1964) - John Barry
A Shot in the Dark (1964) - Henry Mancini
Goldfinger (1964) - John Barry
The Ipcress File (1965) - John Barry
Thunderball (1965) - John Barry
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) - Stephen Sondheim, Ken Thorne
Casino Royale (1967) - Burt Bacharach
You Only Live Twice (1967) - John Barry

To Sir, With Love (1967) - Ron Grainer
Goodbye Mr Chips (1969) - Leslie Bricusse
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - John Barry
Diamonds are Forever (1971) - John Barry
Frenzy (1972) [rejected] - Henry Mancini

Films scored at CTS Wembley:
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) - John Barry
The Omen (1976) - Jerry Goldsmith
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) - Marvin Hamlisch
Superman II (1980) - Ken Thorne
Time Bandits (1981) - Mike Moran
The Secret of NIMH (1982) - Jerry Goldsmith
Superman III (1983) - Ken Thorne
Krull (1983) - James Horner
Octopussy (1983) - John Barry
A Passage to India (1984) - Maurice Jarre
A View to a Kill (1985) - John Barry
Santa Claus the Movie (1985) - Henry Mancini
The Mission (1986) - Ennio Morricone
The Last Emperor (1987) - David Byrne, RyĆ»ichi Sakamoto, Cong Su
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) - Alan Silvestri
Batman (1989) - Danny Elfman
Henry V (1989) - Patrick Doyle
Year of the Comet (1992) - John Barry
Judge Dredd (1995) - Alan Silvestri
The Phantom (1996) - David Newman
Shakespeare in Love (1998) - Stephen Warbeck
The Cider House Rules (1999) - Rachel Portman
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) - Rachel Portman (The last score recorded at Wembley)
Eric Tomlinson at the console, CTS Bayswater

John Barry conducting You Only Live Twice, 1967

John Barry and Nancy Sinatra - You Only Live Twice

John Williams, Petula Clark and Leslie Bricusse behind a row of boys - Goodbye Mr Chips, 1969

Henry Mancini and Hitchcock together on the soon-to-be rejected score, Frenzy, 1972

Wembley exterior, circa 1980s

Wembley interior and the lovely color palette

Richard Band conducting in Wembley

John Barry working on Year of the Comet, Wembley, 1992

Barry outside Wembley, 1992

Liner notes for Legend of Bagger Vance, 2000

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Director/Composer

Many directors are multi-faceted - with cinematography, writing and editing also in their credits.  Composing the film's score is also one talent that several composers use.  For most, they compose music for their own films, with a few composing for other directors.  

The reason why I do not work with professional composers any more is that I get too many musical ideas of my own, and composers, understandably enough, resent being guided too much - Satyajit Ray

Here are 12 directors that took up the task of composing.  For each, you'll find a short list of films they've directed as well as the scores they have written.

Clint Eastwood
As Director: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Pale Rider (1985), Unforgiven (1992), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), American Sniper (2014)
As Composer: Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Flags of our Fathers (2006), Hereafter (2010)

(Golden Globe nominee: Best Original Score - Million Dollar Baby, Grace is Gone, Changeling)

Charlie Chaplin
As Director: The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Limelight (1952)
As Composer: The Gold Rush [1942 edition] (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), Limelight (1952)

(Oscar winner: Best Original Dramatic Score - Limelight.  Won in 1973)

John Carpenter
As Director: Assault on Precinct 13 (1974), Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982)
As Composer: Assault on Precinct 13 (1974), Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Robert Rodriguez
As Director: Desperado (1995), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Spy Kids (2001), Sin City (2005), Machete (2010)
As Composer: Spy Kids 1-4, Sin City (2005), Kill Bill Vol 2 (2004), Planet Terror (2007)

Tom Tykwer
As Director: Run Lola Run (1998), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), The International (2009), Cloud Atlas (2012)
As Composer: Run Lola Run (1998), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), The International (2009), Cloud Atlas (2012) [all composed with Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek]

Satyajit Ray
As Director: Apu Trilogy (1955-1959), The Music Room (1958), Charulata (1964)
As Composer: Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), Baska Badal (1970), The Golden Fortress (1974), The Home and the World (1984)

Trey Parker
As Director: Cannibal! The Musical, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Team America World Police
As Composer: Cannibal! The Musical, South Park (TV), South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Team America World Police

(Oscar nominee: Best Song - Blame Canada)

Dario Argento
As Director: Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Deep Red (1975), Suspiria (1977)
As Composer: Suspiria (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Anthony Hopkins
As Director: August (1996), Slipstream (2007)
As Composer: August (1996), Slipstream (2007)

John Ottman
As Director: Urban Legends: Final Cut (1999)
As Editor: The Usual Suspects (1996), X-Men 2 (2003), Superman Returns (2006) , X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)
As Composer: The Usual Suspects (1996), X-Men 2 (2003), Fantastic Four (2005), Superman Returns (2006), Astro Boy (2009), Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

Benh Zeitlin
As Director/Writer: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
As Composer: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) [with Dan Romer]

David Lynch
As Director: Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), Mulholland Drive (1997)
As Composer: Eraserhead (1977)
Additional Music: Blue Velvet (1986), Lost Highway (1977), Mulholland Drive (1997)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Quick Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri

Music performed by Hollywood Studio Symphony
Orchestrated by Mark Graham
Score recorded at 20th Century Fox (Newman Scoring Stage)
Album time: 58 minutes
Available on Varese Sarabande

Our first Ben Stiller museum adventure started in New York in Night at the Museum (2006). His next adventure led him to Washington DC in Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and now he's in England for his last with Secret of the Tomb (2014).

Along with the same main cast and director, this is composer Alan Silvestri's second complete trilogy in his film career, (the other being Back to the Future). That being said, there is a bit of thematic holdover between films: mainly the main title museum music, Larry's lighthearted theme, the tablet motif and the blend of comedic and action.
The album begins with The Ahkmnerah Expedition and a brief statement of the museum theme before setting the Egyptian locale (always nice to go back to The Mummy Returns style).  We get drama and mystery with the unveiling of the tablet before the speed picks up.  Performance Prep starts with a grand orchestral statement, before adding the twinkling sound of the mark tree.  Larry's playful theme heard in all the films appears as the tone shifts to something mysterious.  LOL contains the playful style with pizzicato and triangle in the forefront.  Suddenly, the music stops for a brief jungle interlude (complete with steel drums) before the original playful theme returns.  A bombastic fanfare interrupts this time and ends the track.

The Grand Re-Opening begins with the same theme as Performance Prep, and contains some sweeping moments and brass chorales.  The action quickly turns to playful chaos with a trumpet cavalry charge thrown in.  One of the highlights of the album.  "The End Will Come" has a gentle percussion beat with a rising string ostinato building to the end.  Sneak And Greet hits little comedic beats, punctuated by the Silvestri three note rising pattern (it's in almost every of his scores).  A little rising tag ends the cue.  

Sir Lancelot starts out with dissonance and some electronic effects mixed in.  The mood turns to the comedic playful tune from the first film before ratcheting up the action.  The low brass get some powerful moments, but it's great when it builds to action theme that can only be called Silvestri-esque.  Where Are Jed And Octavius? presents more British Museum drama, and includes a theme heard in the first film's great Stage Coach.  This track also sets up some more mystery before ending heroically.  

Main Hall starts with the Museum theme with lighter variations performed with celeste, harp and triangle.  There is a nice melodic section with cellos, slowly transforming back to a mysterious and dissonant atmosphere.  A Chinese-style flute and piano solo change the mood once again.  Xiangliu is a nice action set-piece for the new hydra-style creature.  The choir chanting enters, a mix of Mummy and Beowulf styles.  Silvestri certainly keeps the momentum and action moving throughout until a triumphant brass chorale ends the track.  Male Bonding builds to a shimmering reprise of the main theme, before reprising Larry's theme and the rising string ostinato.  

The Legend Of The Tablet sets up a tablet motif leading to a racing finish.  The Escher Fight starts slow before adding a drum loop and continues the action throughout.  Camelot starts like an action cue, shifting to moments of Larry's theme to bold brass statements.  The action picks up near the end with a strong brass phrase.  The Quest brings the choir back for a rousing and sweeping moment that ends too quickly.  

“Seeing Your Boy Become A Man” is a sentimental track, beginning with a piano solo and sweet string writing.  Laaa Love continues the same sweet territory as before, with some sections similar to his writing for the miniseries Cosmos.  A Farewell Kiss, similar to before, is led by a piano solo.  Teddy's Goodbye is a fitting farewell to the Museum trilogy characters, using Teddy's trumpet fanfare and a brief choir shine.  A reprise of the finale from the first film is extremely fitting.  The orchestra crescendos to a big finale but then quickly fades away.  Where a song or end credit suite would usually be on an album, this just ends abruptly.  

Of course the sad connection is the goodbye of Robin Williams, in one of his last film roles.  The music in the last few tracks are fitting without getting too sappy.  Each film in the trilogy has saved a bit of sentimentality for the finale, but this feels more poignant.  

Overall, Silvestri has maintained a nice balance of score for these films.  Falling into an odd genre of comedy, fantasy and action, Silvestri balances between each one.  All three albums have relatively short running times, however this one is the longest.  Seemingly stitched from many short cues, the flow of the music is very stop-and-go.  This is part of the balancing act of comedy versus action, but they've always had a jittery nature to them.  Even with that in mind, Silvestri has kept the "mickey-mousing" level fairly low and kept the music straight even with Dexter the Monkey's hi-jinks.  

There are few standout moments in the score (nothing like the fantastic Wright Brothers sequence of the 2nd film).  It's nice to see Silvestri returning to certain themes, without over-repetition or variation.  I can't imagine re-listening to the album straight threw very often, but picking certain highlights.  With the trilogy at an end, go ahead and make a playlist of the best cues of all three scores for a strong listening experience.