Sunday, October 23, 2011

Overtures in Films

Nothing marks the change in films from the past to the present more than the film overtures.  There are many films that contain them, and there are now tons of people that don't even know what I'm referring to.
The starting of this is hard to pinpoint, but films as far back as the 1920s included these overtures.  It certainly is related to the theatre or opera experience which most people would be used to.  In the heyday of films in the 1950-1970s (mainly epic films) had the instrumental overture before the film started.  It is no surprise that many Broadway film adaptations included or expanded their overtures.  Most times this was when the audience would still be walking in.  Many times the screen had the word OVERTURE over a black screen, or perhaps the background would change.  Generally, the overture was similar to a thematic medley (like in the theatre), but in several cases an original composition.  Other times the overtures would blend into the credits, the practice which eventually phased directly into the main titles sequences we see today.  

Many other films that have overtures were included in the roadshow engagements. Of course there were films that had the full treatment.  That typically included the overture, act one of the film, the curtain closing for intermission (with often entr’acte music) and then exit music for the audience.  The movie studios and theaters really tried to make it a really a special event for these films.  For many video and television releases, the roadshow aspects have been removed, but the music is typically released on the soundtracks.    

Here are some overtures, many of which are:
Gone with the Wind (Max Steiner, 1939)
The Ten Commandments (Elmer Bernstein, 1956)
Ben-Hur (Miklós Rózsa, 1959)
North by Northwest (Bernard Herrmann, 1959)
West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein, 1961) (Not in stage show)
Lawrence of Arabia (Maurice Jarre, 1962)

How the West Was Won (Alfred Newman, 1962)
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
(Ernest Gold, 1963)

The Sand Pebbles (Jerry Goldsmith, 1966)
The Cowboys (John Williams, 1972)
The Black Hole (John Barry, 1979)

Star Trek the Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith, 1979)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Danny Elfman, 1993)(Soundtrack only)
Mulan (Jerry Goldsmith, 1998)(Soundtrack only)
Dancer in the Dark (Björk, 2000)
Kingdom Of Heaven (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2005) (Director’s Cut)

Are there any favorite film overtures that I didn’t mention?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Quick Review: The Lord of the Rings Symphony

The Lord of the Rings Symphony
Music composed by Howard Shore
Conducted by: Ludwig Wicki
Performed by:
The 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Album time: 115 minutes (2 discs)
Available on Howe Records

Taken from all three Lord of the Rings films and more than twelve hours of music, the Lord of the Rings Symphony encompasses the journey of the characters in the film as well as the thematic material from the scores.  If you know the films well, the music follows them nicely.  This newly conceived symphony has been touring the world to popular acclaim.

I’m by no means an expert on every motif and theme, but I’ll put a few notable ones as they appear.  I wanted to showcase the music in the Symphony and see how the Symphony itself is constructed.  The album follows this plan:
Movement 1-2: Fellowship of the Ring
Movement 3-4: The Two Towers
Movement 5-6: Return of the King

Movement 1 opens with the Prologue, which takes about half of this movement.  We then enter the Shire and hear the Hobbit theme.  The orchestration seems richer in certain sections, with different instrument additions.  The choir is heard heavily in the next section, featuring the music as the Hobbits escape the Nazgul. 

Movement 2 begins with the beautiful Rivendell theme.  The female section of the choir sounds beautiful with the cello soloist.  The Hobbit theme appears in its many iterations in the movement as well as the first stirring rendition of the Fellowship theme.  The low men’s choir signifies the depths of Moria and we hear the first version of Gollum’s theme.  This rendition of the Dwarrowdelf theme is spectacular.  The female choir and soloist take over for much of this 34 minute movement.  The momentum really builds up in the following section, featuring the Isengard theme.  At the end of the movement, we hear the music for the end of movie, and my personal favorite of the trilogy.  This is the The Breaking of the Fellowship which features the excellent boy soloist in the song In Dreams.
The Fellowship movements are the most cohesive parts of the symphony, with the sections of the score blending seamlessly. 

Movement 3 is The Two Towers, starting with the Ring theme.  The creepy Gollum theme appears, played on one of the more exotic instrument of the orchestra – the cimbalom.  We hear Eowyn’s theme and the stirring Rohan theme, and eventually played as the violin solo.  This movement contains more slow and quiet moments, like Evenstar.  This movement has unique instrumentation and contains a bunch of quiet choir moments.

Movement 4 begins with a big introduction of the Rohan theme on horn.  We get some of the best score moments of the film in this movement, notably Gandalf returning, Theoden riding out, and the beautiful nature theme.  The movement ends with Gollum’s Song. 

Movement 5 begins with a few quotes of the Fellowship theme, and eventually the Gondor theme in the spectacular Lighting of the Beacons (certainly the highlight of this movement).  Many other past themes come back briefly and each of course has varied since the beginning.  The movement segues into the next movement.

Movement 6 starts with a military nature, due to the parts of the film it represents.  It features the choir prominently and female soloist.  A bass soloist sings Aragorn’s coronation song, which sounds completely different than the actor’s version.  One of the best moments in the movement is the reprise of the Shire theme.  From then on, we hear a majority of the music from the ending of the film.  The song Into the West is introduced by the orchestra, before the singer takes over.        

Overall, this re-recording is not a huge step down from the original recordings.  The soloists, choir and orchestra are all really excellent.  Unlike other re-recordings, this maintains the original tempos.  The arrangements and orchestrations have changed, so it is not identical to the original soundtracks.  The choir is certainly louder in this recording than the original in several spots.  It is great as a condensed version of the great moments of the scores, especially if the Complete Recordings are too much of a good thing.  It works both as a great introduction to the film scores or great streamlined highlights for those already familiar with the scores. 

I hope the symphony continues touring, and this album is a great representation of scores.  From the films to the symphony, it really is there and back again. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Composers Gone Gaming

Composers of video games typically tend to stay in the genre, similar to television composers.  But there have been a handful of composers that made the transition from gaming to the big screen, or well known film composers writing for the interactive media. 

Certainly one of the first names that come to mind is Harry Gregson-Williams.  Around the same time as his film score career took off, he signed on to compose the music for 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.  He wrote mainly for the cutscenes (with gameplay music by Norihiko Hibino), and arranged the original Metal Gear Solid theme.  Harry followed with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater in 2004.  He contributed again to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in 2008. 

Michael Giacchino is one of the few composers to start in video games and eventually end up scoring for film.  He gained attention with the video game score to The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997.  One of the early full orchestral games, Giacchino’s scores have set the precedent for future orchestral scores.  His work for DreamWorks led to Giacchino composing the game Medal of Honor in 1999.  He followed that score up with several other games in the Medal of Honor series and other WWII games like Medal Of Honor: Underground (2000), Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault (2002), Medal Of Honor: Frontline (2002), Secret Weapons Over Normandy (2003), the original Call Of Duty (2003), Call Of Duty: Finest Hour (2004), Medal Of Honor: Airborne (2007), Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty (2008).  In addition to these original scores, his game and film themes were used in other scores or adaptations. 

One of the biggest video game scores was for Lair in 2007, composed by John Debney.  Asked to bring his full scale techniques to the video game world, Debney’s music was recorded in Abbey Road Studios.

Christopher Lennertz
is another name, known for film, television and games composed for the Medal of Honor series following Giacchino in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (2003), Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (2004), Medal of Honor: European Assault (2005).  He also composed scores for the James Bond adaptations of From Russia With Love (2005), Quantum of Solace (2008) and The Godfather II (2009).  He was also one of the composers for Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Hans Zimmer and his collaborators have made their way to the video game aisle.  He started with
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009), which he composed with Lorne Balfe.  Zimmer also teamed with Lorne Balfe, Borislav Slavov and Tilman Sillescu for Crysis 2 (2011).  Zimmer recently composed the theme while Lorne Balfe composed the music for Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (2011).  James Dooley, who worked with Zimmer many times in films, has also expanded into gaming.  He worked on several SOCOM games as well as Infamous (2009) and its sequel and Epic Mickey (2010).  Ramin Djawadi, best known for the first Iron Man film, composed the score for the most recent Medal of Honor (2010).  Steve Jablonsky, known for his work on the Transformers series, worked on Gears of War 2 (2008) with Clay Duncan and Gears of War 3 (2011).

Brian Tyler is another composer who recently turned to video games.  In 2010 he composed the fun score to Lego Universe, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011), 
Far Cry 3 (2012) and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2013).

Other composers of note:

Bruce Broughton - Heart of Darkness (1998)
Stewart CopelandSpyro the Dragon series

Patrick Doyle - Puppeteer (2013)
Greg Edmonson - Uncharted series
Paul Haslinger - Far Cry Instinct (2005), Rainbow Six: Vegas (2007)
Clint MansellMass Effect 3 (2012)
Bear McCrearyDark Void (2010), SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALS (2011)
Mark MothersbaughCrash Bandicoot series
Graeme Revell - Call Of Duty 2 (2005)

Like film scores, video game scores have slowly made their way on to the concert stage.  Some of the first concert arrangements were of the extremely popular Final Fantasy series, music by Nobuo Uematsu.  Not only do the albums sell in large numbers, but concerts of music sell out quickly.  Video Games Live in concert has toured the world, performing everything from Tetris, Halo, Medal of Honor and The Legend of Zelda.