Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Quick Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Music composed, orchestrated and conducted by Howard Shore
Score performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Voices, Tiffin Boys’ Choir
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios
Special Edition Album time: 127 minutes
Standard Album time: 107 minutes
Misty Mountains composed by David Donaldson, David Long, Steve Roche, Janet Roddick
Available on Water Tower Music
 
I pondered which album to review – the standard or special, and I went with the longer, slightly extended album.  Besides the applaudable 2-disc releases for both versions, the album presentation of both are radically different than the film versions.  Through heavily edited sequences, despite late rescoring efforts, the score as on the album is far more enjoyable than the score as heard in the film.  Fans of the past Lord of the Rings scores will no doubt recognize themes and moments into The Hobbit.  But putting that all aside, here is my review of the album.

This first Hobbit film relies on basically three major themes: the Shire theme first heard in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Misty Mountain theme (written by New Zealand composers Plan 9), Bilbo’s theme, the theme for Erebor, and Thorin’s theme.  Also notable are the motifs for Gandalf, Radagast and the dwarf group.  And of course included is a heap of reprises of LOTR themes. 

Right out of the gate, My Dear Frodo returns us to the sound of the old films.  Shore's writing is following the same tradition, with the same style instrumentation so the score blends with the past films.  The lush strings bring out the Shire theme and a smile to my face.  The track shifts to a darker tone when the full orchestra and choir come in.  The full force worked well in the original trilogy, and continues throughout the score in various tracks.  That same heartwarming sound of the Shire theme returns in Old Friends, with slight changes and variations.  This track turns darker and mysterious, with an English horn solo in between the lighthearted strings.

An Unexpected Party has a bit of a mysterious quality, which works well for the comedy.  Gandalf’s theme appears in this cue, and several other parts of the album.  The motif for the dwarfs that appear here are almost one and the same with parts of Shore’s past film Hugo (2011).  Variations on this theme continue before turning into a cheerful dance-like tune.  Blunt the Knives is a source music song sung by the cast (lyrics by Tolkein and music by Stephen Gallagher).  Axe or Sword features more noble-sounding strings and is very reminiscent of music from the trilogy, with this track featuring Thorin and Erebor’s theme and the overall arch of the dwarfs’ journey.  Near the end of the track, we get a plaintive version of Bilbo's theme.  Misty Mountains is another source song (music by Plan 9 and David Long).  The hymn-like rendition fits as their dwarf song, and the melody is interpolated many times in the score by Shore.  While not written by Shore, it is a cornerstone of the score and probably the highlight of new material.

The Adventure Begins is a fun track, with a quick rendition of the Shire theme, full of adventurous momentum, very similar to A Shortcut to Mushrooms in ‘Fellowship’The World is Ahead is another sweet track with the dwarf theme, before turning to a brass-led rendition of the Misty Mountains in a great first full arrangement.  The choir and percussion in An Ancient Enemy provide a nice juxtaposition to the light themes in previous tracks.  This dark driving sound is similar to Isegard/Sauron material from the trilogy.  This style is often used in flashback moments of the film, and of course reminds viewers of the battles to come. 

Radagast the Brown begins with Gandalf’s theme, before a choir comes in.  With a ticking percussion, an off-kilter violin solo takes over.  The music gets dramatic with quick stopping and starts, before combining the string solos and choir.  It is both chaotic and quirky which stick out on the album.  The Trollshaws features more dramatic strings with snippets of the dwarf theme mixed in.  The same atmosphere fits with Roast Mutton, a building suspense cue.  A brief heroic version of Misty Mountains appears as well.  A Troll-Hoard builds off the earlier suspense, this track mainly being slightly dark and ominous.  The Hill of Sorcery gives hints of the Shire theme and segues into Radagast’s theme.  A motif for the Necromancer (sure to appear in later films) appears as the music gets more dissonant and threatening.  The Sauron theme naturally makes a reprise in this section.  Warg-Scouts is overall an action cue, with percussion and low brass taking over.  A chugging motif for the Wargs and their owners is continuous through the track. 

The Hidden Valley begins with a slow speed hinting at the unknown as the orchestra crescendos.  The choir comes in as we transition to the beautiful Rivendell theme from the trilogy.  The track is full of shimmering strings and eventually the track changes pace and turns to a quick march.  Moon Runes stays mostly quiet and slow, with a nice solo rendition of the Erebor theme.  Eventually Thorin’s theme is also added in to the overall mysterious mood.  The Defiler is another evil sounding track, with his motif being played in low brass at the beginning.  It is apparent with the extreme low brass and dissonant glissando strings which side this character is on.  Past themes reprise in The White Council, like the Rivendell theme and the Lothlorian theme.  Like the Rivendell scenes from the trilogy, the music stays under the surface.  We hear a lovely clarinet solo playing Bilbo’s new theme.  Finally a slightly menacing Sauron theme appears.

Over Hill features a noble rendition of Misty Mountains, then Thorin’s theme.  Lothlorian’s theme makes another appearance before a plaintive version of the Shire theme.  The music builds with Misty Mountains in the brass before the largest version of theme appears.  While not written by Shore, this is the best interpretation of the theme and fits right into the score.  A Thunder Battle is exactly as it sounds.  This is a nice dramatic cue with driving strings and pounding percussion.  The track ends with the Defiler motif.  The same driving force is used in Under Hill, with the odd meter and fluttering brass.  The dissonance rises and falls with growling renditions of the Defiler’s motif. 

Riddles in the Dark, the scene with Gollum, naturally contain hints of the History of the Ring theme.  It features a lot of sneaky sounding tremolos in the strings and even more variations of the Ring theme.  Near the end of the cue we hear the melancholic Gollum theme.  More hints of the Ring theme appear in Brass Buttons.  Brass fluttering continues with the male choir chanting adding a great effect.  This track is both exciting and dramatic.  The action pauses with the dwarf theme reprised before the pounding starts up again.  The Gollum theme returns as well as the gentle choir near the end.  Out of the Frying Pan begins with the snarling low brass in this action cue, and the brass hardly let up.  The action pauses only a moment to let the beautiful Nature theme in.  The music turns heroic amid all the dramatic music, before heading back to the unison orchestra.  A Good Omen is full of choir and the major key feels like the worst has been behind.  A solo voice rises over the tremolo strings, and the uneasy feeling of the journey continues.  The orchestra reprises the Erebor theme as well as Thorin’s theme. 

This film’s song, The Song of the Lonely Mountain (sung by Neil Finn) doesn’t fit the mold of past LOTR end credit songs.  Using the Misty Mountain theme, the chanting and anvil represent the dwarfs on their journey.  I actually like it, while many listeners seem particularly divided on this one.  My one complaint is how out of place it feels with past songs and the film and score.  It just feels disconnected.  As good as the song is; it doesn’t rank up highly compared to “May It Be” or “Into the West”.

Dreaming of Bag End returns us to the Shire, a short and sweet piece with Bilbo’s theme getting front and center.  A Very Respectable Hobbit features upbeat renditions of Hobbit themes, and the dwarf theme.  Erebor is another short track, which features uilleann pipes and a majestic theme in a great orchestral arrangement.  The Dwarf Lords and The Edge of the Wild are nice tracks, with the latter including the Misty Mountains theme one last time.  

Howard Shore instantly brings you back to the scores of The Lord of the Rings with this film. Past themes are revisited nicely, with subtle variations.  The new themes blend in to the same world, with Shore adding is touch to each, including the stirring renditions of Misty Mountains.  Speaking only of the album version, it is a great listen.  The film versions are sometimes completely different than the album.  The new major themes for the film (Bilbo, Erebor, Thorin) are all great and I can't wait to see how they'll be varied even more with the upcoming films.  Shore has got some big shoes to fill with The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and There and Back Again (2014)!  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2013: Top Anticipated Scores

2013 is already looking like an interesting year of scores.  Many franchises continue with the same composer, and many new composers getting added in.  A lot of scores that pique my interest!


The Music Behind the Screen's 
Top Anticipated Scores of 2013


1. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (Michael Giacchino)
If the Giacchino original is any indication, this might be one of the best scores of the year.
2. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Howard Shore)
Again, with the way the first Hobbit film turns out, this sequel could be another top score by Shore.
3. MAN OF STEEL (Hans Zimmer)
This makes the list just because I'm fascinated to see what Zimmer will come up with.  Will we miss the classic theme? 
4. AFTER EARTH (James Newton Howard)
Typically the scores to a M. Night Shyamalan film are the best parts.  Will the same be true for his first sci-fi thriller?
5. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (Randy Newman)
Newman's score to Monsters Inc was jazzy, and touching.  Let's see if he brings the same charm to the newest Pixar film.  
6. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (James Newton Howard)
After the slightly disappointing score to the first film, I'm intrigued by what Howard will bring to this film.  


OTHER SCORES TO HEAR IN 2013
The Croods (Alan Silvestri)
Frozen (Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
A Good Day to Die Hard -(Marco Beltrami)
The Great Gatsby (Craig Armstrong)
Iron Man 3 (Brian Tyler)
Jack the Giant Slayer (John Ottman)
Oz: The Great and Powerful (Danny Elfman)
Pacific Rim (Ramin Djawadi)
Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)
Thor: The Dark World (Brian Tyler)
The Wolverine (Marco Beltrami)
42 (Mark Isham)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Patrick Doyle: The Lyrical

Patrick Doyle was born in Scotland in 1953.  He studied piano, singing and acting at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and graduated in 1974.  Doyle taught music after leaving the Academy and wrote scores for plays and television.  He began his career as an actor, appearing in premiere of John Byrne's play The Slab Boys in 1978.  He also appeared and composed scores for shows at the Edinburgh Festival like Glasvegas in 1978.  His film acting debut was with Oscar-winner Chariots of Fire (1981) playing Jimmie.

In 1987, Doyle joined the Renaissance Theatre Company, founded by Kenneth Branagh.  He joined as an actor, composer and music director for the group.  He wrote the incidental music for many of the group's Shakespeare plays including "Hamlet", "Much Ado About Nothing" and "As You Like It".  He also was the composer for the TV adaptation of "Twelfth Night" in 1987.  Doyle also composed incidental music for the stage version and television adaptation of Look Back in Anger (1989), both directed by Judi Dench.


His film score debut, naturally was the Kenneth Branagh directed adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry V (1989).  For the project, Doyle had top notch British orchestrator Lawrence Ashmore, conductor Simon Rattle, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  The highlight of the score, the choral "Non nobis Domine" won "Best Film Theme of 1989" at Britain's Ivor Novello Awards.  It was no surprise that Doyle himself had a part in the film.  Both Branagh and Doyle's film career took off from there.  In 1990, Doyle was commissioned by Prince Charles to compose a piece for the Queen Mother's 90th birthday - The Thistle and the Rose, with solo soprano and orchestra.


Naturally, he composed the score to Branagh's next film, Dead Again (1991).  This time, Doyle also plays a policeman.  The thriller score was nominated for a Golden Globe.  In 1992, Doyle scored his first movie with director Mike Newell, the Celtic adventure Into the West (1992).  That same year was the French film Indochine (1992) with its melodically beautiful score.  The film itself won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  Adding more thrillers to his list, he scored Needful Things (1993) based on the Stephen King novel and the Brian De Palma crime film Carlito's Way (1993).  The pinnacle of that year was again with Branagh, the Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing (1993).  The charmingly light score fits with the comedy, while following the formula that made Henry V a success.  Doyle appears this time as Balthazar, with a singing role.  Highlights are the lyrical songs "Pardon Goddess of the Night" and "Sigh No More Ladies".


With Branagh at the helm, Doyle composed the score to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994).  The score featured a melodramatic, romantic and Gothic sound.  The orchestra has more power in this score, compared to the Shakespearean films before.  Doyle returned with director Régis Wargnier for another French drama, Une Femme Française (1995).  Doyle's light and tender score to A Little Princess (1995) won the award for best music from the LA Film Critics.  


The critics even more enjoyed his score to Ang Lee's period adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (1995).  The romantic score received nominations for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and Academy Award.  Branagh's next monumental project was Hamlet (1996).  While this version focused on Shakespeare's full play, the dramatic themes for Hamlet, Ophelia and Claudius were prominent.  The score received a nomination for the Satellite Awards and Academy Awards.  Doyle returned to the crime drama for Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco (1997).


If Doyle seems as if his writing speed slowed down, it was because of his diagnosis of leukemia in 1997.  During his months of treatments and chemotherapy, he was amazing able to work on the score to Quest for Camelot (1998).  The creative team to the animated film gave him extra time to work on the score.  After his recovery, Doyle was happy to return to films, like the Russian inspired East-West (1999) with director Wargnier and Love's Labour's Lost (2000) for Branagh.  The latter featured a 1930's sound with the fluffy Golden Age style of Kern, Gershwin and Korngold.


In 2001, he scored the romantic comedy smash Bridget Jones' Diary.  He followed that success with minimalist score to Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001).  Other films around that time include the erotic thriller Killing Me Softly (2002), and the fun adventurous score to Secondhand Lions (2003).


2005 was a hit year for Doyle - first with the Régis Wargnier Man to Man (2005), and the fantasy film Nanny McPhee with good friend Emma Thompson.  His first official 'blockbuster' was for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).  Reunited with director Mike Newell, Doyle took over the reigns from John Williams with the franchise, added his lyrical sound and created memorable themes for the film.  With 'Potter', he began a relationship with the London Symphony Orchestra, which has since recorded many of his large-scale works.


With As You Like It (2006), Doyle returned to his classical style for the Kenneth Branagh interpretation of the Shakespeare play.  Doyle naturally appears in the film, as Amiens.  He also was tapped to the young adult fantasy film Eragon (2006) with its heroic fanfare somewhere stemming from his work on Harry Potter.  That bold, heroic nature and action music returned in The Last Legion (2007).  Doyle brought his style to more children's fantasy entertainment, with scores to Nim's Island (2008) and the entertaining animated film Igor (2008).


After a short break from film scores, Doyle returned with large amounts of material in 2011.  There was the spectacular minimalist score to Wargnier's French film La Ligne Droite (2011).  There was also the dancing documentary Jig (2011), a first for Doyle.  Most popular were his turns for the Marvel superhero film Thor (2011), with a mixture of modern action scoring and his lyric capability.  That same mixture was apparent in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) with a strong percussion sound.  Perhaps no recent score of his shows off his lyricism more than in the Pixar movie, Brave (2012).  His Scottish roots also shone through on the beautiful score.


Besides his piece for the Queen Mother's birthday, Doyle has written other concert pieces, including Tam O' Shanter (for National Schools Orchestra Trust) and a violin piece Corarsik (composed for friend Emma Thompson).

Patrick Doyle's sound has retained his lyrical quality throughout the years.  His early classicism in Shakespearean adaptations helped refine the sound used in modern period dramas.  Like so many other film composers, he has had a group of people involved in his scores including orchestrator Lawrence Ashmore, conductor/orchestrator James Shearman and music supervisor/coordinator/producer Maggie Rodford.  He has since adapted his sound with the modern scoring techniques like the thumping bass and string ostinatos used in his recent scores to 'Apes' and 'Thor'.  His experience as an actor is generally rare for film composers, and certainly influenced his approach of letting the dialogue shine through and having music support the actors.  The musical emotions rarely get in the way or tug you in one direction, but just gently remind the listener.


From his classical Shakespeare scores to his modern blockbusters, Doyle adapts his sound for each project with a flair for the characters and setting.  He returned from his life-changing illness with even more vigor and enthusiasm.  Since his turn for the Harry Potter franchise, he has gotten attention from film score fans and the mainstream public.  His ability to switch from large-scale to independent films makes him one a highly sought-after film composer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Screen Credit Quiz (Round 9 From Outer Space)


Time for another round of the Screen Credit Quiz!  This being Round 9 From Outer Space, there are 9 screen credits to guess!  
Guess the movie by composer screen credit.  Put your guesses in the comments, and good luck!   

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Danny Elfman: The Bizarre

Danny Elfman was born in 1953 in Los Angeles.  Elfman spent most of his time at the movie theater and began noticing film music by the likes of Franz Waxman and Bernard Herrmann.  Dropping out of University High School in Los Angeles, he met up with his brother Richard in Paris.  While there, he played his violin on the street and joined a musical theater group, Le Gran Magic Circus.  He went on to travel Africa, only to return to the United States after getting sick.

Back in LA, his brother Richard formed the band The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo in 1972.  In 1976, Richard passed the band onto Danny, who became the lead songwriter and singer.  Many original band members left, and the group shortened the name to just Oingo Boingo.  Their first national introduction was in Richard Elfman's film Forbidden Zone (1982).  The music was provided by Danny making his film score debut as well as singing a few numbers as The Devil.  That same year, the Oingo Boingo song "Goodbye, Goodbye" appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.


In 1985, Elfman composed his first film score for director Tim Burton - Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).  The score opened the world up to Elfman with his quirky style and non-traditional musical training.  Within a short period of time, he began working in television and film.  He wrote music for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1986), two episodes of Amazing Stories (1985, 1987), and the theme to the series Sledge Hammer! (1986).  He also scored the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School (1986), in which he also performed as a member of Oingo Boingo.  Throughout all this, fellow band member Steve Bartek became Elfman's main orchestrator and arranger, a job which he maintains to this day.


It was 1988's Beetlejuice (directed by Burton), that helped Elfman get even more mainstream films.  His wacky style often fit with the macabre style needed for Burton's films.  That same year he also did Midnight Run (1988) and Christmas comedy Scrooged (1988).  Elfman composed his first large-scale orchestral score for Burton's Batman (1989).  One of the highlights of his career, Batman solidified his role as a Hollywood film composer.  He won his first Grammy for instrumental composition of The Batman Theme.


His work on TV continued, with the theme to The Simpsons (1989), which was nominated for a Emmy. He also wrote the theme to The Flash (1990), as well as an adaptation of his Beetlejuice theme for the animated series (1989), and the theme to Tales from the Crypt (1989). After Batman, Elfman saw more large-scale features, like the underscore to Dick Tracy (1990), Darkman (1990), and the Elfman/Burton classic, Edward Scissorhands (1990).  When it came time for the score for Batman: the Animated Series (1992), Elfman turned to Shirley Walker, who had orchestrated and conducted several past projects.  That same year, Burton and Elfman returned to Gotham City for Batman Returns (1992).


Danny Elfman took complete charge of the next project, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).  In addition the the underscore and songs, Elfman was the singing role of the lead character Jack Skellington.  Elfman also began doing more serious orchestral scores to films like Sommersby (1993).  During the making of 'Nightmare', Burton and Elfman had a falling out, and Howard Shore stepped the score to the next Burton film, Ed Wood (1994) while Elfman composed one of his more beautiful scores, Black Beauty (1994).  He continued his darker scores with different sounds with films like Dolores Claiborne (1995), and To Die For (1995) with director Gus Van Sant.  With Elfman spending most of his time doing film scores, Oingo Boingo disbanded in 1995.  As he spread out to other directors, he did The Frighteners (1996) for director Peter Jackson, the action score Mission: Impossible (1996) for director Brian DePalma.  He also reunited with Burton for Mars Attacks! (1996).


1997 was another busy year, with the fun score to Men in Black (1997) and the touching score to Good Will Hunting, again with Gus Van Sant.  Both scores would be nominated for Academy Awards, in the same year.  Following that, he was given more dramas, very unlike the quirky scores of his past.  With Van Sant's remake of Psycho (1998), Elfman returned to his love of Bernard Herrmann, by adapting the original Psycho score with Steve Bartek.  He finished of the decade with the Gothic score to Sleepy Hollow (1999).


Highlights in the 2000s include the film The Family Man (2000), directed by Brett Ratner.  He returned with Burton for a percussion-heavy score to the remake of Planet of the Apes (2001) and the score was nominated for a Grammy.  He returned to the superhero world with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002), another fun score to Men in Black II (2002) and one of his creepier scores with Red Dragon (2002) again with Ratner.


One of his highly regarded dramatic scores was for the next Burton collaboration - Big Fish (2003).  It was nominated for the Academy Award.  In 2004, Elfman lent his whimsical music for the theme to the series Desperate Housewives.  Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elfman wrote the score, songs and sang for both Burton films Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Corpse Bride (2005).  Around the same time, Elfman composed a concert piece titled Serenada Schizophrana.  While tough to write without a visual accompaniment, it eventually was used as part of the soundtrack to the IMAX film Deep Sea (2006).  Elfman continued on the silver screen with the touching score to Charlotte's Web (2006), and fun Disney film Meet the Robinsons (2007).  It was another Gus Van Sant dramatic film, Milk (2008), that got Elfman even more praise as a "serious" composer and another Oscar nomination.

2010 saw releases of another Gothic horror score - The Wolfman (2010) and the great score to Alice in Wonderland (2010), another Tim Burton collaboration.  Among the projects in 2011, he composed the score to the movie-themed Cirque du Soleil show, Iris.  With almost new score coming out every month in 2012, Elfman worked with Tim Burton twice with Dark Shadows (2012) and Frankenweenie (2012), Gus Van Sant twice with Restless (2012) and Promised Land (2012), he returned to familair themes with Men in Black 3 (2012) and returned to his Bernard Herrmann roots for the Alfred Hitchock biopic, Hitchock (2012).  As always, he has several works in the pipeline, like the reunion with director Sam Raimi for Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013).  

Danny Elfman over the past 27 years, Danny Elfman has been an exceptional voice for film scoring - and one of the most identifiable.  His macabre-yet-quirky sound has been a voice for (almost all) Tim Burton movies, they go hand in hand.  They certainly are the most memorable of his scores.  Over the years, he showed a lot of naysayers that having no musical training doesn't hurt a career.  He faced a lot of hurdles throughout, going from gaining respect among colleagues to 4 Oscar nominations.  He has had a few Golden Globe nominations, a hearty turnout at the Saturn Awards, and a bevy of Grammy nominations.  It is interesting to note that of his Oscar nominations (Men in Black, Good Will Hunting, Big Fish, Milk) most are the more dramatic scores and less frenetic.  Still, his scores are not always ordinary, even for more "serious" films.  

His unique, bizarre scores and memorable turns in films like Batman and The Nightmare Before Christmas are the reason we love to listen and why he is still a major player in Hollywood film scoring. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quick Review - Lincoln

Lincoln
Music composed, conducted by John Williams
Performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Chorus
Recorded in Symphony Center, Chicago

Album time:  58 minutes
Available on Sony Classical



Violin: Robert Chen, Trumpet: Christopher Martin, Clarinet: Stephen Williamson, Bassoon: David McGill, Horn: Daniel Gingrich, Piano: Randy Kerber

All things presidential are not a new thing to John Williams.  He has written the scores to the Oliver Stone films JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995).  This score to Lincoln is Spielberg and Williams’ 26th film together over 4 decades.  The project has been stewing for years, an obvious passion project for Spielberg and a daunting task for the director and composer.

In terms of the ‘American sound’, nobody is better than John Williams.  His ‘Americana’ is perhaps rivaled by the likes of Aaron Copland, composer of Fanfare for the Common Man, Appalachian Spring and more aptly Lincoln Portrait.  

In this film, Williams created a world of sounds, a mosaic of themes that reflect both the character and situations regarding the 16th President of the United States.  The score is both bold and subtle at the same time.  It is an epic that is held back and character driven. 

Like so many of his scores, the themes and ideas seem deceptively simple.  It is this simplicity that gives the score its weight.  Many thought his score to War Horse was a bit pushy, almost too saccharine, but this score stays back and lets the dialogue and visuals do most of the work.

I have to admit, as much of a Williams fan as I am; I am more impressed by the use of silence in the film.  The music never turns the scene sappy - perhaps Spielberg dialing down his own sappiness made the score follow suit.  Spielberg mentioned how he wanted the dialogue to be front and center, which the score supports.

The main themes in the films I’ll divide into a few categories, and will be referred to in my track rundown.  There is the plaintive Lincoln theme, the folk sounding American Process, the boldly stated People’s House, the gently moving Amendment theme, a loss theme, and a few others that mingle in.

The People’s House is a collection of the film’s themes, most likely to be a concert suite.  Beginning with the plaintive clarinet solo, the orchestra comes in with the sweeping rendition of the People’s House theme.  A bit similar to moments in War Horse, the theme rises nobly with a sense of gravity.  The theme gets passed around, from woodwinds to strings and then brass choir.  The woodwind choir takes over and leads with a new theme – the folk sounding American Process theme, which sounds a bit like bits of The Patriot.  The trumpet gives one last rendition of the People’s House theme before ending.

The Purpose of the Amendment continues with woodwind pairing, this time with clarinet and bassoon solos.  The Amendment theme comes in the strings, with low strings giving it motion.  Getting Out the Vote is one of the lighthearted tracks in the score, featuring a fiddle solo with little interludes by the tuba, bassoon, percussion and mandolin.  This type of jaunty theme adds a nice change for the score.  The American Process begins with a clarinet/bassoon version of the American Process theme.  The theme seems both optimistic and melancholic at the same time.  The brass takes over with the With Malice Towards None theme, giving a heavy version of the theme.  The piano (with solos by Randy Kerber) makes its first large entrance in the score with the same theme.  The solo trumpet takes over and ends the track.  The Blue and Grey begins with a heartfelt piano solo of the loss theme (again by Kerber).  This theme appears in film moments related to loss, both for the Civil War as well as Lincoln’s children.  “With Malice Towards None” is the full version of the titular theme.  With a hymn-like quality and hints of folk, the track only features a short rendition of the theme, without much thematic exploration as other tracks. 

Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom is one of the few period-sounding tracks on the album.  With the snare drums and piccolos representing the war, the choir comes in singing The Battle Cry of Freedom – a semi source song being sung in the film.  In The Southern Delegation and the Dream, a solo trumpet plays over slowly moving strings.  This track is the most dissonant and dark of the score.  The strings take over in the theme from Elegy, a sort of adagio for strings.  A solo bassoon begins Father and Son before being passed onto the horn.  The low strings reprise the Amendment theme, with a melancholy piano solo taking over. 

The Race to the House is another semi-source music track.  We get traditional 1860’s music (arranged and performed by Jim Taylor).  The light fiddle jig features traditional melodies. 

With Equality Under the Law, we get a set of thematic reprises.  First is a clarinet solo of the American Process theme.  The harmony and instrumentation have changed slightly, with enough to make you lean in a bit closer.  The Amendment theme appears and the orchestra crescendos with a masterful touch.  Freedom’s Call is one of the longer tracks on the album.  The orchestra sets up a hazy atmosphere before the solo violin comes in (played well by CSO concertmaster Robert Chen).  The solo is of Lincoln’s With Malice Towards None theme, this time with more soloist touches and with gentle guitar accompaniment.  The orchestra takes over, before a reprise of the clarinet/bassoon American Process theme and the brass leads the lower strings to the Freedom’s Call theme.  This is the fuller version than we’ve heard before and with a bit more motion.  The strings and harp lend a tender side to the theme, with a solo horn ending the track. 

Another full version appears for the adagio theme in Elegy.  The track is heavily emotional, yet calm with resolve.  The strings sound a bit more modern, compared to the hymn-like rhythms seen earlier in the score.  Remembering Willie is another moving track, with a gentle string sound.  The solo piano comes in with the theme last heard in “Blue and Grey”, this time with a solo cello adding harmony. 

Williams turns yet again to a solo French horn and piano, to lead us in to Appomattox, April 9, 1865.  We get a small reprise of the Freedom’s Call theme.  This part of the film is almost dialogue-free, letting the music shine through.  The wordless choir comes in, which paired with the scene is haunting.  A meditative clarinet and French horn solo arrive before a foreboding string sound. 

The most impressive track on the album is the 11 minute long The Peterson House and Finale.  I would love to hear this piece performed in concert, as it is a thematic and emotional tour de force.  Almost all the main themes are reprised in this cue, with each gently transforming into the next.  Each theme is transformed a bit more, perhaps with more of a hymn-like solemn nature.  Where the film could get sappy, the music stays held back and reverential.  Like the tracks before, the woodwinds have been given several moments to shine.  The track finally opens with a bolder statement of The People’s House theme.  A semi-cadenza for trumpet appears (played well by CSO musician Christopher Martin).  The strings come in with a full growing statement of Freedom’s Call.  The trumpet returns with light piano accompaniment on Lincoln’s theme.  A piano solo gives one last version of the heartfelt theme related to loss. 

The last track, “With Malice Towards None” is a piano version of the original theme.  The cue is perfect for the moment, mainly bittersweet.  The gentle sound of this performance reminds me of some of the great piano music in Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War.  And with that the album ends.       

Williams’ choice for solos in the score really worked in the film.  Solo instruments tend to be a bit more uncovered, perhaps more tender.  That must have been the goal, as Lincoln was very much a human being in the film.  The Chicago Symphony (coming from the Land of Lincoln) was an excellent choice for this orchestra.  The soloists, listed above, are top notch and offer the nuance needed in each instance. 

Perhaps some John Williams fans looking for bombast will be turned off by the score.  The score does require a few listens for it to sink in, mainly because it is quiet, intense and emotionally heavy.  The themes yet again feel pre-written, as if they've been there this whole time.  They are stitched together with such care, that it draws you in for more.   

While out of film order (like almost every John Williams album), the album presentation is the best for a score-only listen.  I can’t recommend this score enough as a film score, but even more as the listening experience John Williams wanted.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quick Review - Skyfall

Skyfall
Music composed and Conducted by Thomas Newman
Orchestrated by: J.A.C. Redford
Additional Orchestrations: Steven Bernstein, Peter Boyer, Carl Johnson

Additional Arrangements, Programming: Simon Franglen
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios
Album time:  77 minutes
Available on Sony Classical


Bond is back.  Following in the footsteps of Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008), Daniel Craig returns as Bond.  This time we get Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes in the director chair, and his main music collaborator (of 5 films) Thomas Newman as composer.  Knowing his past films, many score fans thought Newman was an odd choice for the Bond franchise, but no surprise knowing the relationship.  Previous Bond composer David Arnold, who spent most of his time as music director of the Olympic games, is certainly missed.

For those looking for the stunning Adele song, "Skyfall", you are out of luck.  It is nowhere to be seen on this album, but there is a interpolation of the song in only one track.  

From the get-go this looks and sounds like a Thomas Newman album.  There are typically many short tracks, and this is no exception (his Finding Nemo album had 40 tracks).

The album begins with Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.  This track is perhaps the most Bond-sounding track.  After the two brass hits, the electronics come in and give hints of an exotic locale.  Some ethnic percussion and instruments get added into the mix as the action gets ratcheted up.  A hint of the brassy Bond theme kicks in as the track fades.

Next up is Voluntary Retirement, which begins with noble horns and later adds some fast moving strings, but generally stays quiet.  There is a good amount of tension in this cue.  The guitars return in New Digs, giving off a Bond vibe.  This track feels like Newman trying to shy away from his normal writing-apparent in the strings before vying off to more of the Bond sound.  The flute starts off the plaintive melody in Severine, the leading lady of the film.  The tune is nice and not overly romantic.  I wish it went on a bit longer and developed the theme even more.  The spy sound is evident in Brave New World, with low tremolo strings, low flutes and hints of the Bond theme.  The track takes off with more exotic sounds.  The full electronics come out in Shanghai Drive, but the track doesn't really go anywhere.

Jellyfish will instantly bring to mind a bit of the Hans Zimmer sound, with churning strings and booming low brass.  The track shifts to a more ominous underscoring.  The fast-paced action starts right off in Silhouette.  Percussion carry most of the track, intermingled with some odd sounds that come and go very quickly.  Modigliani is a short, slow moving track, with quiet piano solos in the background.  It almost segues into Day Wasted - another atmospheric track until glimpses of the Bond theme appear on guitar and strings.  Quartermaster is a nice track, especially when the action kicks in.  The added electronics do benefit the orchestra in track like this.           

Someone Usually Dies features more suspenseful strings, but leads to the great track Komodo Dragon.  The only album track to incorporate Adele's title song, this track is pure James Bond.  The music also works nicely in this scene.  Action picks up in The Bloody Shot, one of the more action-heavy cues of the score.  The brass and percussion go into full drive with a wailing trumpet rendition of the Bond themes.  Overall, a great track.  Enjoying Death is mainly exotic underscoring with a flute solo.  The Chimera is another standout track - although it seems the best moments are just that--moments and not sustained sections.                   

A lighthearted sound appears in Close Shave, and most listeners of Thomas Newman will recognize his often-used pizzicato with a nice flute solo over it.  Heath & Safety will make those same listeners check their album to see if they're still listening to Skyfall or another Newman score.  Another action cue is Granborough Road, with plenty of suspense-filled interludes before finishing off with a guitar rendition of the Bond theme.  Tennyson is a tense and nicely dramatic cue, which fits very nice with M's monologue.  It slowly builds to seque into the next track, Enquiry.  The energetic track features more Bond theme, and the French horns get featured along with serviceable electronics.  If you were wondering where the moment that will make Bond fans smile - it's in Breadcrumbs, which sounds just like the original Monty Norman version with a slightly modern edge.    

The track Skyfall give the listener a moment to breath after the last few great tracks.  Kill Them First and Welcome to Scotland bring back the menacing horns with plenty of string ostinatos.  She's Mine sounds like many modern scores, which builds with great excitement while featuring hints of the Bond motif.

The Moors is another exotic sounding track, with a throbbing electronic beat.  Deep Water starts off with a bang and keeps chugging.  In its quietest moments, the track keeps the suspense as it crescendos.  Mother is one of the more gentle tracks, with a brass choir leading off to the strings.  Electronics pick up in Adrenaline, and the exotic strings make it one of the stranger tracks on the album.  iTunes has the exclusive track, Old Dog, New Tricks - a relaxed track that probably won't be missed by the average listener.        

First off, the album is very nicely put together.  Even through the long running time, it never is a labor to listen to.  

Thomas Newman has always been a good composer of atmosphere.  He hasn't really been attached to themes and motifs, which is apparent in the score.  His way of building the moment really helped in a score like this.  I give credit to him for not completely sounding like his predecessors.  Thankfully the score doesn't stay very long in the modern score sound, but instead mixing his style and the previous Bond styles.  The action cues are surprisingly good, sounding like previous scores while maintaining the edge of modern film scores.

Newman's score rose above my expectations of what I thought he could do for an action score (Adjustment Bureau, anyone?).  Personally of course I enjoy the recent David Arnold scores more, but Newman came in with all the hype and showed off his skills.   Good work.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Returning Track Titles of Danny Elfman

As seen with  John Williams, composers have their go to words and phrases on soundtracks.  Danny Elfman is no exception.  So many of his albums contain certain key words, it’s hard not to notice.  Now of course, most of these words are not Elfman-exclusive, but it’s more about the frequency.  Here’s the rundown.

Elfman’s scores always have great opening credits music.  The beginning of this list certainly reflects that.


INTRODUCTION
Intro / Titles (The Frighteners, 1996)
Introduction (Mars Attacks!, 1996)
Introduction (Sleepy Hollow, 1999)
The Introduction (Charlotte's Web, 2006)
Introduction (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 2008)

PROLOGUE
Prologue (The Hulk, 2003)
The Prologue (Meet the Robinsons, 2007)
Prologue (The Wolfman, 2010)
Prologue (The Next Three Days, 2010)
Dark Shadows Prologue (Uncut) (Dark Shadows, 2012)

LOGOS
Logos (Red Dragon, 2002)
Logo (Men in Black 2, 2002)
Frankenweenie Disney Logo (Frankenweenie, 2012)
Logos (Promised Land, 2012)

OVERTURE
Overture/The Big Race (Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, 1985)
Overture (Back to School, 1986)
Overture (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)

TITLES
Titles (Men in Black 2, 2002)
Titles Revisited (Men in Black 2, 2002)
Big Fish (Titles) (Big Fish, 2003)
The Kingdom - Titles (The Kingdom, 2007)
Hellboy II Titles ( Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 2008 )
Taking Woodstock Titles (Taking Woodstock, 2009)
Silver Lining Titles (Silver Linings Playbook, 2012)

MAIN TITLE(S)
Main Titles (Beetlejuice, 1988)
Main Title (Big Top Pee-Wee, 1988)
Main Titles (Midnight Run, 1988)
Main Titles (Nightbreed, 1990)
Main Titles (Darkman, 1990)
Main Titles (Dick Tracy, 1990)
Main Title (Article 99, 1992)
Main Titles (Sommersby, 1993)
Main Titles (Black Beauty, 1994)
Main Titles (To Die For, 1995)
Main Titles (Dolores Claiborne, 1995)
Main Titles (Extreme Measures, 1996)
Main Titles (Mars Attacks!, 1996)
Main Title (Flubber, 1997)
Main Titles (Sleepy Hollow, 1999)
Main Title (Instinct, 1999)
Main Title (Proof of Life, 2000)
Main Titles (Planet of the Apes, 2001)
Main Titles (Red Dragon, 2002)
Main Title (Spider-Man, 2002)
Main Titles (The Hulk, 2003)
Spider-Man 2 Main Title (Spider-Man 2, 2004)
Main Titles (The Corpse Bride, 2005)
Main Titles (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)
Main Title (Charlotte's Web, 2006)
Main Titles (Milk, 2008)
Main Titles (Reprise) (Milk, 2008)
Men in Black 3 Main Titles (Men in Black 3, 2012)
Men in Black 3 - Main Title Revisited (Men in Black 3, 2012)
Main Titles (Frankenweenie, 2012)

THEME
Simone's Theme (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, 1985)
Juno's Theme (Beetlejuice, 1988)
Pee-Wee's Love Theme (Big Top Pee-Wee, 1988)
Dorfler's Theme (Midnight Run, 1988)
The Batman Theme (Batman, 1990)
Love Theme (Batman, 1990)
Love Theme (Darkman, 1990)
Breathless' Theme (Dick Tracy, 1990)
Tess' Theme (Dick Tracy, 1990)
Love Theme (Article 99, 1992)
Suzie's Theme (To Die For, 1995)
Love Theme? (Mission: Impossible, 1996)
M.I.B Main Theme (Men in Black, 1997)
M.I.B. Closing Theme (Men in Black, 1997)
Civil Theme (A Civil Action, 1998)
Sandra's Theme (Big Fish, 2003)
Jenny's Theme (Big Fish, 2003)
Harvey's Theme (Milk, 2008)
Alice's Theme (Alice in Wonderland, 2010)

MONTAGE
Study Montage (Back to School, 1986)
Montage (Article 99, 1992)
Jack And Sally Montage (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)
Christmas Eve Montage (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)
Return Montage (Sommersby, 1993)
Montage (Dead Presidents, 1995)
Costume Montage (Spider-Man, 2002)
City Montage (Spider-Man, 2002)
The Growing Montage (Big Fish, 2003)
The Fall Montage (Charlotte's Web, 2006)
Pop Quiz And The Time Machine Montage (Meet the Robinsons, 2007)
Success Montage (Wanted, 2008)
The Healing Montage (The Wolfman, 2010)
The Traveling Montage (The Wolfman, 2010)

CHASE
Studio Chase (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, 1985)
Stairway Chase (Midnight Run, 1988)
The Chase (Dick Tracy, 1990)
D's Memories / Chase (Men in Black, 1997)
The Chase (Sleepy Hollow, 1999)
The Chase (Men in Black 2, 2002)
The Chase (The Kingdom, 2007)

TRANSFORMATION/TRANSFORMS
Transformation (Big Top Pee-Wee, 1988)
Boone Transforms (Nightbreed, 1990)
Julie Transforms (Darkman, 1990)
Selina Transforms (Batman Returns, 1992)
Transformations (Spider-Man, 2002)
First Transformation (The Wolfman, 2010)
Reflection / 2nd Transformation (The Wolfman, 2010)

AFTERMATH
The Aftermath (Beetlejuice, 1988)
The Aftermath (The Hulk, 2003)
The Aftermath (The Next Three Days, 2010)

*WEEPY DONUTS (The ELFMAN Original)
Weepy Donuts (To Die For, 1995)
Weepy Donuts (Good Will Hunting, 1998)
Weepy Donuts (Milk, 2008)
Weepy Donus (Promised Land, 2012)
See here for more Weepy Donuts

CONFRONTATION
The Confrontation (Midnight Run, 1988)
First Confrontation (Batman, 1990)
Confrontation (Article 99, 1992)

*FINAL CONFRONTATION (The ELFMAN Classic)
The Final Confrontation (Batman, 1990)
The Final Confrontation (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)
The Final Confrontation (Batman Returns, 1992)
The Final Confrontation (Sleepy Hollow, 1999)
Final Confrontation (Spider-Man, 2002)
Final Confrontation (Terminator Salvation, 2009)
The Final Confrontation (Alice in Wonderland, 2010)
Final Confrontation (Dark Shadows, 2012)
Final Confrontation (Frankenweenie, 2012)
Epic Final Confrontation (Epic, 2013)

FINALE
Finale (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, 1985)
Big Top Finale (Big Top Pee-Wee, 1988)
Finale (Batman, 1990)
The Grand Finale (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)
Finale (Dick Tracy, 1990)
The Finale (Batman Returns, 1992)
Finale/Reprise (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)
Finale (To Die For, 1995)
Finale - End Titles (Dead Presidents, 1995)
Finale (Men in Black, 1997)
The Finale (Proof of Life, 2000)
The Finale (Men in Black 2, 2002)
Finale (Big Fish, 2003)
The Finale (The Corpse Bride, 2005)
Finale (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)
Finale (The Kingdom, 2007)
Finale (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 2008)
The Finale (The Wolfman, 2010)
Epic Finale (Epic, 2013)

FAREWELL
Farewell (Nightbreed, 1990)
Farewell.... (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)
Farewell (Spider-Man, 2002)
Sandra's Farewell (Big Fish, 2003)
Farewell Charlotte (Charlotte's Web, 2006)
Farewell (Terminator Salvation, 2009)
Mom's Discovery/Farewell (Frankenweenie, 2012)

END CREDITS
End Credits (Beetlejuice, 1988)
End Credits: "Try To Believe" (Midnight Run, 1988)
End Credits (Big Top Pee-Wee, 1988)
End Credits (Nightbreed, 1990)
Final/End Credits (Darkman, 1990)
End Credits (Batman Returns, 1992)
End Credits (Black Beauty, 1994)
End Credits (Mars Attacks!, 1996)
Epilogue/End Credits (Extreme Measures, 1996)
End Credits (Flubber, 1997)
End Credit Suite (A Civil Action, 1998)
End Credits (Sleepy Hollow, 1999)
End Credits (Instinct, 1999)
End Credits Suite (Red Dragon, 2002)
End Credits (Spider-Man, 2002)
End Credits (The Hulk, 2003)
End Credits Part 1 + 2 (The Corpse Bride, 2005)     
End Credits Suite (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)

END TITLE
End Title (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)
End Titles (Dolores Claiborne, 1995)
Finale - End Titles (Dead Presidents, 1995)
End Titles (Big Fish, 2003)

SUITE
Love Suite (Back to School, 1985)
Resurrection Suite (Nightbreed, 1990)
Ballet De Suburbia (Suite) (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)
The Tide Turns (Suite) (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)
Cat Suite (Batman Returns, 1992)
End Credit Suite (A Civil Action, 1998)
Anywhere But Here Score Suite (Anywhere But Here, 1999)
Ape Suite #1 (Planet of the Apes, 2001)
Ape Suite #2 (Planet of the Apes, 2001)
End Credits Suite (Red Dragon, 2002)
Spidey Suite (Spider-Man 2, 2004)
Doc Ock Suite (Spider-Man 2, 2004)
End Credits Suite (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)
Fraternity Suite (Wanted, 2008)
Wolf Suite, Pt. 1 (The Wolfman, 2010)
Wolf Suite, Pt. 2 (The Wolfman, 2010)