Monday, March 12, 2012

Quick Review: John Carter

John Carter
Music composed by Michael Giacchino
Conducted  and orchestrated by: Tim Simonec
Orchestrated by: Peter Boyer, Andrea Datzman, Mark Gasbarro, Ira Hearshen, Norman Ludwin, Cameron Patrick  
Score recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin
Score recorded at Sony Scoring Stage
Album time: 74 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records
(MP3 and Limited Edition CD)

After numerous top notch projects in 2011 (Super 8 and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), John Carter is shockingly Giacchino’s only main feature in 2012.

Like the live-action directorial debut of Brad Bird with “Ghost Protocol”, John Carter is the same for fellow Pixar director Andrew Stanton.  (Stanton’s previous films Finding Nemo and Wall-E used scores by Thomas Newman). 

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the film features notable themes for ex-Confederate soldier John Carter, Princess Dejah, the Tharks and the baddies from Zodanga.  Previewed months before the soundtrack release, the anticipation has been brewing for the score.  (This score appeared at #5 on my 2012 Anticipated Score List.)  Giacchino has always focused on characters and the story the film is telling, and this score is no different.  Just the album alone gives a sense of story and direction.  
As always with Michael Giacchino soundtracks, the track titles are goofy and full of puns.    

The first track is A Thern For The Worse, and instantly setting the mood with a female soloist and mysterious strings.  The track shifts to an action cue, with some great string ostinato moments as the track builds throughout.  John Carter’s theme – which starts the track, is revealed later in the track.  The theme seems to be built on the same thematic building blocks as themes from Lost or Super 8, but grows on me as a separate melody. 

Get Carter begins with a great action variation of the John Carter theme.  The cue is richly orchestrated and highly energetic.  A mysterious vocalist appears as the orchestra climaxes to the end of the cue.  The western aspect of the film worked really well, setting up the character nicely in one of the best bits in the film.  
One of the shortest cues on the album is Gravity of the Situation.  It’s a lighthearted track, featuring another variation on the John Carter theme - with solo violin and flute leading to a waltz version.  It’s a nice comedic moment in the film, giving the audience a bit to laugh at.      

Thark Side of Barsoom is an emotional cue, featuring the choir and percussion.  It has a slightly exotic sound to it, with an interesting rhythmic quality to it.  The music for the Tharks has a certain Lawrence of Arabia quality to it, as seen in this track.  Sab Than Pursues the Princess is one of the tracks previewed in December.  For fans of Giacchino’s action cues, this track is in very similar territory.  It has some great moments in there, including some versions of past themes.  Certainly a highlight of the score. 

The Temple of Issus gives us more exotic instrumentation, and more treble choir which give an almost mythical quality.  This style continues into the next track, Zodanga Happened.  We get the trademark string glissandos and some ethnic woodwind solos.  This track (like many on the Lost albums) end with a sting.  The Blue Light Special features more vocal solos, and a strong rendition of the John Carter theme.  The choir typically comes in whenever the blue light is mentioned, a nicely done motif.  Again we get some nicely written music in the strings leading up to a sting. 

The tribal percussion and choir returns in Carter They Come, Carter They Fall.  The melody in this track is great, and is very emotional.  The Second Biggest Apes I've Seen This Month is a nice action cue, with strong brass parts and an even bigger percussive nature.  The Prize is Barsoom is a great track, with a big epic sound that reminds me of bits of Star Trek (2009).  The Fight For Helium is another action cue with a lot of momentum. 

Another enjoyable track is Not Quite Finished, which doesn’t quite feel finished.  The theme doesn’t have enough room to really expand.  Which is what Thernabout feels like – slightly cut short.  Ten Bitter Years gives us more material and leads to a big finish.  The longest track is the suite John Carter of Mars, first featuring his theme.  We also hear Dejah’s theme, led by a great cello solo.  The orchestra swells as it gives a full rendition of the theme.  We hear John’s theme again as the album ends. 
     
      
It’s hard to pin down what this overall score reminds me of - it sounds like a mix of Giacchino, Williams, Goldsmith, Herrmann and Jarre.  The score really drives on the thematic material, and its variations.  The score takes itself seriously where the film doesn't always, but that doesn't affect the listening experience.  The album’s action cues work well even without the film, and his other tracks work well within the story.  Giacchino does have very nice score album releases, but it is the films themselves that the music really shines.  Giacchino really is a storyteller, and he really gets to the emotional material of the scenes.  Overall, as its main goal - the score works.

MUST HEAR:

1. A Thern For The Worse
2. Get Carter
5. Sab Than Pursues The Princess
9. Carter They Come, Carter They Fall
14. The Prize Is Barsoom
19. John Carter Of Mars


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