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.
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?
Newman's score to Monsters Inc was jazzy, and touching.  Let's see if he brings the same charm to the newest Pixar film.  
After the slightly disappointing score to the first film, I'm intrigued by what Howard will bring to this film.  

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!