Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Quick Review: The Croods

The Croods
Music composed by Alan Silvestri
Orchestrated by Mark Graham, Victor Pesavento, William Ross, Alan Silvestri, John Ashton Thomas
Score conducted by Alan Silvestri
Album time: 70 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

Alan Silvestri is no foreigner to animated films, putting scores to Ferngully (1992), Lilo & Stitch (2002), The Polar Express (2005), The Wild (2006) and A Christmas Carol (2006).  One could even consider Beowulf (2007) and good chunks of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as well.  This is a first for DreamWorks, mainly dominated by the scores of Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.  (Side note: co-director Chris Sanders directed Lilo & Stitch, and past hit How to Train Your Dragon)    

The album begins with the song Shine Your Way, performed by Owl City and Yuna.  (Owl City also recently had a song in Wreck-It Ralph).  This song was written by Silvestri, Glen Ballard, directors Kirk De Micco/Chris Sanders.  The song has an electro-pop sound, and the theme is repeated a few times throughout the score.  The song actually works best in its orchestral versions, as the Family Theme.

For the majority of the score, two major themes appear.  First you have the song Shine Your Way - which doubles as the Family Theme, and the Cave Painting Theme.  These two themes get concert suite versions at the end of the album.  

Prologue is almost entirely a rendition of the Family Theme, with added interesting percussion and rhythms.  Smash and Grab will certain get your attention, featuring the USC Trojan Marching Band and a sampling of the Fleetwood Mac song, "Tusk".  Bear Owl Escape is overall lighthearted and fits with the cartoony side of the score.  The track ends with another hint of the cave painting theme.  The lighthearted woodwind section appears in Eep and the Warthog.  There seems to be a few brief (intentional?) references to The Sound of Music in there (namely Do Re Me).  A militaristic rhythm juts against the rapid string and flute moments in Teaching Fire to Tiger Girl.  As a pure-Silvestri brass moment occurs, the track ends.  

The action picks up in Exploring New Dangers.  The track goes between action and suspense, which has a magical orchestral sound.  Piranhakeets brings the choir back, also using blaring horns, strong repetitive percussion - the aspects of Silvestri action scoring.  Fire and Corn is a fun cue, with an all-out comedic and manic sound.  The orchestra crescendos into a snippet of the 1812 Overture and a big ending.  Turkey Fish Follies features a throwback to the grandiose Western-style themes with a fun Western motif, crashing cymbals and wild string parts.  Adding to the styles addressed in the score, we get a jazz saxophone solo in between another loud version of the theme from Fire and Corn.

The Shine Your Way melody dominates the montage track, Going Guys Way.  This is one arrangement (and enjoyable instrumentation) that works better than the original song itself.  Story Time is a great cue, featuring a warm sound with a rendition of Shine Your Way/Family Theme before turning into a fun action cue.  Family Maze is a nice orchestral cue with an electric beat added on, which for once sounds slightly out of place.   Star Canopy begins with a hint of Shine Your Way melody on celeste, before bringing in the choir, strings and moving percussion on more of Shine Your Way.  Another solid rendition of the theme.  

Adding to the other strange styles of the score, Grug Flips His Lid features a lounge-like bossa nova sound.  Planet Collapse goes back to the large sweeping orchestral textures with choir.  The cave painting motif appears as well as music reminiscent of Van Helsing (2004).  The bombast doesn't last long, as We'll Die If We Stay Here starts quiet before adding in lovely solos and sweeping versions of the Family Theme/Shine Your Way.  There is some strong drama and danger in the second half of the track.  This track is a nice highlight of the album.

Cave Painting is just a shortened version of the Cave Painting Theme, heard in snippets throughout the score.  The theme continues into Big Idea, before transforming into an rousing anthem.  All the standard Silvestri-isms are pulled out with soaring moments of the theme.  Epilogue starts of gentle, with little hints of past themes.  Shine Your Way makes another appearance with the ethnic percussion used earlier in the score.  We get another sweeping version of the theme, which builds with choir to the finale.

The next two tracks are concert arrangements of the main themes, first Cave Painting Theme and The Croods' Family Theme.  Cave Painting is one of the dominant (and perhaps my favorite) themes in the score which benefit the most from the larger concert versions.  The Croods' Family Theme also features a gentle flute solo and many tender moments.  This suite is similar in construction to the Polar Express Suite or Forrest Gump Suite - Silvestri's most popular suites based on his thematic material.  The album ends with Cantina Croods, an arrangement (in Mariachi style, naturally) of the Family Theme.                                                                          

It is nice having such a motif-driven score to feature interesting enough variations to not let the theme go bland or stale by the end of the album.  The score often matches the comedy of the film, quickly shifting styles and arrangements.  His animated scores always feature nice melodies, fun action and a warm heart.  This score really is no different.  Silvestri's lighthearted orchestral writing works alongside the sentimental and sweeping themes.  Perhaps it isn't Silvestri's finest score, or most memorable themes, but hopefully they will last and be performed alongside his other concert suites in years to come.  Surprisingly, all the odd-ball moments of the score (jazz, comedic, marching band) all fade away around the middle of the album.  The score dots the main themes throughout, so there is a real moment of realization as well as beauty by the end of the album.    

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Alan Silvestri: The Dynamic

Born in 1950, Alan Silvestri was born in New York and raised in New Jersey.  Picking up instruments at an early age, Silvestri began with drums before moving woodwinds and the guitar.  His high school years were spent in band and joining small ensembles in which he could perform his own music.  

After high school, he attended Berklee College of Music in Boston as a guitar and composition major.  Focusing on jazz, Silvestri later started getting work as a musician and left the school.  He toured as a guitarist with many bands including Wayne Cochran and the C C Riders.  Winding up in Los Angeles and asked to score a film, Silvestri quickly read books on film scoring before scoring his first film - The Doberman Gang (1972).  He continued with other independent films like Las Vegas Lady (1975).  After giving guitar lessons to actor Paul Michael Glaser, Silvestri went along and scored three episodes of Glaser's hit show, Starsky & Hutch between 1978 and 1979.  It was this work that also led him to more television work on the second season of CHiPs (1978-1983).  His distinctive sound appeared in 100-plus episodes of the series.  Throughout his television work, Silvestri was already orchestrating and conducting his own scores.

Taking a chance with an almost unknown composer, beginning director Robert Zemeckis chose Silvestri to score their Indiana Jones-like action film Romancing the Stone (1984).  He began to show his action-scoring chops in several scenes, with light percussion and a contemporary pop sound.  Silvestri continued scoring a few films like Cat's Eye (1985) and Fandango (1985).                 

That same year, he was asked to compose a temporary score to Zemeckis' film Back to the Future (1985).  Producer Steven Spielberg was reluctant to have Silvestri take over the scoring duties, but Silvestri's demos won him over.  Recording with a 100+ piece orchestra, his vivacious action theme appears throughout the score, sprinkled in with his suspense and semi-magical cues.  He was nominated for two Grammy Awards (including Instrumental Composition) and cemented his relationship with Robert Zemeckis and the film score community.  

Silvestri continued his synthesizer scores with Flight of the Navigator (1986), The Delta Force (1986) and The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986).  Another one of his highlights was the tense, percussion-heavy action score for Predator (1987).  Silvestri reunited with Zemeckis for the live action/animated hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).  The frantic sound of Warner Bros/Disney cartoons was included with jazz and the 1940s noir sound.  The score was also nominated for two Grammy Awards.

With director James Cameron, Silvestri featured an atmospheric score and a majestically beautiful finale with choir for The Abyss (1989).  That same year he started the back-to-back sequels, Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990), both directed again by Zemeckis.  Around the same time, he composed other scores like Young Guns II (1990) and Predator 2 (1990).

He expanded his film scoring chops with comedies like Dutch (1991), Soapdish (1991) and the popular romantic comedy Father of the Bride (1991).  He scored the macabre Zemeckis film Death Becomes Her (1992) and working around the songs in the popular drama, The Bodyguard (1992).

After many films in 1993 and 1994, it was a reuniting with director Zemeckis for another highlight.  The score to Forrest Gump (1994) attached itself to the emotional film with the stunning orchestral score featuring the running theme and the popular feather theme.  The score captured the attention in award season, with Grammy, first Golden Globe and first Academy Award nominations.    

Continuing to score films quickly in the 1990s, Silvestri also changed styles for just about every score.  He scored films like the western The Quick and the Dead (1995), bombastic action for Judge Dredd (1995) and an electronic/orchestral mix for Eraser (1996).  His dynamic style of composing let itself to many films in 1997, including Volcano (1997), the emotional score to Zemeckis' Contact (1997) and the crazy antics Mouse Hunt (1997) with director Gore Verbinski.

Silvestri's light style and fun action naturally fit in Stuart Little (1999).  His music also appeared in the IMAX film Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box (1999).  Writer/director Nancy Meyers collaborated with Silvestri on The Parent Trap (1998) and continued their success with What Women Want (2000).  With Robert Zemeckis, they collaborated on the thriller What Lies Beneath (2000) and Cast Away (2000).  The latter with its sparse, minimal score won a Grammy for Instrumental Composition.     

2001 was another hit year for Silvestri, scoring Verbinski's The Mexican (2001), lighthearted score for Serendipity (2001) and teaming up with director Stephen Sommers for the action-packed The Mummy Returns (2001).  He worked again with Disney for the animated film Lilo & Stitch (2002), and continued his action scoring for Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). 

Silvestri reunited with director Sommers for the exciting score to Van Helsing (2004).  That same year, he scored the magical Zemeckis Christmas film, The Polar Express (2004).  It was the original song "Believe" (with lyricist Glen Ballard) that was nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe and even winning a Grammy.

Silvestri's unique match for action adventure scores worked well for the animated film The Wild (2006) and Night at the Museum (2006).  He collaborated again with Zemeckis for another CGI film, Beowulf (2007) with more pounding action.  2009 saw the sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), the next Stephen Sommers film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and brought back the holiday charm with another Zemeckis film, A Christmas Carol (2009).             

Going back to his television roots, Silvestri scored the action reboot of The A-Team (2010).  His action scoring came again with the Marvel superhero film Captain America (2011).  Hitting another blockbuster, Silvestri scored the superhero mash-up, The Avengers (2012).  Similar to his sparse work for Cast Away, he scored Zemeckis' drama Flight (2012).  Back into animated films, Silvestri scored the Dreamworks film, The Croods (2013).                

Entering the film scoring business almost by accident, Silvestri has flourished since his debut.  His mix of genres is what makes him an easy go-to from pounding action scoring in Van Helsing and Back to the Future to lighthearted work in Mouse Hunt and Father of the Bride.

Silvestri has certainly had his fair share of blockbusters and a nice load of films considered some of the worst: Mac and Me (1988), Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1991), Super Mario Bros. (1993), and Holy Man (1998).  Thankfully the good outweighs the bad.  Like almost every film composer, Silvestri has been on both ends of rejected scores, being rejected or supplying the replacement score.  Some scores he didn't finish include Mission: Impossible (1996), Something's Gotta Give (2003) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).  

Silvestri also continues to be one of the few Hollywood composers that writes out his own sketches (on paper!).  From the beginning, he also continues to orchestrate and conduct most of his scores.  Silvestri's collaboration with Robert Zemeckis continues to strong, and remains one of the most famous in the business.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Scoring Stages: 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox Studios
Newman Scoring Stage
The stage became a scoring stage in 1936 and used continually since then.  It is one of the most used scoring stages now.  It was remodeled, renovated and renamed the Newman Scoring Stage in 1997, after composer Alfred Newman.

Scores recorded here include:

David and Bathsheba (1951) - Alfred Newman
Carousel (1956) - Alfred Newman, Richard Rodgers
The Sound of Music (1965) - Irwin Kostal, Richard Rodgers

Bandolero! (1968) - Jerry Goldsmith
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971) 
Jerry Goldsmith
The Towering Inferno (1974) -
John Williams

Jaws (1975) - John Williams
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - Jerry Goldsmith
Predator (1987) - Alan Silvestri
Blade (1998) - Mark Isham
The Thin Red Line (1998) Hans Zimmer
The Sixth Sense (1999) -
James Newton Howard
The Matrix (1999) - Don Davis
Planet of the Apes (2001) - Danny Elfman
Pearl Harbor (2001) 
Hans Zimmer
The Bourne Identity (2002) 
John Powell
Tears Of The Sun (2002) 
Hans Zimmer
Red Dragon (2002) 
- Danny Elfman
Ice Age (2002) -
David Newman
X2: X-Men United (2003) - John Ottman

The Last Samurai (2003) - Hans Zimmer
I, Robot (2004) - Marco Beltrami
Serenity (2005) - David Newman

The Island (2005) - Steve Jablonsky
World Trade Center (2006) - Craig Armstrong
Charlotte’s Web (2006) - Danny Elfman
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) John Powell
The Good German (2006) -
Thomas Newman
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)  - Theodore Shapiro
Night at the Museum (2006) - Alan Silvestri
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) Hans Zimmer
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007) -
Trevor Rabin
The Simpsons Movie (2007) ­­- Hans Zimmer
Live Free Or Die Hard (2007) - Marco Beltrami
Horton Hears A Who! (2008) John Powell
Sex and the City (2008) -
Aaron Zigman
Wanted (2008) - Danny Elfman
WALL-E (2008) -
Thomas Newman
I Am Legend (2008) - James Newton Howard
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) John Powell
Avatar (2009) -
James Horner
Predators (2010) - John Debney
The Wolfman (2010) - Danny Elfman

The A-Team (2010) - Alan Silvestri
Super 8 (2011) Michael Giacchino
Rango (2011) -
Hans Zimmer
Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) - Michael Giacchino
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) - Patrick Doyle

The Help (2011) - Thomas Newman
The Lorax (2012) - John Powell
Ted (2012) - Walter Murphy
Life Of Pi (2012) - Mychael Danna

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) - Michael Giacchino
The Wolverine (2013) - Marco Beltrami
Epic (2013) - Danny Elfman
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) - Michael Giacchino


Planet of the Apes (2001)