Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scoring Stages: Abbey Road

Abbey Road Studios
Stage 1
The Abbey Road studios as we know it were inaugurated in 1931 in London, England.  The stages have seen momentous moments in music history, from classical recordings to The Beatles.  After recording several film scores in the early 1980's, Abbey Road has since been the premier places of film scoring in the London area.  Many scores recorded here feature the London Symphony Orchestra.

Scores recorded here include:

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - John Williams
Dragonslayer (1981) - Alex North
Outland (1981) - Jerry Goldsmith
The Dark Crystal (1982) - Trevor Jones
The Secret of NIMH (1982) - Jerry Goldsmith
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) - John Williams
Brazil (1985) - Michael Kamen
Ladyhawke (1985) - Andrew Powell
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) - Bruce Broughton
Highlander (1986) - Michael Kamen
Aliens (1986) - James Horner
An American Tail (1986) - James Horner
The Last Emperor (1987) - Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su
RoboCop (1987) - Basil Poledouris
Willow (1988) - James Horner
The Land Before Time (1988) - James Horner
All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) - Ralph Burns
An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) - James Horner
Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992) - Henry Mancini
Chaplin (1992) - John Barry
Shadow of the Wolf (1992) - Maurice Jarre
The Man Without a Face (1993) - James Horner
M. Butterfly (1993) - Howard Shore
Interview with the Vampire (1994) - Elliot Goldenthal
Little Women (1994) - Thomas Newman
Braveheart (1995) - James Horner
Copycat (1995) - Christopher Young
The Crucible (1996) - George Fenton
Brassed Off (1996) - Trevor Jones
G.I. Jane (1997) - Howard Shore
Lost in Space  (1997) - Bruce Broughton
Wilde (1997) - Debbie Wiseman
Practical Magic (1997) - Alan Silvestri
The Prince of Egypt (1998) - Hans Zimmer
What Dreams May Come (1998) - Michael Kamen
Bicentennial Man (1999) - James Horner
Message in a Bottle (1999) - Gabriel Yared
Sleepy Hollow (1999) - Danny Elfman
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) - John Williams
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) - Gabriel Yared
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) - Stephen Warbeck
Chicken Run (2000) - John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams
My Dog Skip (2000) - William Ross
Hollow Man (2000) - Jerry Goldsmith
Enemy at the Gates (2001) - James Horner
Shrek (2001) - John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) - Elliot Goldenthal
Iris (2001) - James Horner
From Hell (2001) - Trevor Jones
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) - Howard Shore
Return to Never Land (2002) - Joel McNeely
The Time Machine (2002) - Klaus Badelt
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) - John Williams
Gangs of New York (2002) - Howard Shore
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) - John Williams
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) - Howard Shore
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) - John Williams
The Hours (2002) - Philip Glass
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) - Alan Silvestri
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - Howard Shore
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) - Harry Gregson-Williams
Cold Mountain (2003) - Gabriel Yared
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) - John Williams
King Arthur (2004) - Hans Zimmer
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) - Edward Shearmer
Kingdom of Heaven (2005) - Harry Gregson-Williams
Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) - Rachel Portman
Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) - Julian Nott
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) - John Williams
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - Harry Gregson-Williams
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) - Danny Elfman
The Queen (2006) - Alexandre Desplat
The Black Dahlia (2006) - Mark Isham
The Omen (2006) - Marco Beltrami
United 93 (2006) - John Powell
Apocalypto (2006) - James Horner
The Water Horse (2007) - James Newton Howard
The Golden Compass (2007) - Alexandre Desplat
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) - Nicholas Hooper
3:10 to Yuma (2007) - Marco Beltrami
Stardust (2007) - Ilan Eshkeri
Spider-Man 3 (2007) - Christopher Young
Eastern Promises (2007) - Howard Shore
There Will Be Blood (2007) - Jonny Greenwood
Shrek the Third (2007) - Harry Gregson-Williams
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) - Harry Gregson-Williams
Defiance (2008) - James Newton Howard
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) - Hans Zimmer
City of Ember (2008) - Andrew Lockington
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) - Danny Elfman
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) - Randy Edelman
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) - Andrew Lockington
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - Alexandre Desplat
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) - Nicholas Hooper
Amelia (2009) - Gabriel Yared
Astro Boy (2009) - John Ottman
Nanny McPhee Returns (2010) - James Newton Howard
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) - Harry Gregson-Williams
Robin Hood (2010) - Marc Streitenfeld
Iron Man 2 (2010) - John Debney
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) - Alexandre Desplat
The King's Speech (2010) - Alexandre Desplat
The Tree of Life (2011) - Alexandre Desplat
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) - Alexandre Desplat
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011) - Carter Burwell
Hugo (2011) - Howard Shore
The Iron Lady (2011) - Thomas Newman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) - Theodore Shapiro
Journey 2 The Mysterious Island (2012) - Andrew Lockington
Prometheus (2012) - Marc Streitenfeld
The Avengers (2012) - Alan Silvestri
For Greater Glory (2012) - James Horner
ParaNorman (2012) - Jon Brion
Rise of the Guardians (2012) - Alexandre Desplat
Skyfall (2012) - Thomas Newman
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - Howard Shore
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - Alexandre Desplat
42 (2013) - Mark Isham
Iron Man 3 (2013) - Brian Tyler

John Williams conducts Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
William Ross conducts Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

John Williams conducts Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
James Horner conducts For Greater Glory (2012)

Alexandre Desplat and the vintage EMI microphones - The King's Speech (2010)

Miklos Rozsa conducts in Studio One, in 1974

James Horner conducts Braveheart (1995)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Marc Shaiman: The Showman

Marc Shaiman was born in New Jersey in 1959.  He began piano at a young age, never having full musical training.  Moving to New York City at the age of 16, Shaiman became a piano player for a comedy act directed by Scott Whittman (later to become collaborator and partner).

His obsessions with Bette Midler led to a gig performing with Midler's back-up girls, The Harlettes.  This led to Shaiman and the Harlettes opening for Midler on tour.  Knowing her songs and arrangements, he quickly became musical director/arranger for several live shows.  In 1980, he became an arranger/composer for Midler's TV movie The Mondo Beyondo Show (1980).  One of his big stage credits was for AndrĂ© DeShield's Harlem Nocturne in 1984, as a performer, musical director, orchestrator, arranger and songwriter.

Shaiman's on-screen talents were visible on Saturday Night Live, as a writer and performer (pianist Skip St. Thomas, naturally) for The Sweeney Sisters sketches from 1986-1989.  Working with SNL cast member, Billy Crystal, Shaiman wrote the music to Billy Crystal: Don't Get Me Started - The Billy Crystal Special (1986).  As an actor, he appeared in Broadcast News (1987) as News Theme Writer.  Given his relationship with Midler, he arranged many songs in her film Big Buisness (1988) and Beaches (1988), including favorite "Wind Beneath My Wings".

His collaboration with Crystal lent him to write, adapt, arrange and orchestrate songs for Rob Reiner's film When Harry Met Sally (1989).  It wasn't long for Reiner and Shaiman to begin their own collaboration.  Their first film together being the decidedly different sounding Misery (1990).  He expanded his scoring with Scenes from a Mall (1991), which naturally starred Midler, and also was song and music consultant on her film, For the Boys (1991).  That same year he scored the western comedy City Slickers (1991) and the fun lighthearted gothic-gypsy sounds for The Addams Family (1991).  Adding to his cameo list, were appearances as piano players in Scenes from a Mall and Hot Shots! (which he didn't score) and as a conductor in Addams Family.

He continued scoring comedies like Sister Act (1992) and Billy Crystal's directorial debut, Mr. Saturday Night (1992), while continuing to write both the score and songs in the films.  With Rob Reiner, he scored the courtroom drama A Few Good Men (1992), yet again showing his adaptability in style.  With Crystal hosting the 1992 Oscar Ceremony and his penchant for song monologues, Shaiman contributed special musical material, something he would do several times with Crystal.  He would win an Emmy for the work.  As pianist and arranger, he appeared with Bette Midler on the last episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1992.

1993 brought another popular film, Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which Shaiman wrote the score and song "With a Wink and a Smile" for Harry Connick Jr.  The song became Shaiman's first Oscar nomination.  And again contributed musical material to that years Oscar ceremony.  Following up his films, Shaiman worked on several sequels like Addams Family Values (1993) and City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold (1994).  While not scoring the film, he was a song adaptor and music supervisor for Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).  He also returned with City Slickers director Ron Underwood for his films, Hearts and Souls (1993) and Speechless (1994).  He expanded his horizons more with the next Reiner film, North (1994).

Shaiman re-teamed with Crystal, for his next directed film, Forget Paris (1995), and applied a sweeping score to Reiner's next collaboration, The American President (1995).  The later received an Oscar nomination - this time for original score.  In the next few years, he continued bouncing genres, from comedies like Oscar nominated The First Wives Club (1996), George of the Jungle (1997), In & Out (1997) to Reiner's civil rights drama Ghosts of Mississippi (1997).  With Crystal hosting, he again provided material for the Academy Awards in 1997 and 1998.  He also score My Giant (1998), another comedy starring Crystal.  Like many other composers, Shaiman scored an episode of the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1998).  Shaiman's style for comedy and drama suited him well for the touching films, Simon Birch (1998) and Patch Adams (1998).  The latter became his third Oscar nomination for score.

Working with Trey Parker, Shaiman put on many hats as a composer, orchestrator, arranger, and producer of the album Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics, and the subsequent South Park episode in 1999. They also worked together on the film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999). Shaiman composed the incidental score, and co-writing songs with Parker. Their song, "Blame Canada" was nominated for an Oscar - the ceremony in which Matt Stone and Trey Parker arrived in drag, with Shaiman dressed as a pimp.

For Reiner's next film, The Story of Us (1999), Shaiman shared credit with Eric Clapton. He also scored the fantasy comedy The Kid (2000). Returning to TV, Shaiman composed the theme for the series Bette (2000) starring Midler of course, and became the musical director for the Martin Short Show (1999-2000). He also returned with new material for Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars in 2000. He also scored the baseball drama TV movie directed by Crystal, 61* (2001).

2002 became Shaiman's hit year with the opening of his musical Hairpsray on Broadway. Adapted from the 1980s film, and partner/collaborator Scott Whittman, the infectious 60's sound made it a hit and it ran until 2009.  The show won the Best Musical Tony award as well as Best Original Score.  

Even with his score replaced by David Newman, two original songs by Shaiman/Whittman appear in The Cat in the Hat (2003).  His 60s style was used again for the romantic comedy Down with Love (2003), and again scored a Reiner film, the romantic comedy Alex & Emma (2003).  In 2004 he wrote material for that year's Oscar ceremony, and collaborated with Trey Parker on songs for Team America: World Police (2004), although his score was rejected after recording the entire thing.

Shaiman returned with Reiner for the romantic comedy Rumor Has It... (2005).  In 2006 he returned to the stage with Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, composing the songs, co-writing lyrics with Scott Whittman, and performing in the show and playing piano.  

Continuing with Oscar material, he contributed the song "A Comedian at the Oscars" for the 2007 ceremony.  That same year, he scored Reiner's film The Bucket List (2007).  It was also the year of the musical film adaptation of Hairspray (2007), arranging and orchestrating the songs from the Broadway hit.  With an all-star cast, Shaiman wrote Prop 8: The Musical (2008), a video short that premiered online.  For the 2010 Oscars, Shaiman not only wrote special material, but was also the music director.  He also scored Reiner's next film, Flipped (2010).

In 2011, Shaiman returned to the 1960s music style with the Broadway show Catch Me If You Can, based on the real case and Spielberg film.  Fitting a Broadway composer himself, he wrote the songs for the backstage-musical TV show Smash (2012-2013).  He also wrote the underscore for the first 6 episodes.  The highlight song "Let Me Be Your Star" was nominated for both a Grammy and Emmy.  Continuing his various collaborations, he also scored Reiner's The Magic of Belle Isle (2012) and Parental Guidance (2012) which starred both Bette Midler and Billy Crystal.  

Ever the showman, Shaiman has worn several hats throughout his career, appearing in cameos in several films, working for television, stage and screen.  He has been able to compose toe-tapping, bouncy scores that hark back to Tin Pan Alley days, and gone to the extreme with endearing dramas.  While seemingly type-cast in romantic comedies, he has shown his versatility through the years.  His enduring collaborations with actors and Rob Reiner are certainly notable - not to mention the Castle Rock Entertainment jingle that Shaiman wrote.  Shaiman continues to expand to different genres, styles and venues - and his wearing of different musical hats makes him a great showman.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Quick Review: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Music composed by Andrew Lockington
Orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd
Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage (Fox)
Album time: 68 minutes
Available on Sony Music

After Andrew Lockington's outstanding score to 2012's Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, he returns to the adventure blockbuster with this Percy Jackson sequel.  

Clearly in his comfort zone in scoring, Lockington went beyond by utilizing more electronics and expanding the orchestra - from the highest highs to the lowest lows.  Here is a rundown of the album.    

Thalia's Story begins with mysterious vocal solo (Thalia's theme), and then the pace picks up and we get the first rendition of Percy's theme.  The melody stays pretty clear in the brass, with strings showing off some fast passages while electronics pulse underneath.  Thalia's mysterious theme appears again, eventually joined by the strings, building to the end.  This new material isn't relying on Beck's melodies, but fits nicely into the same world.    

Percy At The Lake is a tender track featuring strings and harp.  Action begins quickly in Colchis Bull, electronics supporting frenetic strings.  The strings build with whirling electronics in the background.  The Shield Is Gone features Thalia's motif again, string joining with a melancholic tone.  Percy's theme appears in The Oracle's Prophecy.  The low brass introduce a darker motif, with a bit more mystery and menace.

Cursed Blade Shall Reap begins with a nice moment with strings and harp and later features Percy's theme passed through different instruments, building throughout.  Wild Taxi Ride starts with a big build-up (and a slide whistle, to boot).  A electric bass takes over, with some interrupting percussion and lots more synthetic elements.  Percy's theme gets passed around as the orchestra gets more frenetic, involving more percussion, drum loops, and vocal percussion before rising to a finish.  It's a goofy and fun track, and makes "The Knight Bus" from Harry Potter seem tame.

Hermes opens with a noble horn solo before beginning the quasi-military sound, with flute and snare drum.  Pizzicato is used a lot, giving it a playful sound (and an interjection of smooth jazz).  The horn returns with a tender touch.  Hippocampus is a nice track, with a nice building of the wonder-filled hippocampus motif and then a fleshed out Percy's theme.  Onboard the Yacht is full of suspense, with dissonant moments and charging string patterns.  Wave Conjuring begins with another vocal solo version of Thalia's theme.  As the longest track, several themes are passed around, and plenty of Lockington's signature styles are shown.  The electronics become heaver with the action moments, with plenty of wordless choir moments.  There are of course some dramatic rises and falls before the a grandiose section of choir and orchestra, before the track ends peacefully.

Sea of Monsters relaxes a bit, with tender harp and string moments and some past themes recalled.  There are some sweeping moments as the choir enters, eventually leading to Thalia's theme.  Belly of the Beast picks back up into the action, with fast moving strings, booming percussion and sizzling electronics.  Brass take over Percy's theme after a horn call.  New Coordinates has a pop montage sound for most of the track, a few themes make appearances, before ending with a large finish.

Polyphemus begins with the low strings, before repeating the horn call.  The same call leads a percussion-heavy action sequence.  The other long cue, Thank You Brother starts off mysterious, which eventually turns somber, with Percy's theme reprised in the slower setting.  Halfway through the low strings lead with a charging ostinato, and the track rises to a heroic climax.  

Kronos is full of a mix of orchestral sounds - tremolos in the strings, very low brass and whirling electronics.  The low brass and chanting choir take charge, and Percy's theme is quickly stated in between the string ostinatos.  The theme is given a full front-and-center rendition midway through, before the horn call shifts material.  Annabeth and the Fleece is a relaxed track, with more thematic returns.  Resurrection features the female solo in a more majestic version of Thalia's theme.  This is obviously the transformation that the character has, as well as the thematic transformation Lockington set up from the beginning.  The rest of the track is more hopeful, with the horn playing Percy's theme.  

Like his score to Journey 2, his Main Titles arrive at the end of the album.  Starting with Thalia's theme, before building to a heroic-sounding Percy's theme with a pop electronic sound.  The album ends with To Feel Alive, (written by Tiff Randol and Lockington) and sung by IAMEVE.  The song isn't bad, and it helps having a connection to the score.     
It's not as fist-pumping or rousing as his scores to Journey and Journey 2, but overall, an enjoyable listen.  The synths really don't get in the way of the orchestra for me, although they might to some listeners.  While Lockington's techniques work well, his rhythmic patterns in the strings become more uninteresting as the album goes on, something that didn't bother me in his past scores.          

While often having musical climaxes, the themes don't allow them to really shine, or have the heroic moments heard in his other scores.  While the material is fine, there aren't many standout moments that pull you more into the score.  It is, in my opinion, still a step up from Christophe Beck's score to the previous Percy Jackson film, which was bland for an adventure score.  This score is more in the league of Lockington's score to City of Ember - a workable score with a handful and really great moments.    

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Composers to the Stage

Obviously film musicals have been popular since the beginning of the film industry.  There have been original works like the ones at MGM (Singin in the Rain, Top Hat), or the stage adaptations (My Fair Lady, West Side Story).  

Great stage composers like Frederick Loewe, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin have had their work featured in several films.  Composers like Alfred Newman started his career as a musical director/conductor for several Broadway shows.

This post highlights the film composers who wrote musicals, either on Broadway, off-Broadway or other locations.  There are even a few examples tossed in of plays with music or TV musicals.    

Made in Dagenham (2014 London)

Passion Flower Hotel (1965 London)
Lolita, My Love (1971 unopened on Broadway)
Billy (1974 London)
The Little Prince and the Aviator (1981 unopened on Broadway)
Brighton Rock (2004 London)

Peter Pan (1954 Broadway) [incidental music]
How Now, Dow Jones (1967 Broadway)
Merlin (1983 Broadway)

On the Town (1944 Broadway)
Peter Pan (1950 Broadway)
Wonderful Town (1954 Broadway)
Candide (1956 Broadway)
West Side Story (1957 Broadway)
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976 Broadway)

Wake Up (2002 Vienna)

Juan Darien (1996 Broadway) [book, music, lyrics]
The Green Bird (2000 Broadway) [incidental music]
M. Butterfly (2017 Broadway) [original music, soundscapes]

A Chorus Line (1975 Broadway)
They're Playing Our Song (1979 Broadway)
Smile (1987 Broadway)
The Goodbye Girl (1993 Broadway)
The Sweet Smell of Success (2002 Broadway)

A Christmas Carol (1954 TV special)
A Child is Born (1955 TV special)

Incidental music/Music director: Lorenzaccio, Le Triomphe de l'Amour, Marie Tudor, Don Juan, Le Cid (all 1958 Broadway)

Cyrano (1973 Broadway)

The Lion King (1997 Broadway)

God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1979 off-Broadway)
Little Shop of Horrors (1982 off-Broadway, 2003 Broadway)
Weird Romance (1992 off-Broadway)
Beauty and the Beast (1994 Broadway)
The Little Mermaid (2008 Broadway)
Sister Act (2011 Broadway)
Leap of Faith (2012 Broadway)
Newsies (2012 Broadway)

Mother (1935 Broadway)
The Golden Apple (1954 Broadway)

George White's Scandals (1920 Broadway) [music director]
George White's Scandals (1921 Broadway) [music director]
The Greenwich Village Follies (1922 Broadway) [music director]
Jack and Jill (1923 Broadway) [additional music]

Funny Face (1927 Broadway) [music director]
Treasure Girl (1928 Broadway) [music director]

Faust (1995 San Diego)

Mother (1935 Broadway)
Tis of Thee (1940 Broadway)
Death of a Salesman (1949 Broadway, 1984 revival, 2012 revival)[incidental music]
The Innocents (1950 Broadway)[incidental music]

Coco (1969 Broadway)

Little House on the Prairie (2008 Minneapolis/Tour)

If the Shoe Fits (1946 Broadway)
Orchestrations: (Thumbs Up!, Parade, At Home Abroad, Meet the People)

Sherry (1967 Broadway)
Incidental Music/Dance Arrangements: (The Music Man, Goldilocks, Rashomon, Take Me Along, Donnybrook!)

Hairspray (2002 Broadway)
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (2006 Broadway)
Catch Me If You Can (2011 Broadway)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2017 Broadway)

The Sap of Life (1961 off-Broadway)
Starting Here, Starting Now (1977 off-Broadway)
Baby (1983 Broadway)
Urban Blight (1988 off-Broadway)
Closer Than Ever (1989 off-Broadway)
Big (1996 Broadway)

Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 (1931 Broadway)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998 off-Broadway)

Thomas and the King (1975 London)

Blackbirds of 1933 (1933 Broadway)
Pardon our French (1950 Broadway)
Seventh Heaven (1955 Broadway)

The Lion King (1997 Broadway)


Besides Broadway, film composers have also had their hand in operas.  Many of these composers call the concert stage home, but have worked in film as well.    

The Lady from the Sea

Trouble in Tahiti
A Quiet Place

The Tender Land

The Ghosts Of Versailles

Rio de Sangre

Marco Polo
Peony Pavilion
Tea: A Mirror of Soul
The First Emperor

Einstein on the Beach
The Voyage
Galileo Galilei
Waiting for the Barbarians
The Perfect American


Wuthering Heights

Lazarus and His Beloved
Journey to Cordoba
The Prospector
The Magic Dream
Concierto Para Mendez
Tanis in America

Der Ring des Polykrates
Die tote Stadt
Das Wunder der Heliane
Die Kathrin
Die stumme Serenade

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Vital Statistics
Facing Goya
Man and Boy: Dada
Love Counts

A Streetcar Named Desire
Brief Encounter

The Little Prince

The Trial of Louis XVI 

The Fly

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Spotlight On: X-Men

The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the X-Men films.

The original X-Men film can take some credit for starting the recent superhero craze.  Each film has had its own different voice, scored by a different composer - Michael Kamen, John Ottman, John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams and Henry Jackman.  

Joining the series is Marco Beltrami's The Wolverine and Days of Future Past (with a return of composer John Ottman).  

Until then, here's a look back on the X-Men franchise score by score. 

X-Men (2000)
Music by Michael Kamen 
Featuring a nice fanfare theme, a traditional orchestra is supplemented a lot by electronics. Notable are the moments with Wolverine and Rogue and the haunting theme for Magneto.  (Just listen to: Death Camp, The X-Jet, Museum Fight, Logan and Rogue

X2: X-Men United (2003)
Music by John Ottman
Director's usual Ottman took over for this much-improved sequel.  Ottman provided a new thematic fanfare great choral and percussion effects and several themes for the mutants, notable for Jean Grey, Mystique, Rogue, and Magneto. (Just listen to: Suite from X2, Storm's Perfect Storm, Rogue Earns Her Wings, Goodbye)

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Music by John Powell
Powell followed in Ottman's thematic formula, while not using any past material.  We get a new heroic theme (in the same style as several other superhero films) and a great major theme in 'Whirlpool of Love'.  While the action writing is over-the-top in places, Powell's theme for Dark Phoenix works well, as well as the elegiac moments of the score.  (Just listen to: Bathroom Titles, Whirlpool of Love, The Funeral, The Last Stand)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
With no connections to past scores, Gregson-Williams took over with this origin story.  Logan gets a solid theme, but it doesn't really stand out throughout the film.  The other theme is romantic for the love interest, Kayla.  The score features some nice choral and piano moments, but suffers with the generic action material.  (Just listen to: Logan Through Time, Special Privileges, Kayla, “…I’ll Find My Own Way”)

X-Men: First Class (2011)
Music by Henry Jackman
Taking over for this prequel/reboot Jackman utilized electronic guitars and loops nicely in addition to the traditional blockbuster orchestra sound.  There is a surplus of ostinato action scenes, which get tiresome by the end.  His foreboding Magneto theme and X-Men theme work best in the score.  In flashback, Kamen's music from the Concentration Camp does make an appearance.  (Just listen to: First Class, Frankenstein's Monster, X-Training, Mutant and Proud, Magneto)

The Wolverine (2013)
Music by Marco Beltrami
Rather than the superhero styles of the previous films, Beltrami created a brooding, menacing sound.  Delving into Logan's mind, we get a moody and dissonant sound for most of the score.  We also get interesting electronics, hints of Japanese styling, and the jarring sounds of a harmonica.  (Just listen to: Trusting, The Hidden Fortress, Sword of Vengeance, Where To?)  

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Music by John Ottman
Returning to the mutant world, Ottman introduces new themes for Xavier and incorporates the First Class theme and his X2 main theme.  There are many emotional soft moments, in addition to the loud blockbuster sound.  (Just listen to: Hope (Xavier’s Theme), Do What You Were Made For, Welcome Back – End Titles)

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Music by John Ottman

Much of this score stays dark and menacing, representing Apocalypse's character and darker plotlines.  Choir accentuates the large orchestral moments with some lovely solos in the quiet moments.  The souped up arrangement of a Beethoven symphony is a neat highlight.    (Just listen to: New Pyramid, Contacting Eric/The Answer!, You’re X-Men)

Check out the others!