Thursday, January 24, 2013

Quick Review: Life of Pi



Life of Pi
Music composed by Mychael Danna
Orchestrated by Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen, Bruce Fowler, Walter Fowler, Kevin Kaska, Joseph Newlin, Dan Parr, Conrad Pope, Carl Rydlund, Clifford Tasner
Score conducted by Nike Nowak
Additional music by Rob Simonsen
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage
Album time: 65 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

Mychael Danna's past work really didn't catch my attention like his score to Life of Pi. Often his scores have minimalist and synthetic qualities that often don't stand out (perhaps on purpose). Probably a name you don't know, Danna has worked with his brother Jeff Danna as well as frequently composed scores for Atom Egoyan. Life of Pi marks another score in the collaboration of Danna and director Ang Lee, which previously did The Ice Storm (1997) and Ride with the Devil (1999). Listening to the score, I am reminded by his scores to Ararat (2002) and The Nativity Story (2006).

The album starts with Pi's Lullaby, the song written by Danna and lyrics by Bombay Jayashri (who performs the song). Naturally the melody of the song appears in the score. Danna's interest in Indian and South Asian music is incorporated into his film scores, and this film follows suit. The album is made up of several short cues, which need to add together for the full listening experience (very similar to Thomas Newman in this approach).

The score begins with a lighthearted instrumental version of the song “Sous le ciel de Paris”, featuring an interesting instrumentation including an accordion. The cultures mix in the track, Piscine Molitor Patel which also features the traditional sitar and bansuri flute sounds. The theme presented in this track is featured throughout the album as it gets varied. The mix of instrumentation continues in Pondicherry. A solo voice begins Meeting Krishna, a mystical sounding track which naturally features many Indian sounds. Christ in the Mountains incorporates more of the Western orchestra with moments of choir – which adds to a beautiful, soothing effect in the score. The same goes for Thank You Vishnu for Introducing Me to Christ, a short and lovely cue. Appa’s Lesson is a highlight, inserting the lovely theme heard in Thank You Vishnu… Anandi is another minute-or-less track, just a hint of flavor and theme interjected into the film.

Leaving India features a melancholic tune on flute and a heartfelt performance. The Deepest Spot on Earth has the horn section play the past theme, this time with a foreboding sound. Tsimtsum is a stunning cue, with orchestra and choir blending, one of the first emotional tracks with a spiritual sound, making this the standout of the album.  Death of the Zebra returns the sorrowful flute solo heard briefly in Tsimtsum.  First Day, First Night features a boy soloist amid the low-register voices drone. The choir remains as the piano and orchestra take over. Among the beauty, there is a foreboding and mysterious sound that continues. With Set Your House in Order and Skinny Vegetarian Boy, we get more integration of ethnic instrumentation. The later features a nice bansuri solo.

The piano and flute take over with new thematic material in Pi and Richard Parker. The Whale unleashes more wonder and majesty into the score. Flying Fish is a short track, and its upbeat nature seems out of place in this part of the score. Tiger Training contains a brief rendition of Pi’s Lullaby. Orphans contains past themes, a tender look back with orchestral renditions.

Beginning with Tiger Vision, the tracks get longer and more emotional. The track ebbs and flows, with the solo voice and flute both briefly coming to the spotlight. God Storm brings the solo boy and low voices back in the biggest cue in the album. The large scale orchestra gives way to the calmer choir, which end the track sweetly. Both I’m Ready Now and The Island are less mysterious than earlier in the score. Both tracks feature more motion, both in melody and chord structure than previous tracks as Pi continues his journey.


Back to the World is the lengthiest track on the album. Pi’s earlier theme returns on the bansuri, but most of the ethnic instrumentation has fallen away for more strings and piano. The final tracks, The Second Story and Which Story Do You Prefer? are subtle and underscore the scenes in the film. The latter is a great track, starting softly with solo piano, flute and clarinet before swelling with choir to the finish.

This is one score that does provide a moving listen; it really needs to be accompanied by the stunning visuals of the film. While awards don’t always mean much, Danna has certainly received much deserved attention for this score.  (At the time of this writing, Danna won the Golden Globe for best score, and is Oscar nominated for both song and score).  His scores often don’t stand out enough for me (or even get noticed).  His knowledge and appreciation for Middle Eastern/Indian music has shone through several projects and fits with the traditional instrumentation effortlessly. Even the song Pi's Lullaby fits the score and adds nicely to the album.  It is a great marriage of film and music, perfectly describing the mythical and religious journey that Pi goes on.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

James Horner: The Hit

James Horner was born in 1953 in Los Angeles, California. Already in the Hollywood system, his father, Harry Horner, was a television director in the 1950s and production designers for films such as The Heiress (1949), Born Yesterday (1950) and The Hustler (1961) - and won 2 Academy Awards.

James began his musical career on the piano at a young age, and eventually moved with his family to England. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London with avant-garde composer György Ligeti. Upon returning to the United States, Horner began his studies at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) for his bachelor's degree. After graduation he stuck around at UCLA eventually receiving his master's degree in composition and music theory. While working on his doctorate at UCLA, he taught music theory. While still working on becoming a classical composer, his avant-garde piece "Spectral Shimmers" was premiered in Indiana in 1978. That same year, Horner got a glimpse of the film scoring business when he was asked to compose music for American Film Institute documentaries.

Forgoing his doctoral work, Horner was hired for Roger Corman's New World Pictures in 1979. With New World Pictures he composed his first film score to The Lady in Red (1979). The same company led him to film scores to Humanoids from the Deep (1980) and the big-budget Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). He branched out his style with the Oliver Stone thriller The Hand (1981) and horror flick Wolfen (1981). The relative unknown composer was then thrust into the Hollywood score landscape with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). The breakthrough score launched his career and led him to more big films. That same year was the jazz-inspired score to 48 Hrs. (1982). Never more popular, Horner began composing scores at a rapid pace. He continued his range with films like Gorky Park (1983), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) and a return to sci-fi with Krull (1983). He returned to the Star Trek franchise with his score to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). His style of traditional orchestral instruments mixed with electronic effects became notable in these early 80s scores.

In 1985, Horner’s wrote his first score with director Ron HowardCocoon (1985). That same year he wrote the varied scores to The Journey of Natty Gann and Commando. 1986 was a hit year for Horner. He scored the Disney attraction Captain EO, his synth score to The Name of the Rose (1986), the animated adventure An American Tail (1986) and the sci-fi follow-up, Aliens (1986). Even after the extremely short time to compose the score and vowing never to work with director James Cameron again, Aliens gave Horner another hit at the box office as well as his first Academy Award nomination. An American Tail was also a hit, and garnered multiple awards and nominations, mostly for the hit song “Somewhere Out There”. (Oscar nomination, Golden Globe nomination, Grammy win). His scores tended to get more thematic as time went on as apparent in Willow (1988), a reuniting with director Howard. That same year he scored the animated film The Land Before Time (1988).

In 1989 he worked on the family film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) with its throwback to Raymond Scott. Field of Dreams (1989) with its almost minimalist synth sounds was nominated for an Academy Award. One of the most effective drama scores by Horner was Glory (1989). The score was nominated for the Golden Globe and won a Grammy. And with that, James Horner ended the decade as a hit player in Hollywood.

The 1990s proved to be an even bigger success for Horner and his scores showed more variety yet still sounded like a Horner score. He also expanded with other directors. Scores during that time include:
The Rocketeer (1991) – first with director Joe Johnston
Patriot Games (1992) – Jack Ryan action film
Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993)
The Man Without a Face (1993) – first with director Mel Gibson
The Pelican Brief (1993)
Clear and Present Danger (1994) – next Jack Ryan action film
Legends of the Fall (1994) – sweeping score with director Edward Zwick (Glory)

With Braveheart (1995), Horner reunited with director Mel Gibson in his Scottish award winner. Horner’s penchant for bagpipes/uilleann pipes and sweeping melodies worked perfectly for the film. One of Horner’s most popular scores, it was nominated for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Oscar. That same year he scored the kid-flicks Casper (1995) and Jumanji (1995) and the ever popular Apollo 13 (1995) with director Ron Howard. Apollo 13 was also nominated in the same year’s Oscar category as Braveheart.

In 1997, he reunited with James Cameron for what is now considered his crowning achievement – Titanic (1997). While the blockbuster is known for its love theme “My Heart Will Go On”, Horner also used Celtic instruments and the ethereal sound of singer Sissel. The film’s score received notice just as much as the film itself, racking up a BAFTA nomination, Golden Globe and Oscar wins. The hit song also won a Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar.

Seeming to slow down after Titanic, Horner chose his projects wisely, trying something at each turn. At the end of the decade he scored large films like The Mask of Zorro (1998), Mighty Joe Young (1998) and Bicentennial Man (1999).

His choosiness of films led him to many more smaller and interesting films in the 2000s, but continuing his relationship with several directors.  With director Wolfgang Peterson, Horner wrote the very moving score to The Perfect Storm (2000). That same year was the box office smash How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), again partnered with director Howard. While looking for new challenges, Horner turned down larger projects like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and instead went with films like Enemy at the Gates (2001) and Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind (2001) which received Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

In the next few years, Horner scored more intriguing films like The Four Feathers (2002), Windtalkers (2002), dark score to The Missing (2002) – which was his last film with director Howard, and House of Sand and Fog (2003), which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Ever the fast composer, Horner stepped in (with 2 ½ months left) to completely rescore Troy (2004) for Wolfgang Peterson after he rejected Gabriel Yared’s completed score. In 2005, he returned to the Spanish sound with The Legend of Zorro (2005) and suffered replacement problems himself with Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005). In 2006, Horner premiered a short theme for CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as scoring Mel Gibson’s brutal Apocalypto (2006). While not rare for him, Horner brought his piano playing to the forefront of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008), and returned to children’s adventure with The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008).

It was a reunion with James Cameron that brought Horner’s name back to the spotlights. He returned with sweeping themes and ethnic sounds for the 3D blockbuster Avatar (2009). Again he racked up BAFTA, Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy nominations, and Golden Globe and Grammy nods for the song “I See You”.

Replacing Atli Örvarsson, Horner stepped into the remake of The Karate Kid (2010). He was also reunited with director Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose, Enemy at the Gates) for Black Gold [Day of the Falcon] (2011). In 2012, Horner composed two top-notch scores, the first being For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada (2012) and the return to superheroes with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

Upcoming Horner has an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (2013) and possible sequels to Spider-Man and Avatar.

Horner's fast pace and his way of seeking adventures led him to interesting projects and expanding his musical vocabulary.  His work on dramatic films is perhaps his best, bringing the weight of the drama to the forefront.  Even in adventure or children's films, his thematic work is always malleable for several situations.  Critics have pointed out Horner’s overuse of a trumpet motif found in several of his scores and a tendency to plagiarize from classical music as well as his own scores.

Working on some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters ever, his music has been heard on the massive amounts of albums sold. His collaborations with directors James Cameron and Ron Howard show his adaptability and have made Horner one of the most sought-after and popular film composers working today.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 Original Score Awards Roundup


Here's the Guide to the Original Score nominations and winners from various associations. Winners will be marked in red as they happen!

ACADEMY AWARD
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina
Alexandre Desplat - Argo
*Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
John Williams - Lincoln
Thomas Newman - Skyfall

GOLDEN GLOBE
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina
Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer - Cloud Atlas
*Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
John Williams - Lincoln

BRITISH ACADEMY FILM AWARDS (BAFTA)
Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina
Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
John Williams - Lincoln
*Thomas Newman - Skyfall

ANNIE AWARDS
BEST MUSIC IN A FEATURE PRODUCTION

Bruce Retief - Adventures in Zambezia
Patrick Doyle, Mark Andrews, Alex Mandel - Brave
John Powell, Cinco Paul - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Mark Mothersbaugh - Hotel Transylvania
John Powell, Adam Schlesinger, Ester Dean - Ice Age: Continental Drift
Alexandre Desplat - Rise of the Guardians
Joel McNeely, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda - Secret of the Wings
*Henry Jackman - Wreck-It Ralph

SATELLITE AWARDS (INTERNATIONAL PRESS ACADEMY)
ORIGINAL SCORE

Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina
*Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer - Beasts of the Southern Wild
John Williams - Lincoln
Jonny Greenwood - The Master
Thomas Newman - Skyfall

LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST MUSIC SCORE

*Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Jonny Greenwood - The Master

SAN DIEGO FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST SCORE

Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
*Jonny Greenwood - The Master
Alexandre Desplat - Moonrise Kingdom

WASHINGTON DC AREA FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST SCORE

Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Howard Shore - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
John Williams - Lincoln
*Jonny Greenwood - The Master
Alexandre Desplat - Moonrise Kingdom

BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS
BEST USE OF MUSIC IN A FILM

*Moonrise Kingdom
Django Unchained

CHICAGO FILM CRITICS AWARDS
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer - Beasts of the Southern Wild
*Jonny Greenwood - The Master
Alexandre Desplat - Moonrise Kingdom
Alexandre Desplat - Zero Dark Thirty

DALLAS-FORT WORTH FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST MUSICAL SCORE

*John Williams - Lincoln

HOUSTON FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST SCORE

Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer - Beasts of the Southern Wild
*Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer - Cloud Atlas
Danny Elfman - Hitchcock
Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
John Williams - Lincoln
Jonny Greenwood - The Master
Thomas Newman - Skyfall

LAS VEGAS FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST SCORE

*Mychael Danna - Life of Pi

LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE FILM AWARDS
TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT (FOR ORIGINAL SCORE)

*Alexandre Desplat - Rust and Bone

CRITICS CHOICE AWARDS
BEST SCORE

Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
*John Williams - Lincoln
Jonny Greenwood - The Master
Alexandre Desplat - Moonrise Kingdom


SATURN AWARDS
BEST MUSIC
Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
*Danny Elfman - Frankenweenie
Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina
Thomas Newman - Skyfall
Howard Shore - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Hans Zimmer - The Dark Knight Rises