Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spotlight On...Die Hard

The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the Die Hard franchise.

Following Bruce Willis' John McClane, the films have been hits at the box office, and action film favorites.  We also get some composer continuity with Michael Kamen scoring films 1-3 and Marco Beltrami on the most recent installments.      

Here's a look back on the Die Hard films score by score. 

Die Hard (1988)
Music by Michael Kamen
Fresh off of Lethal Weapon, Kamen began composing more action scores.  Upon director John McTiernan's suggestion, a lot of the score uses music from various sources.  While we get a theme for John McClane, the use of Ode to Joy as Hans Gruber's theme is more memorable.  Listen for the mix of slow burner tense music, action cues and the mix of Winter Wonderland and sleigh bells in the score.  Don't forget to listen to the unused cue from Aliens in the finale!  (Just listen to: Gruber's Arrival, Welcome to the Party, Assault on the Tower, The Battle

Die Hard 2 (1990)
Music by Michael Kamen
Utilizing more original music, Kamen uses the classical piece Finlandia.  Not many connections between the scores besides Kamen's style.  New material includes the bamboo flutes for the villains, more prolonged action cues, and Herrmann-esque suspense.  (Just listen to: The Annexe Skywalk, Snowmobiles, The Terminal)

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
Music by Michael Kamen
Following the previous format, When Johnny Comes Marching Home is the identifiable theme for the film.  Also included is some Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven instead of strong new themes.  The original album didn't include many of the best Kamen action moments, due to rewriting and deadlines.  (Just listen to: John and Zeus, Take A-nother Train, Waltz of the Bankers)

Life Free or Die Hard (2007)
Music by Marco Beltrami
Beltrami took over for this large action film.  He uses several Kamen-isms through the score including the brass blasts and the main motif.  Definitely a hard action score with pounding brass and percussion.  (Just listen to: Out of Bullets, It's a Fire Sale, Copter Chase, The F-35)

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
Music by Marco Beltrami
Beltrami continued the franchise, keeping the overall sound from the last (and hints of the previous Kamen scores).  The result is a louder and larger than life action score.  (Just listen to: Yuri Says, Truckzilla, Chopper Takedown, It's Hard to Kill a McClane)  

Check out the others!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dialogue on Soundtracks

Anyone who has listened to enough soundtracks and score albums has come across this scenario:
Listening to the album and suddenly a voice appears.  Sometimes over the music itself, sometimes just a short track of the characters speaking.  So much narration!

Often baffling, often irritating, but sometimes enjoyable...Dialogue on Soundtracks.  Love them or hate them, they are ridiculously short tracks that can thankfully be skipped.  

Here's a handful of film soundtracks those that do that I've heard or encountered over the year.  I've included the composer's name just because.  Have a favorite or least favorite?  One I didn't mention?  Leave a comment below!

Angela's Ashes [John Williams]
Apollo 13 [James Horner] (long stretches of scenes)
Blade Runner [Vangelis]
More Music from Braveheart [James Horner] (almost a whole album of dialogue)
Conan the Barbarian [Basil Poledouris]
Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Alexandre Desplat] (second disc of dialogue and jazz standards)
Desperado [Los Lobos]
The Devils Advocate [James Newton Howard] (stay for the Al Pacino rants)
Ed Wood [Howard Shore] (the Amazing Criswell narrates)
From Dusk Till Dawn [Graeme Revell]
More Music from Gladiator [Hans Zimmer]
Green Lantern [James Newton Howard] (the Green Lantern oath)
Halloween [Tyler Bates]
Hannibal [Hans Zimmer] (unbearable dialogue and score)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas [James Horner]
The Ipcress File [John Barry]
Mississippi Burning [Trevor Jones]
The Muppets [Christophe Beck] (come for the songs, stay for the 15 dialogue tracks)
Muppets Most Wanted [Christophe Beck] (more song intros)
The Nightmare Before Christmas [Danny Elfman] (with unused narration)
Out of Sight [David Holmes]
Patton [Jerry Goldsmith] (Patton's great speech)
Rango [Hans Zimmer]
Romeo + Juliet: Music from the Motion Picture 2 [Craig Armstrong]
Saving Mr. Banks [Thomas Newman]
The Shadow [Jerry Goldsmith] (the Shadow knows....)
Shaun of the Dead [Pete Woodhead/Daniel Mudford]
Six Degrees of Separation [Jerry Goldsmith]
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan [James Horner] (Where no man....)
Tron: Legacy [Daft Punk] (the Grid...)
WarGames [Arthur B. Rubinstein]
War of the Worlds [John Williams] (smooth narration by Morgan Freeman)
The Tarantino collection: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vol 2, Django Unchained

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Quick Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Music composed by Danny Elfman
Conducted by: Rick Wentworth
Orchestrated by: Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker,  John Ashton Thomas, Timothy Rodier, Edward Trybek, Peter Bateman
Additional music and arrangements by Paul Mounsey, Chris Bacon, Peter Bateman, John Ashton Thomas
Score Recorded at AIR Studios, London
Album time: 50 minutes
Available on Relativity

Still relatively new to the animated film scene, Danny Elfman has worked with Disney (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Blue Sky (Epic) and now DreamWorks (Mr. Peabody & Sherman).  John Powell might be the only other composer who has worked with those 3 animation companies.  And that's actually what this score sounds like: a bit of Elfman and a bit of Powell in a blender.

With that said, here's the rundown of the album.  

With a flurry, the upbeat main theme begins in Mr. Peabody’s Prologue.  Moments appear between instruments, showing off a piano and saxophone motif (very Pee-Wee's Big Adventure).  There are plenty of Elfman-y happenings throughout the score, especially the beginning.  We get hints of a harpsichord and brass fanfares, before a reference to La Marseillaise (France's national anthem) as they travel to their first destination.  Reign of Terror! finds our characters in a tough spot, with the suspense clearly in the music, alongside the heroic Marseillaise making an appearance.  His trademark wordless choir appears, with busy writing and triumphant statements of the main theme.

The Drop Off is a sweet track, featuring the main theme before the piano and saxophone motif.  The Dog Whistle and The Cherry Tree are short cues, with a little bit of cartoony qualities.  A Deep Regard is a tender moment with the secondary/sentimental theme.  Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) is the John Lennon song, which is fine since there aren't 2 separate score and song albums.

Dinner Party is more hurried music, a mix of fanfares and flourishes.  The Petersons/The Wabac Machine, begin with some drama, before some cartoony moments.  The main theme makes an appearance as well as standard Elfman elements.  The track goes right into Aquarela do Brasil, an arrangement of the Brazillian samba heard just about everywhere.

Off To Egypt changes the style of the music - shaped by the flavor of location.  The main theme appears with some dramatic flare.  The Wedding Exodus begins with an old-Hollywood (think Ben-Hur) fanfare as well as an Egyptian-style variation of the main theme.  Hammer-Time has a bunch of cartoony moments, very Carl Stalling.  The Flying Machine features the secondary theme, heard earlier in A Deep Regard.  The music turns from sentimental to frenzied with the main theme and choir making an appearance with this flying sequence.  The main theme bounces around a few times before the finish.  Trojan Horse begins with the secondary theme, before getting busier and building up.  There is a burst of Latin choir (inspired perhaps by John Williams' Call of the Champions?) before leading into a march and sneaking music.  The secondary theme gets another reference at the end.

War/Disaster kicks up the action, with some heroic horn blasts, fanfares and great statements of the main theme.  The music from here on in the album really picks up, really showing Elfman's strengths.  A solo piano takes over with the sentimental theme before picking back up.  History Mash-Up is the highlight of the album (and probably score).  Beginning with some drama, it morphs from genre and style to another: twangy and mandolin, La Marseillaise, and Egyptian fanfares.  A charging variation of the main theme enters, as well as a harpsichord La Marseillaise, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a French waltz, and some booming low brass.  

I'm A Dog Too is more of the sentimental theme, including some solo piano.  The music builds with the brass and snare drum, with the choir coming into the front later.  Fixing the Rip leads back to action music, with some moments sounding like Elfman's older style.  The sentimental theme becomes charged to a great finish.  Back to School brings us back to the piano and saxophone motif which builds to a grand finale.  

Aquarela do Brasil (Coda) is another fun arrangement of the popular tune, with bits of La Marseillaise and Here Comes the Bride.  The Amazing Mr. Peabody is a semi-scene with Stephen Colbert shouting out instruments for Peabody to play.  Finishing off the album is the skippable song Way Back When from the band Grizfolk.

Elfman's further foray into animation really suits him nicely.  The score is lively with some great melodies.  The score doesn't stay too long in one area, not letting it too much Mickey-Mousing.  The themes work in the many settings and arrangements throughout the score.  The main theme is one of the hummable theme (and in a major key) from Elfman's recent output, and the secondary sentimental theme is sweet and also pretty flexible through the score.  While they both make many appearances, they don't seem repetitive and the album doesn't overstay its welcome with its length.  Overall, a fun score matching the film's fun and humor.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Glimpses of Godzilla

As scoring continues for Godzilla, here are some behind the scenes photos of the recording sessions.  With the score by Alexandre Desplat, it is being recorded at Sony (MGM) Studios with the Hollywood Studio Symphony (instead of Desplat's standard London Symphony).