Monday, November 5, 2018

Quick Review: First Man

First Man
Music composed by Justin Hurwitz
Music orchestrated and conducted by Justin Hurwitz
Soundtrack running time: 67 minutes
Available on Back Lot Records

After their Oscar winning success on La La Land (2016), Justin Hurwitz and director Damien Chazelle continue their collaboration with First Man. Based on the book of the same name, the film explores the life of Neil Armstrong - his family life, training and eventual moon landing in 1969.

Rather than the jazz influences in La La Land and Whiplash (2014), Chazelle and Hurwitz wanted to score it differently than anything they worked on before. Working with storyboards and the script, Hurwitz composed some main themes and sketched out some of the major sequences prior to the main scoring process. The instrumentation of the score is unique - Hurwitz employs the use of interesting retro electronics both as a melodic and rhythmic texture. He also liberally uses solo harp and theremin (performed by Hurwitz himself). The music often keeps the score from a personal point of view – Armstrong's family, and the loneliness that goes with space travel. The longest cues served as jumping off points for the rest of the score - the Apollo 11 launch and the landing sequence.

Two main themes support the film - Neil's theme and family theme. Both appear all through the score separately with a few tracks where they intertwine. A work theme as he prepares with NASA appears in handful of tracks.

I've decided to make a handy guide for the album as divided by main theme: Neil's theme, family theme, work theme and electronic tension.

Neil’s theme is highlighted in Armstrong Cabin, Houston, Sextant, The Armstrongs, Neil Packs, Apollo 11 Launch, The Landing, Quarantine.
Family theme is highlighted in Karen, It'll Be an Adventure, Baby Mark, Squawk Box, Docking Waltz, I Oughta Be Getting Home/Plugs Out, Contingency Statement, The Landing, Crater, Quarantine.
Work theme is featured in Another Egghead, Multi-Axis Trainer, First to Dock, Dad's Fine, End Credits.
Electronic tension is found in X-15, Good Engineer, Elliot, Searching for the Aegena, Spin, Naha Rescue 1, News Report, Translunar, Moon, Tunnel, Moon Walk.

The family theme seems to be the framework for Pat and Janet, Neil Packs and Home; while the melody in Apollo 11 Launch is derived from Neil's theme. While supporting the film, the electronic tension cues are easily the most skippable during an album listen. You might enjoy the vintage synth work he's crafted, but it's not my cup of tea. It's really The Landing and Quarantine that sum up Hurwitz's score. Neil's theme intertwined with the family theme bring all parts of the story of Neil Armstrong together.

The score is bold in its choices, and I'll give it to Hurwitz for that. The film and score don't have the overt heroics of Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff (and nor does it need to). The film and score go for a personal look at Armstrong rather than "Moon Landing: The Motion Picture". The use of theremin is a neat idea and used well in context and the moments with solo harp are simple and effective. Even with the musically fine themes, I found the album a bit of a slog. Of course film music's main goal is to support the film (which it does), so you can't rate the score on album alone. Overall, what you get is a collection of short cues that feel like thematic statements rather than letting them evolve throughout the score.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Music Behind the Ride: Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion is one of the most beloved rides at Disney properties around the world.  In this new feature Music Behind the Ride, I wanted to explore a classic attraction with some connections with film composers.  With Halloween approaching, I wanted to take a specific look at the 999 happy haunts and the music that accompanies them.

The most important names in the creation of the attraction's music are composer Buddy Baker and Imagineer/lyricist X Atencio. Baker might be a familiar name to Disney fans with his music appearing all over the parks (he was WED's music director) and his various live action and animated film scores.  Atencio was instrumental in the creation of the Mansion's script and lyrics to Grim Grinning Ghosts.  Atencio also wrote the lyrics to the other Disney park classic song, Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me).



The song Grim Grinning Ghosts ties the whole ride together.  While the song with lyrics isn't fully used until the last scenes, the song's melody is placed throughout the ride.  Baker arranged these variations on the melody for each scene of mainly different tempos and instrumentation as to not let the tune get too repetitive.  The foyer features the melody played slowly on a funeral-style organ while the ride loading area features the melody on flute and tubular bells.  There are several parts of the rides that the music was purposely performed backwards and played forwards, giving it a slightly otherworldly feel.  The ballroom scene is more orchestral and melody is modified into a grand waltz.  I love the music as the ride enters the graveyard jamboree.  Around 40 different tracks were recorded for this portion, and the graveyard jamboree scene itself included a jazz ensemble, instrumental soloists, vocalists including the singing busts and the soprano opera singer.  All this happening from the line queue to the exit is a testament to Baker and the Imagineering team's attention to detail.  The ride opened at Disneyland in 1969 with Walt Disney World's version in Magic Kingdom opened soon after in 1971.  Tokyo Disneyland opened their ride in 1983.

In 2001 the Disneyland Haunted Mansion received a holiday season overlay called Haunted Mansion Holiday, based on The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).  In addition to the Jack Skellington decorations, the ride's soundtrack was also changed.  Originally it featured new music by Gordon Goodwin, but the score was replaced in 2002 with film themes by Danny Elfman adapted by John Debney.  I believe some of Goodwin's score still appears in the ride.

Meanwhile, across the world the Haunted Mansion has some alternate incarnations and some fantastic music to go along with it.    

In 1992, Phantom Manor opened in Disneyland Paris.  The ride contains a darker theme with a storyline unlike the earlier versions.  We get a new bride storyline and and an entirely new orchestral score composed by John Debney.  Debney was no stranger to Disney, having been mentored by Buddy Baker and arranged several other park ride music in the 1980s.  Recorded by the London Chamber Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, Debney's gothic score fits more of the new romantic storyline.  The ride doesn't use narration, so the film-like score carries much of the story, and Debney utilized a solo female singer throughout the attraction's score.  Never straying too far from the original, elements of Grim Grinning Ghosts are still included in the score. The ride closed in 2018 for refurbishment, and will reopen in 2019 with updated effects and a possible updated storyline.

In 2013, Hong Kong Disneyland opened its own dark ride called Mystic Manor.  More inspired than based on the Haunted Mansion due to cultural sensitivities, we follow Lord Henry Mystic and his pet monkey, Albert.  The lighthearted trackless ride travels through the mansion's collection rooms with Albert unleashing many mystical artifacts.  The ride's score was composed by Danny Elfman (it's no surprise he was a fan of the original Haunted Mansion).  The magical score features choir, pipe organ and Elfman providing vocals as suits of armor.  The score changes instrumentation through the various rooms - from the Egyptian and Tiki rooms to the Chinese room.  Because of the basically new story and ride, references to Grim Grinning Ghosts don't appear.  
Elfman's portrait appears in Mystic Manor's queue area. 
As far as recordings, the song Grim Grinning Ghosts has appeared on several Disney compilations, but ride sound effects, background music and separate musical tracks have appeared on the limited edition 30th anniversary disc and 2009 The Haunted Mansion album currently sold in the Disney parks.  A 12-minute Phantom Manor suite is also included on the album.  The Haunted Mansion Holiday received an album in 2003, featuring handfuls of spooky Christmas carols, and music by Goodwin, Elfman and Debney.  As of this writing, Elfman's 5 minute Mystic Manor music hasn't been released - and I hope it makes it out!  It can be heard on various fanmade ride videos and his main theme is used in a collectible music box sold in Hong Kong Disneyland.

Happy Halloween!  Hope the music gets stuck in your head!  Oh, and beware of hitchhiking ghosts!            

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Composer Cameos #6

Composer Cameos are back!  Here are a bunch of new cameos and roles by some familiar composer faces!  I have featured many other composers on the past posts, which are linked posts here: #1#2#3#4, #5.


JON BRION
Brion jams with Adam Sandler in Funny People (2009)

BRUCE BROUGHTON
Broughton plays piano in the A Quiet Day in Dodge episode of Gunsmoke (1973)
T-BONE BURNETT
Burnett (r) in Heaven's Gate (1980)
CARTER BURWELL
Burwell plays piano in Scorchers (1991)
FRANK CHURCHILL
Churchill plays piano behind the scenes in The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
GEORGE S. CLINTON
Clinton (l) as reporter Joe Pittman in The Apple (1980)
FRANK DE VOL
Frank De Vol as Mr. Eaglewood in The Parent Trap (1961)
RAMIN DJAWADI
Djawadi as a guitarist in The Riddle of the Sphinx episode of Westworld (2018)
PATRICK DOYLE
Doyle as the minister in Effie Gray (2014)
GEORGE FENTON
Fenton as the conductor in flashbacks in The Lady in the Van (2015) 
MICHAEL GIACCHINO
Giacchino (r) plays trooper FN-3181 in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)


The conductor in Coco's final concert based on Giacchino's looks (2017)
HOWARD GOODALL
Goodall is a church organist in the pilot episode of Mr. Bean (1990)
LUDWIG GORANSSON
Goransson plays piano in the band in Creed (2015)
JONNY GREENWOOD
Greenwood (r) plays guitar at the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
RICHARD HAGEMAN
Hageman is the saloon pianist in 3 Godfathers (1948)
MICHEL LEGRAND
Legrand plays Bob the pianist in Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
JOHN OTTMAN
Ottman portrays Confused Tech in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
ERIC SERRA
Eric Serra portrays The Bassist in Subway (1985)
THEODORE SHAPIRO
Shapiro (in hat) appears with the band in a deleted scene from Ghostbusters (2016)
MAX STEINER
Steiner appears conducting the orchestra in the titles of Girl Crazy (1932)
MORTON STEVENS
Stevens dies from a drug overdose and his case file in Trouble in Mind episode of Hawaii Five-O (1970)

HERBERT STOTHART/BRONISLAW KAPER
Stothart (l) and Kaper (r) appear in the backstage MGM short We Must Have Music (1941)

DIMITRI TIOMKIN
Tiomkin appears as himself in a bit on The Johnny Carson Show (1955)

Tiomkin appears as himself in the Honey From the Bee episode of 77 Sunset Strip (1959)

Tiomkin works with Jack Benny on a song in the hilarious Jack Writes Song episode of The Jack Benny Program (1961) 

OLIVER WALLACE

Wallace appears in the Disneyland episode, The Story of the Animated Drawing (1955)

Wallace conducts in the Disneyland episode, Cavalcade of Song (1955)

Wallace conducts the circus band in Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus (1960)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Spotlight On....Mission: Impossible

The newest Spotlight On is all about the Mission: Impossible film franchise.
In honor of the newest release, we're looking back score by score in the series.  Even with several composers over the years, each film incorporates the classic Lalo Schifrin television theme.  Read on...this message will self-destruct in five seconds.

Mission: Impossible (1996)
Music by Danny Elfman
Elfman entered scoring this blockbuster late into the game.  Elfman generally keeps the spy atmosphere with some fantastically quiet and suspenseful underscore.  It feels a bit out of Elfman's comfort zone, and doesn't immediately hook you in.  The Shifrin quotes are kept to a minimum and don't interfere with most of the score.   The final action track is the best in the score.  (Just listen to: Looking for "Job", Betrayal, The Heist, Zoom B) 

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
Music by Hans Zimmer
Both the film and score go bolder in this sequel.  Electric guitars and drum set bring the rock feel to the forefront, while Spanish-style guitar and vocal solos are also added in.  The bigger action scenes are underscored with some distorted guitar and techno-lite music.  Easily the weakest film in the series, the score doesn't offer much to standout from Zimmer's other 2000 works.  (Just listen to: Nyah, Injection, Bare Island, Mission: Accomplished)

Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Music by Michael Giacchino
After crafting the spy antics on television's Alias, Giacchino joined director JJ Abrams to the next big screen followup.  Giacchino shows off the orchestra in neverending action cues and creates tension with driving ostinatos.  New motifs and themes are added, as well as more Schifrin references.  The quieter moments for his love theme are also delightful.  (Just listen to: Helluvacopter Chase, Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall, Reparations)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Continuing where he left off, Giacchino continues more variations on Schifrin's original tunes and style.  The score incorporates the various globe trotting with heavy Russian and Indian sections.  Giacchino returns to motifs from the previous film, but the newer material doesn't leave a big impact.  The suspenseful underscore works great in the hair-raising Dubai climb sequence.  (Just listen to: Light the Fuse, Kremlin with Anticipation, A Man, A Plan, A Code, Dubai, Love the Glove, Putting the Miss in Mission)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
Music by Joe Kraemer
Making his splash into the franchise, Kraemer goes back to the Schifrin roots and creates most of the score by breaking apart and reconstructing familiar aspects.  Going back to the spy sound, the score is present without being too in-your-face.  Everything seems fresh - a modern action score without sounding like a modern action score.  Kraemer writes great material for the orchestra with new themes being some of the highlights.  (Just listen to: The A400, The Plan, Morocco Pursuit, Meet the IMF)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
Music by Lorne Balfe
Keeping directors for the first time, we get a change of composer with Lorne Balfe.  Known for his co-composing with Hans Zimmer, he brings a similar sound to the endlessly repetitive action cues.  Many cues end up feeling like they got away from a Christopher Nolan film.  While he adds more percussion, electronics and choir to Schifrin's melodies, Balfe's score doesn't have much of its own identity and doesn't go very far beyond the stunts it's accompanying.  (Just listen to: Change of Plan, Stairs and Rooftops, Escape Through Paris)  



Check out the others in the SPOTLIGHT ON.... series!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Top 10 Scores Turning 10 in 2018

Welcome back to a trip on the Musical Time Machine! What feels like just a few years ago is now 10 years old. Here's a look back at the scores of 2008 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 10!

Let's start the ranking!


10. The Dark Knight (Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard)
This sequel score is unique. Delving deeper into the sonic world created for Batman Begins, Zimmer and Howard split their work and focus on Joker and Harvey Dent, respectively. Utilizing more electronic elements combined with the orchestra gives the feeling of sound design more than traditional film score. The Joker material pushes boundaries in the genre, while some other aspects appear in past and future Zimmer outings. The sense of anxiety is persistent through the score - fitting the tone of the film, but making it a tough album for some to make through.


9. Speed Racer (Michael Giacchino)
Just like the main character, the score races through dizzying loops and turns. The retro styling brings it back to the old Speed Racer cartoons, and Giacchino faithfully incorporates the theme song throughout the score. Giacchino's styles jump from energetic action to quirky comedy to some subdued family moments. Like the film, it's a bit too much on the senses, but enjoyable in the end.


8. Hancock (John Powell)
In this modern twist of the superhero film, Powell mixes a jazzy swagger with modern action music. He also adds to the comedy with some light writing and interesting instrument combinations. The big rush comes at the finale where all the separate parts and thematic material start working together. The last two album tracks end the score with a bang.


7. Defiance (James Newton Howard)
Music conveys much of the dark tone in this World War II-set film. It's a quieter and more subtle score with beautifully written string moments and propulsive percussion and brass underscoring the action. The heart of the score is carried by the violin solo performed by Joshua Bell, which Howard uses to great effect. There are some standout cues on the album, which is worth a few listens to truly appreciate.


6. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Harry Gregson-Williams)
Building on the musical world from the previous film, the score by Gregson-Williams feels more epic with its great use of orchestra and choir. The lengthy action cues match the more action-heavy film, but give time for Gregson-Williams to develop some original themes and incorporated new material. The music really supports and accentuates the dramatic parts of the film, and really help bring the adventure and heroics to Narnia.


5. Kung Fu Panda (Hans Zimmer/John Powell)
Zimmer and Powell really show off in this fun animated score. This score involves large themes supplemented with a rock feel, and enough cliche Chinese-esque melodies and instruments to fit the film. While they aren't separately credited, it certainly sounds like you could pick out each composers' contributions. The spiritual theme for Master Oogway is a standout and featured heavily in the following sequels.


4. Quantum of Solace (David Arnold)
Arnold continues his streak of Bond scores, following Casino Royale with more audacious action scoring. The traditional aspects of a Bond score are all present, with Arnold showing off the globetrotting with some exotic instrumentation. Some of the quiet moments stand out, as well as haunting reprises of Vesper's theme.


3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Alexandre Desplat)
Desplat's carefully crafted score emphasizes the more magical aspects on top of the love story. The main theme waltz runs through the score along with several other dream-like themes. As always with Desplat, the gentle orchestration featuring harp, piano and woodwinds are heavily featured. To the turnoff of some, the score is rather quiet, intimate and seemingly mesmerizing.


2. Wall-E (Thomas Newman)
The opening of the film sets so much of the world, and Newman's music acts like a silent film score. The orchestral/electronic mixed with the vibrant instrumentation gives it a sci-fi feel when needed. The score carries the big moments of the Axiom's action in the second half to the most tender love story.


1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (John Williams)
While the weakest film in the Indiana Jones series, Williams returned to form by incorporating new material and old themes. Overall, the score works better in the film than on album, with the jungle chase as the highlight. His swashbuckling Adventures of Mutt is still a mainstay at his concerts. It doesn't always recapture the magic of the original trilogy, but it's a great score.


Honorable Mentions:
City of Ember (Andrew Lockington), Frost/Nixon (Hans Zimmer), The Happening (James Newton Howard), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Danny Elfman), Horton Hears a Who (John Powell), Journey to the Center of the Earth (Andrew Lockington), Milk (Danny Elfman), Nim's Island (Patrick Doyle), Rambo (Brian Tyler), Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman), The Spiderwick Chronicles (James Horner)

Extra Honorable Mention: Cloverfield (Michael Giacchino)

Any personal favorites of yours from 2008 that I didn't include?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Quick Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Music composed and adapted by John Powell
Music conducted by Gavin Greenaway
Additional music and arrangements by Batu Sener, Anthony Willis, Paul Mounsey
Music orchestrated by John Ashton Thomas, Geoff Lawson, Tommy Laurence, Andrew Kinney, Randy Kerber, Rick Giovinazzo, Gavin Greenaway
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios

Han Solo Theme and original Star Wars music by John Williams
Adventures of Han conducted by John Williams
Adventures of Han recorded at Newman Scoring Stage
Album running time: 77 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

A mere few months since the last episode, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we return to the Star Wars universe with this Han Solo prequel adventure.  Just like 2016's Rogue One, this has the A Star Wars Story anthology moniker.

A new theme for young Han Solo was composed by John Williams.  Several ideas by Williams became the track The Adventures of Han, which Powell incorporated heavily into his score once he was hired.  Powell also came up with a shortlist of new themes to use: a love theme for Han and Qi'ra, theme for Chewbacca, the gang theme, Enfys Nest's theme, and a theme for Lando's L3 droid.  Powell also incorporates several bits of past Star Wars material, mainly the Rebel fanfare and main title theme.     

The Adventures of Han is a combination of two ideas by Williams (Powell has referred to them as hero and searching themes for Han).  Stylistically and melodically it is similar to his work on The Force Awakens (I can't help adding the rest of Poe's theme onto this new one).  This arrangement has charging strings, and brilliant brass and woodwind flourishes.  I'm glad Han finally gets a semi-swashbuckling theme by Williams.  As the movie itself premiered, Williams conducted the cue live in Boston, and most likely live concerts in the future.  I can understand if people only want to hear the new theme by Williams, but those that continue listening to Powell's work will be rewarded.

As much of the opening of the film is introducing us to young Han, Williams' themes play a large part.  Meet Han incorporates the searching theme in an action setting over percussion and brass fanfares.  Corellia Chase fits the hero and searching theme into this big action cue.  This is a really fun swashbuckling cue - a type that Powell has been able to conjure for his previous films.  A flash of the Star Wars main title at the end reminds us what universe we're in.  Powell tends to use it as a "things to come/destiny" motif.  

Spaceport builds more upon the Williams material, with a little more suspense and menace as Han and Qi'ra aim for the exit.  In the most dramatic moment near the end of the cue, we're introduced to their love theme - interesting that it's first in such an arrangement.  Flying With Chewie underscores the beginning of Han's new life with Beckett's gang, whose theme appears in some quick trumpet bursts.  Han's theme takes off with some fantastic orchestration with the next section underscoring the forming of friendship between Chewie and Han.

Train Heist begins with a subdued opening before several roaring repetitions of the gang's theme, with some fun nods to the Imperial motif from A New Hope, and some heroic statements of Han's theme.  Marauders Arrive gives Powell a chance to branch out from typical Star Wars sound.  The exotic-sounding choir lends itself to Enfys Nest's group of Marauders as we follow them through the story.  Bits of Han's theme and the gang's theme jump into the action scoring, some of which is purposely frantic.

Chicken in the Pot is the sole source music as we're introduced to the luxurous rooms of the gangsters.  The song is a bit alluring and mixes music styles nicely.  Is This Seat Taken? changes styles to more light and exotic with really interesting instrumentation.  It includes some subdued flute renditions of Han's theme, Chewie's theme and Rebel fanfare, underscoring Han and Lando's sabacc card game.  L3 & Millennium Falcon introduces Lando's droid L3 with her own bouncy march theme.  Here Powell really stretches the score's textures.  As Han boards the Falcon, the chorus enters with bits of the Rebel fanfare and Star Wars main title.  Enfys Nest's theme appears again at the end.  

Lando's Closet gives the biggest statement of the love theme, and it's written like an old Hollywood romance theme.  Mine Mission contains a steady military march with a fugue-like feature.  Think a cross between 'March of the Resistance' and Chicken Run.  Various character leitmotifs fly in and out, but L3's theme plays a prominent role in this cue.  Break Out continues the same style with a few more allusions to Han's theme, an ultra heroic Chewie's theme and later the main title fanfare and Rebel fanfare combined with Han's themes.  The track ends with a sorrowful rendition of L3's theme.

The Good Guy expands on the love theme, but certainly less romantic than before and also includes some strong Enfys Nest choir.  Reminiscence Therapy is perhaps the standout track with Powell throwing themes from across the Star Wars films into the large action sequence.  All the original Williams themes are interestingly patched into Powell's writing - we hear the Death Star motif, main title, Rebel fanfare, 'Here They Come' and 'The Asteroid Field'.  Those themes intermingled with Powell's themes (and the new Han theme) fuel the large action cue.  Into the Maw continues the action with the roaring brass and percussion giving motion to the cue.  We hear a return of L3's theme, and the gang's theme among the orchestral gymnastics.  We build to the Star Wars main title as it mixes with the Rebel fanfare and Han's theme as our heroes escape in the Falcon.

Savareen Stand-Off adds some more interesting percussion and electronic textures to Enfys Nest's material.  Throat singing accompany the theme on flute as it underscores the Maurader leader's true intentions.  Good Thing You Were Listening incorporates dramatic renditions of the gang theme.  Dissonance returns in Testing Allegiance, and as our main characters clash we hear bits of themes in various arrangements.  We hear a nice moment of Han's theme with the percussion from the Mauraders.  The love theme appears one last time with a full piano solo.  The cue ends with a statement of the Crimson Dawn motif (the 3 notes that often accompany Dryden Vos).  The exotic sound of Dice and Roll signifies Han and Lando rematching their sabacc game.  One last large statement of the Rebel fanfare and Han's theme ends the album.  (Note: the end credits aren't on the album so it may seem a bit abrupt).

As you can tell from the album or my semi-breakdown, Powell naturally continued the leitmotif process that has become a Star Wars staple.  Compared to Rogue One with music by Michael Giacchino, Powell has the advantage of utilizing a new theme by Williams.  Perhaps that would be a challenge, but Powell has succeed in that manner.  The usage of older themes seem fresh in their arrangements and instrumentation.  The spotting of heroic moments are great, both for new fans or the die-hards.  FYI: Two little references to Williams themes don't appear on the album.  The layers of full orchestral material is thrilling as well as the new thematic material.  The orchestra styles are also expanding the landscape - from throat singing, tropical vibes to the percussion that Powell loves to use. 

There seems to be a bunch of missing music from the album, but it's a great example of what was made for the film.  It seemed pretty quiet in the film mix, so the album really is a good representation.  Whether you find the film divisive, this score really shines.  Bringing his all to a non-animated film, John Powell proved himself with this score to Solo.  I can only hope this brings him some more work in the franchise.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Top 10 Scores Turning 20 in 2018

Welcome back to a trip on the Musical Time Machine!  For this edition, we're looking just 20 years back...to the year 1998.  Here's a look back at the scores of 1998 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 20!

Let's start the ranking!



10. Deep Impact (James Horner)
Just as he did with Titanic, Horner brought much of the humanity into this disaster film.  Rather than focusing on large action cues, the simple piano theme carries most of the dramatic arc of the characters.  Many cues sound like unused material from Titanic and Apollo 13 (among other bits of Hornerisms).  Some cues like The Wedding and the choral finale are high points.


9. The Horse Whisperer (Thomas Newman)
Newman uses a lot of sweeping orchestral material in addition to the softer flowing moments and swirling minimalist textures.  The more exotic instrumentation lends nicely to the film's setting (dulcimers, fiddles, and all types of guitars), while piano gets featured nicely.  Several short underscore cues don't add up to much, but the longer cues give Newman time to explore.  The great moments in Montana and Rhythm of the Horse stand out.  


8. Saving Private Ryan (John Williams)
Spielberg wanted more musical restraint than John Williams normally provides a film.  Keeping the rawness of the film, there isn't much sentimental or heroic writing in the score. Sometimes the most powerful sound is no music in a film, and it probably has the least amount of score for Williams.  There are some beautifully evocative trumpet solos, and some reflective string writing.  The standout elegy Hymn to the Fallen, with wordless choir, is perfectly served for the end credits.  Its power is still shown when performed in concert or used in a tribute.


7. The Prince of Egypt (Hans Zimmer)
To accompany DreamWorks' first foray into animation, they turned to Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer.  With Schwartz writing songs, Zimmer created a score that accentuated the epic biblical story that added themes and arrangements of song melodies.  The credits read like a early who's-who of Zimmer's Media Ventures.  Lengthy tracks of score are dispersed among the original soundtrack (and collector's edition).    


6. Pleasantville (Randy Newman)
Newman brought a lot of charm to this delightful film.  He gets to show a more sentimental and nostalgic side, aspects that have also been touched on in some of his animated Pixar scores.  There are some lovely piano-led themes, and the score gives some of the magical touches to the film.  A great pairing of film director vision and composer.   


5. Les Miserables (Basil Poledouris) 
Poledouris adapted his composing style to the melodramatic and sweeping epic by focusing on strings and woodwinds.  The score tends to stay in the brooding, low registers.  Character themes appear and change as the story unfolds - grand, militaristic and somber, for example.  Interestingly, the soundtrack is divided into four suites (tracks) with long running times but with subsections within.  


4. Godzilla (David Arnold)
Independence Day and Tomorrow Never Dies showed off Arnold's large scale scores, but Godzilla seems even bigger.  Nothing is subtle - the monster motif (with choir), a large miltary theme, and over-the-top love theme. Of course, that's what makes this score so endearing.  At the unenthusastic box office reception, a score album was never released.  It took until 2007's La La Land Records release for it to finally shine.  It's bold, and tons of fun.  Shame action films aren't scored like this more often.


3. Meet Joe Black (Thomas Newman)
Meet Joe Black isn't a great film but it does have great visuals and a stunning score by Thomas Newman.  This score features some of Newman's most romantic themes and untypical long-phrased string melodies.  It still has some typical Newman trappings, but the highlight is the 10-minute long That Next Place.  [Bonus points if you only saw this movie to watch the Phantom Menace trailer.]


2. Mulan (Jerry Goldsmith)
Much of the epic scope and drama of Mulan comes from Jerry Goldsmith's score.  The rich textures, both Chinese and electronic, add greatly to the film.  Thematic material is strong (and are highlighted nicely in the Mulan Suite).  The songs and score really don't intermingle, with the soundtrack only using a handful of Goldsmith cues.  Would love to hear more of this score expanded and released in the future.




1. The Mask of Zorro (James Horner)
Zorro brought out Horner's most swashbuckling action score in years.  The album features several of the long, grand orchestral set pieces.  Horner deftly juggles all the action, sweeping romance, great themes and melodrama you expect with all the typical Horner panache.  Utilizing some of his old tricks in addition to the Mexican aspects keeps this score fresh and quite the ride to listen to. 



Honorable Mentions:
Antz (Harry Gregson-Williams/John Powell), The Avengers (Joel McNeely), A Bug's Life (Randy Newman) Lost in Space (Bruce Broughton), Shakespeare in Love (Stephen Warbeck), Small Soldiers (Jerry Goldsmith), Star Trek: Insurrection (Jerry Goldsmith), The Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer), What Dreams May Come (Michael Kamen)

Any personal favorites of yours from 1998 that I didn't include?