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?