At First Spin: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
Composer: Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe, Tom Gire, Nick Glennie-Smith, Henry Jackman, Atli Oervarsson, John Sponsler and Geoff Zanelli
Label: Walt Disney Records
Catalogue Nr.: D000037102
Everyone is doing advanced reviews and specials about PotC 3 to be cool, so I figured I'd just jump the bandwagon to be cool, too. Well, at least I gave it a first spin after the sound clips from a certain website have gotten my hopes up that Zimmer might have actually read and took to heart some of the criticism about the last two scores. He obviously must have read them and tried to improve something since this third score is easily the best of the franchise yet, however, only compared to the other two scores and that's hardly an achievement to be prowd of. But let's not make this a bashing fest, let's start with the positive things instead. First of all, for the first time in the franchise's musical history Hans Zimmer is doing what Alan Silvestri originally was fired for: using woodwinds. It seems like Bruckheimer actually wasn't too afraid of that step this time around since the third film is likely to be a hit even with a bit more of that "goldsmith-shit". So here they are, a whimsical flute performance in "Up Is Down" (the first action track in the series that can almost be considered as swashbuckling) and a melancholic oboe solo in "I See Dead People In Boats". Zimmer also tries to give the score some ethnic colour by using asian instrumentations most prominently featured in "Singapore" or "Multiple Jacks" though most of it comes along as too one-dimensional to generate any interest or emotion. As good as all these improvements may sound, the overall outcome is still lacking more than it offers. You have your usual monotonous Remote Control sample galore and the stereotypical action music without any depth whatsoever. "I Don't Think Now Is The Best Time" is the candidate for the longest, most unnecessary and pointless action piece of the year and some tracks from the beginning just go on and on without taking the score anywhere. I have read reviews praising the score for thematic complexity but I really can't find any extraordinary complexity in the way the themes are used or variated. There is a new theme introduced in "Hoist The Colours" by a male choir and a boy soloist that has some appearances and the innevitable Sparrow-main-theme is also used but still everything is all too obvious and even gets boring and repetitive during lengthy tracks. There is a Morricone rip-off. Did I say rip-off? Homage I mean! But it's not really working because it is a carbon copy of Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) and a homage that is effective should actually be a bit more cleverly arranged and not just a blatant copy. To me, this score is still highly overrated even though there are some good first steps in there to make it a better Pirate score but overall there is not much exitement coming from this music. But don't worry because according to first reports there will be three more PotC movies. Considering that it took Zimmer and his crew three attempts to built a mediocre score, the sixth film might actually receive a good score at last? See you next time with the arrival of PotC 4: Sea Sick.
At First Spin: Ghost Rider (2007)
Composer: Christopher Young
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 789 2
First off, I want no misunderstandings! Chris Young's score for Ghost Rider is a very good score and far away from being bad. Instead, this is the ultimate badass-score experience one can have. Forget all these cheap rock emulators from Remote Control and co. with their blatant use of e-guitars only to enhance the noise level of the music. Young is fusing heavy rock elements, including the inevitable guitars and percussion, with a tense orchestral basis very cleverly and near perfection to represent the film's anti-hero musically through a heavy 'bad-to-the-bone' sound rather than melody or strong thematic connections. There is a main thematic idea for orchestra, most prominently featured in "Ghost Rider" and an Immediate Music emulation of the theme with racing latin choir in "The West Was Build On Legends", but it does not really steam ahead for the majority of the nearly 60 minutes album. Arguably this is the only weak point of the score because despite some interesting colours in the purely orchestral tracks of the album's second half, the really interesting stuff is found within the first half whenever Young is serving the guitars with pounding lower range stuff. The last half is mainly orchestral, missing these rock elements and especially suffers from the really thin thematic development. But who can possibly be bothered by that when the music's qualities are so obvious? If you like rock music and dark orchestral soundstracks, then Ghost Rider will be heaven on earth for you, especially such tracks as "Blackheart Beat", Artistry In Death", "Cemetery Dance" "More Sinister Than Popcorn", "Chain Chariot" and "Santa Ardonicus" really have 'badass' written all over them. In between are some warmer cues with gentle accoustic guitar playing such as "A Thing For Karen Carpenter" or "No Way To Wisdom", certainly targeted at a developing love subplot. Another issue with the album is the sound. I can't help it but it feels to me as if the mix could have needed a bit more bite. The mix itself is very clear but at the same time a bit too thin for a score that lives from heavy sounds. The orchestra was pretty large too but in some of the purely orchestral passages it appears to be a bit too thin certainly due to a mix that emphasizes the higher frequencies a bit too much while lacking lower mids. You probably want to adjust this with an EQ to give this beast even sharper teeth. Anyways, the music is one of the rare examples of film music making use of rock elements so perfectly it can even entertain the e-guitar haters among score fans. That is probably Young's biggest accomplishment: He has defined how a really good bad-to-the-bone rock-score should sound.
At First Spin: Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Composer: Christopher Young (Themes by Danny Elfman; Additional Arrangements: Deborah Lurie, John Debney, Steve Bartek)
Label: not yet released / album planned to coincide with DVD release of the movie
Catalogue Nr.: none
This is some kind of unusual 'at first spin...' article since there is nothing to spin yet. Young's Spider-Man 3 score is unreleased on CD at the time I am writing this and it has to do with the studio's policy to not confuse people with two albums since there is already a song sampler out there without any score. A real score album was therefore pushed back and will come out together with the DVD... bummer! It's sad that the song album once again receives all the early spotlight because Young's score is so unbelievably good. After watching the movie I never felt clubbed over the head by any action music or into-your-face scoring. Young's own themes are cool superhero stuff with a villain theme for the dark spider-man double as introduced in the films main title and an interesting sound signature for the black outer space slime that takes possession of him. Reportedly, there was a new love theme and a new Aunt May theme composed by Young but this was all replaced by re-arrangements of Elfman's music (already floating around as a 14 minute promo from Deborah Lurie). Even these re-arrangements of Elfman's material fitted in the whole picture with the tracking being not half as terrible or interruptive as in Spider-Man 2 (2004). However, what strikes me as unsatisfying was the way these original Elfman themes where treatened. The love theme for example was never really that interesting to begin with and always sounded more like a restrained foundation for something bigger, yet in Spider-Man 3, the theme is still mainly heard on woodwinds and quietly playing strings like on its first day. I am speculating that Young did develop this within his own, rejected love theme and I hope it will be on the score album. Well, that does not mean that Young did not receive any moments of emotional spotlight during the film to let his music shine. The birth of Sandman is especially noteworthy and among the best tracks of 2007 already. Young nicely plays on the vulnerable nature of the creature's first steps with an incredible emotional power and the music really is doing all the work since there is no dialogue in this scene. A truly great moment that simply must be on the upcoming album (you hear me, Sony guys? it MUST be there!). Another cool moment is the first fight between Peter Parker and his friend Harry Osbourne who fullfills his fate as the new green goblin. Young takes Elfman's green goblin theme and builds his own action stuff around it which relies heavily on brass and that ethereal threatening Hellraiser-choir. The finale also received some really good action music with some Elfman moments tracked in from previous scores that most likely replaced what Young wrote. Anyways, I already feel that this could be among 2007's best efforts and I hope the score album will be lengthy! Over 50 minutes is a minimum to really do this score justice!
At First Spin: Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)
Composer: Marco Beltrami (additional music by Marcus Trumpp)
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 824 2
Yippie Ki Yay! A group of high tech internet gangsters is threatening to shut down the entire USA and only one man can stop them: MARCO BELTRAMI... Well, at least he is the one who came onboard to provide the chills and thrills to help finding Bruce Willis as John McLane the energy that's necessary to destroy the evil doers' plans. Of course, the great, late Michael Kamen perfectly accomplished that mission over the last three movies with some of the most effective action scoring to this date. A comparison between Kamen and Beltrami seems almost unavoidable, even more so because Beltrami is using some motifs that Kamen introduced. Beltrami is handling that integration nicely, with Kamen's motifs showing up in carefully worked-in snippets such as the famous 4-note string line in "Out Of Bullets" or "Landing" that kind of became a musical trademark for the tension of the series while the sneaky 7-note ostinato that defined most of the suspense moments is found briefly in "Shootout". And there are more (but find these easter eggs yourself)! Kamen had the enormous gift to make an action/suspense moment unique with such small but fine-tuned ideas rather than big thematic statements and from listening to Beltrami's work it becomes obvious that he tried the same but somehow it just does not come out half as entertaining. Mainly it's because the action music comes along as rather exchangeable. There is barely any interesting variation in approach heard between action tracks like "Leaving The Apartment", "Traffic Jam", "Break-In", "Copter Chase", "Hurry Up", "Old Cuts"... well, in most of the album actually. It really feels like you are listening to one big cue that barely offers colours or twists and just goes on and on. Probably that's what Beltrami's goal was? Somehow, I can even imagine it within the context of the film but as a stand-alone experience this score feels rather hard to swallow. The only moment where the routine is kind of broken is "Aftermath" which certainly is the moment of emotional reunion and success but even that sounds surprisingly unspectacular and literally fades off into nirvana without leaving much of an emotion behind. Don't get me wrong. What is there as far as action music is concerned is well orchestrated and nicely crafted but while Michael Kamen managed to make his 76 minutes of score for the first Die Hard (1988) feel like half an hour, Beltrami's 63 minutes feel like... well... 63 minutes (though to be fair, the 33 minute album of Kamen's Die Harder (1990) score feels like an hour). It's because Beltrami hardly accentuates as careful as Kamen did, so the score just feels like a big orchestral riot with little identity beyond the re-integration of Kamen's themes. For action score and Beltrami fans alike, this one is still a recommended listen and if you have missed those Kamen motifs then give the score for Live Free Or Die Hard a chance only to hear some few but really well-done integrations of this material.
At First Spin: Evan Almighty (2007)
Composer: John Debney
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 825 2
The new comic genius of the hour is Steve Carell, whose role as anchorman Evan Baxter stole the show from Jim Carrey in the original movie Bruce Almighty (2003). This time it is Evan who is choosen by god to be proven and becomes Evan Almighty with already god-proved composer John Debney being his spiritual, musical guide. Debney, as the spiritual man that he is, seemingly hasn't had much trouble to translate this religious comedy into music. Carrying over from his score for Bruce Almighty is only a gentle piano figure that kind of represents the powers beyond nature that are given to the main character(s) by god to fullfill a mission. It appeard in Bruce Almighty at the beginning of "Walking On Water" and this powers-theme, though heavily changed, can be noticed briefly in tracks like "Baxter's To Bed" or "Evan And God" and with a strong southern touch in "Evan's Theme" and "God Crane Arrives". The piano performance by Michael Lang (who is even credited right within the tracklisting) in particular makes these tracks a pleasant surprise. For "God's Theme", Debney actually integrated performances from vocalists Dwight Tribble and Roxanne Morgenstern to hum along in a restrained gospel mood with a gently floating, noble string line. The usual comic tracks are there, too like "Grooming Montage" which is a short, fast-paced barock-sounding scherzo that brings to mind John Williams equally entertaining scherzo tracks for comedies, or "Evan Runs From Capitol" which is in the wacky veign of David Newman's over-the-top comedy scoring. Although this is pretty much comedy routine, these cues are fairly well executed and surprisingly a minority on the album. What stands out is the epic material which was only a brief sidenote in Bruce Almighty to enhance one or two laughs. Here, it forms an entire finale. "The Ark Theme" really soars with choral grandeur that is truly godlike and Debney only takes full advantage of that theme within the last four tracks. From the brief statement at the end of "Hummer Ride" onwards, this theme keeps just coming back, getting bigger and bigger over the course of "Take It Down" to culminate in the lengthy, amazing finale cue "The Flood" which is arguably the biggest, fiercest action set piece from Debney since his finale Cutthroat Island (1995) and it just has so much punch and power through its use of the choir and percussion. All in all, this score is much more interesting, varied and entertaining than your usual, stereotypical fare for comedies and I urge you to check it out even if you dismiss Debney for his lack of musical identity. It's fairly easy to oversee this shortcoming if the music is as good as for Evan Almighty.
At First Spin: Michael Clayton (2007)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 850 2
After the success of the mainstream sequel Ocean's Thirteen (2007), George Clooney returns to more serious filmmaking as former criminal prosecutor Michael Clayton (2007) who is the fixer at New York's biggest corporate law firm. Clayton is a troubled character in many ways. He takes care of the dirty work which burns him out but he is tied to this job as he is in divorce and in dept. Soon, he becomes involved with irregularities on a big multi-million dollar case. James Newton Howard responds to all this without too many surprises, resulting in a score that could easily be renamed freedomland episode 2 with the only difference being that this is even less melodic and more dull. Instead of colours, we just get many shades of grey in the form of extensive low-key, droning electronic rhythms and endlessly stretched low string layers creating a very basic feeling of urban depression and making it clear that the times of fine orchestration or woodwinds in your dramatic thrillers are gone. Occasionally, there are snippets of a theme heard on some kind of electronic music box sample like in track 5 or 8 which most likely represents the dilema of the main character as a former servant of justice being forced to do the dirty work to survive and solve private problems. While that might work somewhat well in the film, it's rather puny on album even though this is the moment when the score becomes more interesting and goes beyond the dull electronic droning. Track 9 even has a brief, etheral moment for strings that will remind Howard fans of "First Crop Circles" from Signs (2002) even though its not as good. The second half of the album contains more dominant electronic rhythms featuring a more prominent drive. The highlight is track 11 here, offering a short passage of rumbling piano chords as accompaniment for the generic string and electronic dominance while somewhat breaking the monotony of the orchestration before everything goes back to normal. To make things short: only a real die-hard James Newton Howard fan or admirer of raw electronic urban monotonicity will find something to appreciate in Howard's work for Michael Clayton (2007). For me, this is easily the most unsatisfying filmmusic experience of the year while the scores 38 minutes are the longest I sat through in quite some time. Even Howard's score for The Lookout (2007) which basically follows a similar approach and certainly has its flaws is a much more satisfying experience. Don't make the mistake and play the Michael Clayton score when a suicidal person is in the room. The music is such a dull, grey and depressive non-event that it may actually make the person jump from the nearest bridge. Seriously speaking, it's very hard to enjoy this without becoming depressive yourself and maybe that was James Newton Howard's goal. In that case: mission accomplished.
At First Spin: Rush Hour 3 (2007)
Composer: Lalo Schifrin
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 834 2
Clashes of the cultures can be a funny premise for a successful movie as the action blockbuster Rush Hour proofed back in 1998. Even though most jokes of this one were basically recycled from Jackie Chans older movies, the american audience seemingly did not take note and even the sequel Rush Hour 2 which came only 3 years later still had a high attendance. In Rush Hour 3, director Brett Ratner now teamed up again Jackie Chan with Chris Tucker and also brought back the real legend behind the series: Lalo Schifrin. And you can clearly hear that he is still able to boast a great action score which comes along as one of the most varied and colourful efforts the genre had to offer this year (at least so far). I know, it will take an enormous amount of trust when I say to you that especially the track "Chasing The Assassin" easily blows every action track we have heard this year out of the water, be it from Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (Schifrin's integration of ethnic colours is lightyears ahead of this one), Live Free Or Die Hard (there is much more colour and diversion) or even Chris Young's score for Spider-Man 3. The fury and power of the track is amazing, which mainly comes from a steadily building ostinato in the middle of the track for percussion and strings while most of the orchestra repeatedly plays one tone only and becomes faster and faster until a furious climax. But despite the massive power, Schifrin never misses to add depth and thus Rush Hour 3 is the first action score of the year where I could actually identify tiny details, like a hard playing clusters of collapsing tonal structures, that add an identity and character to a score (something that's largely missing from most action scores these days). The downside is that Schifrin delivers his best action track already at the beginning, so the album as a whole kind of feels like a downward spiral by kicking things off too powerful. But fear not, there are still highlights to be found, like the gently noble string theme for "The World Court" or the cheesy accordion performance in "Hiding Su Yung / Two Americans In Paris" where Schifrin clearly plays with the cultural clash aspect of the movie in an amusing, musical way. Of course, apart from the dynamite "Chasing The Assassin", there is much more cool action music. "Bikers" literally has a great, rock-percussive drive, "Sword Fight" is full of exciting tension and "Parachute Down" offers a boast of the main theme with a short, romantic twist at the end. Apropros Main Theme: the "Rush Hour Theme" also appears on the album as a suspenseful opener accompanied by low piano chords and as a modernized, beat-driven, asian techno closing remixed by Ryan Schifrin and Ruy Folguera. Well, let me comment on that remix by saying that no matter what one does to Schifrin's theme, it somehow manages to maintain its charme.
At First Spin: The Bucket List (2007)
Composer: Marc Shaiman
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 877 2
Following the success of his musical-goes-movie project Hairspray (2007), composer Marc Shaiman teams up again with director Rob Reiner, the guy who basically started the composer's career, on the drama The Bucket List (2007) about two oldies who escape from a cancer ward to have as much fun as possible while facing the end of their lives. Sounds a bit like a remake of the german success movie Knockin' On Heaven's Door (1997) and the score basically sounds like a remake of Marc Shaiman's now routine for drama known from such scores as Mother (1996), Patch Adams (1998) or Simon Birch (1998). You've got a delicate, gentle and quite lyrical main theme for piano (nicely performed by Shaiman himself!), often joined by harp and strings, with a jazzy touch introduced in "Hospital Hallway". That typical Shaiman main theme is found in almost every track, while Shaiman highlights the aspects of the theme differently for every situation. There is the relaxed bar room variation in "Hotel Source", the upbeat solo sax version in "Like Smoke Through A Keyhole" or the sad, clarinet version in "Really Bad News". The problem is that Shaiman really relies too much on that theme without offering anything else. When you reach the score's second half after "Flying Home", you can't help but feel like the whole thing already starts to repeat itself. Although there is something of a secondary theme coming in as heard in "Homecomings", it can't really help things because it's not really too different from the main theme. To add to that, Shaiman really slows things down more and more towards the end. Now slow music isn't a bad thing per se, but especially towards the end in the tracks "Life and Death" or "The Mountain", Shaiman almost just solely relies on the speed break to give the music emotional weight, which sadly does not work that well at least on CD. Nevertheless, its still a solid dramatic score and if you enjoy a quieter, mono-thematic and piano driven score for a quiet, rainy sunday afternoon, then Shaiman's score for The Bucket List (2007) might be worth a spin. But wait... there's more! Because there was so little original score, Shaiman's agent Richard Kraft decided to make the second half of the CD a compilation of piano interpretations of Shaiman's film themes with Shaiman a the piano. Though that second half might be more of interest for Shaiman fans than anybody else, because some of the selections contain in-jokes that might seem.... weird to anyone not familiar with the film music business or Shaiman's music. The best example for that is "Goldfinger (aka Printmaster)". Shaiman re-arranges the classic Bond song and gives it new lyrics (again, sung by himself) to spoof the nasty industry habit of tracking music in scenes where they don't belong to. If you know his "Yes!!" song from the documentary Finding Kraftland (2007) you will know what this is all about... if you don't... well, there goes the in-joke. The rest of the piano arrangements is like having Shaiman in your room and playing his themes for you on a piano, which is nice (especially because Shaiman really plays it well) but ultimately creates not more than a nice atmosphere for a cocktail party or whatever else you can do while having unobtrusive piano music playing. Of course, if you are a Shaiman fan, this feeling of having him sitting in your own room at the piano playing his themes will be nostalgia-heaven. Oh, and the booklet is really excellent with one page of a hilarious, self-ironic foreword by Shaiman followed by a wit-filled, 9 pages look back at Shaiman's career by his agent Richard Kraft ("You look like my unborn fetus!"). So, yeah! Somehow, this CD turns out to be a must-have for Shaiman fans even though the Bucket List score is far away from being a must-have for Shaiman fans. Funny, isn't it? Just like the guy who composed this stuff!
At First Spin: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)
Composer: John Williams
Label: Concord Records
Catalogue Nr.: CRE-30825
Anticipation is usually on a very high level on any new John Williams score. Anticipation on a new John Williams score for a Spielberg movie is even higher and if its for an Indiana Jones movie, people's expectations are literally going through the roof, leaving even the greatest living film composer of our time barely a chance to deliver. But guess what? He delivered and noticeably had a hell of a great time while doing so! For this latest adventure of the world's most famous archeologist, the world's most famous film composer brought something in for everyone. Want some frenetic, yet highly joyful and melodic, almost musical-like fun in the veign of Williams own Hook (1991)? Don't miss "The Adventures Of Mutt"! Want some really badass yet complex military action music with a villain-theme that actually surpasses those two nazi-themes from Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)? Have a little "Jungle Chase"! Want some eerie and hypnotic atmospheric music that is far away from being dull and still has melody going? Go for "Call Of The Crystal" or "Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed". Or you can't get enough of that tiny little piece called "Raiders March" and are crossing your fingers for a more daunting interpretation of it? It's right there at the end of "Finale". And even in case you are a die-hard fan of what Williams did musically with War of the Worlds (2005), you will find plenty of joy with "Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold". I could really go on forever like this... no matter what particular aspect of Williams music you like the most, it is guaranteed to be a part of this new indy score, making it another top notch effort that will only fail to convince the hardest of Williams critics. While the album is like a candy cone full of trademarks and qualities, it still can hold together as a coherent listening experience, despite the fact that there may be a good load of material missing. This is thanks to some strong themes, especially "Irinas Theme", the new macguffin-theme and how Williams brings them together towards the end. The only real quibble i have with this one is that Williams probably could have backed up his usage of motives and themes from raiders with a little more interesting variation. For example, the indy fanfare outburst from "Journey to Akator" is a tad too close to "Flight From Peru" from raiders. Especially after hearing that damn cool raiders march variation at the end of "Finale", you will slightly feel the need for more of this bold playing-around when looking back at the quotes that came before. Still, there aren't that many passages like that, especially when compared to the score for Revenge Of The Sith (2005) that was nearly based entirely on these recyclings, which is why these few bits in indy 4 really just account to a minor cosmetic thing. Oh, btw... while we are at re-using old themes, did I mention already that the ark theme as well as Marion's theme are returning as well? It was Spielberg's intention to make Indy 4 for the fans. Wether or not he succeeded I will find out on may 21st during a pre-screening. However, it is crystal skull clear that John Williams had similar intentions and composed the score for the fans. I can confidently say that he succeeded!
At First Spin: I Am Legend (2007)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 878 2
James Newton Howard is back in form with his latest score for the Will Smith blockbuster I Am Legend (2007) after a really disappionting score for Michael Clayton (2007, see below). Comparisons between these two works are not fully unlogical, as both scores are rooted in a rather atmospheric approach but while the Michael Clayton music relies on complete lack of emotion, structure and melody, I Am Legend just offers enough of that and more to be an overall more pleasing experience. The first show stopper is the really excellent theme. First introduced on strings and choir after a distant solo trumpet moment in "My Name Is Robert Neville", the piece nicely combines the loneliness of the main character with the biblical, apocalyptic scenery echoed by a deserted New York City. Especially the themes second half gets under the skin with it's truly pastoral feel that you would expect to hear within a church and when the choir comes in, the whole thing can even become quite tragically epic, such as in the track "Evacuation" which is clearly among the more stunning tracks of the filmmusic year 2007. So Howard has a really great theme, but the really great thing about the score is not the theme but the stylistic choices that Howard did. There's some good suspense moments in "Darkseeker Dogs", a deep, predator-esque synth rumbling at the beginning of "The Pier" which unexpectedly turns into a heavenly gentle piece of choral music and there is even balls-to-the-wall, percussive action music with an eerie touch in "The Jagged Edge". Solos for trumpet and piano are also heard throughout the score as well as female vocal solos (reportedly removed from the film mix of the score), all adding an incredible variety of emotion and a lot of depth to this work. The lengthy "Reunited" nicely combines several of these elements into a wonderful resolution piece. In short: Howard really did well with this score and together with his (slightly inferior) score for Waterhorse: Legend of The Deep (2007), Howard fully owned the Christmas holiday of 2007. The 44 minutes of score really flow very well and it's even more than what ended up in the film. It's a must-have for fans of the composer as well as people who love the tragic-epic musical side of apocalyptic stories and even those who need an occasional action thrill will find pleasure in this one.
At First Spin: The Happening (2008)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: 302 066 9012
Besides a new Indy Adventure with Spielberg and Williams, Summer 2008 is seeing another quite successful director/composer colaboration continued with M. Night Shyamalan and James Newton Howard teaming up a sixth time for the environmental thriller The Happening (2008). While Shyamalan did not come off scar-free from the cinematic disaster that was Lady In The Water (2006), his composer of choice has now reached a new level of success with projects like I Am Legend (2007) or the upcoming guaranteed money-maker The Dark Knight (2008). The cinematic pros and cons of Shyamalan's films aside, the music always played a major part and often remained the only widely praised part of his movies. It comes as an even bigger surprise that Howard's effort is rather disappointing this time around because despite the movie's title, there is not really that much 'happening' in its score. From the feel of the whole thing, it seems that they were both trying to re-capture that subtle strength of Signs (2002) with a quiet harp-piano-cello combination first found in "Main Titles" that is best described as a musical impression of wind blowing through the leaves of a tree. This piece then builts into a march like herrmann-esque doom-theme. However, as solid as this little idea might seem, it is not half as memorable as even the most subdued of Howard's ideas for previous Shyamalan films and the further lack of highlights on the album makes it even more underwhelming. Even the orchestration, an usually sparkling aspect of all previous Shyamalan/Howard scores, is stripped of all the elegance of what came before and seems like a lackluster when you hear cheap, remote control-like synth-drums at the end of "Central Park" that make a solid idea just sound terribly forced. Only after a lengthy connection of rather uninteresting atmospheric cues, the score gains some dramatic energy with "Shotgun" and some aggressively dissonant string and piano material that may not be a pleasure to listen to but at least it raises the attention before quickly descending into the same atmospheric pap that came before. The real highlights are in fact the last two cues where Howard manages to at least revisit some of the emotional flow that made the score for I Am Legend (2007) a success. In "Be With You" he takes the idea from the "main titles" and lets the string section fully work with the simple melody, giving it some epic scope but that's nothing groundbreaking either if you heard Howard's score for the Will Smith starrer as this is basically more of the same. The "End Title Suite" is the most interesting piece of the album, especially due to a nice herrmann-esque ostinato idea in the middle section with busy xylophone, strings and cello. Its where the score makes a long overdue statement instead of bubbling around in the background. The score as a whole is the Michael Clayton (2007) among the Shyamalan/Howard works, as it is easily the least-appealing and least enjoyable of them all. I am afraid even the most devoted fans of this creative team will only find something worthwhile in the last few tracks of the disc.