Category Archives: Film Composer

Remembering James Horner: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Unbelievably, tomorrow will mark four years since we lost composer James Horner in a plane crash. I established the Remembering James Horner Blogathon to celebrate his beautiful film scores and in my own small way keep his memory alive.

For this year’s blogathon, I decided to look at one of Horner’s final works, his score for the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven. There’s actually a pretty sad story behind this score. You’ll note the film was released in 2016, after Horner had passed away. Well, he’d been attached to score the film, but at the time of his death, the impression was the score hadn’t been started. But then, when his things were being cataloged in his old studio, someone discovered the entire store written and saved on his computer. It turns out that Horner had secretly scored the entire film as a surprise for the director, but of course had never gotten the chance to tell him about it. Now technically this score isn’t 100% Horner’s work. Simon Franglen was brought in to adjust and tweak the score after it was discovered, but I believe the vast majority remains Horner’s original work, the last of his scores to ever be released.

The-Magnificent-Seven-2016.jpg

The soundtrack for The Magnificent Seven features Horner working at his peak, as always. Since this is a Western, there’s a noted “twang” in the strings, with I believe a mix of guitar thrown in to emphasize the Old West setting.

I was actually against this film at first (being a huge fan of the original), even after Horner’s passing, until I listened to the soundtrack in preparation for the blogathon and realized that Horner had taken the time to quote Elmer Bernstein’s original theme for The Magnificent Seven (1960). You can hear it particularly in “Volcano Springs” and in other places, but it isn’t quoted in full until the end credits. I love that Horner took the time to quote that iconic melody, since it really doesn’t feel like a “Magnificent Seven” film without it, not to me at any rate. This shows me that Horner, at some level, wanted to connect this film back to the iconic 1960 film, which is something he didn’t have to do, but I’m glad he did.

Horner definitely put his own stamp on this film score. I normally wouldn’t think of hearing drawn out vocals in a Western (“Street Slaughter”), but Horner makes it work as only he can (he was known for using drawn out vocals in his film scores, Troy is a good example).

It makes me sad, even now, that this was James Horner’s last film score, but I’m glad it was found in time to be used for the film. I honestly think this score is one of the best parts of the film, it sounds beautiful.

What do you think of the remake of The Magnificent Seven and its score? Does the fact that this is James Horner’s final film score change your impression of it in anyway? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day! Be sure to check out the official recap page of the blogathon to see the other entries as they’re posted.

See also:

Remembering James Horner: Troy (2004)

The magic of James Horner: Casper (1995)

Remembering James Horner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The 4th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon has Arrived!

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Soundtrack Review: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

We’re over halfway through 2019 and Alita: Battle Angel still remains one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and it’s soundtrack is firmly in my top 5 for the year as well. If you didn’t have the chance to see the film in theaters, Alita: Battle Angel hits Blu-Ray/DVD on July 23rd, and I highly recommend picking it up. However, the soundtrack has been available for quite some time and that’s what I’m going to be reviewing for you today.

The soundtrack for Alita: Battle Angel was composed by Tom Holkenborg (otherwise known as Junkie XL), and as I said before, it is by far one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard this year. Regarding the soundtrack, Holkenborg had this to say:

“…it was very important to feel the heart of the film. Movies like this about a dystopian future with monsters, robots, action figures might fall too quickly into something very electronic in nature or very noisy. And it was very important because of the music we stay with Alita the main character throughout the movie. It was very important that it was a pretty, soaring melody that could be easily bent into something emotional, but also into something positive and heroic. She is a person who is constantly wondering what is out there, and that is very important in the music and the instrumentation. And because she is a CGI character with motion capture from [Rosa Salazar], it was very important that it feel very organic. That’s why for her I went for very organic instrumentation, a flute or a clarinet or strings or a Glockenspiel. It needed to feel organic and natural.”

(full credit to Nerdist.com for this interview with Tom Holkenborg)

 

The soundtrack for Alita: Battle Angel does indeed feel very organic and natural, which surprised me when I listened to the soundtrack without any distractions from the film (which can cover over many musical details). It really doesn’t sound like the music for a film set centuries in the future, in a world populated by cyborgs, but I agree that this is a good thing. After all, at her core, Alita is a human (remember her brain is very much real), and the music should reflect her humanity in a world where this quality is in increasingly short supply.

The soundtrack is full of traditional action beats, as you might expect, but the actual spectrum of emotions covered by the music is quite large. There’s triumph and challenge in “Raising the Sword” (the music that ends the film before the credits start), despair in “In the Clouds,” and mystery in “Double Identity,” just to name a few examples.

Holkenborg crafts the music in a way that keeps you engaged and grounded in the story. I agree with what he says in the interview; it would have been far too easy to create a generic sci-fi electronic score for Alita: Battle Angel. While it would have been the expected thing to do, I also think it would have ruined the film as a whole.

I highly recommend checking out the soundtrack for Alita: Battle Angel, it’s a beautiful piece of work, and it can keep you occupied until the film hits Blu-Ray/DVD next month. Hopefully we’ll get to hear Holkenborg work on the score to a sequel film, since he’s established some character themes that I would like to see expanded.

Let me know what you think about Alita: Battle Angel and its soundtrack in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack Review: First to the Moon: The Journey of Apollo 8 (2018)

For the past year, there have been several films and documentaries released, and several upcoming, that are looking back at the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969 and the events that led up to it. To that end, First to the Moon: The Journey of Apollo 8, looks at the important journey of Apollo 8, which orbited the moon and captured the famous “Earthrise” photo.

I was excited to have the opportunity to review the soundtrack for this documentary which was composed by Alexander Bornstein. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I popped the soundtrack in to listen to it. Documentary soundtracks, in my experience, can be very hit or miss, and sometimes documentaries don’t have much in the way of music at all. To be honest, I love this soundtrack. This may come out wrong, but it was lot more “cinematic” than I thought it would be. There was a sense of drama, a sense of excitement, and even tension that I just wasn’t expecting, but that made me really love the soundtrack even more than I thought I would at first.

 

I haven’t seen the documentary that goes with this soundtrack, but I can tell the music is meant to highlight the risks that were involved in launching Apollo 8 and how high-stakes everything was since this was one of the last Apollo missions before the all-important Apollo 11. I was actually reminded a bit of Hans Zimmer’s music, with some of the timpani drum riffs (and I mean that in a good way).

Alexander Bornstein did a great job with this soundtrack. My favorite track on the entire disc is “The Good Earth.” It was catchy, it just drove along and I loved listening to it. As I said earlier, I wasn’t expecting the music to be so orchestral and beautiful, and I’m so happy to be so pleasantly surprised by what I listened to. The soundtrack is available now and I definitely recommend checking it out. I look forward to hearing more from Alexander Bornstein, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to listen to this soundtrack.

If you’ve seen First to the Moon: The Journey of Apollo 8 or listened to the soundtrack, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

You Can Buy the soundtrack HERE: https://bit.ly/2EjfCd6

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Soundtrack Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

The official soundtrack for Godzilla: King of the Monsters is now available. The music for the third installment in the Monsterverse (following Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017)) was composed by Bear McCreary (The Walking Dead). This film sees the world under assault from a series of titans, including Rodan, and the seemingly almighty King Ghidorah. It will ultimately be up to Godzilla to prove himself the alpha monster and take his place as King of the Monsters.

Regarding the score, Bear McCreary had this to say:

“For Godzilla, I chose to incorporate and adapt the legendary Akira Ifukube’s iconic theme, and for Mothra, Yuji Koseki’s immortal ‘Mothra’s Song,’ both being classic themes from the franchise’s origins,” McCreary explained. “I hoped to form a connection between Ifukube’s uniquely brilliant style and the aesthetics of modern blockbusters.”

Additionally, “director Michael Dougherty used the term “Monster Opera” when describing the magnitude and importance of the score to the storytelling.”

I definitely get the sense of “Monster Opera” when listening to McCreary’s score for this film. The music overall creates an epic sense of scope that matches what I’ve seen of the monsters in the previews thus far. The music proclaims what we’ve long known: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is going to be an epic clash on every level.

McCreary does a masterful job incorporating Ifukube’s iconic theme for Godzilla into the score. It’s played relatively straight in the main title, but then McCreary…heightens it, if that makes sense, by incorporating a variety of instruments, remixing the theme to help it reach even greater levels of grandeur. The original theme reappears throughout the score, and I love that McCreary took the time to musically tie this Godzilla film back to the original, as if to say “this is a true successor to the original Godzilla, the music say so.”

Aside from the tracks that include McCreary’s take on the original theme, “Rodan” is quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks in the score. I’m not sure if this is Rodan’s theme or simply music associated with his appearance in a scene (there IS a difference), but I love this music anyway. I think this track exemplifies just how dangerous Rodan and the other titans are. McCreary incorporates loud trumpet blasts that I suspect might be mimicking the sounds that Rodan makes (that is a complete guess on my part, I haven’t seen any of the original kaiju films that have Rodan in them so I’m not sure what he sounds like). And if nothing else, these trumpet blasts symbolize the danger that Rodan represents. This music is loud, it’s blaring, it practically screams “Oh my god, RUN!”

And then there’s the music associated with Ghidorah, the monster I’m most looking forward to seeing apart from Godzilla himself. I can’t name these particular tracks because it might lead to some spoilers, but the music that makes up Ghidorah’s theme and is otherwise associated with him left me completely enraptured. I swear McCreary has incorporated into the music a sense of motion that mimics Ghidorah’s three heads moving and twisting about. I am very excited to hear this music in context once the film comes out.

Overall, this is a fantastic film score. For the sake of avoiding potential spoilers I’m not covering the entire soundtrack but believe me when I say this soundtrack latches onto you and doesn’t let you go until the end. Some tracks are fraught with tension, and in others you can almost feel the monsters stomping about as the music plays. Even though the film doesn’t come out until next week, I’m convinced that McCreary has created a score that will seamlessly intertwine with the action to create a spellbinding story. You should definitely listen to this soundtrack when you get the chance, it is one of the best I’ve heard so far this year.

Once you listen to the score (and see the film), let me know what you think about the soundtrack for Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019)

The soundtrack for John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum, is now available for purchase from Varèse Sarabande. In this third installment of the adrenaline-fueled action franchise, skilled assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns with a $14 million price tag on his head and an army of bounty-hunting killers on his trail. After killing a member of the shadowy international assassin’s guild, the High Table, John Wick is excommunicado, but the world’s most ruthless hit men and women await his every turn. The score for this film was once again composed by Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, Atomic Blonde), who to date has worked on every film in the John Wick series.

Regarding John Wick: Chapter 3, Bates had this to say:

“While his fight, stunt, and weapon work is second to none, Chad [Stahelski] embraces original music with equal passion – setting the table for Joel Richard and I to experiment and create a distinct “sound” for the John Wick world. Five years ago, we cranked “Killing Strangers” at concert volume in my studio. And now John Wick is a trilogy. Working with Chad has been a truly amazing experience.”

Having now seen all three John Wick films, I have to agree that the music for these films are very distinct indeed. One thing I like about John Wick: Chapter 3 and the series overall is that the music sounds the same across all three installments. As soon as you hear the first beat of music, you know you’ve come back to the world of assassins and John Wick. I’ve never quite been able to define the nature of the music in firm words, but the words that come to mind the most often are “techno-futuristic.” The music Bates creates weaves into the background and fight scenes almost seamlessly, creating this edgy, near-futuristic world that’s inhabited by Wick and a seemingly endless legion of assassins.

There’s some nice twists in this score also. “The Adjudicator” has an almost militaristic sound (fitting given the role she plays in the film) while “Elder Tent Offering,” quite ironically given what happens in that scene, has some of the most lyrical music in the score. But I think one of my favorites is “Winter at the Continental,” which is essentially a techno-remix of Vivaldi’s “Winter.” I remember hearing “Winter” played straight before the fight began, but I either didn’t realize or didn’t remember that there was also this fast-paced remix, which is really fun to listen to, since Bates takes Vivaldi and “modernizes” it for Wick’s world.

I really like the music Bates has created for John Wick: Chapter 3. It’s edgy, it’s fast-paced, but it also slows down when necessary, and it fits the film’s world perfectly. I love how Bates can insert slow moments out of nowhere, it’s easy to forget about them since most of the film is devoted to fights, but the slow moments are just as beautiful.

Let me know what you think about the music for John Wick: Chapter 3 in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019)

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Soundtrack Review: Brightburn (2019)

*Note: potentially minor spoilers from some of the track titles

The soundtrack for the upcoming film Brightburn with music by multi-award winning composer Timothy Williams (Wild Horses, Debug, Walking with the Enemy).  became available May 10th. The soundtrack features music from the James Gunn and Kenneth Huang-produced film, which makes its theatrical debut in the United States on Friday, May 24. The film is based on a terrifying premise: What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to humankind, he proved to be something far more sinister? In this horrific take on the classic superhero trope, a couple (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) adopts a baby who came from the stars. While they attempt to raise the boy (Jackson A. Dunn) to use his powers for good, an evil begins to grow inside that he unleashes.

Regarding the soundtrack for Brightburn, Timothy Williams had the following to say:

“Being able to merge two genres which have never been combined before, superhero and horror, was an amazing experience.  I was thankful for a close collaborative relationship with the director Dave Yarovesky.  We worked on the idea of a main theme at the beginning that would be simple and reflect the emotional investment of hope in the story.  You hear this in a three note piano solo theme.  As Brandon’s power increases, we begin to feel the weight and power of a large orchestra which then bends and distorts with Brandon’s descent into evil.  The low strings and low brass mutate the theme and processed percussion pumps up the tension.  Because Brandon is this kid from another world, I got to develop some unique sounds using a bespoke library for the ROLI which bends and pitches sound as well.  Overall it was a dream come true to create this sound for a new genre film.”

 

While Brightburn is described as a merging of the superhero and horror genres, make no mistake about it, most of the music is firmly entrenched in the horror genre. I love how Timothy Williams works with all of these unique sounds to create uncomfortable sensations that make your skin crawl. Some of the tracks will start “normal” but then twist and warp, likely symbolizing Brandon being slowly corrupted by whatever evil dwells inside him. I appreciate how varied the tracks in this soundtrack are. There are some moments that sound very bright (“Breyer Family” is one such example) while others like “Real Real Bad Things” and especially “Called to the Barn” are very, very dark.

As I listened to the Brightburn soundtrack, I was surprised to hear some passages that sounded reminiscent of the work of James Horner, particularly his score for Aliens. I don’t mean this in a bad way, it’s fairly common for composers to be inspired by earlier films, and this could be what happened here. And it makes sense too; Aliens sees the characters encountering a mysterious, undoubtedly evil presence (the xenomorphs and the Alien Queen). And Brightburn, from what I can tell, has a similar scenario. The residents of Brightburn encounter a growing evil in their midst.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to the Brightburn soundtrack. It’s undoubtedly music written for a horror film, but there are enough nuances thrown into the music that I enjoy listening to it. Timothy Williams does a great job using different musical textures to create themes that will make your skin crawl in the best way possible. Definitely check out the soundtrack when you get the chance, and make sure to see the film when it comes out this Friday. Afterward, let me know what you think of the film (and its score) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Soundtrack Review: A Simple Favor (2018)

A Simple Favor premiered in theaters in September of 2018. Based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, the film centers around Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. The soundtrack for this mystery thriller was composed by Theodore Shapiro.

Regarding the soundtrack for A Simple Favor, Shapiro had this to say:

The first thing that was really interesting about working on A Simple Favor was finding the tone of it. It was unusual and very tricky because it’s a mystery and a thriller, but also genuinely funny at the same time. This was an instance in which the music had to match the tone of the film precisely…It couldn’t feel satirical or feel like we were goofing on a genre at all. It had to feel perfectly in sync. (credit to Pop Disciple for this interview excerpt)

Listening to the soundtrack, the first thing that jumped out to me is how symphonic this soundtrack is, surely a result of Shapiro’s classical training as a musician and composer. In the film’s title cue “A Simple Favor,” Shapiro introduces a distinctive motif played on a metallophone that recurs in multiple tracks throughout the score. This is by far one of the most traditional soundtracks I’ve listened to. With the recurring motif, it reminded me of the soundtracks you find in more “classic” films, but that’s not a bad thing at all. For all that I love “modern” film scores that are minimalist, electronic, or a blend of styles, I also will always love scores that hearken back to a bygone era of film.

 

Another thing that sticks out about Shapiro’s score is its resemblance to the music you hear in Hitchcock films. One summary I’ve read describes A Simple Favor as “Hitchcockian” and you can definitely hear the similarities to the “Master of Suspense” in this soundtrack. When the music isn’t playing like a symphony, it’s dripping with suspense in all the right ways. The strings hold out notes and set up tension in a way where at times I can almost visualize what’s going on (and that’s a good sign for a film score).

I admit I was surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to this score. Theodore Shapiro crafted a soundtrack that is truly a delight for the ears and I might need to check this film out in the future, just to hear this music in context. Let me know what you think about A Simple Favor (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂