Category Archives: Film Composer

Remembering James Horner: Troy (2004)

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Troy is a 2004 epic film that is a (greatly abbreviated) adaptation of the Illiad (which tells the story of the Trojan War). The film features a star-studded cast:

  • Brad Pitt: Achilles
  • Sean Bean: Odysseus
  • Brian Cox: Agamemnon
  • Peter O’Toole: King Priam
  • Eric Bana: Hector
  • Orlando Bloom: Paris
  • Diane Kruger: Helen

While not perfect, Troy is a good film with a remarkable score by James Horner. The music is even more remarkable when you consider that Horner put it together in the space of four weeks after Gabriel Yared’s score for the film was rejected.

For the score, Horner employed singer Tanja Carovska (who had also provided vocals for Yared’s rejected score) as well as using Eastern Mediterranean music and brass instruments to create a feeling of ancient Greece.

Troy Movie

Horner created several motifs throughout the score, a few of which I’d like to point out:

-The Greeks: The theme for the Greek army really emerges in full when they approach Troy in their thousand ships. It’s distinguished by a driving trumpet theme, highlighting the relentlessness of the Greek soldiers led by the egomaniacal Agamemnon. Most tellingly, it also re-emerges (briefly) just before the Trojan Horse is revealed onscreen for the first time, a musical hint that there are Greeks hidden inside.

The Greeks arrive at Troy

-Achilles: The theme for the legendary hero is also based on brass instruments, but it has a nobler tone than the theme assigned to the Greeks. Most notable appearance would have to be when Achilles storms the beach leading the Myrmidons. There’s also a reprise when Achilles heads off to find Briseis during the sacking of Troy.

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Achilles on the beach (theme starts when Achilles jumps off the ship)

-Achilles and Briseis: The love motif for Achilles and Briseis (a Trojan princess turned priestess turned captive) forms the basis of the end credits song “Remember” as performed by Josh Groban. No matter what Achilles claims, I think throughout the story he remembers what his mother said, that if he goes to Troy he will never come home. So his love for Briseis is tempered by this knowledge, that’s why the theme is relatively sad for a love theme. A good example of hearing this theme is at the end right before Achilles dies and he tells Briseis to leave with Paris.

Troy “The Trojan Horse”

-The Trojan Horse: I’ve covered the music for the Trojan Horse in depth before, but I have to talk about it again because it really is my favorite musical moment in the film. Even if you’re not familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse, the sheer ominousness of the music tells you that there’s something fishy with this horse. But of course no one listens to Paris’ suggestion to just burn the horse where it stands (the one time he makes a good decision in the entire film) and the horse is brought into the city. The music is triumphant and tragic all at once, because the Trojans think they’ve won but in fact they’re doomed.

Horner’s score for Troy remains one of my favorites and I highly recommend it to any fans of James Horner’s music. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for three years already, but as long as we keep listening to his music, he’ll never really be forgotten.

This is my contribution to the Remembering James Horner Blogathon, hope you enjoy it.

See also:

3rd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon: Day 1

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Has Gladiator’s Music Score Been Unfairly Forgotten?

“Are you not entertained?” boomed Russell Crowe in Gladiator, a movie that hit the headlines again recently, 18 years after it first hit our screens. It was after Mr. Crowe decided that it was time to sell off some of his personal effects, including a jockstrap from one of his movies and a fake Roman chariot used in Gladiator. Well, to answer your question, Mr. Crowe, we were entertained (as you can see from our review), but while we remember the classic quotes from the movie and the stunning landscape that provided a backdrop to the action, one aspect has been lost slightly in any discussions about the movie which won the 73rd Academy Award for Best Picture. That aspect is the music for the movie, which was created by a legend in his industry: Hans Zimmer.

Do casino games represent a sign of the times?

Zimmer won awards at the Golden Globes, but the critical legacy seems to have revolved around the graphics used in the movie, with more awards for the likes of best costume design picked up by Gladiator than plaudits for the score. The visual effects and costumes at the time were stand-out, but looking back, they don’t seem like anything special, especially compared to costumes and backdrops from the stunning period dramas we’ve seen from the past decade (think Downton Abbey or Versailles for good examples of this).
The music, meanwhile, when you watch the movie again, hasn’t aged at all, despite the raft of technological changes which have emerged since the movie’s production. It is the look of the movie that has arguably had the biggest impact on pop culture as well; one look at the details about this fantastic game shows that there is far more of a focus on the aesthetics of the game rather than the music, which focuses primarily on sound effects like beeps and chimes.

 

This Platinum Play casino review shows that the Gladiator slot reached new heights of popularity, becoming one of the most popular games from that particular operator, highlighting how the music has become something of the forgotten element of the award-winning movie.

Not the only snub to Hans

For as much as it may seem unfair, Zimmer perhaps won’t have been overly surprised by his snub. After all, he has already seen his score for Hannibal be horribly underrated. With tracks like The Battle and Now We Are Free significant pieces of music, it is still a tragedy that the blood and guts is what sticks in the mind all these years later, and that the selling off of items by Russell Crowe can still be what grabs the headlines, rather than the inspirational work of a great movie soundtrack composer.

The CV and the awards that Hans Zimmer has earned throughout his career highlight that he is a man who has clearly earned appreciation in the world of music, even if he hasn’t been able to remain memorable in public consciousness. For the time being, if you want to enjoy Hans Zimmer, you just need to watch movies as diverse as The Lion King, Inception, and, of course, Gladiator, to hear him at his finest. 

See also:

My thoughts on: Gladiator (2000)

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Soundtrack Review: I Kill Giants (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.
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I Kill Giants is a 2017 fantasy thriller film directed by Anders Walter based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Kelly and Ken Nimura. The film follows young Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) as she escapes into a fantasy world to fight giants in order to avoid her problems in the real world.
 
The soundtrack for I Kill Giants was composed by Laurent Perez del Mar. He is critically acclaimed for his work on the score for the Academy Award®-nominated feature film The Red Turtle, produced by the famous studios Ghibli. His score has earned numerous accolades, including an award from the prestigious International Films Music Critics Association in 2017, and nominations by the Annie Awards and from the Prix Lumières in the best music category. He became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in 2017.
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Perez del Mar is as comfortable composing for animated films (he wrote scores for Zarafa, nominated for the César in 2012 and Wolfy, The Incredible Secret which won the César in 2014), as he is for feature films (My Son by Christian Carion, featuring Guillaume Canet and Melanie Laurent, Antigang featuring Jean Reno, Carole Matthieu featuring Isabelle Adjani, and Mrs. Mills by Sophie Marceau).
 
This score is full of some beautiful moments. As you might expect in a fantasy film, there are elements of mystery and whimsy as well as suspense (because Barbara is killing giants after all). Parts of the score, particularly “I Kill Giants” and “Giants” reminded me of elements from the score for Ex Machina and The Machine. Especially in the former piece, there’s an almost music box quality to the melody that is loosely similar to Ava’s theme in Ex Machina.
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One of my favorite parts of the soundtrack is “Gift of Gold.” I’m not sure where it falls in the story but the melody is absolutely gorgeous. It starts out relatively innocent, a warm, quick-paced melody that slowly turns dark as minor-keyed notes begin to slip in. It’s like when someone is presenting a happy front to the world but the sad reality slips out over time (which is really similar to what Barbara is doing, though her front isn’t really a “happy” one).
 
The tracks that make reference to the titular giants surprised me. Given the trailer I saw, I thought the music that involved or referenced the giants would be a lot scarier or more intense. But “Another Giant is Coming,” “Giants,” “I Kill Giants,” and even “Fight the Forest Giant” were more sad in tone than anything else. This could *spoiler alert* be attributed (at least in part) to the giants being symbolic of Death and Barbara’s desire to keep Death away. “Fight the Forest Giant” is a minor exception as it devolves somewhat into the expected “scary fight music” towards the middle of the piece.

 

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I Kill Giants has one of the best scores I’ve heard this year so far (and only Red Sparrow and Annihilation rank higher at the moment) and I highly recommend you go listen to it as soon as possible. Let me know what you thought of I Kill Giants and its soundtrack in the comments below and have a great day!
This review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. Patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one written film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access. The $10 reward grants the earlier rewards as well as commissioning one YouTube review of a film of your choice.

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Soundtrack Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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Tomb Raider is a 2018 action-adventure film directed by Roar Uthaug and is based on the 2013 video game of the same name. This film officially reboots the Tomb Raider film series and stars Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Man from UNCLE) as Lara Croft while she journeys to the last-known location of her father, a mysterious island in the “devil’s sea.”

The score for Tomb Raider was composed by Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, who is a Grammy® nominated and multi-platinum producer, musician, and composer whose versatility puts him on the cutting edge of contemporary music, as well at the vanguard of exciting new film composers. His film scoring credits include Mad Max Fury Road, Deadpool, Black Mass, Divergent, Brimstone and The Dark Tower. Tom says about the soundtrack: “We spend a lot of time on the ‘island‘ in the movie. It is otherworldly and wild, and I wanted to get people out of their comfort zones with some eerie crescendo moments. I spent months having custom pacific drums built, which I played myself to create insane adrenaline inducing rhythms. I also distorted our orchestral recordings, which yielded some unsettling qualities within the score.

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The soundtrack is typical action-adventure fare, though this isn’t a bad thing as it makes for good listening. “Return to Croft Manor” is a traditional, orchestral introduction to the soundtrack with a repeating theme that overlaps and recurs throughout. The early pieces in the score are refined and somewhat elegant, rather fitting with the film’s opening set in London. Once the story moves to the island of Yamatai however, the music becomes very wild and unruly indeed.

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“The Devil’s Sea” perfectly encapsulates the nightmarish behavior of the waters surrounding Yamatai. The music twists, turns, and practically writhes in contortions of agony that keep you on the edge of your seat. This is by far my favorite piece in the soundtrack.

“What Lies Underneath Yamatai” has traces of mystery in it, but largely consists of synthesized tones (accented by strings) that rise and fall in the same way you’ve heard in a dozen action films when the hero/heroine gets close to their objective.

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In conclusion, the soundtrack doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, but it is good listening, which is never a bad thing.
What do you think of the soundtrack for Tomb Raider? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

This review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. Patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one written film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access. The $10 reward grants the earlier rewards as well as commissioning one YouTube review of a film of your choice.

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

You can 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 🙂

Soundtrack Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Red Sparrow is an American spy thriller film directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. The film tells the story of a Russian intelligence officer, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), who is sent to make contact with a CIA agent and possible mole. The film also stars Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons. It released to theaters on March 2nd, 2018.

The score for Red Sparrow was composed by James Newton Howard, one of the film industry’s most versatile and honored composers, with a career spanning over thirty years and encompassing more than 130 film and television projects. His myriad film credits include the Oscar®-nominated scores for Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, and My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as Oscar® nominated songs for Junior and One Fine Day. Howard also received Golden Globe nominations for his scores for Peter Jackson’s blockbuster remake of King Kong and Defiance, as well as the aforementioned songs.

James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow is, in a word, beautiful. Howard’s scores have always been among my favorites, but this one might just be one of his best. For a start, the score begins with a proper overture which came as a very pleasant surprise to me. Overtures in film music are typically, in my experience, associated with the golden age of cinema, when many films contained an overture and an intermission like a stage play or an opera. And like those overtures, Howard’s overture sets the tone for the entire soundtrack: it’s a haunting string melody, mixed with woodwinds, that gently draws you into itself until you’re lost in the rising and falling sounds. Appropriately enough, there are faint overtones of Russian-styled music in the melody, which makes sense given where the film is set. However, this sound does not dominate the overture, it is a hint of “Russian-ness” and nothing more.

Most of the score follows the lyrical example of the overture, especially the last track before the end titles which is listed as “Didn’t I Do Well.” This last piece is more upbeat than the overture and actually put me in mind of a ballet number, which may be deliberate since Jennifer Lawrence’s character is *minor spoiler* a former ballerina. I say it reminds me of ballet because the leaps and quick changes in the melody are reminiscent of the steps a ballet dancer takes.

Red-Sparrow

However, some of the tracks in the score depart from the style featured in the overture and “Didn’t I Do Well” and lean closer to a more modern feel, with electronic sounds and a faster paced, more “jagged” melody. Examples of this include “Take Off Your Dress” and “The Steam Room.” The latter especially could be considered the most “violent” sounding piece in the entire soundtrack (I have my theories as to why but I’ll need to see the film to know for certain) but I enjoyed listening to it because it stood in marked contrast to the other pieces surrounding it in the score.

In conclusion, Howard’s score for Red Sparrow is a gorgeous listening experience and I can already tell it will be the highlight of the film (even if the rest of the film disappoints, which I hope it doesn’t). I think you will definitely enjoy it.

Let me know what you thought of Red Sparrow’s soundtrack in the comments below. 🙂

This soundtrack review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. From here on out, patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access.                                                                                                                         You can become a patron of the blog at: patreon.com/musicgamer460

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

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

My thoughts on: Red Sparrow (2018)

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Soundtrack Review: Maze Runner-The Death Cure (2018)

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Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a 2018 American dystopian science fiction film based on the third novel in the Maze Runner trilogy written by James Dashner. It was originally meant to be released in 2017 but had to be delayed when series star Dylan O’Brien suffered injuries while filming and required extensive time to recover. In The Death Cure, the surviving “Gladers” must infiltrate WCKD headquarters in order to rescue their friend Minho who is being tortured by WCKD in hopes of developing a cure for the Flare virus that has turned most of the population into “Cranks” (zombie-like beings that have an overwhelming urge to kill anyone who isn’t a Crank). The film and soundtrack released on January 26th, 2018.

The score for The Death Cure was composed by John Paesano, a composer with a lengthy list of film credits to his name. Paesano received an Annie Award for Best Music for his work on DreamWorks’ animated series Dragons: Riders of Berk, which is based on the Academy Award® winning film How To Train Your Dragon. He won a World Soundtrack Award for his score to the hugely successful young adult adaptation, The Maze Runner.

He has now completed the trilogy, which includes The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure. His other credits include Universal Picture’s Almost Christmas and Sony Animation’s The Star. He’s currently scoring both Marvel’s hit series Daredevil and Defenders. Forthcoming in 2018 is Spider-Man PS4, which will be released featuring John’s huge orchestral score.

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Listening to Maze Runner: The Death Cure was a refreshing change of pace compared to the other science fiction works I’ve been listening to as of late (i.e. Annihilation and Altered Carbon). Unlike those works, The Death Cure’s score uses a more traditional orchestra, mostly strings, though there is a healthy dose of synthesizer used as well (in the 21st century, it’s next-to-impossible to find a film score that doesn’t use synthesized music at some point).

Two tracks that stood out to me were “The Virus” and “The Last City.” With “The Virus,” it was very interesting, given the track’s title, how it actually sounded. I was expecting to hear something sinister and dark, but it actually sounded very pleasant. With layered orchestral chords and synthetic drones, the music is actually rather serene at times, which makes me wonder what part of the film this music is attached to with a title like “The Virus.” I really do enjoy listening to this track, it’s simple and direct and hopefully gets its point across in the film.

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“The Last City” can only be referring to the city that holds WCKD headquarters (and is presumed to be the last functioning city of its kind on Earth). Appropriately enough, given the post-apocalyptic setting, the music for this track is sad, with a mournful horn melody accompanied by strings. I have to imagine that even for those living inside the city things must seem completely hopeless, given how close humanity is to extinction, no wonder the music is so sad. I like how Paesano has written this piece, especially how the strings swell up with a theme of their own and weave in and out with the horn. Like “The Virus,” this track is relatively simple but effective.

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And those are my thoughts on the soundtrack of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Reviews of the film have been mixed, but I think Paesano’s soundtrack is good, and I hope you enjoy listening to it. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review. The soundtrack is available via Sony Classical.

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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Annihilation is a science fiction horror film written and directed by Alex Garland in his second outing as a film director. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and follows a group of military scientists who enter “the Shimmer,” a mysterious quarantined zone that is full of mutating landscapes and creatures. Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, , Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny and was released on February 23rd, 2018.

The soundtrack of Annihilation was scored by composing duo Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who previously worked with Alex Garland on the Academy Award winning film Ex Machina (2015). Ben Salisbury is an Emmy-nominated composer with over 100 film and television composing credits to his name, including Beyonce Knowles’ self-directed documentary feature Beyonce: Life Is But A Dream and the last 3 series of David Attenborough’s acclaimed Life Of… strand for the BBC. Geoff Barrow, known for his extensive body of work as a music producer and founding member of the band Portishead, first began his film music career as the music supervisor and original score writer for graffiti artist Banksy’s Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop. He recently worked on the band Arcade Fire’s latest album Everything Now in addition to producing a cover of ABBA’s “SOS” with Portishead for Ben Wheatley’s film adaption of High-Rise.

The first thing I noticed about this soundtrack is that it is clearly related to the music of Ex Machina. It is not identical, per se, but it clearly comes from the same tonal family as the previous film. I don’t say this as a bad thing, in fact, it’s not uncommon for multiple soundtracks from the same composer (or group of composers) to retain similarities across each film. I also think the resemblance has something to do with Annihilation being considered the “spiritual” successor to Ex Machina.

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That being said, if you liked Ex Machina and its soundtrack, then you will love the soundtrack for Annihilation. Like the soundtrack for Altered Carbon, most of the tracks contain the same elements: long synthesized tones, metallic wind chimes, and vocal tones. Despite the similarities, some of the tracks did stand out to me.

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“Shimmer Reveal” is only 38 seconds long but it catches the ear because it starts very soft and steadily grows in volume. As the volume increases, the melody “thickens” with a deeper synthesized tone. It feels like we start looking at a small picture which quickly expands into a panoramic landscape (in fact this is probably when we get our first in-depth look at the “shimmer” which can only be that mysterious thing that Natalie Portman’s character is seen walking into in the previews).

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“Abandoned Army Base” is half-mystical and half-sinister in the way it combines a synthesized drone with “creaking” metallic tones that sound like metal being ripped apart and metallic chimes that put me in mind of a monastery. Given that this is a science fiction horror film, I can only presume the sinister component I hear is due to someone or something hiding at this abandoned base, just waiting to snatch an unsuspecting victim (of course I could be wrong, but that’s what it sounds like). And going back to Ex Machina, this track in particular reminds me of Ava’s theme.

I have to bring attention to “In All of Us” simply because this track breaks the overall pattern and includes a melody from a guitar, which is so unexpected that it jars the ear when it arrives. “We Are Headed That Way” which follows that track, is interesting to me because of its title. Given the trailer’s hints that “the Shimmer” is causing a mutation of some kind, I wonder if this title refers to the idea that everything on Earth will eventually be affected by this mutation. Truthfully I can’t wait to find out what “the Shimmer” is actually doing, the visuals in the previews looked amazing.

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And those are my thoughts on the soundtrack for Annihilation. The soundtrack is currently available via Lakeshore Records and I hope you enjoy listening to it. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

If you’ve seen Annihilation, what did you think of the film and its soundtrack? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, but please no spoilers, I’m seeing the film on Wednesday night 🙂

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

My thoughts on: Annihilation (2018)