Soundtrack Review: Batman Begins

Composed by: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Eight years after the disastrous Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers released the Christopher Nolan-directed reboot of the Batman franchise: Batman Begins. Batman Begins successfully returned the character to his darker roots. The new film universe was also much more gritty and realistic, with no neon lights or over-acting wacky villains. The best thing the reboot did was make Commissioner Gordon (played wonderfully by Gary Oldman) an important character. The movie does have its flaws, such as a weak third act and a potential to engage in pretentious dialogue, but I think it captures the Batman of the last thirty years perfectly.

In an unusual move, Nolan decided to have Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard to collaborate on the music. While an interesting pair, the music they make sounds like it could easily have been written by one man and I have no idea why two big-name composers are needed. It pretty much ends up being a  Hans Zimmer score, and he in fact has become Nolan’s go-to composer. Zimmer and Howard admitted to not really listening closely to any of the other Batman soundtracks, although the heroic and operatic style in those would not have matched the tone of Batman Begins. Zimmer and the Media Ventures gang take over most of the action and suspense while Howard provides the emotional core. Interestingly, all of the track titles are names of bat species (there’s also an easter egg in them as well), though this can make it hard to tell what scenes the different pieces of music are from.

Zimmer came up with the primary Batman themes. The first major motif to pop up is suitably dark, and sounds like the slow flapping of bat wings. It opens up both the movie and the album in “Vespertilio”. It later appears in “Atribeus” amidst loud clangs and sound effects as Batman surprise attacks criminals. The second motif also appears in “Vespertilio”, a simple two-note motif against a rhythm. The rhythm from this theme is used to its best effect in the training montage scene (“Eptesicus”). Despite being incredibly simplistic, these motifs are very effective at creating the proper atmosphere.

The only tune with any degree of complexity is a love theme created by James Newton Howard, which builds into a soaring motif in “Macrotus” and “Corynorhinus”. The League of Shadows gets its own oriental motif, which is very eerie and ambient. The Scarecrow gets no theme or motif, although unnerving sound distortions are used when his fear gas hits Batman in “Tadarida”. There are plenty of motifs which are recognizable, though it’s hard to specifically assign them to a certain idea or character.

The action and heroics are a little on the light side, with the soundtrack emphasizing dark ambience and emotional moments. The first notable action cue is in “Myotis”, but there are no true moments of heroism until “Antrozous” and more notably the propulsive “Molossus”.

One track I just love is “Lasiurus”. It starts off with a repeating, descending fanfare before going into the League of Shadows theme. The second half is one of the emotional themes repeating itself and growing increasingly louder and dramatic. The end is one very long note before the flapping motif from album’s beginning also closes it.

How does Zimmer and Howard’s effort compare Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal? Danny Elfman is definitely better. It’s hard to beat his main theme and the sweeping gothic nature of his music. Elliot Goldenthal put much more thought in constructing his themes and motifs. This is still a solid score. The ambience and simple themes work well, but it’s a bit odd that two of the industry’s greatest composers couldn’t come up with something a little more epic and aside from some of the piano pieces it just sounds like Zimmer. Batman Begins is not the best bat-score, but I think it perfectly captures the feeling of the more recent comics.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Vespertillo (2:52)
  2. Eptesicus (4:20)
  3. Myotis (5:46)
  4. Barbastella (4:45)
  5. Atribeus (4:20)
  6. Tadarida (5:06)
  7. Macrotus (7:36)
  8. Antrozous (3:59)
  9. Nycteris (4:26)
  10. Molossus (4:49)
  11. Corynorhinus (5:04)
  12. Lasiurus (7:27)

Soundtrack Review: Batman Forever

Batman forever original soundtrack - elliot goldenthal.jpg

Composed by: Elliot Goldenthal

Conducted by: Jonathan Sheffer & Shirley Walker

Following complaints about the unpleasant nature of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Warner Brothers replaced the director of the Batman franchise with Joel Schumacher, who provided a more kid-friendly blockbuster. Heavily criticized for its overbearing neon lighting and its poor Two-Face (played way too over-the-top by Tommy Lee Jones), I rather like Batman Forever, the first film to seriously explore Bruce Wayne’s origins (although many of the scenes that would have effectively explained this plotline were unfortunately cut from the film) Michael Keaton’s replacement, Val Kilmer, does a fine job as Batman, Jim Carrey turns in a delightful, if over-the-top, performance as the Riddler, and Elliot Goldenthal comes in to do perhaps one of his best scores.

Elliot Goldenthal is known for his dissonant fragmented style, which tends to turn off listeners. However, I find Batman Forever to be a very good effort, not to mention the most thematically complex in the franchise. Dissonant Goldenthal trademarks are found all over the place, from the wailing French horns to the loud clangs. It is a score fully appropriate for the zany atmosphere of the film, with a myriad of styles ranging from traditional orchestral pieces to circus music to waltzes.

Joel Schumacher initially wanted Goldenthal to reuse Danny Elfman’s famous Batman theme, but was convinced by the composer that such a theme would not work well in the more campy film. As a result we are given an equally good fanfare which provides much more interesting malleability, although the dark edge of Elfman’s work is somewhat lost. The new Batman theme appears in nearly every single track in a seemingly limitless number of variations. In fact, most of the themes are based around several short motifs, linking them all together in a complex web. For example, the Riddler’s four-note motif can also be found in Two-Face’s theme, and a three-note danger motif is found within several larger themes.

There are two notable secondary themes derived from the main theme. The first is a bombastic reworking amid a bunch of whirling and screeching strings and random jazzy sound effects labeled on track 11 as “Gotham City Boogie”. The second is a love theme with the end of the Batman theme put in (“Chase Noir”). The tragic background and stories of Batman and his newly-acquired sidekick Robin are provided with a melancholy piece. It appears ion slow strings in the quiet “Pull of Regret” and has louder moments in “Under the Top” and “Spank Me! Overture”. Its best appearance is in ‘Under the Top” where it builds up to a loud climax and then subsides into tragedy.

The villains get their own wide range of musical ideas. Two-Face is given a fairly long theme suitably played in two-note increments. It fails to convey the tragic nature of the comic’s character, but this is expected due to Tommy Lee Jones’ poor performance and the script’s propensity for one-liners. The highlight track for this theme is the waltzy “Two-Face Three-Step”. Jim Carrey’s wacky performance of the Riddler is backed by an equally absurd collection of music. Starting off with a descending four-note motif, Goldenthal puts it through so many variations and into so many melodies that it will take several listens to find all of its appearances. “Nygma Variations” is a six-minute suite for the Riddler which starts off with an ominous march and after a quiet bit of sci-fi theremin enters into a series of wacky electronic cues and the action version, which doubles the amount of notes in the theme in half the time. For moments underscoring the Riddler’s unstable emotional mind, Goldenthal uses discordant violin pieces and when the villain’s grand scheme reaches fruition uses a loud bombastic theremin.

Two tracks well worth getting mention are “Victory” and “Holy Rusted Metal”. “Victory” is my favorite because of the way it changes moods so fast while being entertaining. Two-Face’s theme loudly starts off this cue until the Batman fanfare breaks in, only to literally flop as our hero falls into a trap. The music then gets louder and louder as Batman is engulfed in flames. However, a secondary fanfare breaks out as he emerges from the flames. Goldenthal then utilizes an electronic organ as he ends up being in an even worse situation. Ending the cue is yet another recurring heroic fanfare as Robin saves Batman from his death. “Holy Rusted Metal” is notable for its grand villainous fanfare which would get a bigger treatment in the dismal sequel Batman and Robin.

How does the album do as a listening experience? There are few quiet moments, although there is a five-minute interlude in the middle consisting of “Pull of Regret’ and “Mouth to Mouth Nocturne” (a very lovely piece). But the action, while very loud and furious, isn’t the type that you enjoy for rhythms and frantic pacing. Batman Forever benefits from its large number of themes and the seemingly endless number of variations they undergo. Batman Forever is not for everyone thanks to its loud, dissonant nature and has received plenty of flack from film score reviewers. In fact, it will downright annoy many of your friends. The score album is a little hard to buy, but if you like the music, get it before it becomes even more rare. Batman Forever, in my opinion, has about equal standing with Batman Returns and is the most complex bat-score ever made thus far.

Rating: 8/10

  1. Main Titles & Fanfare (1:51)
  2. Perpetuum Mobile (0:54)
  3. The Perils of Gotham (3:01)
  4. Chase Noir (1:46)
  5. Fledermarschmusik (1:15)
  6. Nygma Variations (An Ode to Science) (6:02)
  7. Victory (2:37)
  8. Descent (1:08)
  9. Pull of Regret (2:50)
  10. Mouth to Mouth Nocturne (2:14)
  11. Gotham City Boogie (2:01)
  12. Under the Top (5:42)
  13. Mr. E’s Dance Card (Rhumba, Foxtrot, Waltz, Tango) (3:21)
  14. Two-Face Three-Step (2:20)
  15. Chase Blanc (1:23)
  16. Spank Me! Overture (2:46)
  17. Holy Rusted Metal (1:50)
  18. Batterdammerung (1:23)

Complete Score

La-La Land Records released the complete score in 2012. Frustratingly, despite providing all the music, some of the material on the first disc is out of chronological order for some unexplained reason. Regardless, there are plenty of new variations on the themes and motifs to check out. My favorite previously unreleased music is ‘Scuba Fight/Claw Island/Emperor of Madness”, which has a lot of that awesome fanfare from “Holey Rusted Metal”. Of the three complete Bat-score releases, this is the strongest, since the highlights of the Danny Elfman soundtracks were all present on the original releases anyways.

Rating: 8/10

Soundtrack Review: Batman Returns

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Conducted by: Jonathan Scheffer

Following the smashing success of Batman, Tim Burton was given more creative freedom in the sequel. Batman Returns has good acting and great visuals, but Burton infused a little too much of his own style, resulting in a film that, reportedly, caused many children expecting a normal action film to come out of the theaters crying. For its faults, it has a pretty strong cast, with Danny Devito as an odd mutant take on the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Christopher Walken being awesome as always as evil business and power mogul Max Schreck. Among the Burton tropes in Batman Returns are a circus, plenty of pale faces, gothic designs, and a dark Danny Elfman score.

The score is quite different from the first, which is more traditionally heroic. Its emphasis is on bleak darkness, as represented by its two new, liberally quoted themes. Both are sinister, but with a strong hint of tragedy. The Penguin’s theme debuts in “Birth of a Penguin” and gets extensive treatment in “The Lair” and “The Cemetery”. It’s used so often that how much you like the theme will effect how you feel about the whole album. Catwoman’s theme has two parts. The first is high-pitched strings representing the feline meowing and screeching of a cat. The second part is a more tragic motif that dominates the more sweeping portions of “Selina Transforms”. Christopher Walken’s character doesn’t get a theme despite his prominent relevance to both Penguin and Catwoman. The Batman theme itself takes a much more subdued role. Whereas the 1989 film had plenty of lengthy, heroic iterations, this one sees smaller references, often without any of the heroic brass. There is an amazing version for the opening titles, with a dark choir lending some extra gravitas and atmosphere.

“Birth of a Penguin” opens with a short, low snippet of the Batman theme before an oohing choir and an organ introduce the Penguin’s theme. The track climaxes with Elfman’s familiar “la-la” choral work to represent the film’s Christmas surroundings before “Opening Titles” takes over. The Penguin and Catwoman themes get lengthy treatments for the next few tracks, which can get tiring at points. “Batman vs. the Circus” is the first moment in the score where the hero’s theme plays out in any major way. This track starts off with a great build into the Batman theme. The rest of it is Batman’s theme battling circus music. Tracks 10 and 11 contrast two moments for the Penguin’s character. “The Rise…” starts off sinisterly, but ends with a triumphant fanfare, while “…And Fall From Grace” ends with a very tragic rendition of the Penguin’s theme.

There is no love theme this time around, since the main female interest is Selina Kyle/Catwoman, who already has plenty of her own thematic material. Elfman still delivers a twisted romance track, “Sore Spots”, which plays out like an old-time Hollywood love theme, but keeps getting intruded on by Catwoman’s high-pitched strings.

“Rooftops” moves between different tempos, starting off with more carnivalesque action music, going into dark villain territory, a choral outburst of the Batman theme, some sinister choral material, and then a few violin screeches. “Wild Chase” is another action cue where Batman’s theme battles circus music. “The Children’s Hour” is features the Penguin’s theme as a lullaby. “The Final Confrontation” kicks off with a military drumbeat. The rest of the track see the Batman and Penguin themes duke it out. “Penguin Army” (this and the next track are misnamed), sees the climax while “Selina’s Electrocution” gives the Penguin a tragic send-off. “Finale” is interesting in how it contracts with the same-named cue from the previous score. While that one was heroic and uplifting, with Batman rising to save the city, this one is unclear, tragic, and somber. The end credits suite sees all three major themes get a last play.

The album features sixty-five minutes of score and a song by some early nineties guys called the Banshees at the end entitled “Face to Face”. In a very perplexing move, the track titles are listed only on the CD, with many of the tracks renamed to fit on it! This almost takes away a point from the soundtrack merely just for giving the listener confusion about what piece of music he is listening to unless if he’s heard it while watching the film. Thankfully, the proper track listing can be found online at several places, though even then most of the last tracks are misnamed (For example, the Penguin’s somber farewell is called “Selina’s Electrocution”). There’s also a complete score release, but aside from a couple more references to the less used Batman theme, I can’t think of anything that the original album doesn’t already have.

Batman Returns is not the exciting, dark yet heroic thrill ride its predecessor was, both in film and score. The music is much more Burtonish, but this doesn’t make it bad. The new themes are strong and any faults with Elfman’s score can be chalked up to the more weird and dark atmosphere of the film. As I stated earlier, one’s opinion of the new themes can determine an opinion of the overall product. I think they’re good and encompass a wide variety of emotions with ease. The action music isn’t as good here, maybe because of all the circus and carnival material, but I think “Final Confrontation” is a great dramatic build to the film’s climax. Overall, Elfman’s Returns is a very different score, but a good one.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklisting

  1. Birth of a Penguin (2:270
  2. Opening Titles (3:09)
  3. To the Present (0:57)
  4. The Lair (4:49)
  5. Selina Kyle (1:11)
  6. Selina Transforms (4:16)
  7. The Cemetery (2:53)
  8. Cat Suite (5:41)
  9. Batman vs. the Circus (2:34)
  10. The Rise… (1:41)
  11. …and Fall from Grace (4:08)
  12. Sore Spots (2:18)
  13. Rooftops (4:19)
  14. Wild Ride (3:34)
  15. The Children’s Hour (1:47)
  16. The Final Confrontation (5:12)
  17. Penguin Army (4:54)
  18. Selina’s Electrocution (2:40)
  19. The Finale (2:19)
  20. End Credits (4:44)
  21. Face to Face (performed by the Banshees) (4:17)

Soundtrack Review: Batman (1989)

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Orchestrated by: Shirley Walker & Steve Bartek

Although he had returned to his grimmer, darker roots nearly twenty years earlier in the comics, Batman was still often perceived by the non-comic reading community as the campy crusader of the sixties TV show, battling alongside Robin against colorful villains while such words as “POW!” and “BANG!” lit up the screen. Just as teh Superman movie franchise was dying a horrible death, Batman was brought to the silver screen by director Tim Burton, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson giving memorable performances as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker.

My favorite bat-film other than The Dark Knight, Batman had its music done by Burton’s regular composer-collaborator, Danny Elfman. It was this score that made Elfman one of the biggest composers of Hollywood, and also established him as on of the top choices for comic book movie music. Elfman was an excellent choice, his dark, impressionistic style of film-scoring a natural fit for Batman.

The music opens gloriously with “The Batman Theme”. It’s dashing and heroic, yet at the same time is imbued with a dark and sometimes tragic quality. This is my favorite superhero theme. I think John Williams’ Superman theme has a stronger opening titles arrangement, but Elfman’s theme just seems to have more dramatic energy as its quoted in the overall score. It is certainly a very malleable theme, and appears frequently, never failing to make a powerful statement. It made such an impression that it would be used for the opening and ending titles of the 90s’ animated series and in several video games and amusement parks.

A major factor in the score actually comes from Prince, who created his own collection of songs for the film on a separate soundtrack album. Many of these songs actually feature in the film, sometimes in an important way. Most important to the actual score is “Scandalous”. Elfman turns part of it into a love theme for Batman and love interest of the film Vicki Vale. The use of Prince songs also effects the material for the Joker. Since many of the Joker’s big scenes are backed by the songs, Elfman does not provide a strong overall theme. The closest he gets is “Waltz to the Death”, an awesome Gothic waltz for part of the final showdown that also dramatically closes out “Kitchen/Surgery/Face-Off”. You’d think the lack of a singular Joker theme would be a detriment, but Elfman pulls it off admirably.

After the main theme are “Roof Fight” and “First Confrontation”, two action cues which prove the effectiveness of the Batman theme. “Roof Fight” in particular sets the tone for several of the action pieces, traditional orchestra backed by urban percussion. “Flowers” is a melancholy track on piano and strings, while “Batman to the Rescue” is the most wild action cue. “Roasted Dude” is a short, haunting piece from one of the Joker’s monologues. “Photos/Beautiful Dreamer” is very atmospheric, and utilizes the tune from, as the title suggests, the 1864 song “Beautiful Dreamer”.

A definite highlight is “Descent into Mystery”. It kicks off with repeating strings, then a chanting choir. It builds into a short burst of the Batman theme and then introduces a secondary fanfare. This track is just epic, the best combination of heroism and atmosphere I’ve ever heard. Atmosphere of the more peaceful kind features in “The Bat Cave” and the carnivalesque “Joker’s Poem”. “Childhood Remembered” is an eerie piece on tragic strings for Bruce Wayne’s flashback scene.

The score’s final run is amazing, a series of big action and grand fanfares. “Charge of the Batmobile” and “Attack of the Batwing” fit in the former category, frenetic action music with the Batman theme liberally applied. “Up the Cathedral” is five minutes of dramatic darkness, with considerable use of an organ. This all builds into “Waltz to the Death”, literally an action waltz for its first half before a more subdued variation plays. “Final Confrontation” is the weakest of the final sequence tracks. It’s not bad. It’s pretty good. It just doesn’t have the wall-to-wall action of “Attack of the Batwing” or the uniqueness of the previous two tracks. It does end with a sweeping tragic motif and a final bit of circus music for the Joker. “Finale” brings back Batman’s fanfares in a big way, probably one of the best closing tracks one could wish for in a superhero movie. The last track is a reprise of the main theme from the end credits.

The original album has pretty much all the music you need, but there is a 2014 complete score release. It turns out all the score material fits onto one disc, since many of the scenes are backed by Prince songs. There is one  piece of music from the complete score I love called “Bat-Zone”, a slowly building iteration of the Batman theme.

Danny Elfman’s Batman is still the best Batman score, and in my opinion the best superhero score period. It’s got one of the best hero themes of all time, set the style for Elfman’s bigger action music throughout his career, has plenty of atmosphere, and even fits in with Prince’s songs.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklisting

  1. The Batman Theme (2:38)
  2. Rooftop Fight (1:20)
  3. First Confrontation (4:43)
  4. Kitchen/Surgery/Face-Off (3:07)
  5. Flowers (1:51)
  6. Clown Attack (1:45)
  7. Batman to the Rescue (3:56)
  8. Roasted Dude (1:01)
  9. Photos/Beautiful Dreamer (2:27)
  10. Descent into Mystery (1:31)
  11. The Bat Cave (2:35)
  12. The Joker’s Poem (0:56)
  13. Childhood Remembered (2:43)
  14. Love Theme (1:30)
  15. Charge of the Batmobile (1:41)
  16. Attack of the Batwing (4:44)
  17. Up the Cathedral (5:04)
  18. Waltz to the Death (3:55)
  19. Final Confrontation (3:47)
  20. Finale (1:45)
  21. Batman Theme Reprise (1:28)

Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

IndianaJonesAndTheKingdomOfTheChrystalSkullSoundtrack2008.JPG

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Nearly two decades after Indiana Jones literally rode into the sunset with Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to revisit the franchise, a move with its fair share of controversy since Harrison Ford was noticeably much, much older. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has gotten mixed reviews, and is often cited as the worst movie in series. I have to agree that it’s the worst, but despite some serious flaws, especially its underwhelming last act, I think it’s an okay movie with some genuinely great scenes.

One of the most exciting aspects of Indiana Jones coming back was the return of John Williams, who at this point had just started to take it easier with his movie scoring schedule. As with his return to Star Wars, much time had elapsed since he scored Indiana Jones. Would his changed style of scoring affect how fun the score would be?

The main artifact theme, for the Crystal Skull, is virtually a reverse of the Ark of the Covenant theme. Instead of a series of descending three-note increments, it’s a repetition of ascending three notes, with a haunting melody to back it up. It’s not as powerful as the Ark theme, but it does manage to be very eerie, sometimes downright scary (check out “Oxley’s Dilemma”). There’s a great new theme for Irina Spalko and the Russian villains. “Irina’s Theme” is actually two themes in one. It’s not as militaristic as Williams’ themes for the Nazis in previous entries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Irina’s theme is old school, while a secondary motif for the Russians in general is utilized in the action scenes.

Supposedly Shia Labeouf’s Mutt character has his own theme. There’s even a concert arrangement track called “The Adventures of Mutt”. I say this is “supposedly” a theme because in the film itself it only appears in “Jungle Chase” and the end credits suite. A lot of the music does fit the same style, a lot of light-hearted whirling and racing strings and woodwinds. The concert arrangement itself contains part of the Indiana Jones theme, suggesting a further link between him and the film’s main protagonist.

Several themes from the previous movies make their return, though these references are underrepresented on album. The most obvious is Marion’s theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is surprisingly underutilized despite her considerable presence in the film. One of the Grail themes from Last Crusade pops up a couple times, and the Ark theme makes two notable appearances in the opening sequence. As for the Indiana Jones theme itself, it is thankfully used frequently, but not to excess.

The album kicks off with “The Raiders March”, basically the end credits music from Raiders. Its presence is unfortunate. It seems to have been placed there for a nostalgia pop and just takes away space that could have been used for actual new music. Tracks 2 through 4 are concert arrangements of the new themes and motifs. “The Snake Pit” is the first of several light-hearted action cues. “The Spell of the Skull” starts off with the Ark of the Covenant theme and makes the first in-score reference to Irina’s theme. The rest of the track is tense suspense which isn’t terribly complex or thematic, but for some reason I really love it. “Journey to Akator” lifts part of Raiders’ “Escape from Peru” before delving into ethnic Latin American fare. “A Whirl Through Academe” is a scherzo from one of the film’s best scenes. “Return” is one of many tracks to focus heavily on the Crystal Skull theme.

“Jungle Chase” is the action highlight, reminiscent of “Desert Chase” and with plenty of references to the Irina and Mutt’s themes. “Grave Robbers” is an unusual foray into bone-rattling percussion, while tracks 13 through 15 feature dark exploration music. “Ants!” is a very interesting action cue, with a string march for a rather deadly swarm of ants backed by several of the themes. The beginning is notable for featuring string-plucking fragments of the Skull theme. “Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed”, like the scene it accompanies, is rather underwhelming despite its simulation of an alien choir and a loud final reference to Irina’s theme. “The Departure” is much better, building up to a grand fanfare at its conclusion. “Finale” starts off with Marion’s theme before the Indiana Jones theme plays in full followed by an end credits suite.

The fourth Indiana Jones score is a good entry, though the weakest. It’s just as not as fun a ride as the other scores, perhaps because of the abundance of dark suspense and exploration. To be fair, this can be chalked up to the album’s presentation, which leaves out large chunks of the more energetic action music. The worst omission is the rest of “Jungle Chase”, which had more of Marion’s theme and an interesting use of the Russians motif. I say this album is worth looking up and even buying, but be warned, the magic of the other scores doesn’t come in that much.

Final Rating: (score) 8/10 (album) 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Raiders March (5:05)
  2. Call of the Crystal (3:49)
  3. The Adventures of Mutt (3:12)
  4. Irina’s Theme (2:26)
  5. The Snake Pit (3:15)
  6. The Spell of the Skull (4:24)
  7. The Journey to Akator (3:07)
  8. A Whirl Through Academe (3:33)
  9. Return (3:11)
  10. The Jungle Chase (4:21)
  11. Orellana’s Cradle (4:22)
  12. Grave Robbers (2:28)
  13. Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold (5:13)
  14. Secret Doors and Scorpions (2:17)
  15. Oxley’s Dilemma (4:46)
  16. Ants! (4:14)
  17. Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed (5:49)
  18. The Departure (2:26)

Soundtrack Review: Spectre

Composed and Conducted by: Thomas Newman

Spectre, as the title suggests, reintroduced the evil organization led by the cat-stroking Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Daniel Craig’s performance as 007 is even better, but the film is a mixed bag. It’s great for the first two-thirds, but gets mired by an attempt to link all of the Craig films together, as well as tying his origins to Spectre’s creation by Blofeld, an unnecessary move that wastes time and adds nothing. It’s not a terrible film, just an underwhelming one.

With Sam Mendes staying on for this film, it was inevitable that Thomas Newman would return too, making him only the third recurring composer after John Barry and David Arnold. Unfortunately, entire passages of music are recycled from Skyfall, though the album does focus on the more original material. For the third time the title song is not included on the soundtrack! This time it’s Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall”, which has good lyrics and fantastic music. Its main downfall is Smith’s singing voice, which gets way too high-pitched at points like he’s been kicked in the balls. Also, as with Adele’s “Skyfall”, Newman only uses the song once in his score, in an instrumental version that doesn’t even make full use of the melody. Perhaps there were production issues as with Skyfall that hindered him from utilizing it more.

The score itself starts off strong with “Los Muertos Vivos Estan”, a nice blend of the James Bond theme and percussion by Tambuco. Another early track, “Donna Lucia”, has some good romance material. But the album as a whole goes downhill from there. Newman’s score for Skyfall, while emphasizing atmosphere, had plenty of energy, interesting uses of the Bond theme, and even a few cues that sounded Bondish. The score here often seems to meander, focused on dreary atmosphere for long sections and much of the action material, especially from the film’s last act, being bland.

There is a more obvious use of motifs. The Bond’s Past theme from Newman’s other offering is given much more prominence, this time being used more generally. There’s  another theme for Bond, consisting of two-note increments of piano which gets consistent play as well. Madeleine has her own theme as well (in the track of the same name). It’s decent enough, though it doesn’t hold a candle to what Barry or Arnold would produce. The other motifs take a couple listens to recognize and aren’t memorable. They can often be confused with filler underscore. That’s the problem with the music for Spectre. Most of it isn’t memorable and passes by without the listener noticing. It can’t sustain its album length, which falls maybe twenty to thirty seconds short of filling out an entire CD.

There are decent, even good moments on this soundtrack, and Thomas Newman is a very talented composer. But it didn’t entertain me or sustain my interest, and it’s far too outside the musical style of the franchise and is emblematic of many of today’s bland action scores.

Rating: 4/10

Tracklisting

  1. Los Muertos Vivos Estan (with Tambuco) (2:48)
  2. Vauxhall Bridge (2:19)
  3. The Eternal City (4:34)
  4. Donna Lucia (2:03)
  5. A Place Without Mercy (1:04)
  6. Backfire (4:54)
  7. Crows Klinik (1:41)
  8. The Pale King (2:55)
  9. Madeleine (2:58)
  10. Kite in a Hurricane (2:09)
  11. Snow Plane (5:24)
  12. L’Americain (1:42)
  13. Secret Room (5:22)
  14. Hinx (1:21)
  15. Writing’s on the Wall – Instrumental (2:09)
  16. Silver Wraith (2:15)
  17. A Reunion (5:36)
  18. Day of the Dead (with Tambuco) (1:26)
  19. Tempus Fugit (1:21)
  20. Safe House (3:55)
  21. Blindfold (1:28)
  22. Careless (4:39)
  23. Detonation (3:53)
  24. Westminster Bridge (4:14)
  25. Out of Bullets (1:51)
  26. Spectre (5:36)

Soundtrack Review: Skyfall

Composed and Conducted by: Thomas Newman

The 50th anniversary for the James Bond film was marked by Skyfall, a rather good film that successfully meshed some of the old school tropes of the franchise with more recent sensibilities. It’s probably the most artistic entry in the franchise, especially when it comes to the lighting work. As it’s a Sam Mendes film, David Arnold was replaced by Mendes’ choice composer, Thomas Newman, a move which irked a few fans who had really been enjoying Arnold’s run.

Skyfall’s soundtrack has its fair share of difficulties regarding the song of the same name by Adele. First of all, it’s not on the actual soundtrack thanks to contractual issues, as was the case with “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale. Also, it was not completed in time for Newman to incorporate it into his score, which is a real shame because it’s one of the best songs, and features a strong, powerful tune. Newman did hold off on scoring one scene, just so there could be at least one reference. The track is “Komodo Dragon”, which plays the theme wonderfully before some atmospheric material and some Asian string music. It’s one of the best tracks and shows what could have been if there was more coordination in the music department.

Since the score is by Thomas Newman, it’s very atmospheric, quite a shift tonally for James Bond. He doesn’t jettison the style completely. The aforementioned “Komodo Dragon” and “Chimera” have the customary fanfares, and the itunes exclusive “Old Dog, New Tricks” sounds like it would fit in well with some of John Barry’s earlier scores with its lounge-style. The Bond theme itself is featured heavily, often in small snippets. Newman’s most notable use of the theme is the rhythmic string variation from the film’s climatic action (“She’s Mine”). It sounds like many current action scores, the one that pops to mind being the theme from Batman Begins.

Newman’s greatest weakness is a lack of themes. There are only two recurring ones I can distinguish on album besides the James Bond theme and some of the repeated action rhythms. The first is a sad little motif for Severine. The second is an eerie, atmospheric theme for Bond’s past (“Skyfall”, end of “Deep Water”), which is used much more frequently in the subsequent film Spectre.

There are nice tunes, just not actual themes. “New Digs” is an uplifting back-to-duty piece. “Chimera” has a loud fanfare at its start. “Mother” has a noble motif that does make a return in Spectre. One cool piece is “Shanghai Drive”, an electronic/percussion track that gets a variation in “Adrenaline”.

How much one likes the action music can determine how much one likes the score, as it takes up a lot of space. It does sound at times like Newman composed a really long action cue and then edited the pieces around to fit the scenes. Several tracks can’t really be told apart from each other without many listens. “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” is one of the better tracks in this area. Since the Gunbarrel sequence was reserved for the end credits again, Newman takes the first two notes and places the right at the beginning to compensate. After some nondescript suspense music a raucous piece on electronic guitar and North African percussion ensues before a the James Bond theme makes it first sizeable appearance. “Bloody Shot” completes this cue, though it’s moved far later on the album.

How does Thomas Newman compare to David Arnold? He certainly lacks in the thematic department and his music is much more simple in construction, but it’s mostly enjoyable. The atmospheric material is good and I do like how Newman found a new way to use the James Bond theme. Maybe I just like the score a lot because I love the movie and it helps me relive it. I’ll give this one a good, but not great rating.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (5:16)
  2. Voluntary Retirement (2:22)
  3. New Digs (2:32)
  4. Severine (1:20)
  5. Brave New World (1:50)
  6. Shanghai Drive (1:26)
  7. Jellyfish (3:22)
  8. Silhouette (0:56)
  9. Modigliani (1:05)
  10. Day Wasted (1:31)
  11. Quartermaster (4:58)
  12. Someone Usually Dies (2:29)
  13. Komodo Dragon (3:21)
  14. The Bloody Shot (4:46)
  15. Enjoying Death (1:13)
  16. The Chimera (1:58)
  17. Close Shave (1:32)
  18. Health & Safety (1:31)
  19. Granborough Road (2:34)
  20. Tennyson (2:14)
  21. Enquiry (2:50)
  22. Breadcrumbs (2:02)
  23. Skyfall (2:34)
  24. Kill Them First (2:22)
  25. Welcome to Scotland (3:21)
  26. She’s Mine (3:53)
  27. The Moors (2:40)
  28. Deep Water (5:11)
  29. Mother (1:41)
  30. Adrenaline (2:21)