Soundtrack Review: Casino Royale

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After numerous complaints from James Bond fans regarding Die Another Day, the producers spent a couple extra years on the next film, ultimately deciding to go with a reboot that toned down the camp elements. Martin Campbell, director of the well-loved Goldeneye, came on to create this more realistic take on 007. Pierce Brosnan’s suave character was replaced with a more hard-edged and less quippy performance by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale is probably my favorite James Bond movie. I didn’t think I could ever be so engrossed by watching people play cards.

Coming over from the Brosnan years was David Arnold. His score for Casino Royale proves to be noticeably different from his previous scores, especially Die Another Day. For the third time he was allowed to help create the title song, and the result is one of the best Bond songs yet, and my favorite. Sung by Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” is relentlessly energetic with awesome bad-ass lyrics. Unlike most of the previous songs, it doesn’t talk about romance or sleaze, but focuses on the dangerous life of a secret agent. Unfortunately, some legal issues prevented this wonderful piece of music from getting on album, and its absence is very frustrating since the CD now lacks its appropriate opener.

In large contrast to Arnold’s previous efforts is the understated usage of the James Bond theme. Aside from the ending, it makes its best and boldest appearance in “Blunt Instrument” before the main theme comes on again. Its other appearances are mostly easy to miss if not listened to carefully, with a few bars playing under the main theme or in the midst of long suspenseful passages. The James Bond theme is much more noticeable in “Dinner Jackets” (played a bit humorously and in conjunction with the main theme) and “A House Falls in Venice” (where Arnold puts in the obligatory statement for the final action scene’s conclusion). Only in the last track does the James Bond theme play in full swing. It’s similar o the Dr. No version, and a very satisfying conclusion.

With the James Bond theme’s role reduced, Arnold relies on the melodies from “You Know My Name”, which are liberally applied. The first appearance within the score itself is at the end of “Miami International”, prefaced by a rocking iteration of part of the Bond theme. “I’m the Money” is a simple thirty-second statement, while “Aston Montenegro” features my favorite incorporation of “You Know My Name”, a one-minute cue that builds into a grand statement.

The last major theme is a tender piano piece for Bond girl Vesper. This is one of my favorite Bond love themes and should be easy to spot for listeners. It sounds a little sad, but this makes it great in the final tragic cues (the titles are spoilers, but oh well). There is an extension that appears in the more romantic moments, first in “Vesper” and more sweepingly in “City of Lovers”. The ill-fated secondary Bond girl Solange also gets her own theme (“Solange”), which is simpler, but has an air of mystery about it.

Perhaps to make up for the absence of Cornell’s song, the album producers stuffed the CD with around seventy-five minutes of music. While the more energetic and bombastic scores from the Brosnan eras certainly keep me entertained for over an hour, Casino Royale sometimes slows down too much thanks to an abundance of suspenseful underscore. The card game cues, while sometimes having interestingly subtle methods of inserting the various themes (such as a few piano notes for Vesper in “The Tell”, can be a real chore to sit through. The action does deliver. “African Rundown” gives the album an abrupt start, but is a thrilling near-seven-minute chase cue which escalates at the end. Tn there is “Miami International”, which clocks in at an over whopping twelve minutes. It starts off with a dramatic statement of the main theme and stays suspenseful for the first couple minutes, with Solange’s theme appearing about the 3:30 mark. After escalating tension and grand fanfare at 6:52, it becomes a relentless piece with numerous references to “You Know My Name”. “Stairwell Fight” returns the four-note villainy/suspense motif from the Brosnan era. “The Switch” suffers a little from too little references to any of the themes, while “A House Fall in Venice” is a short, but great final action piece with one of the rhythms of the James Bond theme triumphing at the end, only to be cut off by a few harsh notes.

Casino Royale is a great score, though the album situation is troubling. You might want to get create your own listening experience, dropping some of the darker underscore and putting “You Know My Name” at the beginning. That song’s strong tune really makes up for the secondary use of the James Bond theme. Otherwise it’s probably David Arnold’s most well-though out and intelligent score, if not the most enjoyable.

Rating: 8/10

  1. African Rundown (6:52)
  2. Nothing Sinister (1:27)
  3. Unauthorized Access (1:08)
  4. Blunt Instrument (2:22)
  5. CCTV (1:30)
  6. Solange (0:59)
  7. Trip Aces (2:06)
  8. Miami International (12:43)
  9. I’m the Money (0:27)
  10. Aston Montenegro (1:03)
  11. Dinner Jackets (1:52)
  12. The Tell (3:23)
  13. Stairwell Fight (4:12)
  14. Vesper (1:44)
  15. Bon Loses it All (3:56)
  16. Dirty Martini (3:49)
  17. Bond Wins it All (4:32)
  18. The End of an Aston Martin (1:30)
  19. The Bad Die Young (1:18)
  20. City of Lovers (3:30)
  21. The Switch (5:07)
  22. Fall of a House in Venice (1:53)
  23. Death of Vesper (2:50)
  24. The Bitch is Dead (1:05)
  25. The Name’s Bond…James Bond (2:49)
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Soundtrack Review: Die Another Day

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After a good start in 1995 with Goldeneye, the James Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan would lose their steam in 2002’a Die Another Day. Released on the 40th anniversary of the franchise, it met with commercial success, but was panned by critics and most Bond fans for heightening the levels of camp and throwing in a lot of CGI. The lousiness of the critical reception caused the producers to create a serious reboot in Casino Royale.

Also receiving some criticism was the music. Despite his proven successes with “Surrender” and “The World is Not Enough”, David Arnold had no involvement with this flick’s opening number. One of the worst atrocities of the film is the opening song “Die Anther Day” performed by Madonna. It’s the worst song ever to grace the main titles of a Bond flick. It’s greatest sin is the lack of an actual melody to incorporate into the score, a bunch of repetitive electronics frequently interrupted by distortions. The lyrics themselves are heavily auto-tuned and pretty atrocious. The song appears to be about shutting down your body and denying sex, with a random utterance of “Sigmund Freud” that has no place in any Bond song. Making matters worse is that the album version runs about five minutes long. Amazingly, the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra managed to make a cool instrumental of this song, so check that out.

David Arnold would ignore Madonna’s music and indeed does provide his own film theme. In fact, you could hear where the words “Die Another Day” would fit in. This theme unfortunately gets sidelined, especially on the album where it only appears in four tracks: “Hovercraft Chase” (at the 1:47 mark), “Some Kind of Hero”, as romantic piano piece in “A Touch of Frost”, and “Whiteout”. Arnold relies much more heavily on the James Bond theme instead. Whether this was done at the director’s request or of his own volition, he breaks it out a little too often. It’s hard to make the James Bond theme sound bad, but it would be nice to hear more originality.

Also much more prevalent is the electronics, which are over-utilized in many parts of the score. There are purposeful distortions in “Hovercraft Chase” (nevertheless an engaging action cue) and almost random barrages of noise in “Laser Fight” and “Iced Inc.” This isn’t to say there should be no electronics. In fact, Arnold usually uses them well.

There are two notable new themes. One is a villainous fanfare for Gustav Graves, which even gets some choral treatment when his super solar ray goes into action (“Icarus”). Halle Berry’s Jinx Jordan gets a simple, but beautiful melody in “Jinx Jordan”. It sounds a bit sad, even though there’s nothing about her character that would warrant this.

The album opens with Madonna’s song and a techno version of James Bond’s theme by Oakenfold. The score opens with “On the Beach”, which kicks off with an overdone version of the Gunbarrel music and then unfortunately skips the first iteration of the film theme (“Surf’s Up” on the complete promo score) to get into the James Bond theme. Graves’ theme also appears for the first time, as well as some Eastern music for the Korean villains. After “Hovercraft Chase” is “Some Kind of Hero?” a wonderfully tragic track which underscore how low of a state Bond is in after the opening credits. “Welcome to Cuba” stands out for its full-blown ethnic music.

Tracks 7-8 showcase Jinx Jordan’s theme while “A Touch of Frost” intersperses electronic stealth music with iterations of the film theme on piano. “Icarus” mixes choir with the villain’s theme while Laser Fight” presents electronic action. “Whiteout” is a big chase cue, with grand statements of the film and Bond themes and even a chanting choir at one point. “Iced Inc.” is the weakest Arnold track, about three minutes of electronic noise with loud jazzy horns intruding every now and then.

“Antonov” is the big action finale. The track actually opens up with some emotion, backed by Asian instruments. After some villainous music, the four-note motif suspense motif from The World is Not Enough’s “Submarine” plays on piano for a while, interspersed with brief references to the different themes and some choir. Almost halfway through the action breaks out for good and as with “Submarine”, the James Bond theme doesn’t play fully until the end, making its appearance effective. It would be even more effective if it wasn’t used so liberally throughout the rest of the score. “Going Down Together” is a reworking of Jinx Jordan’s theme that is heavily reminiscent of the previous film’s “Christmas in Turkey”.

A complete promotional score found its way on bootleg, and this music is easily available on Youtube. There are further statements of the main film theme in “Surf’s Up”, “Sword Fight”, and the end of “Ice Palace Car Chase”. “Kiss of Life” is notable for starting off very somberly, then after one long, ascending note going into yet another iteration of the James Bond theme.

Despite what many soundtrack reviewers say, I don’t Die Another Day to be a bad listen. I do think Arnold could have cut down on the electronics and worked more on his new themes instead of constantly inserting the James Bond theme. If you take out Madonna’s awful song, it’s an entertaining listen with some genuinely great moments. However, I do have to take points off for some of its technical failings.

Rating: 6/10

  1. Die Another Day (sung by Madonna) (4:38)
  2. James Bond Theme (Bond vs. Oakenf0ld) (4:05)
  3. On the Beach (2:51)
  4. Hovercraft Chase (3:49)
  5. Some Kind of Hero? (4:32)
  6. Welcome to Cuba (2:07)
  7. Jinx Jordan (1:29)
  8. Jinx & James (2:04)
  9. A Touch of Frost (1:52)
  10. Icarus (1:23)
  11. Laser Fight (4:35)
  12. Whiteout (4:55)
  13. Iced Inc. (3:08)
  14. Antonov (11:52)
  15. Going Down Together (1:34)

Soundtrack Review: The World is Not Enough

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

The World is Not Enough was generally well-liked. It has a pretty good storyline, very unique, but for some reason a good number of fans don’t care much for it. Thanks to the smashing success of his music for Tomorrow Never Dies, David Arnold returned. After a great score for the aforementioned film, David Arnold was officially the new musician for James Bond, and was the first after John Barry to actually get to a second outing.

This time Arnold was able to provide the opening title song, which of course shares its title with the movie. It’s a good song, and weaves in a bit of the James Bond theme at the end. Usually only three notes, the “not enough” portion of the song, is used frequently, with the following melody distinguishing its use in certain scenes. There’s a romantic version that soars in Snow Business” which regrettably was only available via David Arnold’s website instead of the actual album. It is present on piano in “Christmas in Turkey”. There’s an action variation that is introduced in “Come in, 007, Your Time is Up” and more notably in “Ice Bandits”.

As with Tomorrow Never Dies, Arnold provides a liberal amount of themes and motifs. Sophia Marceau’s character Elektra King warrants her own theme (“Elektra’s Theme”). It’s an appropriately sad piece that debuts in “M’s Confession” and shows up often. The song on the album’s last track, slow lounge number “Only Myself to Blame” by Scott Walker, actually has the theme towards its beginning. Walker’s song was originally going to play over the end credits, but was replaced by rendition of the James Bond theme with references to the main movie theme. It’s not a bad song, but it lacks the energy and drama of other Bond songs. The instrumental track that most reflects “Only Myself to Blame” is “Casino”, a rather relaxing cue.

There are a couple notable suspense/villain motifs. One is the repeating descending four-note motif introduced in Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s much more prominent in this score, though it doesn’t make its first appearance until “Going Down/The Bunker”. Its most sustained playing is in “Pipeline”. The other motif appears bombastically in “Caviar Factory” and “Submarine”.

David Arnold still liberally applies James Bond’s theme, but not to the level of Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s heavily noticeable, but the only tracks where it really takes over are “Come in, 007, Your Time is Up” and “Caviar Factory”. In many of the other tracks it will often just appear for a few seconds, for example the heroic statement when the action starts in “Going Down/The Bunker”.

The first two score tracks actually segue right into each other in a rather unnecessary move. Nevertheless they feature an invigorating chase cue with new variations of James Bond’s theme and the main title theme. It quickly becomes apparent that David Arnold has bulked up on the electronics, usually running under the orchestra and interjecting in various ways. This move has annoyed many film music fans and some of those who prefer John Barry’s music. I don’t find them too distracting, though I have to admit that most of the action cues would play just fine without them.

The main theme returns in a nice short electronic cue labeled “Access Denied” and later amidst wailing vocals and the Bond theme in the wonderful “Welcome to Baku”. The main theme receives a full action treatment in “Ice Bandits” (this track may have inspired the main menu music on the N64 game). “Body Double” is a neat three-minute stealth cue and is actually quite light-hearted. A couple of the tracks around this point, “Remember Pleasure and Torture Queen” descend into dark underscore, but sadly are a bit underwhelming. “Caviar Factory” starts off slow, but about a minute in explodes into very raucous piece, with a heavily electronized James Bond theme.

“Submarine” is the ten-minute climax and features several suspense motifs. It starts with a propulsive rhythm and the James Bond theme. It slows down with another rhythm before burst of action. After a middle portion that really conveys the perilous situation Bond finds himself in, there is a last act with furious action, climaxing triumphantly with the James Bond theme. By not outright stating James Bond’s theme until the last minute, Arnold makes its appearance effective. This is actually a common method in Arnold’s scores, where the last action cue will go through various moods until the James Bond theme triumphantly emerges at the end. Some people regard this lengthy cues as a bunch of noise, but I just love them. “Christmas in Turkey” delivers the main theme for one last time and the album closes out with the jazzy “Only Myself to Blame” which sounds very subdued a relaxing listen after the loud orchestral/techno score.

The World is Not Enough is nice change of pace from Tomorrow Never Dies. Ironically, despite thickening many of the action pieces with electronics, it’s a comparatively more subdued score (it still has plenty of noisy moments), with softer romantic themes, less lengthy versions of the James Bond theme, and more I the way of dark underscore. I think this is a tremendous work by David Arnold, but it doesn’t match the consistently entertaining Tomorrow Never Dies.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklisting

  1. The World is Not Enough (performed by Garbage) (3:55)
  2. Show Me the Money (1:28)
  3. Come in, 007, Your Time is Up (5:19)
  4. Access Denied (1:33)
  5. M’s Confession (1:32)
  6. Welcome to Baku (1:41)
  7. Casino (2:55)
  8. Ice Bandits (3:52)
  9. Elektra’s Theme – The Bedroom (2:06)
  10. Body Double (3:00)
  11. Going Down/The Bunker (6:27)
  12. Pipeline (4:15)
  13. Remember Pleasure (2:45)
  14. Caviar Factory (6:01)
  15. Torture Queen (2:22)
  16. I Never Miss (3:32)
  17. Submarine (10:19)
  18. Christmas in Turkey (1:27)
  19. Only Myself to Blame (sung by Scott Walker) (3:37)

Soundtrack Review: Tomorrow Never Dies

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After the critical failure of Eric Serra’s Goldeneye score, the producers brought in David Arnold, who had just released his James Bond tribute Shaken Not Stirred, a collection of title songs and a few instrumentals redone by artists (regrettably this was in the 90s). John Barry was impressed with some of the reorchestrations Arnold did for the songs and recommended him. This turned out to a popular choice with Bond fans, and Arnold has the second most Bond scores under his belt.

David Arnold has been lauded for his ability to pay homage to John Barry while having his own style. Tomorrow Never Dies is singled out for its successful merging of orchestral and electronic elements. Arnold has received criticism for scoring most of the action cues with loud, multi-layered music, whereas most previous composers would take a more restrained approach, often leaving scenes unscored so that the sound effects could take over or to build suspense. This criticism of Arnold is true to a point. Some of the more basic fist fights could do with less noise instead of being scored to sound like climatic battles. But at least his music is highly enjoyable.

David Arnold also received criticism during the Brosnan years for his heavy use of the James Bond theme. Tomorrow Never Dies needed that theme, though, after Eric Serra almost ignored it in his work for Goldeneye. Plus Arnold never runs out of ways to use the theme. If he uses it to copious amounts, he at least provides a healthy dose of his own original themes and motifs. In addition to using the James Bond theme more heavily, he also uses From Russia with Love’s opening title motif, first in “White Knight” and then in a heroic burst in “Tricky Spot for 007”.

The album and title song situation for Tomorrow Never Dies was a mirror of what happened with Thunderball 25 years earlier, though the problems would be quickly rectified. Thanks to post-production issues, Arnold only had up to two-thirds of his score ready for the album release. Thankfully, fan demand would see a second album release several years later focused just on the score and containing all the highlights from the film’s last act.

Also as with John Barry and Thunderball, Arnold’s preferred song would be denied its presence over the opening titles. Instead, a contest of submitted songs would see Sheryl Crow get the honor. K.D. Lang’s song, which contains some of Arnold’s themes, would get to play in the ending credits. Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” is not bad, even though it’s really hard to hear half of what she’s singing. There’s not as strong a melody and none of it is utilized in the score.

“Surrender”, on the other hand, provides three themes. The bombastic opening notes, in the vein of Goldfinger, serve as a secondary James Bond motif that is frequently paired with the James Bond theme. The tune for the verse is the film’s main theme and first appears towards the climax of “White Knight”. Aside from serving in the action cues, it can also be suspenseful (“Doctor Kaufmann”) and romantic (“Kowloon Bay”). In other words, it’s a perfect main title theme. The last theme is from the chorus and is most associated with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Since Yeoh’s character doesn’t appear much until the second half, this theme only appears briefly on the original album at the end of “Station Break”. It starts to take a more active role with “Helicopter Ride” and graces the climax of “All in a Day’s Work”.

Even outside of “Surrender” there are plenty of new themes. Bond girl Paris has her own love theme (“Paris and Bond”). The villains have their own theme as well. Unlike other Bond composers, Arnold is more consistent with providing themes for the villains. Carver’s theme has its first full appearance at the conclusion of “Sinking of the Devonshire”. It usually appears in a more subdued fashion, ironic for one of the more over-the-top baddies of the franchise. There’s a repeating, descending four-note motif in “Underwater Discovery” (and with a couple other brief references). It would crop up more often and less subtly as a suspense/action theme in Arnold’s later offerings. There is a tiny military motif that’s only represented on album at the end of “Tricky Spot for 007” and a somber motif for the Devonshire towards the end of “Sinking of the Devonshire” and in “Underwater Discovery”.

The first track from the score on the original album is the pre-titles “White Knight”. Arnold opts to score the Gunbarrel differently, starting with the rhythm rather than the opening fanfare. Right off the bat, listeners can tell this score will be big and bombastic, with plenty of references to the James Bond theme and the secondary Bond motif from “Surrender”. “Sinking of the Devonshire” takes a while to get going, but is nevertheless a strong track. It oddly features a few seconds of choir starting at the 5:04 mark. The choir never gets used again, which means he had to hire a few vocalists just for this tiny bit. It does help represent the tragedy befalling the British sailors.

Contrasting heavily with the somber and villainous music is “Company Car”, an awesome version of the James Bond theme infused with the secondary Bond motif. It’s all jazzy buildup until the last few, big brassy seconds. Things get quieter with “Paris and Bond” and “The Last Goodbye”. “Hamburg Break In” and “Hamburg Break Out” display a great handling of techno elements, never growing obnoxious and staying in the Bond style. “Doctor Kaufmann” is a neat piece, with its repeating four-note motif and truncated variation of the movie theme. “Backseat Driver” is an awesome techno track, with an assist from Propellerheads (There are at least three backseat driver jokes in this movie. Maybe the writer was dealing with some annoying children). It served as the action climax on the original album since the actual climax was not yet available. Ending the original album is a techno remix of the James Bond theme by Moby, with a couple film quotes from Tomorrow Never Dies and Goldfinger inserted.

The second album features all the score tracks from the original save “Station Break”. The new material starts with “Helicopter Ride”, a heavily techno-laden version of Wai Lin’s theme. “Bike Chase” is a lengthy chase cue with the usually heavy dosage of the James Bond theme. “Bike Shop Fight” starts with some East Asian instrumentation before a piano variation of Wai Lin’s theme and some more action music. “Kowloon Bay” is a romantic track featuring the main film theme and bits of Wai Lin’s theme. “Boarding the Stealth” is another action track, this one more restrained in references to the main themes. “Tricky Spot for 007” is mainly Carver’s theme before the James Bond theme triumphantly makes an appearance. “All in a Day’s Work” is a pounding finale, where halfway through the Bond theme breaks free. It ends with the best version of Wai Lin’s theme, an awesome finale for a great score.

Tomorrow Never Dies remains David Arnold’s best Bond score to date. It liberally uses the James Bond theme, but features plenty of its own great original themes. If you want the action side of James Bond music, this is the score to check out. It’s fun with nary a dull moment. This was a great revival for the franchise’s music after Serra’s unconventional and for many unlistenable Goldeneye. The only severe problem comes from the way the music was released. One would have to get his hands on both albums and put together all the tracks to get a full and complete listening experience (if you want to create a CD at least one track would have to be excised. I would recommend Moby’s remix). On another note, some of the DVD releases have the complete score, making it easy for people to rip it and place it online, so every bit of music can be found.

Rating: (score) 10/10 (original album) 6/10 (score-only album) 8/10

Tracklistings

Original Album

  1. Tomorrow Never Dies (performed by Sheryl Crow) (4:51)
  2. White Knight (8:30)
  3. Sinking of the Devonshire (7:07)
  4. Company Car (3:08)
  5. Station Break (3:30)
  6. Paris and Bond (1:55)
  7. The Last Goodbye (1:34)
  8. Hamburg Break In (2:52)
  9. Hamburg Break Out (1:26)
  10. Doctor Kauffman (2:26)
  11. 3-Send (1:17)
  12. Underwater Discovery (3:37)
  13. Backseat Driver (co-performed with Propellerheads) (4:37)
  14. Surrender (performed by K.D. Lang) (3:57)
  15. James Bond Theme by Moby (3:12)

 

Expanded Album

  1. White Knight (8:30)
  2. Sinking of the Devonshire (7:07)
  3. Company Car (3:08)
  4. Paris and Bond (1:55)
  5. The Last Goodbye (1:34)
  6. Hamburg Break In (2:52)
  7. Hamburg Break Out (1:26)
  8. Doctor Kauffman (2:26)
  9. 3-Send (1:17)
  10. Backseat Driver (co-performed with Propellerheads) (4:37)
  11. Underwater Discovery (3:37)
  12. Helicopter Ride (1:34)
  13. Bike Chase (6:44)
  14. Bike Shop (2:42)
  15. Kowloon Bay (2:27)
  16. Boarding the Stealth (4:38)
  17. Tricky Spot for 007 (2:48)
  18. All in a Day’s Work (5:09)
  19. Interview with David Arnold (11:02)

Soundtrack Review: Goldeneye

Composed by: Eric Serra

Conducted by: Erica Serra & John Altman

After a six-year hiatus, the James Bond franchise was revived with Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. Goldeneye centers on radical Russians plotting to use an orbiting pulse weapon for their own evil ends, with James Bond trying to stop them. It was a tremendous hit, and spawned one of the few successful video game spin-offs. John Barry declined to return, and French song-writer and musician Eric Serra took over.

This is one of the most infamous movie scores in history, mainly because it’s a James Bond score. Almost entirely gone are the lush romantic themes and the orchestral style associated with the series. Instead there are a lot of electronics, with odd choral bursts and a cold, mechanical gong which admittedly sounds pretty cool. While failing to fit in with the James Bond franchise, this style of music does convey the atmosphere of a collapsed Soviet Union. There is an orchestra that is used, but not very often and never to the depth of John Barry or David Arnold.

While the score has been a source of controversy, most agree that Tina Turner’s opening number “Goldeneye” is great. It’s a catchy, sexy song with small hints of the James Bond theme. The opening notes have received much praise and there has been great lament that it they were never utilized by Serra in his score (no references to the entire song, really). David Arnold corrected this, using the notes in Tomorrow Never Dies’ “Hamburg Breakout”. There’s little in the way of themes at all. Much of the music ties together stylistically, but aside from the rare reference to the James Bond theme there’s a string suspense motif that first appears around the 4:15 mark in “We Share the Same Passions”. It’s effective for the film’s atmosphere, but is very pedestrian. The same track also has its own love theme which is okay. Much better is Natalya’s theme, which first appears bookending “Severnaya Suite” and later in “That’s What Keeps You Alone” and “Forever, James”.

The score kicks off with “Goldeneye Overture”, which sets the tone with its mechanistic percussion, dark electronics, and bursts of Russian-sounding choir. It’s one of the two tracks on album to feature the James Bond theme (albeit only parts of it), and even weaves in the opening of the Goldfinger theme. It’s not too bad a track, actually pretty cool. The James Bond theme appears more fully in “A Pleasant Drive Through St. Petersburg”. It’s one of several cues replaced in the film, as producers were so irked by the lack of a traditional version of the James Bond theme they had another composer produce an entirely different piece with more obvious statements of said theme. Said piece appears on some of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s Bond compilations.

The rest of score is a mixed bag (I should also point out that many of the tracks are made up of several cues which are listed in the album’s booklet). “Ladies First” is the most obnoxious track, a bunch of rambling electronics. “We Share the Same Passions is simplistic romance cue that gets long-winded and boring. “A Little Surprise for You” is a take it or leave it cue. “Our Lady of St. Smolensk” is minute of escalating suspense featuring eastern choir. “Whispering Statues” starts with string music before a Russian choir takes over for a few seconds. After more Goldeneye gongs Serra plays some anonymous piano music which sounds too tragic for what’s happening on screen. “Run, Shoot, and Jump” is the closest to a full on orchestral action track and was edited into several parts of the final battle.

“Your Fatal Weakness” is chilling in its slow train-like dirge. “Dish Out of Water” starts off a bit dream-like before going into electronic percussion, concluding with two statements of an effective menacing motif. “The Scale to Hell” actually features two cues that were replaced in the film. The first, “Boris’ Lethal Pen”, is a building suspense cue that was probably taken out because of its annoying electric strikes. The second, “I Am Invincible” has bits of “Goldeneye Overture” and was supposed to play as Bond rushes to save the day towards the end. At the end is a love song written by Eric Serra himself which is both pretty bad and really long, clocking in at about six minutes.

I have trouble rating this score. I think because I like the movie and some of the instrumentation sounds cool and different I don’t have the dislike that other Bond fans have, but I have to admit that it was too radical a shift in musical styles, and some of the music is indeed bad. Those who love the movie are more likely to enjoy the music. I know my first listening could get a bit torturous at points.

 

Rating: 4/10

 

  1. Goldeneye (performed by Tina Turner) (4:46)
  2. Goldeneye Overture (4:24)
  3. Ladies First (2:44)
  4. We Share the Same Passions (4:46)
  5. A Little Surprise for You (2:02)
  6. Severnaya Suite (2:07)
  7. Our Lady of St. Molensk (1:01)
  8. Whispering Statues (3:26)
  9. Run, Shoot, and Jump (1:05)
  10. A Pleasant Drive Through St. Petersburg (4:28)
  11. Your Fatal Weakness (4:43)
  12. That’s What Keeps You Alone (3:17)
  13. Dish Out of Water (3:57)
  14. The Scale to Hell (3:43)
  15. Forever, James (2:01)
  16. The Experience of Love (written by Eric Serra) (5:57)

Soundtrack Review: Licence to Kill

Composed and Conducted by: Michael Kamen

After cold war thrillers and super-weapon plots, James Bond took a break to battle criminals in Licence to Kill. After drug lord Sanchez (played by Robert Davi), feeds Timothy Dalton Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter to the sharks, 007 goes on a hunt for revenge. A radical, dark departure, the movie did not necessarily bomb, but underperformed in America. Not helping was some tough summer competition from Batman and the latest installments of Star Trek and Indiana Jones. The James Bond series would go hiatus for six years, the longest break between entries it would ever experience, while the producers at Eon tried to take a step back and figure out a way to rejuvenate the franchise.

John Barry was going to score Licence to Kill, but had to step out due to throat surgery. Stepping in was Michael Kamen, who had scored many of the latest big-hit action films such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. The result is far from satisfying.

There are four songs on the album, a mixed bag. First is the title song “Licence to Kill” sung by Gladys Knight. It’s pretty good, and actually utilizes the first two notes of Goldfinger’s theme. It runs over five minutes, which meant it had to be edited down for the opening credits. Several Bond songs in the Brosnan and Craig eras would follow suit. For the end credits is “If You Asked Me To”, sung by Patti Labelle. I personally don’t care much for her voice, and I’m struggling to even remember how the song goes. Even less memorable is “Dirty Love”, a bland, mediocre song sung by Tim Freehan. “Wedding Party” is repetitious and also a bit bland despites its Caribbean flavor. So there’s one good song out of four.

Michael Kamen’s score does little to redeem the music. There’s about half an hour of material on the album, and it is edited with little rhyme or reason. The tracks feature two or three different cues spliced together. The score from the pre-title sequence is split between three tracks! This in itself would be somewhat forgivable if Kamen was able to deliver on the thematic material. Perhaps due to his being hired very late in production, he fails to incorporate “Licence to Kill”, which has a couple ready-made melodies. The only theme, at least the only recognizable one, is of course the James Bond theme, which does get some interesting variations.

Thanks to the film’s Latin American setting, there is some Latin music, primarily in the romantic “Pam”. The music for the Gunbarrel sequence (heard in “James & Felix on Their Way to Church”) is pretty interesting and cool, with violent orchestral blasts (that match the tone of the film), kicking things off before the James Bond theme arrives. The action and suspense material tends to veer into anonymity, with the occasional Spanish guitar riff or sharp orchestral strike to add at least a little character.

This is perhaps the worst James Bond soundtrack. It doesn’t suffer from disco or odd electronica like some of the other entries and doesn’t really hurt the movie, but three out of four songs and most of the score are forgettable. I tried to pay attention to the music when taking notes and found my mind drifting quite easily. Perhaps if John Barry was available the film would have been elevated and prevented James Bond’s longest absence from the big screen.

Rating: (score) 4/10 (album) 3/10

Tracklisting

  1. Licence to Kill (sung by Gladys Knight) (5:13)
  2. Wedding Party (sung by Ivory) (3:53)
  3. Dirty Love (sung by Tim Feehan) (3:45)
  4. Pam (3:50)
  5. If You Asked Me To (sung by Patti Labelle) (3:58)
  6. James & Felix on Their Way to Church (3:53)
  7. His Funny Valentine (3:26)
  8. Sanchez in the Bahamas/Shark Fishing (2:06)
  9. Ninja (6:03)
  10. Licence Revoked (9:11)

Film Review: Shin Godzilla

The people at Toho Studios ended their third run of Godzilla films (the Shinsei series) with the ludicrous 50th anniversary bash Godzilla: Final Wars. Deciding to take a break from the Godzilla series for a while, mainly due to declining public interest, any notions of returning to the franchise were probably put on the backburner once the American Legendary Studios started production on their own film. With the 2014 Godzilla revitalizing interest in Japan, a new film was put into production. It is a delight to see that Toho has brought back one of my favorite franchises. The American film was enjoyable and had some awesome moments, but attempts to hold back on showing Godzilla and focus on an uninteresting human made for a frustrating experience. Shin Godzilla is a reboot, with no connections to any of the other films. In fact, it is the first Toho Godzilla movie to not be in continuity with the 1954 original.

The movie has two directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, with the latter focusing more on the special effects end. Both also worked on the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I have never seen but now have a bit of interest in after seeing this movie. While the first Godzilla film was made as a response to the atomic bombs and some disastrous side effects of nuclear testing, this film is more interested in responding to the political and global reactions to the 3/11 earthquake and the Fukushima incident. The movie has a lot of political characters, and shows in-depth their discussions and response to the Godzilla threat. This is the part which may turn off American viewers. Though having little knowledge of how the Japanese government works, I personally was fascinated. Shin Godzilla acknowledges that the Japanese Self-Defense Force has never actually had to defend its shores, so this is their trial by fire. The Japanese characters make cynical, snide remarks about the UN and American foreign policy. But with all the boardroom meetings and discussions on geopolitics, I doubt that this is the type of movie you want to bring kids to, as there are lots of scenes of people talking in rooms or hallways. There seems to be aspects of satire to the political scenes, especially when the military is handicapped by an indecisive Prime Minister. The audience I saw it with actually chuckled at a lot of the lines.

One pleasing aspect is that the film involves the entire world. One of the problems with the Godzilla series has always been that the many world powers seem uninterested in the destructive behemoths assailing Japan. Sure, there were exceptions, such as the occasional American member of G-Force in the 90s films, but otherwise it seemed that Japan was always on its own, while the military superpowers of America and Russia seemed too lazy to at least send an aerial strike or naval bombardment. Here the whole world is invested in what is happening, naturally scared of what Godzilla can do once he’s through with Japan. The Americans even send in a bomber strike in one scene after the Japanese SDF fails. A warning to American viewers, there are some critical comments made towards the United States, especially in how it tries to intervene in Japanese affairs. One of the messages of the movie is that Japan needs to lead the fight in her own battles, instead of relying on America or the UN to bail them out. As one character says, must Japan always be “post-war”, a glorified American protectorate?

There are dozens of characters, so very few get fleshed out. Almost all their dialogue is on the current political climate or Godzilla. Most are just the various government officials, but there is an independent group led by the male lead that features some quirky people. The male lead is the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi, played by Hiroki Hasegawa (I had to look up his actual position, since it was difficult to keep up with all the roles). He is a competent character frustrated with the red tape and bureaucracy, so he forms his own team to find a way to defeat Godzilla. He doesn’t show too much emotion, but it’s effective when he does. American viewers will take a special interest in the US ambassador, Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara). She’s a Japanese-American diplomat amusingly played by a Japanese actress who had to learn English for her role. Seeing someone have trouble saying English lines while proclaiming her ambition to be president is certainly bizarre, and makes one realize how American actors probably sound weird when they speak non-English languages. Her character arc sees her torn between serving the United States and trying to help her grandmother’s country avert further disaster. In general the characters actually affect the plot. That’s another recurring problem with a good chunk of the Godzilla movies, where humans will go through personal drama or learn things about the monsters, but only a handful of them will actually affect the outcome in any meaningful way (except accidentally reviving or creating Godzilla’s opponent of the week).

This is a very different Godzilla film. It certainly feels larger, has a much more serious tone, and shows much deeper thinking in its plot. But nothing feels more different that the main attraction: Godzilla. Anno and Higuchi did something that’s actually hard to do with Godzilla: make him creepy. As can be seen from the trailers, this Godzilla looks nightmarish and zombielike, not a giant dinosaur who can looks like a natural animal and can be quite loveable.  He certainly looks like the unethical creation of mankind’s folly. His origin is related to nuclear energy, but he is something different than what we’re used to. I can’t say too much because of spoilers, but this Godzilla is full of surprises that come out of left-field. His first appearance is sure to bewilder viewers, and his abilities are altered in some rather unique ways. I think Godzilla didn’t really have too much screentime, like in the 2014 American version, but here the scenes don’t cut away when something interesting is about to happen. The camera stays focused on Godzilla when he does something. Also of note is that this is the biggest Godzilla. After the Americans expanded his height to 355 feet, Toho felt the need to one-up them. This Godzilla is 387 feet tall.

Shin Godzilla is a great reboot, full of interesting themes, human characters that feel integral to the plot, and a bold and different take on the big G himself. Rewatchability might be difficult, because of all the political scenes and the action’s reliance on unexpected occurrences. This is certainly one of the best Godzilla films in terms of actually being a well-made movie, not merely for its entertainment value like most films in the franchise. One concern I have is how the sequels will play out. Godzilla is so monstrous and powerful in this film that I don’t see how any other monster could be a credible threat, and I don’t think he will be kept as the primary antagonist.

Rating: 8/10