The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Composed by: Howard Shore

The third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, became the third movie to win eleven academy awards. While the battle scenes are fun and there is no shortage of great moments regarding the characters, I find Return of the King to be a little overrated and undeserving of a couple of the Oscars (though some of those Oscars were awarded for the whole trilogy rather than just the last film). A few attempts at adding drama came as forced deviations from Tolkien’s story and themes. The ending is permeated with overdrawn slow-motion scenes of Hobbits crying or staring at something, which drove some audience members out of their minds.

The music, however, is the best of the trilogy. Howard Shore really earned his Oscar with this one. But if you want a good album, you’re going to have to shell out the money for the complete recordings, because the original release lacks some really good parts.  Before diving into the two releases, it would be good to get into some of the new major themes, or rather themes present in earlier films and only now developed to their full potential. The Gondor theme, which appeared in small bits in the first two films, is finally revealed in its full grandeur. Shore could have used it more, as part of the city was even seen early in the first film, but chose to reserve its full-fledged appearance for the last act. It’s a big, heroic fanfare for the greatest civilization confronting Sauron’s forces. The Gondor theme first caught major attention through a prominent rendition in the trailer. Its appearances in the film months later did not disappoint. Powerful usage at the end of “Minas Tirith” and in the beacons lighting scene immediately marked it as one of the greatest musical identities in the series. I recently read and confirmed that some versions of the theme even incorporate Aragorn’s ascending motif. Continue reading

Dinosaur

Composed by: James Newton Howard

Towards the tail-end of its Renaissance era, Disney released an ambitious fully CGI dinosaur film simply titled Dinosaur. Visually the film is great, but the story and characters are so clichéd and predictable that it becomes a surprisingly forgettable experience. It’s telling that the best part of the movie is the first five or so minutes, where there is no dialogue. The plot itself concerns an orphaned Iguanodon named Aladar who is raised by lemurs. Displaced by the meteor that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs, he teaches a herd of migrating herbivores on how to work as a team. One of the positives is James Newton Howard’s score, featuring some of the best music of his career. Howard had a brief tenure as a lead composer for Disney as it shifted towards non-musical action-adventure films. While he does not have the songs to make his scores iconic, I have to say that the actual instrumental scores are generally superior to Alan Menken’s. Continue reading

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

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Composed and Conducted by: Howard Shore

The second installment of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy is a very good middle, although some of the meddling with the characters and storyline of the books felt uncalled for. On the more overwhelming positive side, The Two Towers introduced the awesome Riders of Rohan and Andy Serkis’ groundbreaking role as the twisted creature Gollum. Howard Shore wrote a score that matched and also developed the material from The Fellowship of the Ring. Shore has often stated that The Two Towers was the hardest of the three films to score due to the need to create a beginning that carried over from the previous film and a cliffhanger ending. He need not have worried because he does a great job. The actual original one-disc soundtrack doesn’t live up to the previous film’s thanks to some questionable edits, but the score taken as a whole is on the same level.

Most of the new themes and motifs can be separated into two sets. Gollum uses the Shadow theme, also referred to as the Gollum Pity theme, but this takes a backseat to two new identities. The first is a mischievous ditty heard in “The Taming of Smeagol.” It is used to represent the scheming, more sinister side of the Gollum. It’s quirkier, more playful variations are present on the complete recordings. The second theme is a tragic motif that plays at the start of the “Forbidden Pool,” from a memorable inner dialogue sequence. Continue reading

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Composed by: Howard Shore

J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic Lord of the Rings was for a long time considered unfilmable. The key issue was the length and scope of the book trilogy. In fact it was meant to be one book and was only released as a trilogy when publishers didn’t want to overwhelm readers with a 1,000 page tome. Film studios on the other hand were wary of committing to three movies, especially if the first one bombed. The story was also impossible to squeeze into one film, a feat that many rejected screenplays attempted. Finally New Line Cinema took a chance, having Peter Jackson simultaneously direct three movies. The series succeeded expectations and now studios have the bad habit of releasing open-ended movies in anticipation of a film series.

Lord of the Rings is about a powerful ring which is trying to be returned to its owner, the dark lord Sauron. The only way to destroy it is to cast it into the volcano where it was forged. The half-sized Hobbit Frodo is tasked with this, and is helped by fellow Hobbits, men, elves, dwarves, and even the wizard Gandalf the Gray. I regard the first film as the best, likely because the source material was easier to adapt. There were less opportunities for questionable deviations. It is also the one with Sean Bean’s Boromir, the only element in the films to be superior to its book counterpart. Continue reading

Van Helsing

Van Helsing by Alan Silvestri on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

Composed by: Alan Silvestri

Following up his Mummy sequel, Stephen Sommers moved on to Universal’s European stable of horror figures. The result, Van Helsing, is more of a superhero action flick, devoid of any true horror elements. The overstuffed plot is about a member of the legendary vampire-hunting family, Gabriel van Helsing, and his war against Dracula. However, he most also contend with Mr. Hyde, several Werewolves, Frankenstein’s Monster, and even the lab assistant Igor. Alan Silvestri also re-partnered with Sommers moving away from his adventurous, desert-tinged Mummy material to a gothic action extravaganza. Continue reading

24

 

TV Show "24" Original Musical Score CD

Composed by: Sean Callery

In 2001, 24 hit television screens and became quite the success, spawning seven further seasons detailing the badass yet unlucky career of CTU (counter-terrorist unit) agent Jack Bauer. Its real-time format within a 24-hour period helped create a suspenseful, surprise-laden experience, although after the first season the show gradually lost focus of the real-time aspect in favor of drama (imagine dealing with a stack of terrorist schemes and action scenes uninterrupted in just one day). The music by Sean Callery is an electronics and synthesizer-laden score that, despite its TV budget, contributed greatly to the suspense of the show and has some outstanding moments. It even garnered Callery several Emmy awards.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been many albums for the music of 24, for while it’s not a thematic powerhouse like Lost or Battlestar Galactica, the music is up there in TV scores and has its own set of themes and motifs, unlike many other spy/military shows. Thus the albums miss a lot of highlights for those who love the show and pay attention to its music. These compilations also don’t reveal the many themes and motifs as most that manage to get on album appear only as one-offs. However, they are good listens and the absence of vast highlights won’t bother those who aren’t big fans. The first album here collects highlights from the first three seasons, clocking in at less than an hour and heavily focusing on the first season, which is a little frustrating for me personally as a fan as I know that there were great moments in the next two seasons that would have been great to feature. Continue reading

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Randy Edelman, Anthony Pleeth, UK Chinese Music Ensemble, Frank ...

Composed by: Randy Edelman

The Mummy series was revisited by a new director, Rob Cohen, with serious changes. To spice things up the setting was shifted to late 40s China. The mummy is not an ancient Egyptian priest this time, but the Dragon Emperor himself played by Jet Li. It’s not a good film, somehow unable to balance its ridiculousness with charm like the first two entries. Jet Li is wasted (his character usually appears as a CGI model), a lot of the action scenes lack oomph, and the recasting of Evy’s character with another actress is distracting. The composer this time around was Randy Edelman. Would he fall short of his predecessors like other aspects of the film? His score does fall short of Goldsmith and Silvestri, but not as badly as the other elements of the film. One issue is that as usual his music is fleshed out with synthesizers, which clashes with the the other, more old-fashioned orchestral scores in the series.  That said, the music is still good, just not as off-the-wall great. Continue reading

The Mummy Returns

Composed by: Alan Silvestri

The Mummy proved to be a big hit, and a sequel was quickly rushed out. The first film was by no means a masterpiece, but it had a certain kind of magic that its successor lacks. It took more time setting up the story while the sequel quickly starts bombarding the viewer with action set pieces and a complex series of mystical items and revelations. The Mummy Returns sees Imhotep come back to life again, this time with a full complement of side villains to help out. One of the selling points was Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s first movie role. The pro wrestler since proved himself as a charismatic film star, but his first outing consisted of a flashback sequence and a ridiculously goofy CGI appearance as the monstrous Scorpion King (the CGI in this film is seriously horrible). Jerry Goldsmith was still alive at this point, but after his dislike of the first movie did not return. Alan Silvestri came in with his own entertaining take. Which composer did it better? Continue reading

The Mummy

The Mummy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed by: Jerry Goldsmith

In 1999 Universal Studios produced a remake of one of its horror monster classics. However, this Mummy is far from a horror flick. It’s instead a loud action-adventure film and the CGI is too poor to really induce any fear (though a couple scenes with the scarabs are definitely icky). While it strays from its creepier roots, The Mummy is rousing good fun and one of my favorite movies. Not sharing my opinion is Jerry Goldsmith, who loathed it. Thankfully, being the professional he was, he put his all into it and delivered a fantastic score. Continue reading

The Princess Bride (1987)

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Composed by: Mark Knopfler

The Princess Bride is one of those films that everyone loves. Thus it may surprise many to learn it did not do so hot at the box office. It was difficult to market. Was it a comedy, a children’s fantasy, a romantic adventure, or what? (William Goldman’s original novel was borderline satirical, yet Goldman also wrote it to entertain his daughters) The general gist of the plot is that the “most beautiful woman in the world” Buttercup loses her lover Wesley, but learns he is alive. They have to rediscover their love and protect it from a scheming Prince. It is an amazing, highly quotable film that strides along so many genres with success. Helping is one of the most perfectly cast assemblage of characters, special shout-out going to Andre the Giant as lovable Fezzik. Also praised is the music by Mark Knopfler. Knopfler gives the film a more romantic and probably intentionally cheesy fairy tale atmosphere. Rather than a bringing out an orchestra, he uses a synthesizer and guitar. Continue reading