Gettysburg

Gettysburg: Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed and Conducted by Randy Edelman

Civil War buff Ted Turner took advantage of his considerable resources to produce an epic mini-series based off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, a historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg which attempts to delve into the minds of a few of the key participants. It was decided that the film was good enough to have a theatrical run prior to its more successful stint on TNT. As a Civil War buff I have to say this is one of my favorite films thanks to its general accuracy. It’s long length allows various aspects of the war to be covered. It does have its flaws, two of which are understandably due to the budgetary limits of a film that was made for TV. One is the use of reenactors, which ensured accurate behavior and equipment, but also meant seeing a lot of soldiers too old or well-fed. Another is Randy Edelman’s reliance on synthesizers for his score. Continue reading

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Soundtrack Review: Jurassic Park III

Composed by: Don Davis

Years after The Lost World, Spielberg took the producer’s seat for Jurassic Park’s third film entry. Joe Johnston took over directorial duties on Jurassic Park III. The third film seems a little out of place with the rest of the franchise. It only runs an hour and a half and the stakes are limited to finding a stranded boy on a dinosaur-infested island. It would have been at the level of a B-movie it wasn’t for some nifty special effects. I did appreciate how a new dinosaur, the Spinosaurus, got to take the role of main threat, though the film would too far out of the way to make it intimidating to the point that it was literally chasing the characters all the way across the island. This is another problem with the film, the dinosaurs stop being animals and start being monsters, to the point a T-Rex abandons a large meal to chase after scrawny humans. Continue reading

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

After the success of Jurassic Park Spielberg was asked to direct a sequel. There is some contention about how much he wanted to do it since he was busy building up Dreamworks. Regardless, it’s an inferior film. Actually, a lot of the pieces are good, especially Pete Postlethwaite as big game hunter Roland Tembo and many of the action scenes. But the film is riddled with plot holes and a couple heroes who despite the film telling us are protecting dinosaurs from exploitation in fact endanger themselves and every other human in the film with their stupidity. It’s a bad Spielberg film, which means it’s at least an okay film overall.

John Williams surprised many, and according to some disappointed, with his decision to take the music in a very different direction. Since the setting is changed from a theme park to a wild island were dinosaurs have been allowed to roam free, he decided that score should be more primal. Thus the soundtrack is much more dissonant, rife with percussion. Listening to this score makes one realize that if he wants to Williams can really let loose with the percussion and this gives the entire product a wholly unique flavor in his repertoire. The atmosphere is one of a lurking jungle punctuated by moments of intense terror. The drawback is that the music isn’t as consistently enjoyable as the first film’s, but at least Williams didn’t ape himself. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Jurassic Park

Image result for jurassic park soundtrack

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Jurassic Park began as a novel by Michael Crichton. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, obviously because of the dinosaurs. But it also deals with genetics and the incapability of man to control nature (“Life finds a way”, Jeff Goldblum puts it). The rights for a movie based on the book were quickly snatched up by Steven Spielberg, but he patiently waited until he was sure that film technology could do the story justice. It paid off tremendously, showing the potential of CGI while using practical effects to bolster the realism. Incredibly, and also pathetically, its CGI still outperforms today’s big budget affairs.

Along with Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park was part of the one-two 1993 punch involving Spielberg and John Williams. It shows how top on his game they were, both producing two of their greatest works in a single year. While the book had its humorous moments, it was very cynical and violent. The film has cynicism and violence, too, but Spielberg’s lighthearted manner of storytelling takes over. The movie actually departs from a book quite a bit, and yet both book and film are amazing. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Composed by: Hans Zimmer

The third installment of what became known as the Dark Knight trilogy took a little longer to hit theaters, allowing Christopher Nolan to make and release Inception first. The conclusion of his bat-trilogy, Dark Knight Rises, was met with divisive reactions, thought it still made plenty of money. I agree that a few plot points are awkward, but I quite like it. Tom Hardy’s intelligent and intimidating Bane was what fans needed after the bastardization of the character in Batman and Robin and there was a good lesson about fighting to live instead of embracing a martyr complex, a real maturation for the Batman character.

This time James Newton Howard has disappeared completely, leaving Hans Zimmer and Media Ventures in sole control. The one noticeable result of this is the absence of any strikingly heartfelt emotional cues such as the love theme or “Harvey Two-Face”. This isn’t to say that Zimmer’s work is bereft of emotion, it just doesn’t hit you the way Howard’s material does. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi

Composed by: John Williams

The followup to the Force Awakens, the Last Jedi opened to critical acclaim, but had a lot of detractors among fans and Youtube critics. I actually loved it and think it’s the third best Star Wars movie. I think people had too much expectations and were disappointed when the movie went in another direction. I liked being surprised and I thought the character development for Kylo Ren was particularly fascinating. I can understand why some people may be upset with the film, but I think calling it worse than the prequels is a bit far. Speaking of the prequels, the one thing everyone actually loved about those movies was John Williams’ music. The same can be said for the maestro’s Last Jedi score. Continue reading

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)