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

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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)

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)