With July ebbing away and August cresting just beyond the weekend I can’t believe that I haven’t had chance to sit down and take stock of some of the big blockbuster soundtrack albums of 2011. Obviously summer is by no means over and there is the promise of brilliance to come in the shape of Michael Giacchino’s Super 8 and Alan Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Having heard a teeny-weeny preview of both efforts I can confirm that I am excited beyond reason. More on those when they grace my ears fully…
In the meantime I have had a chance to process some of Sony Classical’s offerings; a trio in fact taking in both superheroes and wizards. Yes, I’m talking Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II of course, and preceding that X-Men: First Class and The Green Lantern.
Henry Jackman was responsible for Matthew Vaughn’s fitting prequel to Fox’s X-Men trilogy. I was impressed by Jackman’s exuberant accompaniment to Gullivers Travels and when I saw he’d taken on First Class I wasn’t too worried. His music is robust enough, performed by some of Hollywood’s best and delivering suitable doses of thrust, action and drama. Ubiquitous electric guitars and drums throb and bang away, but not incessantly and the brass really rocks. Jackman knows how to tick all the boxes and I appreciate his old-school approach; the orchestra is largely at the forefront with the rumbles, hums and trickery present but playing a supporting role.
The same cannot be said for James Newton Howard’s The Green Lantern, which the weighty Hollywood Studio Symphony who are sadly lost beneath a barrage of drum and bass patches and rock guitar. Maybe I shouldn’t say sadly… After all this is a glossy, youthful, high action, effects-laden picture and such things attract scores in the mould I speak of. It does seem a shame to use an orchestra of this calibre though, credit them with a whole page in the booklet and yet drown them out. I expect it took a lot of work… but it isn’t particularly memorable, unlike JNH’s wonderful Water for Elephants. You couldn’t get more of a Jekyll & Hyde musical scenario frankly… That latter effort is a luscious, melodic, glistening treat and Green Lantern much like the composer’s Green Hornet will likely remain on the shelf and not listened to again. I guess it comes down to a matter of taste; maybe I’m just getting old (heck I’m not even thirty!)
My blockbuster Sony Classical trilogy is completed by the boy wizard, Alexandre Desplat. Ha. He is something of a wizard though isn’t he? I mean he must be the most prolific composer on the beat right now, other than Giacchino. His star has risen and risen since Girl With a Pearl Earring impressed and after taking on The Golden Compass a few years back, he proved he could flex his blockbuster muscle (even if the film didn’t bust any blocks). Taking the reigns from Nicholas Hooper, Desplat joined a small band of composers who have given musical life to Harry Potter and ably supported final chapters of the franchise with his orchestra of choice, The London Symphony Orchestra.
So a score of two halves then, written and recorded separately but together forming a whole. Let’s get something straight, I would have loved John Williams to have returned for The Deathly Hallows but he didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t… whatever. I am however pleased that a composer of Desplat’s skill, artistry and dexterity was hired. Am I happy with the end result? Well the jury’s still out I’m afraid. There are moments of beauty here, moments of drama and some excitement. I think Part II pales a little compared to Part I, which is strange when you think that the second part ought to be more action-packed. Scoring a second half of something you’ve already started must be a little tricky too, after all Desplat was able to set out his stall in Part I and I think he did a fine job. In Part II he really has to just keep some momentum and pick up the pieces and end the thing.
I’ve listened to Part II a handful of times now and I’m still trying to think of a track I would go back to and listen to on its own because it’s a standout. ‘Lily’s Theme’ is haunting yes, continuing the vocal line he began in Part I. There are no great swathes of orchestral power though, no mighty chorus singing out in jubilation or terror. ‘Voldemort’s End’ is little more than a wailing woman when it should surely be a legion of voices uniting to bring the bastard down. To be frank there is no momentum, which is vital to such a film.
A friend of mine made a good point… Maybe it’s the director’s fault? Now, David Yates has taken on four of these films and brought them in admirably, completing for Warner Bros. what was becoming a director of the week affair. Having one director isn’t a bad thing at all, but it does seem this particular director doesn’t have particularly grand views about the role of music in his films. With that in mind can we blame Nicholas Hooper for delivering a pair of, let’s face it, unchallenging, largely unmemorable (save for 'Fireworks' and 'Professor Umbridge'), by-the-numbers scores. Desplat does have a stronger voice than Hooper and what he has crafted for Potter is full of pathos, mystery, brevity and some scintillation, but when the most exciting smile-inducing moments are courtesy of John Williams, there has to be something wrong?