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My Review of the Year


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A Single Man

A beautiful, rich score. The main theme as heard in the first track is simply sublime. Grossly overlooked for an Oscar nomination, and was much more deserving than The Hurt Locker, which was clearly nominated because of its association with the film rather than its musical merits. ****

The Wolfman

A good gothic horror score, but aside from the two suites, there is little to entice me to listen to the full score again. The over reliance of the main theme got very irritating (but this isn’t an issue if you enjoy that theme). Then again, Elfman’s score is the best thing to come from this troubled production. The four star rating is earned primarily due to the suites. ****

Green Zone

Score fans were treated to 3 John Powell scores this year, and this is my least favourite. Green Zone is still a strong score, which is an indication of the quality of the other two. This is a good energetic orchestral/techno score, although the lack of a strong theme like the Bourne franchise or Knight and Day is disappointing. “Attack and Chase” is an unrelenting powerhouse of percussive fury, however, and is one of the best action cues of the year. ***

Alice in Wonderland

The main theme is absolutely gorgeous, and is one of Elfman’s best. Despite this, the remaining underscore does little for me. This is unusual for me as I’m a major Elfman fan, but his two scores this year can’t maintain my interest for the duration of the CD. ***** for the main theme, *** for the remaining underscore.

How To Train Your Dragon

Unreservedly the score of the year. What more can a score fan ask for – moments of heroic excitement and sheer beauty anchored around memorable and powerful themes with interesting and unique orchestration. Standout tracks include “This is Berk” which introduces the themes and “Test Drive” which is an exhilarating, heroic and uplifting tour de force. “Forbidden Friendship” is one of the most unique and beautiful cues of the year. It begins quiet and tender, and gradually increases in tempo and volume as it reaches a triumphant conclusion. Themes are weaved in and out of the soundscape, and the addition of an ethereal female voice gives the track a magical feel. Special mention must also go to the action music, in particular “Battling the Green Death”. That cue is by far the best action cue not just of the year, but of Powell’s career. Its strong reliance on the main themes reminds me of Williams during the 70s and 80s. If you haven’t listened to this yet, stop reading and get it now. *****

Kick-Ass

An interesting and unusual score because it was written by numerous different composers, each writing a handful of cues. This combination of styles reminds me of Quintin Tarantino’s “pick and mix” approach to the music of his movies. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the score as I heard it in the movie, and waited anxiously for the delayed release of the album. The main theme is a noble Goldsmith-esque brass fanfare which wouldn’t feel out of place in a “normal” studio superhero movie. There is always something interesting in the underscore, especially “Nightvision” and “Strobe” which are able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best action cues of the year from the A list composers. The Morricone style rendition of the main theme in “No Power, No Responsibility” is also a nice touch ****

The Ghost (Writer)

My third favourite of the year. The music grabbed me from the first note during the opening of the movie with its powerful mysterious main theme. It is a dark, atmospheric and quirky score from Desplat. “Chase On The Ferry” contains some wonderfully exciting action writing for strings, and “The Truth About Ruth” is the best “revelation” track for years. *****

Iron Man 2

Although this is a score of two halves for me, there is no denying it is a disappointment. On one hand, I absolutely adore the main theme, especially its performance at the end of “Monaco”. Probably the coolest scene of the year is Tony Stark activating his briefcase and suiting up, but when combined with Debney’s defiant theme with added choir, it created for me the best superhero music moment since Elfman’s Batman. That theme gets a full performance at the end of the CD, but the orchestration sounds very similar to Total Recall and that can be distracting. The rest of the score is unremarkable, with maybe the possible exception of “Black Widow Kicks Ass”. ***** for the main theme, ** for the rest of the underscore.

Robin Hood

A historic epic with grand action scenes from Ridley Scott had so much potential for an excellent score, so this was a major disappointment. Dull music and a main theme heavily influenced by Transformers. I hope Scott abandons RC/MV for his upcoming Alien prequals. **

Prince of Persia

I (unfortunately) saw this movie in the cinema, and then went to read FilmTracks’s review. I was expecting 2 stars maybe 3 stars at the most, so I was obviously shocked to see a 4 star rating. I said this before on this forum and I’ll say it again – a faux middle eastern theme and uninspired cliched RC/MV action music does not make a good score. For someone who pays attention to scores in movies, it was an irritant in the movie and downright unlistenable on CD. For the general movie going public however, it served its purpose albeit with no artistic merit whatsoever. **

Predators

This is an odd score to review because Debney for the most part adapted Silvestri’s existing music. The original is one of my all time favourites, and I think Debney did a fine job adapting the music for the new film. I actually like the electric guitar which adds a bad ass quality to some of the tracks, but is thankfully used sparingly. **** as an adaptation.

Inception

This is the most controversial score of the year. Some hate it whereas others believe it is the best score of the year. I initially disliked it, but occasionally I may need multiple listens to truly appreciate a score’s merits. I have listened many times to Inception and have tried very hard to like it, but I’ve now reached the unshakeable opinion that it is a 2 star score. I agree completely with FilmTracks’s review, so much so that parts of it could be taken from my own keyboard. Firstly, let me say that I don’t dislike all of it. “Dream is Collapsing” is a cue I actually enjoy, along with some of the quieter moments. These cues remind me of the movie, and this is probably the only score in my collection where my enjoyment of it is primarily based on invoking memories of the movie and not the music itself. That is the good. The bad is any number is typical bass driven Zimmer autopilot heard so often. Now I rather like his Batman scores but enough is enough. Those tracks are just boring. The ugly is tracks like “Mambasa” which starts of with quite a cool guitar-over-purcussion Powell-esque sound but quickly descents into over processed electronic nonsense. If Lady Gaga produced a score cue it would sound like “Mambasa”. The massive brass hits are also dull, annoying and uninspired.

Portions of this score are apparently the slowed down melody of “Non, je ne regrette rien?”. Is this clever or inspired? Frankly no, not given how apparent the time warping is in the movie. It is an obvious gimmick. I’ve read tiny reviews of the Inception DVD in small local newspapers that praise Zimmer’s score. I’ve read some comments on the internet which praises it as some kind of musical revolution. Respected movie critics applause this score, and for these reasons I’ve no doubt it will be nominated for an Oscar. This movie deserves a better, more intelligent score. **

Toy Story 3

Randy Newman outdid himself on this score. He composed a fun, exciting and poignant soundtrack. The Mission Impossible inspired tracks are hugely enjoyable, the Spanish flavoured parts are fantastic and the final tracks really tug at the heartstrings. “The Claw” is also an exciting action cue with the first half reminding me very much of Goldsmith. ****

The A Team

An unremarkable entry into Silvestri’s career. Sadly he didn’t recreate the orchestral bliss of The Mummy Returns or Van Helsing. It is mostly simplistic generic music supported by an OK theme. “Flying a Tank” is an amazing standout however, and is one of the best action tracks of the year with some powerful brass writing. ***

Knight and Day

Powell doesn’t disappoint with his third score of the year. While not as good as HTTYD, it is a fun score with a good main theme. “Bull Run” is a phenomenal piece of action material especially when the trumpets blast out the main theme at the mid point. It has received almost daily plays on my Ipod. ****

The Last Airbender

A James Newton Howard classic! This is a rich, wonderfully orchestrated score. Howard has also written some of his most unique action music for this score, especially “The Blue Spirit” where as uses a chanting male chorus. “Flow Like Water” joins “The Great Eatlon” and “The Hand of Fate” as a great Howard / Shyamalan final cue. It is an achingly beautiful piece of music and is the only cue this year to move me to tears. However, this score is tainted by the removal of the choir from the OST, and in some cases, replacing it with a sub-standard synthesised choir. For me, the downside of this is most noticeable in “The Blue Spirit” where the synthesised choir is low in the mix, whereas the real choir in the film version is very forceful. Also, as amazingly beautiful as “Flow Like Water” is on the OST, a female choir contributes to the film version which gives it a truly magical feel. For some, the lack of the choir isn’t a major issue. For me, I’m a massive fan of choral work in scores. Removing it is one thing (Star Trek for example), but replacing it with a synthetic choir is unforgivable. Hopefully the proper choral cues will be released to the public domain in some form soon. ***** for the music as heard on both the OST and the film. ** for the production of the OST.

Salt

The Bourne Trilogy + The Fugitive = Salt. The main identity of Salt is a cool yet simplistic motif which appears usually on strings but occasionally on brass. I suspect one’s enjoyment of this score is dependent on this theme. I for one left the cinema whistling this theme, and consider it one of Howard’s better action scores. It may not be as complex as Powell’s action scores this year, but the music is exciting and often downright bad ass. “Chase Across D.C.” is Howard’s best action cue since 2005 King Kong. It is a very strong cue and successfully combines synth elements with the orchestra, especially when the main theme makes its appearance. The climactic series of action cues also contain some of the best action writing I’ve heard this year. ****

Let Me In

An understated score. Lacking the grace of the original score, and the children’s choir is a cheap gimmick in my opinion. Nothing bad, but nothing remarkable either. The end credits contains a full rendition of the main theme which is a nice cue, but again not world buying the CD for. “Dread On Arrival” is an excellent horror cue however, with a slow chilling build up. I remember it doing wonders for the scene in the cinema. ***

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1

Not the classic I was hoping for, but certainly better then the previous non-Williams Potter scores. “Sky Battle” and “Fireplaces Escape” are intense and the score often contains moments of beauty. However, I do hope this is a prelude to much better things to come in Part 2. ****

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I disagree with FilmTracks. I don’t feel this is a 5 star return to Arnold’s 90s glory. It lacks the spark of genius that was so evident in StarGate, Independence Day and Tomorrow Never Dies. It is however a brilliant score. The main theme is gorgeous and has Arnold’s style all over it, especially in “The Painting”. “Into Battle” sees Arnold unleashing his orchestral action credentials to create a powerful brass driven action masterpiece. His quotes of Harry Gregson-Williams’ theme are also welcome. I do however agree with FilmTracks that the mid part of the OST requires more than just a cursory listen to truly appreciate the slight and subtle quotes of the score’s various themes. Hopefully Arnold won’t leave it so long to return to this genre again. ****

The Tourist

Sadly the laws of diminishing returns rears it ugly head for Howard’s third score of the year. Again, this is a score of two halves. The action writing is dull and tepid, especially when compared to his very similar work on Salt. It is serviceable on the movie, but downright boring and uninteresting as a listening experience. I much more enjoyed the slower, more romantic moments, particularly the music accompanying the establishing shots of Venice. It isn’t groundbreaking music, but pleasant none the less. The most interesting and memorable part of the score is the romantic theme, especially it’s performance at the end of “Bedroom Dreams” where the strings take the theme and soar to dramatic heights. ***

TRON: Legacy

I was expecting something similar to Don Davis’s work on The Matrix sequels which I greatly enjoyed, especially his “Mona Lisa Overdrive” cue. I was wrong. I can appreciate that a traditional orchestral score would be inappropriate for the film, and Daft Punk’s score worked brilliantly with the visuals of the film, but this music isn’t for me. **** as written for the movie.

Notable omissions which I have not yet listened to are Percy Jackson, Shrek 4, The Katete Kid, Twilight: Eclipse, The Expendables, The Town, Unstoppable, The Social Network. I have however heard all these scores in the movie, and most of them would not get a higher rating then 3 stars, with Shrek 4 a possible exception.

This list is based on films released in 2010 in the UK.

So there we have it. I will probably remember 2010 as a year of 3 exceptional scores (HTTYD, The Ghost and The Last Airbender), a year of numerous outstanding action cues from a variety of composers even if the rest of the score is substandard, a year that John Powell was the composer of the year, followed closely by James Newton Howard and Alexandre Desplat and finally a year of a plethora of re-releases by the speciality labels.

For 2011, I haven’t been this excited by a year’s schedule of releases for a long time. Hopefully it won’t disappoint. Oh, and welcome back Mr. Williams.

Damien.

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Have to disagree on Robin Hood. I have no idea why this is constantly dismissed, but Streitenfeld didn't employ any of the usual MV/RCP methods, but wrote a strong main theme, some superb action sequences and underscore which for me at least, works great as a background listening experience.

And again, Salt. Does absolutely nothing for me whatsoever, even after seeing the film.

I haven't 'unlocked' Dawn Treader yet. It certainly doesn't grab me like ID4 did, and it tends to sag a bit, but I'll give it more time to work.

My opinion on Tron is similar to yours actually - probably works perfectly in the film, but it's mostly not my sort of music.

A-Team - I didn't like this one much either. The film bored the pants off me, and aside from what I find a very effective main theme, it's generic pap really.

Inception - I like a lot of it, and as a standalone experience it does seem very dreamlike. I did however find it very overbearing in the film, particularly during the final scene, and my most listened-to moments are cues such as Waiting for a Train and Old Souls which explore the more thoughtful side.

I warmed to Last Airbender eventually. I think JNH has some orchestration issues (sometimes the brass, and high strings seem to stick out in a cue - they don't feel like they've been properly integrated into the mix, often with dodgy counterpoints) but the highlights (We Are Now the Gods and Flow Like Water) are truly mesmerising. But I mark this down a bit for excluding the choir, and for appalling distribution outside the US.

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Inception - Well, the score includes some cues that are so strong, I'd put them amongst Zimmer's best. All of the action cues minus "Mombasa" are great, and "Time" is extremely powerful (though I wouldn't of minded a proper ending for the CD instead of the film's abrupt cut). There is a lot of less interesting material, and I still can't decide how I feel about "Mombasa." It's not Zimmer's best but it's a very good score, and I wouldn't be upset if it were nominated for an Oscar. The bonus tracks that were released on the Inception soundtrack website for free are definitely key - in fact, they're better than most of the tracks on the OST.

The Last Airbender - I initially had mixed feelings about this score. I have always liked Zimmer's sound as long as it was done well, and this is definitely an example of Zimmer's sound being done well. At the same time, I dislike the influence Zimmer has had over other composers. His sound is great, but I wouldn't want any style to be so insidious as to attract half of the currently working composers. TLA seems to be a combination of JNH' style with Zimmer's, and while I mourn the apparent destruction of JNH's excellent style that we heard best in Signs or Lady in the Water, I can't help but be emotionally blown away by this score. "Flow Like Water" is one of Howard's best ever cues. So, I love the score, but hate its implications. Still makes it a good purchase. It is my favorite new score of 2010.

Alice in Wonderland - You know, I don't really remember this score that well because I haven't listened to it ever since I heard of the Elfman/Burton boxset. But, I do remember the wonderful main theme and its variations, and some other pretty good underscore. It's not all entirely interesting, but it's a pretty solid score.

Tangled - It's a very good effort by Menken. AFter a while, he comes back and still knows how to great the classic Disney charm, beauty, and excitement. My favorite songs are "I've Got a Dream" and "I See the Light." It's not his best work but it is a strong one. And the instrumental cues are much stronger than average for a Menken film. The songs aren't quite as good as his past works but they're still good.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - It's good, but it's easily my least favorite score of 2010. I love the Death Eater theme, and specific cues like "Obliviate," but in terms of the other scores I'd place this as second to last, only ahead of Hooper's HBP. Definitely not as strong as Benjamin Button or what Desplat can do. But then, that may not be entirely his fault.

Overall, I think the year was solid. Not great but not amazing by any means. Maybe I should get a hold of How to Train Your Dragon...

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A Single Man

A beautiful, rich score. The main theme as heard in the first track is simply sublime. Grossly overlooked for an Oscar nomination, and was much more deserving than The Hurt Locker, which was clearly nominated because of its association with the film rather than its musical merits. ****

Hmm, I really have to see this film.

Robin Hood

A historic epic with grand action scenes from Ridley Scott had so much potential for an excellent score, so this was a major disappointment. Dull music and a main theme heavily influenced by Transformers. I hope Scott abandons RC/MV for his upcoming Alien prequals. **

I've just seen it. Film and score deserve each other.

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