Score Reviews

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The Post by John Williams (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 10:00 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Jan 12, 2018, 10:02 PM ]

Everyone is familiar with the magical partnership between director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. One of the greatest cinematic collaborators in film history, The Post marks their 28th film together. For this outing starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, Williams harkens back to a familiar style from other political thrillers, particularly JFK and Munich, by utilizing a rhythmic propulsive underscore to fuel the dramatic narrative. For this review, I have chosen the Academy Awards 'For Your Consideration' promo as the basis for track titles and listening experience, which closest resembles the music's function in the film.

Here, Williams understands that less is more, thus creating a sparse soundscape with a handful of musical techniques that work in junction to create the driving force behind the film's hot topic of media v. government. There are brief moments of gentle piano and strings to represent the characters and their interpersonal relationships (hear "Dad's Note"), but the rest of the score largely consists of that aforementioned underscore. The opening, "The Papers And The Presidents," features some of my favorite Williams mannerisms, which includes pulsating synth percussion with interspersed guitar that builds tension in the subtlest of ways. It is conspiracy incarnated, and I love how Williams so effortlessly weaves these musical ideas into the underbelly of the musical narrative. It results in a more satisfying dramatic context, because it lets characters and action drive the plot while still supporting the story at play. This motif reappears later on in "Let's Publish," one of the many highlights of the score. Moreover, "Wild About Harry" is a similar cue, but stripped down even more, with some really engaging suspense writing that scores just do not utilize much anymore. The pacing is key here, and the way the strings flutter and rise create a tense scuttle of emotions that really draw you in.

With all that being said, the score still features Williams' traditional harmonies and wonderful use of brass. The climax: "Setting The Type," "Presses Roll," and "The Decision And End Credits," are 18 minutes of tour-de-force John Williams music. This is where the energy is cranked up and we are treated to some more classic orchestral flourishes; but the foundation that was built throughout the rest of the score is not abandoned here. The two meld together, creating a harsh tonal clash of action and suspense. "The Decision" gives us some standard Americana stylings, but once the credits hit nearly 8-minutes in, that gorgeous string motif kicks in to send the listening experience out with a bang. Things eventually simmer back down, though, and the final moments of the score provide a gentle reflective quality that eases us out of this journey.

The Post will most likely fall into the forgettable category to most John Williams fans, but his minimalistic percussive approach to political thrillers puts a much bigger smile on my face than something like Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This duality is what makes Williams such a legend of his industry and a master of his craft. Those that appreciate the inner workings of scores such as Black Sunday, JFK, and Munich, will find much to explore and delve into here, while the meatier orchestral cues give classic fans something to enjoy as well.

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story Of The Horse Soldiers by Lorne Balfe (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:42 AM by Kaya Savas

The genre of “war” is always an interesting genre of filmmaking to analyze. We’ve seen a huge uptick in war films, especially American war films ever since September 11th. The one trend that is definitely noticeable is how much we focus on heroism now. I mean, all war films are about the heroes who served but recently it's been the sole focus. We don’t see movies like The Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan that much anymore. With modern combat movies like American Sniper, 13 Hours and Lone Survivor we really want to know the real people who lived or died. The words “Based On A True Story” become bigger and bolder in the trailers and posters. Some people call it propaganda filmmaking that panders to middle America, some people say it glorifies war. Personally, for me, the only film that has stepped into propaganda territory recently has been American Sniper. Whether you hate them or enjoy them, I think war movies can be entertaining dramatizations and reflections of humanity. And yes, it’s weird to say “entertaining”. But I was entertained and moved by movies like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and even Lone Survivor and 13 Hours recently. As long as you remember the movie is not meant to be a documentary and there are filmmakers adding their personal touches to tell you a story, it’s okay to let these movies draw you in and see them as action filmmaking

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story Of The Horse Soldiers is a new war film from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Nicolai Fuglsig who has only directed one feature prior to this. Lorne Balfe is behind the wonderfully balanced yet extremely propulsive action score. Balfe and Bruckheimer developed a good relationship on Geostorm and here Lorne gets to write some extremely effective music that draws you in from start to finish.

I think comparing 12 Strong to Black Hawk Down is a very fair way to get an understanding of the approach here. Both are intense examinations of an event in American military history that aim to show the heroics of the soldiers involved. And both want to create a gritty and intense action experience to make the viewers feel immersed in the intensity. Also, the scoring approach is similar in tone, but vastly different in style. Lorne’s approach here is keeping the score very modern and keeping the point of view from our central characters. The music hardly incorporates traditional Afghan sounds or anything resembling “Middle Eastern music”, just a few light touches here and there.

The score of course is mostly action, but you have that delicate heart to the score that echoes the families that the soldiers are leaving behind and fighting for. All of these are familiar themes in every war film. The men all have wives and children, and that’s the drive for them as soldiers. The way Lorne handles that emotion is he never lays it on too thick to let it ever become melodramatic or schmaltzy. However, once we are in the thick of battle the score does not hold back. The majority is extremely intense and we have nice long tracks that allow you to feel the score at work. Lorne showcases some amazing action builds here that have wonderful payoffs. The way the music propels everything forward is extremely impressive, and we honestly don’t get to hear melodic action scoring like this that much these days. The percussion in the score is very impressive too, and it becomes an integral part of the narrative structure. Some people may criticize the final act of being “too heroic”, but it really feels as genuine as you can make it. You never feel like the score is spoon-feeding you patriotism, and that’s why it works.

12 Strong is a highly effective action/war score that does an incredible job of creating intense action and bold heroism without making you feel like you need to get the American flag branded on your chest. It’s extremely difficult to create a war score that is bold, melodic and boasts heroism without it being labeled as manipulative. I think Black Hawk Down was the last score to successfully be not only an effective war score, but also an entertaining action narrative. 12 Strong succeeds in the same fashion by being a bold action narrative, but also an effective combat score. The emotions pumping through the music never feel forced either, even during the few intimate moments. In the end this is a Bruckheimer produced war movie, and people who grew up with Bruckheimer action movies in the 90's will feel that influence here. Also, detailed listeners will find some stylistic similarities between this and Lorne's score to Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and it's great to see his bold voice as a composer shine through. 12 Strong manages to bring gravitas and intensity without feeling like Uncle Sam is placing an American flag in your hand. This is such a fine-tuned action narrative that has many memorable moments.

All The Money In The World by Daniel Pemberton (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:42 AM by Kaya Savas

Daniel Pemberton reunites with director Ridley Scott for All The Money In The World. The movie made headlines when Scott decided to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer. The interesting part is that while lots of reshoots were done, Pemberton’s score remained unchanged. While the music he wrote was based off Spacey’s performance, it still fits perfectly in this crime-drama about greed and power.

All The Money In The World opens with its central motif right at the start of track 1 before opening up into a big symphonic expression. We will hear this big expression once more to underscore Getty’s arrival, and for a third time at the conclusion. The rest of the score is way more nuanced and intricate, and puts on display Pemberton’s knack for rhythm-based scoring but in a way more light-handed approach. When the score needs to build some energy or tension, the rhythms come out. The tone of the score is rather interesting as well, it paints Getty in a bit of a gothic style. From the tranquil character-building moments to the more classically inspired swells, Getty is portrayed musically as the greedy Scrooge whose mansion sits atop the town under a thunderstorm, but it never becomes too much. Nothing in this film is done in excess. The reserved and restrained approach makes everything feel extremely real, and the performances are top-notch. In fact one could argue that the movie could have used some some more finesse and a bit more flair, but as it stands the whole package is quite solid and well done. Pemberton’s score is always working under the surface for the most part except for a handful of times where the score takes the spotlight.

Overall, All The Money In The World is a tightly executed narrative in both image and music. The score accompanies the performances very well without ever doing too much. Getty is such an integral and central character in the film, and the heart of the score is the music that fleshes the character out. While there are moments of tension that display Pemberton’s expert rhythmic builds, it’s the light-handed approach at character scoring that makes the score such a success.

Molly's Game by Daniel Pemberton (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:38 AM by Kaya Savas

Molly’s Game sees Aaron Sorkin making his directorial debut, and he brought Daniel Pemberton along for the ride. The film tells the story of Molly Bloom who was targeted by the FBI for the underground poker empire she started in Los Angeles that attracted celebrities, tycoons and the Russian mob. Molly’s Game isn’t the first time Pemberton has scored Sorkin’s writing, he got to do that in Steve Jobs. For Molly’s Game we get an extremely solid guitar-based score that is a total expression of what Pemberton does best.

Pemberton has demonstrated he can write some very “cool” music, in fact he is probably the perfect person to score the upcoming Ocean’s 8 movie. What the music does here is lift the narrative on the shoulders of its thematic and melodic structure. There is a very simple central motif that shows up throughout, but the body of the score is Pemberton building structured rhythms. These rhythms come together to build an overall rise and fall structure. We feel this momentum lifting up as Molly builds her empire, and we feel it intensify when stakes are raised and of course we come back for a landing for the conclusion. The score definitely favors style and general tone based on what’s happening in the scene over more intricate emotional structures. Molly’s internal journey isn’t wholly represented by the score, but her external journey is and that is why the score lacks a deeper emotional resonance. But in the end, the journey is worth taking. The score is supremely engaging from start to finish.

Molly’s Game is a perfect example of what Pemberton does best. He is able to create a unique palette for pretty much any film he tackles. The melodic and rhythm-based score for the narrative is successful all the way through. However, we could have used a bit more help from the score to feel Molly’s internal journey rather than rely solely on Sorkin’s dialogue. Pemberton nails the builds and finds the perfect tone throughout to make the score engaging. Simple in approach yet intricate in structure, Molly’s Game is a great ride.

The Crown: Season Two by Rupert Gregson-Williams & Lorne Balfe (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:38 AM by Kaya Savas

Netflix’s The Crown brought us an extremely engaging series from writer Peter Morgan. The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams filled the narrative with a bedding of warmth and fullness that added to the drama. The score was able to do a lot by infusing intricate builds and sequences in the longer track times. For season 2 we see a somewhat similar approach, but that “blanket” feel is reduced and the score has a bit more mobility. Lorne Balfe joins in as co-composer, and his involvement definitely evolved the sound of the score into some great new territory.

The Crown is heavy drama, and the score reflects “heavy drama”. But what makes season 2 standout more so than season 1 is that there is a lot more nuance. The music tackles certain characters or moments with some drastically different instrumentation or a new melodic rhythm that we haven’t heard before. The music seems to be more varied, and the structure for this season works with the shape of the picture so much more. The big beautiful builds are still here from season 1, and this season has some fantastically executed moments. The score creates such a momentum so you always feel this growth and movement. And while we have a pretty substantial bigness to the score, the deep-seeded emotions are not left out. The emotional current in season 2 is quite strong, and through the music’s narrative structure we’re allowed to feel these fragile emotions grow into swells of grandeur. The album’s representation of the season’s arc is also great and you get to feel how well the score wraps things up.

The Crown: Season Two takes the groundwork that was established last season and elevates it to a much richer and intricate narrative. Season 1 felt more like big and long brush strokes, while season 2 carried a few of those large strokes over but filled in with a lot more tiny ones throughout. The music still carries an immense weight, and the beautiful builds still create wonderful emotional payoffs. But it was in the score’s more nuanced moments where fragility and intricacy seeped in to make the big swells feel even bigger. Rupert Gregson-Williams and Lorne Balfe complimented each other extremely well here, and the score evolved very impressively.

12 Monkeys: Season 3 by Stephen Barton (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:37 AM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Jan 12, 2018, 9:37 AM ]

While the television adaptation of 12 Monkeys hasn’t turned too many heads, it has consistently provided an entertaining sci-fi adventure. Season 1 saw Trevor Rabin and Paul Linford do an extremely engaging score, Linford continued the second season. It wasn’t till Season 3 that we saw a bit of a composer change, Bryce Jacobs scored 2 episodes with some additional help from Stephen Barton, but starting with episode 3 Barton took over for the rest of season.

Stephen Barton has made a name for himself by consistently telling amazing stories through his music. I discovered him through his work with Harry Gregson-Williams, but as his solo career grew it was evident that his capabilities as a storyteller weren't being masked by Harry’s music. 12 Monkeys: Season 3 is a wonderful journey that is fueled by melody and bold textures to create an intense and exciting ride.

Season 3 of 12 Monkeys is a dive into a world full of propulsive music that instantly grabs you. The score’s arc across the season is amazing and it’s represented very well in this album. The initial atmosphere is what draws you into the narrative, but as you move along you’ll see just how well the music is telling a story. Electronic textures and strings make up the main soundscape of the score, but it’s how they’re implemented that makes such an impact. The thematic and melodic material is nothing too complex, and it’s in that perfect simplicity that beautiful moments of emotion are born from. The score is surprisingly emotional and full of character, and that’s what makes it memorable in the end. You can have all the style you want to make the score stand out, but if there’s no substance underneath then it feels hollow. Thankfully the score never feels hollow or empty. There’s just so much personality that makes the music feel unique to the world of the show, and it puts Barton’s musical stylings on full display. By the time we come to the end, we truly feel like the season’s arc has come to its conclusion.

12 Monkeys: Season 3’s score is incredibly rich and engaging. Barton infuses so much energy, intensity and emotion into it but balances it with expertise. The music has such a unique voice that you are instantly absorbed into the world of the narrative. By keeping the thematic and melodic structures simple, the emotions resonate much more deeply. This is an extremely entertaining ride with some real heart woven through it. Hopefully there won’t be any composer changes for the 4th and final season so that Barton can jump in where he left off.

Call Of Duty: WWII by Wilbert Roget, II (Review)

posted Jan 10, 2018, 11:50 AM by Leo Mayr

Following several games that featured more and more sci-fi elements, this year's annual Call Of Duty has taken a step back and taken the franchise back to its roots. As with a lot of entries in the franchise, a new composer was hired and the task fell to Wilbert Roget, II, who delivers a stunning orchestral score, as opposed to the more electronic scores heard in the last couple of games.

Right away, Roget's score feels new and fresh, despite having more in common with Michael Giacchino's first Call Of Duty score than the more recent titles. The main theme is simple, yet quite memorable and appears in a few places throughout the game. While the theme carries the heroism you'd expect from a game like this, it feels desolate and almost hopeless at times. The more ambient parts of the score do their job at keeping the tension and never really let you catch your breath in between firefights. There's a handful of well composed emotional scenes throughout that definitely stand out, yet the real highlight are the action pieces. It's an action game after all. The score utilizes the orchestra just right to create stunning and intense action scenes that can put you on the edge of your seat in the blink of an eye.

Call Of Duty: WWII may not be remembered as well as the older Call Of Duty and Medal Of Honor scores, but it comes close enough to make you wish more games sounded like this nowadays. The score is the breath of fresh air the franchise needed and serves as a reminder that a more "old school" score still works for a videogame in 2017.

Assassin's Creed: Origins by Sarah Schachner (Review)

posted Jan 10, 2018, 11:50 AM by Leo Mayr

Having contributed to the scores for two previous Assassin's Creed games, Sarah Schachner finally has a full game for herself. Assassin's Creed Origins successfully reinvents the long-running franchise, breathing new life into the series after recent entries have become quite formulaic.

After all these years and countless games, it is quite impressive to hear Jesper Kyd's main theme still survive. Here, it's thrown into a synth heavy main theme that simultaneously represents the sci-fi elements of the narrative frame, as well as the game's setting. While the music immediately feels like ancient Egypt, it never really sounds clichéd. The mostly ambient score doesn't really have room for emotional moments or character development, so the album presentation feels a lot like "open world game", but big surprise, that's just what this is. The game world is insanely large, and Schachner does a great job at giving the vast regions a unique sound and identity. In the combat music, you can spot a few sneaky references to Schachner's previous work on the franchise, but for the most part, the music has a rather unique sound. Overall, the combat music finds the right balance between tense and fun.

While it's easy to get a feeling for what to expect from the first few tracks, Schachner has composed enough music to make for a varied and interesting experience that really justifies the lengthy album presentation. After Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Assassin's Creed: Origins, Sarah Schachner should be well on your radar.

Luna by Austin Wintory (Review)

posted Jan 10, 2018, 11:49 AM by Leo Mayr

is a gorgeous little puzzle game that puts a huge emphasis on its visuals and music. Having scored similar titles such as Journey, Austin Wintory was the obvious choice to breathe life into the stunning visuals. Needless to say, he succeeds in every way.

Luna is simply gorgeous. The game's unique art style is wonderful to look at, and Wintory's score accompanies the visuals beautifully. The score consists exclusively of calm, ambient music that beautifully resonates with the images as it seamlessly carries you through the experience. 
While the music is quite similar throughout, Wintory manages to set the different pieces apart through small changes in instrumentation, so there's really no two pieces that sound the same. Wintory has created several long pieces of music, so there are no noticeable cuts or seams throughout the game, instead the entire narrative just flows from start to finish.

It's difficult to describe Luna. The ambient score has similar qualities to Wintory's work on flOw, Journey and Abzû, yet it's unlike any of them at the same time. While there are no melodies and themes you'll be humming on your way to work, the score is definitely worth experiencing, both in-game and on its own.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle by Henry Jackman (Review)

posted Dec 19, 2017, 12:52 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Dec 20, 2017, 4:13 PM ]

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle might be one of those late surprises of the year in both film and score. The film is only related to the original movie in name and concept. This is not a sequel nor a reboot. Instead of a board game bringing elements into the real world, here we have a video game that sucks its players into its own world. What follows is an entirely enjoyable, fun and lush comedy-adventure. Director Jake Kasdan originally hired James Newton Howard, presumably based off the amazing collaboration James has with his father, Lawrence Kasdan. When scheduling became an issue for James, he had to bow out. In his place came the incredibly versatile Henry Jackman who has delivered a knockout adventure score that is way better than it has any right to be.

The best part of this score is that it feels like it was composed 20 years. While it may not directly quote James Horner’s original score, it feels like it was born of the same adventurous orchestral spirit. Henry Jackman is a huge fan of Alan Silvestri, and it was Silvestri’s score to Predator that inspired him to pursue film composing. And we can hear that Silvestri influence for sure in Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Jackman’s approach is just spot-on from start to finish, and the score brings the world to life in such a vivid and robust way. The tone is not too light so that the score still feels fun without being “joyful”. If the tone were to be too “fun” then it wouldn’t be as adventurous since all the danger would be sucked out. Thankfully that’s not the case. The score has a great theme that allows it to stand on two legs without much need for support, but it definitely leaves room for the physical and situational comedy to play. In the end, the music delivers everything that it needs to make Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle a memorable experience. The first track on the album was essentially Henry's pitch to director Jake Kasdan of all the themes and symphonic approach he wanted to take, and thankfully Jake agreed that themes and melodies were the way to go.

Henry Jackman provides a lush and colorful orchestral adventure for Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle that is a welcome surprise at the closing of the year. With a strong theme and a score structured on melodies, we are treated to a comedy-adventure score that is engaging from start to finish. The music leaves plenty of room for the comedy and does a great job of maintaining a tone that is fun yet still pretty exciting. Henry Jackman’s love for Alan Silvestri shines bright here, but it’s Jackman’s overall versatility that brings this score to life.

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