Score Reviews


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Alien: Covenant by Jed Kurzel (Review)

posted May 22, 2017, 8:45 AM by Kaya Savas


The Alien films have always resonated with audiences because the world that Ridley Scott’s original film created was so unique and iconic. Plus it has one of the best movie-monsters of all-time. The music for the Alien franchise has always been in the spotlight as well. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original film is always hailed as a masterpiece, even though Goldsmith and Scott didn't necessarily see eye to eye. Goldsmith and Scott butted heads about what the film needed musically, he was forced to re-write his opening and temp music was kept in the film without Goldsmith's knowledge. But people do hail the original Alien as one of his best scores, and the way he captured mystery and isolation certainly made the score extremely successful. Silence of course was the main reason why the first film worked so well. Scott even removed pieces of Jerry’s score to utilize sound design to create tension and atmosphere.  A decision that Jerry later admitted was the correct one.

So let’s talk about Prometheus briefly. It seems drama likes to follow Scott and his composers on this franchise. Prometheus was scored by Marc Streitenfeld, who was Scott’s go-to composer at the time. Marc created a super gritty and mysterious score that worked very well for what Prometheus was. However, Marc was missing the grandness and the romanticism of the big ideas at play in the film. So Ridley went to Harry Gregson-Williams to write the big central theme. Whatever happened behind the scenes there marked the end of Scott’s collaborations with Streitenfeld. Ridley and Harry re-kindled their professional relationship with Harry working some additional music into Exodus, and finally they did The Martian together. Harry broke the news in our interview with him that he would in fact be doing Alien: Covenant. Fast-forward a few months later, we found out that Harry was not on the project anymore. Harry’s statement was that Ridley wanted to go in a different direction, but in Hollywood that could mean anything. Anyway, Jed Kurzel filled the void. Jed made a name for himself by writing the scores to films directed by his brother Justin Kurzel. Those films included The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth and Assassin’s Creed. Jed also did some other notable scores including Slow West. So if you connect the dots there it seems to be a certain actor in common with many of those films. That actor would be Michael Fassbender, and it’s a very good chance that Jed came at the recommendation of Michael to Ridley.

Okay, so now we are here. Alien: Covenant! The true return to the franchise! The Xenomorph returns! Right? So what’s the verdict? Jed Kurzel’s approach is as effective as the film let’s it be, and unfortunately the film is hardly effective. Kurzel feels like a fish out of water here, he just doesn't fit in with Ridley, and you can tell he was just doing what he was told to do. If you see the final film, you’ll see even more clearly that this movie was built for Harry. The use of the Prometheus theme is in effect and even Michael Fassbender’s character plays Harry's theme diegetically on a flute in one scene. Then we have the completely out of place overuse of Goldsmith’s theme, which is just so wrong for this movie. This movie has no musical identity whatsoever. It lays on the Goldsmith heavily, it references Prometheus and then Kurzel is left to fill in the gaps with his standard yet somewhat effective action-horror scoring. But in the end there is hardly any emotional arc, there are no builds and everything comes to a predictable conclusion. The film spends the first two acts being a Prometheus sequel, so the use of Goldsmith’s music is just wrong. It’s only in the final act does this become an “Alien” movie, and by the time we’re there the music is just acting in the background and competing with the sound design. Where the other films utilized silence to build tension, here we get no break, no quiet moments. Kurzel’s score is drowned out and even when you experience what he does on the album, nothing is really that impressive.

Alien: Covenant as a film is not a misfire, it’s just below average in both film and score. The use of Goldsmith is plain wrong for the film (seriously, can we let that score rest in peace please), and everything here was clearly laid out for Harry before he departed the project. Kurzel does his best to add tension and thrills but essentially the final product is a pastiche score utilizing the works of two other composers. It’s only once you get to the final act where the score actually starts working, but it’s completely drowned out in the film and the music is trying just as hard to bash you over the head as the movie is. It’s a shame that Harry Gregson-Williams wasn't a part of this film for whatever reason. But when you look at the final product here, maybe Harry dodged a bullet. Jed Kurzel inherited a wholly mediocre film with forgettable characters and a formulaic plot, and the score reflects all that.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword by Daniel Pemberton (Review)

posted May 4, 2017, 4:34 PM by Kaya Savas


The career of Guy Ritchie is an interesting one to follow. His ascension from directing commercials, graduating to super stylistic crime-comedies and now to studio tentpoles is pretty fascinating. His style is easily identifiable and he’s definitely an auteur with visuals. And even though he’s never been a one-composer director, his movies have seemed to garner a certain flavor from the composers who have worked with him. After a successful collaboration on The Man From U.N.C.L.E with Daniel Pemberton, the duo continue onwards on King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword. And if you could just close your eyes and imagine what a King Arthur movie directed by Guy Ritchie might sound like, the score should meet those expectations.

Pemberton is a real talent, he always has been and his recent string of high-profile projects is well-deserved. His score’s have always been extremely engaging and stylistically interesting. Pemberton’s favorite composer is Ennio Morricone, so you’ll never find a shortage of Morricone homages in his scores if he can fit them in. For King Arthur, we get a superbly gritty and grand score that’s filled with lots of fascinating textures. King Arthur is in many ways structured very similarly to how The Man From U.N.C.L.E was structured musically. The score, while having a grand 3-act narrative, is built more to be the backdrop to Ritchie’s kinetic style. Looking back at Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes scores, you’ll find that the music carried the image while with Pemberton it seems like the picture and the edit dictate more of the pacing and flow. And that’s totally fine, it’s nothing negative, just an observation. Pemberton has composed melodic pieces meant to have images built to them. The score is both small and large at the same time. Small in the way that you can hear every instrument at work, but this is not really an orchestral score. Lots of acoustic strings and percussion work to create looping melodic builds. One of the highlights of the score is the use of inhaling/exhaling on a few tracks, and kudos to the performer who probably fainted multiple times to get the right sound. This crazy use of vocals is a great way to literally make the audience feel out of breath while adding a certain intensity to the scene. It’s a great motif that works damn well and is never overused.

The score has some big moments too, it’s not all acoustic textures. There is some robustness to fill in the gaps when things get grandiose, but the music never loses its gritty nature. Percussion really does carry the narrative, and it does so whether the score is being small or extremely big. It might not be too much of a shock if some of Hans’ Sherlock scores were temped into this movie, because at times the score has that Sherlock sound but blended with that Pemberton grit. It really is a Cockney King Arthur score, and it’s extremely entertaining throughout.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword does heavy lifting with tons of amazing acoustic textures built into these extended looping structures. The score is acoustic at heart but with an electronic polish filled with metallic brass and robust distortion. Imagine a punk rocker yelling into a microphone, and you get that peaking distortion. That’s pretty much this score except with acoustic strings, lots of percussion, cool breathing textures and big orchestral pushes here and there. Pemberton really succeeded in turning Guy Ritchie’s visual style into music, and even though it’s lacking some finesse and emotion-centered character building, the score is a blast. This is pure style over substance, but in the best way possible.

The Boss Baby by Hans Zimmer & Steve Mazzaro (Review)

posted May 4, 2017, 4:33 PM by Kaya Savas


There’s a quality and charm to Hans Zimmer’s melodies for animation in recent years. Stuff like Madagascar and Megamind all share this sentimentality that makes the music feel very organic. The Boss Baby is no different, with a score that echoes more of the heart and realness of emotions versus the goofiness. Steve Mazzaro shares second credit here as a co-composer, but definitely did most of the heavy lifting and fleshing out of the score.

The Boss Baby is equal parts quirkiness and organic emotion. The score’s main theme is pure Zimmer and is a melody that plays really close to the heart. Vocals are used to great effect and will remind listeners of great scores like Megamind and The Holiday. The score goes on its own crazy adventure as the narrative goes on, and we actually get to sample a lot of cool musical stylings that are all threaded together with a jazzy classiness. The score maintains the high energy and builds the stakes when needed while always keeping the main theme close by. By the time we get to the climax, which was handed over to Conrad Pope in the track “Love”, everything comes swirling together in a lush orchestral fashion. Hans asked Conrad to take the film’s theme and essentially compose a track from Conrad’s own point of view to bring everything home. The result is something truly wonderful. The whole story wraps up in a very beautiful way that makes the whole experience lasting and memorable.

The Boss Baby has fun, energy, character and emotion to spare. This is a super solid score that is anchored by Hans’ great themes and fleshed out wonderfully by Steve Mazzaro. Conrad Pope makes a guest appearance and takes the climax of the film to an amazing emotional swell, which works just perfectly. Everything fits well together even with lots of quirky stylings throughout, and the whole package is a score that is sentimental and fun without overdoing it on either front. The score is anchored by a great theme and an overall great structure that makes it a memorable journey you'll want to revisit.

Deformers by Austin Wintory

posted May 1, 2017, 10:21 AM by Leo Mayr


Deformers
 is a competetive multiplayer videogame featuring squishable animals. So naturally, Austin Wintory was the perfect composer for it. Wintory has composed countless videogame scores over the past years, yet somehow, none really sound alike. His work on Deformers is no different in that regard.

The game by design features no narrative components, so the music doesn't have a set path to follow. In contrast to some of Wintory's more popular scores like Journey or last year's Abzû, the music doesn't have tear inducing emotional moments, instead focusing on all out fun. This is the kind of score that is nearly impossible to describe in words. The instrumentation and style literally change at a moment's notice, with Wintory going all out for some of the most unique sounds and instrumentations I have heard in a score. From more traditional strings and brass to accordion, guitars and vocals, there's an absurd amount of different sounds all in one piece of music. One minute the score reminds you of wild west adventures, the next you're in a circus. The music is just filled with energy and Wintory's inventiveness. A fun main theme appears in a few places throughout the score, as do a few parts that strongly reminded me of Wintory's work on Abzû and Assassin's Creed Syndicate, but the vast majority of the score never repeats itself.

Deformers is simply fun. There's no other way to put it, the music is just filled with fun. Wintory manages to keep the pace up for the entire album presentation, never really slowing down or repeating himself, the music constantly surprised me with unusual sounds, making the experience all the more entertaining.

Life by Jon Ekstrand (Review)

posted May 1, 2017, 10:21 AM by Leo Mayr


Life
 sees director Daniel Espinosa reunite with composer Jon Ekstrand. The movie follows a group of scientists aboard the International Space Station who encounter a not so friendly extraterrestrial creature. The film has frequently been compared to Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien, and while those comparisons are definitely justified, Life manages to distance itself far enough to be a strong movie by itself.

The score consists of mostly orchestral music with only a few electronics appearing near the film's ending, and while the first minutes of music did strongly remind me of Jerry Goldsmith's Alien, the score quickly distances itself from it. The first few pieces of the score consist of calm, emotional pieces, carefully setting up the characters and the main mystery.  When things do start to spiral out of control, Jon Ekstrand proves himself to be quite talented at subtly increasing tension, before going all out in frantic action sequences. The film contains surprisingly few jump scares, instead wonderfully building up tension both visually and musically. Ekstrand handles the emotional side of things nicely, and while there are no stand out themes or motifs you'll be humming on your way home, the music fits the film's narrative wonderfully. While a lot of the score relies on strings and percussion for the action, Ekstrand brings in heroic brass in some places. The orchestral sound fits the movie perfectly, starting with beautiful, calm music, before suddenly plunging into chaos before electronic textures dominate the film's climax. Ekstrand uses choir to great effect throughout the score, creating some breathtaking moments. The score's orchestral sound immediately feels at home with sci-fi horror, yet manages to stand on its own with Ekstrand's use of electronics near the end creating a stunning shift in the score.

While Life isn't the most original movie to come out this year, it is a more than competently made sci-fi horror movie. With Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant just around the corner, Life still manages to be a strong movie well worth seeing. Jon Ekstrand proves to be more than capable of composing an orchestral sci-fi horror score that wonderfully supports the movie, and presents listeners with a fun and thrilling experience.

The Fate Of The Furious by Brian Tyler

posted May 1, 2017, 10:20 AM by Leo Mayr


With the Fast & Furious franchise heading into a slightly different direction for its eighth installment, composer Brian Tyler once again shows off his skills as an action movie composer. Having composed four other entries in the franchise, it should come as no surprise that Tyler once again delivers a top notch action score.

Where Tyler's score for the third Expendables movie almost exclusively consisted of music heard in the previous films, for The Fate Of The Furious Tyler has reused only a few key themes. Most notably the "Fast Five" theme that previously appeared in Furious 7 and has seemingly become the main theme for the franchise. Tyler has been rather generous with electronic music recently, and The Fate Of The Furious is no different. Almost every action piece has at least some electronic textures to it, giving the score a very distinct sound. While there are a few great emotional moments, the movie really doesn't leave a lot of space for musical storytelling, instead leading from one action set-piece to the next, throwing in licensed songs seemingly at random. Tyler was able to throw in a few nuanced and emotional pieces, but none are quite as engaging or memorable as Furious 7's conclusion.

The action music could hardly be more fast paced and fun, and luckily, there's a lot of it. From the opening race to the final submarine chase, Tyler goes all out with orchestral action that is frequently supported by electronic textures much in the same way Furious 7 sounded. The "Fast Five" theme is kept until the final action scene, but when it does return, it does so louder and more intense than ever. Tyler's theme for Deckard Shaw, Furious 7's primary antagonist makes a few appearance, as does a short theme for Roman and of course, the all important theme for Letty, making for a great musical sequel.

While The Fate Of The Furious doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does manage to create some fun action scenes, with Tyler once again showing off his skills as an action composer. The score rarely slows down and is pure fun from start to finish. While some criticize the franchise for refusing to end, personally, I don't have a problem with never-ending sequels as long as the scores are this fun.

Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 by Tyler Bates (Review)

posted Apr 21, 2017, 12:41 PM by Kaya Savas


Tyler Bates continues his collaboration with director James Gunn for Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2. The first film was a test to see if Marvel could launch lesser known back-catalogue characters into something big, and they succeeded. Guardians Of The Galaxy’s humor and retro vibe struck a chord with audiences and now they’re back for a second film with a third on the way. Tyler Bates’ first score was a pleasant surprise by approaching the adventure score with classic orchestral sensibilities. Bates gave us a score infused with thrills, fun, heroism and romanticism that made for a good time. That continues here, but thankfully the score feels a bit more fleshed out with some interesting characteristics.

More or less, the first Guardians score was pleasant and inoffensive orchestral action. Nothing about the score though made it feel unique or bold. The main theme felt like an echo of Silvestri’s Avengers theme, and that doesn't change here. But what does change is that the music here feels more at home and feels like it’s more comfortable with the characters and tone of the movie. I’d be willing to bet that Marvel erred on the side of caution when launching Guardians the first time to make sure everything was played safe. Here you can feel Bates being more of himself and his sound. There’s also a lot more character development and emotional arcs that seemed absent from the first movie. The use of chorus is great and gives the whole narrative this grand operatic feel. As we move through the story and build up to the climax and resolution, it was great to hear some great thematic structure and momentum that built to actual payoffs. The score has a surprising amount of heart as it does action, and by the time everything wraps up you feel you got to experience a score built for these characters.

Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 is definitely an improvement over the first score in terms of the music feeling a lot less generic than the previous outing. The main theme is still a very generic sounding heroic theme, but the way its varied and used throughout this time feels a little more unique since the narrative is stronger this time around. Fun action moments build towards emotional payoffs, and even though the score is stylistically very familiar it still exudes Tyler Bates’ sensibilities as a storyteller for another enjoyable journey.

Beauty & The Beast by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman & Tim Rice (Review)

posted Apr 21, 2017, 12:40 PM by Kaya Savas


Beauty And The Beast is one of those iconic films that defined the era known as the Disney Renaissance period. In terms of classic Disney films, the movie has always been one of the strongest in terms of story and music. For those like me whose childhood included cracking open that white plastic clamshell VHS case and popping this tale as old as time in the VCR, the prospect of a live-action retelling really hit the nostalgia button. So here we are now, in the Disney era that may be known as the Live-Action Renaissance? Whatever your opinion of the recent trend of Disney’s aim to remake all their classic animation films as live-action films, you can’t deny that it gives a chance for a whole new generation to experience these movies and for filmmakers to creatively rework the stories. And so far they have been extremely successful, both creatively and financially.

So does Beauty & The Beast work in the live-action format as well as Cinderella or The Jungle Book did? As a whole, yes, the film is wonderfully inspired and the production value is truly something. Alan Menken got to expand the fantastic score and songs that he and Howard Ashman brought to us many years ago, and while everything is lacking any kind of new vision it all ends up being pretty much what you’d want from a re-telling.

Musically of course the score and songs are beefed up and fleshed out a bit more. I personally enjoyed hearing a score that was able to work more over the span of 2 hours versus 80 minutes. That iconic prologue lovingly based off of Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival Of The Animals gets a great new arrangement and it sounds great. It immediately transports you. And the body of the score itself is lush and robust as we navigate through the narrative and encounter old and new songs. Legendary lyricist Tim Rice stepped in to help Alan Menken with the new songs in place of the late Howard Ashman.

The songs are as vibrant and bright as ever with the new cast giving it their all to put the original soul into them. One could complain that the new cast is just doing their best impersonations of the old cast without bringing anything new to the table (except Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth), but I found a new and different life behind the whole package especially with the new songs which are actually really great. Songs like "Days In The Sun" and "Evermore" shine a light onto characters that didn't really get to express their inner monologues in the original animated version.

Overall, this new take on Beauty & The Beast doesn't aim to replace the original but merely expand and lovingly re-tell it on a much larger scale. Some things work and some things feel a little flat, but the whole package is engaging and will grasp you. The music works so well with the visuals and Alan Menken’s expanded approach to the score as well as re-arranging of old songs breathes not necessarily new life but a different life into it. The new pieces fit seamlessly into the narrative and add a much welcomed spotlight onto characters that took a backseat in the original to keep the focus on Belle’s story with the short running time. Now that Disney has remade a truly full-fledged musical from its classic animated catalogue, it’ll be interesting to see how they approach others like Aladdin and The Lion King in the future.

CHiPs by Fil Eisler (Review)

posted Apr 21, 2017, 12:40 PM by Kaya Savas


In the continuing tradition of adapting classic TV series into movies, we have CHiPs directed, produced and starring Dax Shepherd. The movie essentially takes the idea of the TV series but turns it into the R-rated comedy that seems to be standard studio fare these days. Thankfully composer Fil Eisler tried to stay away from the studio rock sound that has defined many action-comedy scores lately.

While you may expect the score here to be the standard rock-based R-rated action-comedy sound, it really does try to stay away from it as much as it can. Fil has attempted to give CHiPs a modern feel with some old soul. The music stylings are more along funk and soul than rock. The action set pieces add some orchestral flair but still keep everything in the same world. Some themes are established early for our protagonists and antagonists so you’ll never feel lost during the narrative. And of course Fil pays homage with some reference to the original CHiPs theme. In the end this is a solid and fun ride from a film that you wouldn’t expect any flair or character from. The music definitely sets an established tone and style, and the whole journey is well structured. Nothing terribly awe-inspiring, but the music serves its purpose here. ChiPs is a lot of fun even if you didn't find the movie to be a slam dunk.

Fil Eisler had a lot of fun letting lose on this score. The funk and soul sounds of the score do a great job of giving everything a fun vibe while the action scenes are taken a bit more seriously in tone. It all works very well in the end even though the film and music are void of anything groundbreaking. This is just a solid score that works on the surface level and delivers on the fun factor.

Sherlock: Series 4 by David Arnold & Michael Price (Review)

posted Apr 19, 2017, 7:15 AM by Leo Mayr   [ updated Apr 21, 2017, 12:46 PM by Kaya Savas ]


Sherlock
returns for a fourth season, and with it, composers David Arnold and Michael Price. After two strong seasons, the series has slowly shifted the focus more and more towards character driven stories, as opposed to the traditional mystery solving you'd expect from a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, leading to a couple of rather disappointing episodes. The fourth season sees an at least partly return to form, both in the episodes and the music.

By now, the show's musical identity has been well established, so there's not a whole lot in the fourth season that'll surprise you. The main theme has remained intact, as has the instrumentation and style, with the score still faintly echoing Hans Zimmer's work on the Guy Ritchie adaptations. With the shift towards stories centered around the main characters, the score was able to focus more on the emotional side of things. While there are no groundbreaking moments of emotional storytelling, the duo of composers has been able to create a lot of engaging music. The occasional murder mysteries bring out a darker, suspenseful side of the score, and while there's not a lot of music that'll stick in your head after watching an episode, the score is executed flawlessly, with stunning moments of tension and beautiful emotional pieces, as well as a few bursts of intense action. There are a few electronic textures hidden throughout the score, but by far not as noticeably as in the third season. 

Sherlock: Series 4 sees a return to form for composers David Arnold and Michael Price. The score features a lot of wonderful moments, even though you probably won't notice or remember a lot of them while watching the episodes. After a weak third season, the duo of composers deliver an engaging score that more than makes up for the mistakes of the past.

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