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Doctor Strange by Michael Giacchino (Review)

posted Nov 4, 2016, 4:14 PM by Kaya Savas

Marvel has been chasing Michael Giacchino for some time. He was approached for for the first Captain America film, which eventually went to Silvestri. But even in that score you could tell parts of it were temped with Giacchino’s Medal Of Honor. So it looks like it took Michael a while to warm up to Marvel, and who knows if it was simply that the timing wasn’t right or maybe as an auteur composer he didn’t like Marvel’s practices as a company. All speculation here, but whatever the case might be it looks like Giacchino is all-in with Marvel now. He replaced Brian Tyler’s fanfare on the Marvel logo as well. For Doctor Strange, it seems like it was a perfect film for Michael to enter the Marvel universe as he was really allowed to strangely, be himself.

Marvel films have always produced generically okay scores, with a few great efforts here and there. It’s pretty obvious there’s a formula they mold their composers to. Some composers have thrived in that mold such as Patrick Doyle and Brian Tyler, both doing some great thematic writing. Then you have someone like Henry Jackman who broke the mold and went for a completely off the rails electronic score for Winter Soldier that is still probably the best score for a Marvel film to date. Unfortunately he was reeled back in on Civil War. Thankfully it seems Marvel has let Michael be Michael here. This is a very Giacchino score in the best sense, it still feels a bit restrained however.

What Doctor Strange has going for it is that the music feels unique to this film and the character, which you can’t say so much for the other scores in the MCU except Winter Soldier and Iron Man 1. The theme, like other Marvel themes, isn’t too showy though, which makes sense here. This is not a showy score or a showy movie. There’s some wonderful orchestral structures that are very recognizable Giacchinoisms as I like to call them, and they succeed in adding a bit of an organic flow to the music. In essence, it feels like a human being composed this score and not a patchwork of “THEME”, “quiet character emotions”, “ACTION WITH THEME VARIATION”, “MAKE AUDIENCE FEEL”, “END”. A mix of harpsichord and guitar peppered throughout give Doctor Strange its unique sound identity, and a modern twist on Baroque stylings. The only problem is that the score seems to be capturing the stunning visuals and scene structures with the emotional journey rather absent. There is a great structure and flow, but the music is really accompanying the film’s skeletal structure rather than its heart. That’s not to say there is no emotion in the music, there definitely is. It’s just that it gets drowned out a bit and put on the back burner. The true highlights come in the final act as Giacchino finally unleashes some of that Giacchino goodness on us. Up to that point though, the score is a standard character origins story.

Doctor Strange would have been a very standard score if it weren’t for Michael Giacchino. His unmistakable stylings and unique instrumentation helped elevate Doctor Strange above the generic threshold line. The Baroque touches make the score feel unique and of the film, and it stands apart from the rest of the Marvel catalogue. However the music is definitely more in tune with the visuals and action on screen than it is with the characters and their emotional journey. That’s to be expected from Marvel, and since the film isn’t something as bombastic as Avengers or Iron Man, there was no need for Michael to make a terribly showy score. The final act allowed Giacchino to really unleash some fun, but overall this is a movie and score that is slightly shifted towards style over substance.