Score Reviews‎ > ‎

Pan by John Powell (Review)

posted Oct 11, 2015, 10:04 PM by Kaya Savas

Could it be? Is it true? Is this a John Powell score… to a live-action film?! (GASP). Yes, yes it is. Here we have the long-awaited return to live-action from John Powell whose last live-action film was Knight & Day back in 2010. If you want to hear his reasons for avoiding live-action films be sure to check out our exclusive “All Access” interview with him (wink wink). So what do we have here with Pan? Well, we get a dose of controversy firstly as John was actually a replacement composer after Warner Bros. deemed Dario Marianelli’s score to be a bad fit. The kicker is that Dario and director Joe Wright have a pretty good track record: Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist and Anna Karenina. So for the studio to step in and say things weren’t working was pretty cocky. And I guess pretty wrong (currently Pan is 23% at Rotten Tomatoes). But anyway, what did John Powell end up doing? Well, he gave us one hell of a fun ride that is unapologetically adventurous and goes full-throttle.

On the outside Pan is pure John Powell goodness. It has his trademark sound all over it, and it definitely reminded me of Paycheck blended with a touch of Bolt and How To Train Your Dragon. Pan’s theme is great because it can be adventurous and bold, yet very delicate if played with that intention. So it definitely carries a duality with it. There is another main motif that pops up throughout the score. That one acts more like a bridge between phrases but carries a hint of magic and character origin behind it. Both are introduced in the first track titled “Overture”. There are two out of place uses of classic rock here with Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and The Ramones’ "Blitzkrieg Bop". Both are sung by the cast and are part of the sonic world of the film Moulin Rouge style. I get the intent of it, but just these strange two instances to kick of act two feel out of place. This of course is not Powell’s fault, but just a strange creative decision. Tracks like “Murmurs Of Love And Death” show us glimpses of maybe what the film and score could have been without the studio re-shaping it. And that is essentially what’s missing, that core heart of the story and characters. On the outside this is a purely joyful swashbuckling adventure with tons of great moments, but inside there seems to be an empty hole. And you can feel that because the music pushes very hard towards the end. The score really kicks it into high gear towards the end of act two and into act 3. It’s almost as if John is trying his damnedest to bring an emotional flourish to the whole thing, and he mostly succeeds. It’s just there still seems to be a disconnect between picture and music.

Pan is a wonderful score from Powell, and his voice shines brightly and loudly here. Everything you’d expect from John in a fantasy adventure is here: Bold theme, chorus, percussion, emotional swells. Imagine pulling up at a John Powell McDonald's drive-thru and ordering everything you love. Damn it's fantastic and tastes amazing, but on the inside there's not much nutritional value. It’s just in the end there seems to be something missing, and you can tell that the score is trying hard to find the heart of the film. Unfortunately due to studio meddling, the heart of the film seems to have been lost and you can definitely feel a disconnect between the picture and the music. John even comically said he felt like the “cheap prostitute” that Joe Wright had to see on the side. John was approached after Dario was fired and did his job, and said it was a true joy working with Joe Wright. He hopes Joe and Dario reunite in the future as well. Powell did a commendable job, and the score is supremely enjoyable with so much to offer even if the film it was accompanying lost its way to the finish line.