The Hunger Games (James Newton Howard)

Final Musings: If you expected a bold adventure score, this isn’t your score. But if you’re a fan of James Newton Howard’s atmospheric works like Snow Falling on the Cedars, then you will probably enjoy this. Regardless, this score is definitely worth some repeated listens and careful attention. There is great merit to this work and one can’t help but appreciate the fine amount of thought put into it. It may be flawed, but it is definitely something to appreciate.

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy quickly rose in popularity upon its release. Yet it’s likely that even she didn’t predict the massive financial success that the film would open up with. Having hit box-office records with having the 3rd best opening weekend (preceded by The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) and the biggest opening for a non-sequel, the release of the potential upcoming film adaptations were confirmed. There are probably several factors that lent to the film’s success. And whether it’s the fact that people may be using The Hunger Games as a substitute for the large gap that the Harry Potter franchise left in the film industry, or simply the endless promotion for the production, the studios definitely found a new cash machine to milk. Perhaps its fortune is also in debt to the intriguing premise. The Hunger Games tells the tale of a girl named Katniss in a dystopian future where a male and female tribute of adolescence are picked from each district to fight to death in an event to amuse the elitist society of the Capitol of the nation. Despite some of the flaws of the movie and the narrative’s similarities to Battle Royale, it was well liked by both critics and mainstream alike.  A potential franchise of such hype inevitably leaves many endless possibilities in terms of the music. Initially, fans were enthralled to hear about Danny Elfman’s designation as the composer. However, due to schedule conflicts, Elfman would soon be replaced by James Newton Howard; a man who seems to have a talent for producing well crafted replacement scores (namely King Kong) in a short amount of time. Does he do the same this time around? He does, but perhaps not to everyone’s liking.

To really analyze this score, one would have to pay careful attention to its use in film. At times it works remarkably well in the picture while at certain moments, the keen listener might find it to be rather uneven. In fact, many viewers will be surprised by the fact that much of the music heard on film is actually not by James Newton Howard. And while the mention of source music often induces a great deal of skepticism from the film music community (and unbelievable enthusiasm from more mainstream fanboys), this is actually a particular case in which it works well. Highlights include the intriguing vocal melody composed by T-Bone Burnett near the beginning of the film known as Katniss’ Lullaby (a.k.a. Deep in the Meadow Lullaby). And some will probably be disappointed to learn that the Capitol Anthem was actually composed by Arcade Fire, although it was arranged, adapted and utilized as an actual theme by Howard. Oddly enough, James Newton Howard had 80 minutes of music written out for the film, and with only 30-40 minutes actually used in film (the rest being replaced by source music), one can’t help but wonder what Howard had planned. Read the rest of this entry »


John Carter (Michael Giacchino)

Final Musings: With John Carter, we have Giacchino showing off his different stylistic sides in a grand musical adventure. To hear all of the composers’ sounds that have become loved amongst many, evolved in such a way is a true treat for any film score collector. If you don’t like your themes obvious and overly optimistic, then this score might not be for you. But if you’re the kind of person who loves his/her adventure scores orchestrally dynamic, thematically rich and ethnically diverse, then this score will likely be a big wet kiss on the mouth from your own beautiful Martian princess.

Fresh off its publication in 1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars became an instant classic of science fiction literature. The reputable tale tells the story of a veteran of the American Civil War who gets transported to the planet of Mars in the midst of his search for gold. There, he associates himself with the various creatures and attempts to help a Martian princess solve the plight of her people. Despite the strange and perhaps silly nature of the plot, this book is arguably one of the most influential tales of early science fantasy literature. The revolutionary book gave birth to a new generation of science fiction and continues to inspire many iconic films today such as the ever popular Star Wars. The fact that nearly a century has gone by without a proper film adaption owes itself to the bizarre case of production lingo that dates as far back as 1931. Various attempts at a full feature film adaptation were taken on over the course of time (beginning with the notion of an animated film) but the dream was only fully realized with 2012’s John Carter. The film was however met with poor critical reception for it offered very little to audiences. Being a dull film with a plethora of silly moments, John Carter only had its respectable visual effects to lure viewers in. Unfortunately, many of the film’s strongest features offers little appeal if only for the fact that all of it has been done before with a far greater degree of mastery. Yet knowing mainstream audiences, the film will likely make enough cash to warrant a predictable sequel.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature of this film is Michael Giacchino’s long awaited score. The composer’s humble beginnings are very well known to the film score masses. Beginning with his fantastic scores for the successful Medal of Honor video games to full feature blockbuster film such as the recent Super 8 and eventually earning his first Oscar for Up, Giacchino has reached to such heights of popularity that he has been given daring (or rather, ridiculous) titles such as that of the “next John Williams”. 2011 was a surprisingly weak year for Michael Giacchino, but fans will likely be pleased to apprehend that he offers one his best scores with John Carter. Read the rest of this entry »


The Woman in Black (Marco Beltrami)

Final Musings: What we have here is an undeniably effective score in context but something that is incredibly dull and dreary on album. While the score is not atonal in a sense, its noise and drivel is nearly unbearable, leaving very little room for any harmonic appeal. Even the more thematically driven moments are far too oppressive in its nature to truly enjoy. Besides 15 min of some orchestral beauty, this score lacks any harmonic appeal. Hence this is a score to appreciate on film more so than on album.

Susan Hill’s 1983 chilling horror novel has seen its fair share of adaptations. Its radio, television and theatrical adaptations might attest to the reputation the novel had. But the 2011 film would be the first feature film to take on the tale. It would also be the first opportunity for star of the Harry Potter series, Daniel Radcliffe, to branch out in film since the end of his hit franchise. The film was surprisingly well received by critics for its credible handling of an old-fashioned horror tale. It showcases Daniel Radcliffe as a young lawyer and father who has certain visions which would go on to lead him into the usual predictable circumstances. This isn’t a flick with gore, but rather the eerie suspense of the stories of old in the genre.

Signed on to the project was horror master, Marco Beltrami. It was hardly a surprise, considering the composer’s expertise with the genre. Beltrami has often shown off his talent in the genre with melodic and harmonious strengths in his stronger efforts like Mimic. To go on, the composer had quite a year in 2011, especially in terms of horror with the haunting score for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. His first 2012 venture ran along the lines of Beltrami’s lesser works, further proving the composer’s strange hit-and-miss trends in the quality of his work. While the score has a basic foundation of melody and lyricism, it certainly won’t be the most pleasant listening experience for fans eagerly awaiting the harmonious appeal of his 2011 work. Read the rest of this entry »


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