Music in the movies: more of the summer’s blockbuster scores

In this week’s Music in the movies, Glen rounds up more of the summer season’s blockbuster scores...

The latest part of our summer score round up features cowboys, aliens, a superhero, apes and a particularly famous barbarian. What more could you want?

Captain America: The First Avenger – Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri may not enjoy the level of success he once did, but he’s still had an impressive output over the past few years, with his work often being overlooked due to the type of films it accompanies. Here, Silvestri comes up with a score that both recalls the film’s 40s era, and his best work, notably his 80s output. Like nearly every aspect of the film itself, Silvestri’s score perfectly captures the WWII feel of the film.

Detractors may point out that it’s not the most original score, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing here. It’s a damn fine superhero action movie score, which uses a full orchestra brilliantly, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s another great score for a Marvel property this year, following Patrick Doyle’s excellent effort for Thor.

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I can’t review the soundtrack without acknowledging the contribution from the great Alan Menken; his song and dance number, Star Spangled Man (co-written with David Zippel) is proof that every movie should contain at least one of his compositions. Honestly, can you think of a movie that wouldn’t be improved by a Menken song? No? Didn’t think so.

Now, for those who haven’t seen the film, the mention of a song and dance number in a superhero movie may recall the horror of Spider-Man 3, but fear not; this is magnificent, and fits into the plot in a very effective way. Anyone who’s a fan of his work won’t be disappointed, and surely it’s an early favourite for the Best Song Oscar.

Alan Silvestri’s score for Captain America: The First Avenger is available now through Disney.

4 stars

Super 8 – Michael Giacchino

The previous summer score round-up featured another Giacchino score, Cars 2, and this time he composes for JJ Abrams’ summer blockbuster, Super 8. Giacchino’s relationship with Abrams has produced wonderful results in the past, so this, plus the fact that the film itself appeared to be a throwback to the 80s films that in many ways defined my childhood, I was very excited indeed about Super 8.

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Given that Abrams has stated that Super 8 is an homage to the works of Spielberg, it makes sense that Giacchino crafts his score in a similar style to Spielberg’s composer of choice, and arguably the most influential composer of recent times, John Williams. Williams effortlessly creates iconic and memorable soundtracks, and specialises in blockbusters, so trying to pay homage or reference him so overtly was always going to be a difficult task. With that in mind, it’s pleasing that Giacchino has produced such a tasteful and effective score, that captures the required mood without seeming derivative.

Some recent blockbusters have been criticised for lacking an identifiable theme, but Giacchino has composed a number of memorable pieces here, including leitmotifs tying everything together, and adding an emotional through line.

Neither the film nor the score are a match for the best of Spielberg and Williams, but Abrams and Giacchino are getting stronger with each collaboration, which bodes well for their future projects.

Michael Giacchino’s score for Super 8 is available now through Varese Sarabande.

4 stars

Conan The Barbarian – Tyler Bates

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Tyler Bates clearly likes a challenge. As pointed out in an article I wrote on him earlier in the year, he has followed in the footsteps of Bernard Hermann, Roy Budd, Goblin and John Carpenter, with his scores accompanying numerous big-budget remakes of late, and now we can add Basil Poledouris to that list, as Bates provides the score to the remake of Conan.

Considering Poledouris’ Conan scores were among the composer’s best, it was always going to be difficult for Bates to come out of this looking good, but as he has a habit of doing, he has turned in a respectable effort that, while it doesn’t surpass the quality of what came before, at least surpasses the film it accompanies.

Don’t get me wrong – I had fun with Conan, but it’s hard to deny that it isn’t a bit of a mess. Fortunately, Bates’ score has a focus and cohesion that the film itself lacks, and if anything, it actually improves the film it accompanies, which is exactly what a good score should do.

It’s a score that’s serious in tone, and has a relentless momentum at times, with great percussion driving the piece. It’s perhaps not a score that works that well away from the film, unless you fancy imagining yourself as Conan hacking and slashing your way through your daily commute, but when accompanying the film, it’s very effective.

Tyler Bates’ score for Conan The Barbarian is available now through Warner Brothers.

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3 stars

Cowboys & Aliens – Harry Gregson Williams

As with Bates’ effort for Conan, this is another score that is superior to the film it accompanies. Cowboys & Aliens is perfectly fine, in a throwaway, popcorn movie kind of way, but I wouldn’t have thought it’s high up on anyone’s film of the year list.

Like Super 8, the Cowboys & Aliens score also seems to pay an overt homage to John Williams, although it’s much less successful than JJ Abrams’ movie. Of course, it’s always nice for a rich orchestral score to accompany a blockbuster, but I’d have liked a little more of the composer’s individual touch here. Sure, it has the electronic and choral elements typical of his earlier work, but overall, the piece fails to emerge from Williams’ shadow.

Harry Gregson Williams’ score for Cowboys & Aliens is available now through Varese Sarabande.

3 stars

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – Patrick Doyle

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Patrick Doyle’s score for Thor is one of my favourites of the year, so I was really pleased to note, while watching Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, that he had produced another outstanding score for another of the year’s finest blockbusters.

Doyle’s typical hallmarks of great strings and choral passages are present, and as with Thor, there are dramatic, Shakespearian elements, which obviously suit his talents well, given his extensive work with Branagh.

The score perfectly complements the action, as it draws you into the drama and delivers a number of emotional pay-offs. Some composers treat blockbuster scores as minor works, but it’s the sign of a great composer that Doyle tackles all his work with a similar level of attention to detail, creating a layered and sophisticated score in the process.

This is much more than another effort from the Hans Zimmer School of composing. It has a heart that’s often lacking in blockbuster scores, and as such, is well worth your time and your money.

Patrick Doyle’s score for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is available now through Varese Sarabande.

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