Music in the movies: summer blockbuster score round-up

In this week's Music in the movies, we take a look at a few of the summer season's soundtracks, and which ones are worth picking up...

Having taken a few weeks’ break from my column while I was on paternity leave, I was faced with the extremely difficult task of following up Janey’s fantastic series of articles on John Barry (which should continue next week). To ease myself back in, I thought I’d do a mini-series of my own, and take a look at some of the summer’s key blockbuster scores…

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Hans Zimmer and John Powell

I have to say that Kung Fu Panda wasn’t a film that I was hugely excited about. It was fine, but focused on some easy, crowd-pleasing elements rather the more interesting aspects tucked away in the script. Given my reaction to the first film, and the rather awful advertising campaign advertising the second, I had no intention of seeing Kung Fu Panda 2.

That is, until I heard some fairly positive reviews, and that the score from Zimmer and Powell would at least justify the trip to the cinema. Zimmer’s Rango is likely to feature highly in my favourite scores of the year, and Powell’s score for last year’s How to Train Your Dragon was similarly outstanding.

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The pair worked together on the score for first Kung Fu Panda, which was fine, but nothing more than that. Thankfully, they’ve built on their earlier themes, and delivered a much more cohesive and enjoyable score. It has the eastern influences you might expect, while retaining a western approach to scoring. It’s certainly an improvement on their score for the original, but it’s not a match for either of the composers’ recent solo works, so will remain one for fans of the film only.

Hans Zimmer and John Powell’s score for Kung Fu Panda 2 is available now through Varese Sarabande.

X-Men: First Class – Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman has begun to emerge as a composer of considerable talent, having worked with Hans Zimmer as part of his Remote Control Recordings outfit for some years now. This has enabled Jackman to work alongside Zimmer on some major blockbusters, and gain the necessary experience to be able to compose for a big-budget on his own. Monsters Vs Aliens saw Jackman demonstrate a notable attention to detail, as he worked B-movie influences into what could otherwise have been a fairly standard action score.

For X-Man: First Class, Jackman produces something rather special, which is hugely impressive given the time constraints on the production. First class really is an apt description, as the piece as a whole is perfectly judged, and delivers on all fronts, providing ominous, moody passages alongside exhilarating action pieces. Not only is it the best score in the X-Men film series, it’s up there with the best action scores of the year.

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Henry Jackman’s score for X-Men: First Class is available now through Sony Classical.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Alexandre Desplat

Having composed an incredibly solid score for the first part of The Deathly Hallows, Alexandre Desplat returned for Part 2, despite some desire from fans for more John Williams. In fairness, though, Desplat is the composer who has come closest to matching Williams’ contribution to the series, and for the sake of continuity, it would make little sense for him to be replaced for the series’ grand finale.

It’s a shame, then, that in many ways, the score fails to live up to expectations, and ultimately fails to match the quality of the score for the previous instalment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very fine effort, and the musical legacy this series leaves behind is one of the most consistent of a franchise of this nature, but there will always be a sense of what could have been.

Just how good could this have been had Williams composed the series in full? And how good could this score have been had Desplat worked to his full potential, and captured the emotion, grandiosity and drama that we all know that he’s capable of?

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Alexandre Desplat’s score for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is available now through Sony Music.

Green Lantern – James Newton Howard

Like the film itself, the score had promise, but ultimately failed to deliver the goods. Howard is a hugely talented composer with some genuine great works in his back catalogue, so it’s always great to see his name attached to big releases such as this. It’s all the more disappointing, then, that it did little more than provide some fairly forgettable background noise to an equally forgettable film.

The problem, for me, is that it lacks a key piece to tie everything together, a motif that can be called on complement the narrative. The use of leitmotifs is commonplace in films such as this, so perhaps it was a deliberate choice to avoid that particular technique. If it was, I’m not entirely convinced it was the right one.

James Newton Howard’s score for Green Lantern is available now through Sony.

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Cars 2 – Michael Giacchino

Giacchino has done some great work with Pixar, particularly his score for Up, with Married Life being one of the finest pieces of recent years. So then, on to Cars 2, which sees him taking over from another Pixar favourite, Randy Newman. Whereas Newman’s score for Cars captured a sense of Americana, which was entirely appropriate for its subject matter; Giacchino, meanwhile, has created a score with a much more international feel which, again, is entirely appropriate for the sequel’s globe-trotting plot.

Giacchino’s pieces reflect the settings depicted perfectly well, though lack the level of personality and emotion experienced in his previous works for the studio. This is understandable, given that Cars and its sequel lack the emotional sophistication that normally makes Pixar films so great. Cars 2 isn’t the best piece of work from the composer by any stretch, and as such, is one for completists only.

Michael Giacchino’s score for Cars 2 is available now through Disney.

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