by Mike Brennan
2005 saw some landmark events on the silver screen. While some may not have been as fantastic as we had expected, many had much more to offer than the sound of thunder. On the screen, we saw the end of the most popular film series ever and a re-imagining of an old chocolaty classic. We saw the birth of Darth Vader and the beginning of the Dark Knight. Both Dirk Pitt and Jigsaw returned to the screen and the land of Narnia began to thaw.
Yet on the film score level, among fans, there seems to have been a disappointment over the music that accompanied these films when compared to fans' expectations. For Kingdom of Heaven, a score on par with Zimmer's Gladiator was expected. For Batman Begins, something along the lines of Elfman's Batman. Why? For Revenge of the Sith, the anticipated score was probably not humanly possible. Looking beyond these expectations, one will find some amazing music that is perfectly written for its accompanying film as well as some unexpected good scores.
I understand that everyone's musical tastes are different. That having been said, I have chosen ten scores from this past year that I wanted to point out as scores that I feel went beyond what the accompanying film required. Some of these also appear on SoundtrackNet's Top Ten Best Soundtracks of 2005, some do not. Some of these scores I have reviewed on the site, others received critiques from other SoundtrackNet writers.
A unique result of music production, Brian Tyler's original score was "semi-rejected" as it was considered too dark for the demonic images of Hell presented in the film. Klaus Badelt was brought on board not to write a new score, but to tone down or re-orchestrate some of Tyler's cues. The result is an interesting mix of Tyler's furious orchestrations and Badelt's more eerie contributions that feature Martin Tillman on the electric cello. What I like about the final score release is the way the two styles surprisingly fit together and gave the film a needed eerie, otherworldliness in the foreground of the dark, choral and orchestral music that made up the backbone of Tyler's score.
Following in Richard Gibbs' footsteps after the Sci-Fi Channel's miniseries, McCreary continues with the percussive and ethnic underscore to one of the best television series currently on air. The documentary-style cinematography mixed with the minimalist approach to the space battles with primarily solo percussion ensembles, this music is definitely one of the most original scores of the year. One of the best episodes of the season featured the lengthy cue "Battle on the Asteroid" which incorporates bagpipes into the mix with the percussion as well as other flutes and ethnic instruments. Also featured in this episode is a folk-song type theme that is exclusive to the episode. First appearing in "A Good Lighter" in the flute and bagpipe, the theme is reprised with the bagpipe and a full song version in "Wander My Friends". These types of orchestrational oddities make this score, as well as the series, one of the most unique shows on air.
There were mixed reactions to this score. While I think John Williams' thematic work and soundscape for the series was nearly perfect, as the films got darker, I also think it was time for a fresh sound. Doyle used only Williams' main theme and I would have liked to see some of the others, like Voldemort's, get treatments by Doyle. Maybe my favorite themes, for Fawkes and Buckbeak, will appear in later sequels. But back to the score at hand, Doyle did a fine job, especially with appropriate themes for the two visiting schools to Hogwarts, like the pounding Durmstrang chant. Some of the best cues are when Doyle could explore new realms of Harry's world, such as the thrilling "Black Lake" cue. If Williams has left the series for good, I think producers would be smart to give Doyle a chance to further develop what he started here.
This was one of the most surprising scores of the year. A fairly new genre for Mansell, and with many Cussler fans apprehensively anticipating the film, I for one was blown away by his musical portrayal of Dirk Pitt. A bit of a Bond feel mixed with some African elements, Mansell's main action theme is bold and adventurous. The first time it appears in a full statement is after the chase on the river is one of the best cues. All this leads into a long action sequence for the finale that uses the theme numerous times in an adrenaline-pumping lengthy cue. I would love to see another Dirk Pitt novel make it to the screen and have Mansell return as well.
Rabin's patriotic score for this World War II film is the most surprising score of the year, and easily Rabin's best work to date. He had been quiet for the past few years, with only the bombastic National Treasure adding to his repertoire. But The Great Raid was written during this period and the time and effort he put in is clear in the final result. Gone are any semblances of electronics or cliché action music that became commonplace in Rabin's scores. Instead is a rousing main theme surrounded by powerful, but slower, music, which is often performed by solo brass instruments. Even those who disliked Rabin's past work should check out this score. I am greatly looking forward to his next work.
John Williams had a very big year: four major scores and one based on his themes. Of the two genres he worked in this year, I thought Memoirs of a Geisha was the better of the historical dramas. While still undeniably Williams, his use of soloists and Asian instruments gave the score a very different sound for him, even compared to Seven Years in Tibet. But beyond the new style, what is most impressive about the score are the themes, which highlight both the beauty and the subtlety of the Geisha. This is the type of score that reminds us why Williams is a legend - as if we had forgotten.
Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I consider this the best score of 2005. What I find most interesting, since I have followed Harry Gregson-Williams' career since 1996's The Rock, is the way this one film combined elements of many of his composing styles. The magic of a children's adventure film combined with the epic battle scenes and even a modern war scene both sum up the various works in his filmography and shows that he is still moving ahead. What is most interesting about this score are the themes (there are three major ones and a bunch of smaller motifs) that he adapts, varies, and reworks throughout the film. Unlike many films, Narnia has a very clear progression from mystery to epic, winter to summer, child to hero, evil to good, etc., and Gregson-Williams was able to effectively capture this in his music, which ranges from quiet piano and solo performances to an epic scale by the end. Let's just hope they put another of this series onto film.
Of his two sci-fi films in 2005, the last episode of the Star Wars series is easily the best. While most fans were hoping for a rehash of "Duel of the Fates", I honestly think that Williams improved on that idea with "Battle of the Heroes". I don't think "Duel" would have worked so well for the more personal battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. What is interesting about "Battle of the Heroes" is that it comes after a massive development of cues through the film that are spread out on the album, but includes "Anakin's Betrayal", "Anakin vs. Obi-Wan" and "Anakin's Dark Deeds". While more subtle than "Duel of the Fates", this series of cues with the new theme brings a more epic and final feel to the last duel and I find very much appropriate. I think the best adapted theme from the first trilogy into the prequels is the Jedi/Skywalker/Force theme and is used in nearly every style of music from battle scenes to the slower dramatic ones. Williams' style has changed since the late 1970's and percussive and ethnic elements had a larger role in the prequel scores, apparent on the complete release of The Phantom Menace and in the General Grievous cues from Revenge of the Sith. This is appropriate for the prequels, which, especially this last one, visited a much larger range of exotic planets. I consider this score a fitting conclusion to Williams' epic masterpiece.
While I consider Narnia to be a better score, by a little, Kingdom of Heaven places higher in this review for a few reasons. Firstly is the choral presence, which is at the forefront of a large part of the score. For Narnia, the choir was used in the battle scenes as a very important instrument, but for Kingdom of Heaven, Gregson-Williams used it as a primary element of the score throughout the film. The last cue, "Path to Heaven" is just the choir. Secondly is the combination of Christian-sounding choral music with the Arabic-influenced tone representing the two sides of the Crusades; "Ibelin" is a prime example of the latter. While this score was edited drastically and even replaced by other temp music for the theatrical release of the film, this should not take away from the epic masterpiece that Gregson-Williams created. Hopefully his music will take its intended place in the extended cut DVD.
This was one of, if not the most, controversial scores of the year. First of all, this is the first time in decades that two major composers have teamed up to write a score. On the other hand, many fans have criticized the end result because it did not have a heroic theme in the sense of Danny Elfman's classic score for Batman. In fact, some fans have cited the lack of any Batman theme. But there are in fact three themes in the film: the tremoring eighth note "Begins" theme, a Bruce Wayne family/romance theme, and, in fact, a Batman theme. This last one doesn't appear often, as Batman is not a character until later on in the film. I place this score at the top of this list because it, like the film, reinvented the Batman franchise. Batman Begins would not have benefited from an Elfman-esque score. Elfman's sound worked well for Burton's films and the animated series because it took place in an older era. Nolan's film modernized and recreated the character based on the comic books and not other films. Zimmer and Howard's contribution to the film helped flesh out Bruce Wayne's journey into becoming Batman with the moving eighth note theme and also helped give Batman a new identity as, hopefully, this series will continue and the music can grow with the character.