Star Trek: Into Darkness
Submitted by Colin Herzog
Say what you will about the J. J. Abrams Star Trek franchise, but one thing that I think most of us can agree on is that the score by Michael Giacchino is a worthy contribution to the series’ legacy. Its dedication and additions to the franchise’s sound is particularly apparent with the flawed but enjoyable Into Darkness film. The film itself does suffer from some plot conveniences, minor plot holes, and an extremely lackluster villain in Admiral Marcus, and as far as its handling of the Star Trek mythos, it’s proved divisive at best (personally, I enjoyed it, Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on Khan especially).
Still, whether or not others agree with me about Abrams’s take on Khan being faithful or at least not damaging, the soundtrack roots itself in the series. The score’s efforts to walk the line between the adventurous, bold-yet-whimsical spirit of the Star Trek franchise and the more cynical, dramatic tone Abram’s wanted for the film can be seen with the “Theme from Star Trek” being incorporated into multiple other tracks (similar to how Abrams and Giacchino did in the first film) and there being a track sung in Klingon (“The Kronos Wartet”) alongside tracks that incorporate a piano, which is almost unheard of in Star Trek. According to an interview with Giacchino in the Huffington Post, Abrams also wanted a variety of music, especially the London scene with “London Calling,” which was deliberately made to sound dramatically separate from the rest of the film with its quiet, dual pianos and incorporation of strings that frequently arrive to help charge the tension with their escalating ferocity. The somber, calm tone of the pianos is emphasized by having one that would play notes more rapidly while having the more more prominent piano often playing short, deliberately paced segments.
Giacchino does admit that he wanted to make Into Darkness distinct from other Star Trek scores, to the point where he was pleased when people commented that it didn’t sound like music one would typically associate with the franchise–which may be ammunition for Abrams’ detractors, but Giacchino’s score does at least strike a balance between doing its own thing and not overly pandering to the franchise fan base. His surprising use of pianos and desire to make something not tied down by aping the original helps create an identity for the film among the series and, arguably, made its thematic points more capably than the film’s often vague script did.
Man of Steel
Submitted by Joey Chini
Have you ever had to take a shit right after stepping out of the shower? You’re all wet, and you just cleaned yourself, but now that’s ruined because your gastrointestinal system has other plans and poor timing. That terrible feeling can be used to describe Man of Steel. Zack Snyder’s depiction of Clark Kent/Superman is a dull, monotonous crawl through Kal El’s origin and his ascension to protector of Metropolis.
Unfortunately for my eyes, the film is lacking in colour saturation and it feels like looking at a rainbow with six pairs of sunglasses on, you can barely differentiate the dark red from the dark brown, everything is literally too dark. Clark appears to act on impulse, which while true to his character, doesn’t translate well to film, and it comes across as confusing.
Fortunately for my ears, Hans Zimmer was involved in the project, and brought his inspiring crescendo with him. While it’s definitely not Zimmer’s best work, it is unequivocally better than the film. From the low humming strings and subtle female vocals, to the blaring horns and galloping percussion, Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score will make you feel like you too can gain superpowers from the sun. The best part about Zimmer’s work is that you don’t have to listen to Russell Crowe’s or Kevin Costner’s conniving attempts at moulding Clark into a god or a bystander, respectively. Zimmer’s Man of Steel OST is nothing short of epic, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll grab the soundtrack and pass on the movie.
Submitted by Joss Taylor Olson
Say what you will about Twilight—the score and the soundtrack actually make it tolerable bordering on fun to sit through. “Bella’s Lullaby,” as composed by Carter Burwell, beautifully complements the setting and story. Even to those who haven’t seen the film, Burwell’s melancholy strings and piano serve to conjure its cloudy Pacific Northwest afternoons. Alexandre Desplat and Howard Shore were similarly evocative in their work on the series (for New Moon and Eclipse, respectively).
The soundtrack is equally fitted to the mood, perhaps best when The Black Ghosts’ plaintive “Full Moon” accompanies Bella’s sullen move to Forks, or during Collective Soul’s triumphant “Tremble for My Beloved” as Bella and Edward take their relationship public. It reads like a who’s who of alternative rock certain to catch the attention of any teenager developing a taste in music; Paramore, Linkin Park and Mutemath make unsurprising appearances, but their contributions are pitch-perfect matches to the film, particularly Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” during the harmlessly ridiculous vampire baseball scene. Things cap off with Iron and Wine’s honestly adorable “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” at the junior prom, and I’m unafraid to admit that at 14 I was hooked – three times in theaters and more at home.
Twilight’s music is not without its black marks, of course; Robert Pattinson contributes a couple of songs and gets points for trying, but his affected Southern-rock voice doesn’t grab your attention without the film to back it up. “Let Me Sign” fits well with the action, but it isn’t something you’d listen to in full. By extension, neither is the soundtrack, but when it has its hits it knocks them out of the park.
Josie and the Pussycats
Submitted by Andrew Ferell
Josie and the Pussycats have had quite a peculiar evolution through several decades of pop culture. The fictional all-female group first originated in publications of Archie Comics from the early 1960s to 1980s. Hanna-Barbera went on to adapt the trio into a short-lived 1970s Saturday morning cartoon. There were even pop musicians who made an accompanying album as
a real-life incarnation of the characters. Most notable and relevant is the 2001 film version that gave everything a much-needed millennial makeover. Naturally, it featured a soundtrack that ushered in a new era that is still as prevalent as it was when it first came out.
It’s rather integral to briefly touch upon the film’s updates made to show the inseparable importance of the soundtrack that accompanies it. A first glance at the overall packaging of both may cause some to instantly write this off as chick flick nonsense. However, the film and music are deeply rooted in a satirical spit-take that cleverly skewers shameless music industry practices. Josie and the Pussycats tackles the manipulation of artistic integrity used to lure impressionable young fans with subliminal messages meant to make slaves of the consumer culture. Those old enough to remember MTV’s TRL teenybopper pandemonium that’s being dissected will appreciate the level of self-awareness and wit within all the social commentary.
Unlike every film on this list, Josie and the Pussycats was ahead of its time. This is why it failed to perform very well at the box office but gained a cult following on DVD. The soundtrack, on the other hand, was a homerun right off the bat. It went certified gold and sold more than 500,000 copies during its initial release. The very smart move to capitalize on the mainstream pop-punk explosion of the early 2000s certainly helped matters. Not to mention, the musical star power that was attached surely made it speak to a much wider audience as a direct result.
Kay Hanley, of former Letters to Cleo fame, lent her spunky pipes to every single Josie and the Pussycats number. Anna Waronker, from That Dog, wrote a couple of highlights such as “You’re A Star” and “I Wish You Well.” John Stephan & J’son Thomas are credited as the brains behind the film’s two hilarious stabs at boy bands in the vocal form of DuJour. There’s also a few key producers like R&B sensation Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and other inclusions from artists in veteran bands such as Counting Crows, Ivy, and The Go-Go’s that round up the work list put in.
The great thing about this soundtrack is it adds a lot of weight to the film. But even if the latter rings deaf for some reason, each track, even the two cheeky covers, is still a blast from the past for connoisseurs of old-school pop-punk. In fact, one could say the majority of infectious jams like “3 Small Words” were influential to the very adolescents of today’s top female lead acts flourishing in its demographic. It’s not a far-fetched concept when there’s so many empowering and cautionary messages present visually and sonically for all things in Josie and the Pussycats.
It’s personally tough to divide up enjoyment for the conjoined representations that exist in each entertainment medium. The soundtrack gets the notch for accessibility but the film isn’t far behind in reliability. Both are special in their own right but for very different aspects when inspected apart. For the sake of splitting hairs, give Josie and the Pussycats a much-deserved viewing and if the music piques an interest then there’s always that to constantly indulge in. After all, the ear candy sing-alongs are as every bit the bread and butter of the focused story.
Romeo and Juliet (2013)
Submitted by Lena Yang
Two households, both alike in dignity. In fair Verona, where a number of filmmakers have laid their scene. The story of Romeo and Juliet is one that has been told in many fashions, from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 classic to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 modern-day version. The latest to tackle the tale is Carlo Carlei whose 2013 release, starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld as the title characters, was met with minimal praise for its lack of passion. However, despite a rather bland presentation, the film was nevertheless able to inspire brilliance from composer Abel Korzeniowski.
For reasons unknown, James Horner’s score was dropped near the end of production, and Abel Korzeniowski, a rising Polish composer who had already gained acclaim for his work on A Single Man and Madonna’s W.E., was hired to produce an entirely new score. Despite a short working time frame, Korzeniowski’s score masterfully conveys the emotions of the famed tragedy more effectively than the film itself.
The score’s love theme—a sweeping strings arrangement first introduced in “Forbidden Love,” later reprised in “A Thousand Times Good Night,” and slowed to a drawn-out cello composition in “Crypt Pt. 2″—conveys the spectrum of emotions that envelops Shakespeare’s tragedy, from the lovers’ exhilarating meeting to their inevitable devastating finale. By contrast, a secondary love theme of a cello and vocal duet layered with piano, first realized in “Wedding Vows” and then “Eternal Love,” complements the more delicate, tender scenes. Aside from the expected romantic accompaniment, Korzeniowski picks up the pace in the first half of the score with several waltz rhythms, while further increasing the intensity in the second half to mirror the darker progression of the story.
From beginning to end, the score—one of 2013’s notable musical achievements—is a testament to the importance of finding the right composer. Thankfully, in spite of the rushed production, Korzeniowski excelled under pressure to deliver an intricate and soaring masterpiece that will sway all romantics.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
Submitted by Pat Fenton
Attack of the Clones…well, it still had a John Williams soundtrack. ‘Nuff said. More did yousa speak? Okeyday. It didn’t matter how bad the unpolished dialogue got or how little direction the film had as a whole; John Williams’ grand, masterful theme still manages to lift the audience above the train wreck that was the rest of the movie. As always it carries us through the action and delivers the tension that the script lacks. It almost makes you forget that during the speeder chase scene on Coruscant, there doesn’t appear to be a traffic cop/droid on the whole planet.
Attack of the Clones rarely hit the mark. It offers so much promise especially after The Phantom Menace: and a Star Wars movie more akin to its forbearer with Clones attacking and the “menace” not so phantom. Too bad that didn’t happen, although, Williams was masterfully able to entwine Luke Skywalker’s theme into the podracing theme and then morph it all into a darker, more imperial song in the scene where Anakin speeds off to find his mother in the Jundland wastes.
Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (to their credit) try hard to force out their unnatural lines of dialogue, but it never achieves the grandeur the soundtrack playing underneath portrays. While the music communicates their tortured souls, what we get is Padmé going along with and seemingly encouraging flirtation, only to act like she had no idea Anakin had feelings for her when he spoke them in front of the fire. You would think this talk of forbidden feelings might have come up when they were trading kissy stories in the flowers. As always Williams carries us through with a score that defies the mediocre script and tells the story fans deserved.
Episode II was supposed to be a dark, emotional journey about the torture our feelings can do to us while setting in motion a war that the movie audience was robbed of. The Clone War itself and the tortured emotional journey of Anakin, Padmé and Obi-Wan were to be set aside to introduce the newest animated children’s cartoon, Clone Wars. Attack of the Clones sees none of the character development fans were expecting of Anakin. He gets married and loses his mother, but both are so badly handled that the film can’t even manage a dark ending. In the ending we did get the highlight was the hearing Across the Stars in full orchestra when Anakin and Padmé are being brought out into the stadium, after that it was pretty much downhill, with 3PO looking for his head, and Anakin going full retard and losing his arm to Dooku.
It doesn’t matter how you feel about the prequels, and whether or not they are good for the saga as a whole. Whether you are constantly defending the prequels or lumping scorn on them, I think we can all agree that Attack of the Clones was a very bad movie with the score as the only redeeming factor.
Submitted by Sam Henry Miller
Your Highness is like an episode of Eastbound and Down meets Pineapple Express that boards the ‘Quality Express’ down, down, and down, right after about the first ten minutes.
Highness is sort of a testament to the futility of the best efforts of great comedians and intelligent actors/actresses under a shit screenplay. Watch as Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Rasmus Hardiker, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux (!), and Charles Dance (!!) are utterly wasted, asphyxiating on poor material, occasionally gulping oxygen at the successfully landed ad-lib. Highness fails so miserably in just about every filmic facet that it’s nothing short of astounding—and not only by means of contrast—that its soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant.
Original scores are written and completed sometime during pre-production; very much like a screenplay, they’re delivered to the hands of others on a wing and a prayer. Well, Steve Jablonsky’s (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Island, Transformers, Gears of War) score for Highness can be best understood as its fantasy script’s “saving throw.”
The OST boasts about four emotional, strings-suffused tracks, as is consistent with almost all of Jablonsky’s work (often causing many to label him a “Zimmer derivative”). Amongst these four tracks is their pinnacle, “Let Us Quest!” a mighty 4.5 minutes of audible adventure. The track takes so many stark turns, peaks, and troughs—that one could claim it a script within itself.
Other tracks are not as bouncy and evocative, but rather soft, lulling, French horn-percussed, choir-carried, harp-melodied becalmers. While Jablonsky has a distinct ‘voice’ throughout all his work (usually in pace and percussion choices), his OST here fascinates—waxing prolific not just by its experimentation with said ‘voice’ compared to other OSTs, but compared to other tracks within the Highness’ OST itself—whilst still maintaining a unified fantasy-generic feel and not sacrificing his artistic idiosyncrasies.
You could watch Your Highness, and if your high-ness is within the Woody Harrelson/Rihanna range, you’ll likely enjoy it. Better yet, grab a slick pair of ear-tech, wind up Jablonsky’s Your Highness OST via YouTube, and get high on that.