In bad and disappointing movies, the fog of terrible scripting, acting and directing can engulf all we see. However the shining bold light of a tremendous and uplifting score can mitigate the maelstrom around us. Therefore we shall champion the works of those that made the cinematic experience bearable through their work. Without further ado, let us begin with The Last Airbender…
The Last Airbender (2010) – James Newton Howard
M Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the excellent Nickleodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbdender is widely and appropriately derided. However there is a diamond in the rough to be found in the form of James Newton Howard’s beautiful score. The noble and elegiac soundtrack is loaded with haunting delicacy as well as exciting, almost pompous, militaristic anthems. The definitive track ‘Flow Like Water’ supplies the film with a sorely lacking identity through its grand use of the string section. Having collaborated with Shyamalan since The Sixth Sense, Howard has consistently contributed phenomenal scores to his work as seen in After Earth and Lady in the Water, whilst the director’s quality has spiraled out of control…
Hanna (2011) – The Chemical Brothers
The Chemical Brothers’ soundtrack debut delivered thundering maniacal beats mingled with surprisingly delicate notes. The richly atmospheric soundtrack added some necessary flair to the latter half of the film; ‘Container Park’ is able to standalone as pumping, attention grabbing number. As well as this there is a swaggering confidence backed by fantastic percussion and piano throughout. This impressive electro balance injected the film with much needed adrenaline and provided excellent enticement for the Brothers’ future works.
Van Helsing (2004) – Alan Silvestri
If nothing else, there is a level of camp fun to be had with Van Helsing. The film has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek throughout while Alan Silvestri’s pumping, swashbuckling score cemented the action adventure nature of the film. It’s a gorgeous old fashioned thundering score with full orchestra and choir upping the ante and drama throughout. ‘Journey to Transylvania’ is the perfect example; subtlety and softness is thrown off the tracks to excite the audience parallel to the overwhelming silliness of screen.
Alien: Resurrection (1997) – John Frizzell
Despite a Joss Whedon script, Alien: Resurrection has few salvageable moments having suffered at the hands of studio squabbling and interference. Nonetheless John Frizzell manages to infuse some fascinating themes of eroticism, threat and romance into the mismatched and unclear narrative. Through the use of rub rods and a gong, the unique score instills a deep, dark core making it one of the few elements of the film that avoids recycling the franchise’s greatest hits.
Tron: Legacy (2010) – Daft Punk
Tron: Legacy is a harmless sequel to the original classic with Jeff Bridges’ CGI horror replicant the only casualty. However in all honesty the film’s quality would be increased ten-fold if all the scripted audio were removed and we were left with the impressive visuals and the thumping dance tracks of Daft Punk. While not surpassing their back catalogue, the atmospheric and futuristic sound elevates the entire project, from the adrenaline pumping thrills of ‘Derezzed’ and ‘Fall’ to the ethereal pondering of ‘Solar Sailor’.
Pirates at the Carribean: At World’s End (2007) – Hans Zimmer
Clocking in at almost three hours, At World’s End is a difficult watch for even the most ardent Jack Sparrow fan. Luckily Hans Zimmer is on hand to, literally, power us through the drudgery. The soundtrack is pure power with Zimmer delivering constantly powerful anthem-like orchestral numbers to cut through the bloated ugliness of the film. Deploying the iconic Pirates motif to full effect, there’s plenty more to savor with impressive thematic depth and swashbuckling confidence evident throughout. If only this level of effort had been applied to the film itself…
Angels and Demons (2009) – Hans Zimmer
If Pirates exhibited Zimmer in full swashbuckling mode, this is Zimmer at his brashest. As with Pirates, the film itself is turgid and pretty dull yet Zimmer and his orchestra infuses the ‘action’ with some much needed drama and character. The bombastic violins and choral arrangements expand into darker territories than The Da Vinci Code. There are several standout tracks here, the slow and tender ‘Election by Adoration’ providing some necessary respite, whilst ‘503’s powerful organ sections manage to emotionally engage a narcoleptic audience.
The Wolfman (2010) – Danny Elfman
The Wolfman‘s production was nightmarish from beginning to end… Danny Elfman’s score being no exception. With at least 5 composers purported to be involved, it’s a marvel that the final score is as phenomenal as it is. Elfman (and co.?) achieves an unrelenting and tremendous cacophony of intrigue, suspense and threat, with a distinctive volatile Victorian temperament. The employment of weighty cellos, brass counterpoints and bass ostinatos create a deep, dark, melodic mercurial core. The pinnacle track of the score is the ensemble number ‘Wolf Suite No. 1’, a sumptuous treat full of suspense and drama whose power elevated the film and played a leading role in the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy trailer.
Twilight: New Moon (2009) – Alexandre Desplat
It’s easy to mock the Twilight franchise but irrelevant of your views on the series as a whole, New Moon is the worst film. Nevertheless the shining light within the franchise is their selections of music, in terms of both soundtrack and score. In New Moon Alexandre Desplat’s refusal to adhere to the soft beginnings established by Carter Burwell in the first movie, resulted in an intellectual and romantic score with unexpected warmth and gravitas. Shunning the series’ formulaic romantic formula, Desplat’s work calls upon the elegance and triumph of John Williams, conveying a genuine sense of love and emotion. You don’t have to watch the film but you do have to admire the superior score.
Hook (1991) – John Williams
If you want to hear John Williams on form, look no further than Hook. Whilst the film itself suffers from a certain malaise, Williams delivers an all-time classic score full of triumphant adventure, weighty beauty and impressive sincerity. Throughout the overwhelmingly cheerful brass section draws us into the fantasy and yields one of the greatest children’s scores of all time. The film’s main theme does, in fact, shamelessly steal from his work on Home Alone yet there is greater subtlety and playfulness on display here. The triumphant joy of being young – the central motif of the film – is infectious and highlights Williams breathtaking composition once more.