What are the Ten Best Film Scores released this year?
AVForums gives you its top ten movie scores released in 2012
There can be no denying that 2012 has been an incredible year for all the trappings of Tinseltown, with some amazing new movies arriving at the flicks, and a nigh-on unstoppable procession of great releases both of recent hits and gloriously restored classics on Blu-ray.And this veritable feast of creativity has extended towards score-fans too, with a whole slew of tremendous soundtracks finding their way to disc and download. So here are my Top Ten Score-releases of The Year 2012. It is a blend of the old and the much more recent, and it is in no particular order.
King Kong (1976 version) - FSM
John Barry’s King Kong has long been cherished by fans and aficionados alike. The sumptuous melancholy style that crept into his Bond themes, starting with OHMSS and gracing things like Moonraker and Octopussy, also progressed through a variety of genres, with astonishing work for the barnacled thriller of The Deep, the SF adventures of Starcrash and The Black Hole and the Western re-evaluation of Dances With Wolves assuming this unique vein of lushly doomed romance. Even the explosive Stallone/Sharon Stone vehicle, The Specialist, was awarded the doomed, sentimental qualities of this tragedian composer. But such a distinctive voice was surely exemplified with his passionate, exciting and profoundly moving music for John Guillermin’s loved-and-hated 1976 remake of the iconic Great Ape’s tragic tale for Dino De Laurentiis.
Originally released on vinyl with a truncated arrangement of cues, and then released a couple of times on CD in a similar fashion over the years, Barry’s heart-rending score now, at long last, receives its definitive unveiling. FSM, who had previously released the shortened album, now provide us with a luxurious 2-Disc platter which comprises the complete score (minus the sound-effects that embellished prior incarnations), along with some unused elements, on one disc, and the familiar album, albeit with a generous selection of never-before-heard alternate cues and variations, on the other.
For many, me included, this is a dream come true, and another Holy Grail to cross off the list. The audio quality is utterly superb and a definite upgrade over all that has gone before, and the extra tracks give yet more character, beauty and aching pathos to a score that was always envisioned as being both spellbinding and heart-breaking. Standout cues abound, but my own personal favourites are Night Wall Parts 1 & 2 in which Jessica Lange’s Dwan is sacrificed to the King of Skull Island amidst a primal, frenzied ritual; the sweet, incandescent beauty of Waterfall, with its echoing piano and plaintiff star-crossed lament, in which Kong bathes his blonde plaything; and Chase/Trap which provides an incredibly exhilarating and pulse-pounding tribal pursuit as Jeff Bridges rescues the girl and makes it back to the Wall with Kong thundering after them and bellowing in furry fury. Possibly my most cherished release this year, Barry’s King Kong is outstanding in every way.
The Dark Knight Rises - Sony Classical
Comic-book heroes were all the rage this year. The Avengers finally assembled to the accompaniment of a blistering score from Alan Silvestri, and the Big Apple’s favourite webslinger was reborn in The Amazing Spider-man, which was blessed with superb music from James Horner. But the most memorable super-soundtrack came from out the genre’s darkest shadows. Thus, after two barnstorming depictions of Christopher Nolan’s Batman tackling the crime-sodden evil of Gotham City, Hans Zimmer returned for the final act of the gritty and psychological trilogy of urban vigilantism and the damage that its escalation causes, with The Dark Knight Rises. No longer collaborating with the softer, more lyrical essence of James Newton Howard on the music, Zimmer was now much more unrestrained and relentless in his approach. As such, he delivered the most bombastic and driving roller-coaster score of the series.
Familiar themes from the first two films return, colliding with the sinuously delicate yet dark new motif for Anne Hathaway’s slinky Cat Woman and the irresistibly rage-hard and devoutly primal beat and mob-chanting for Tom Hardy’s Bat-breaking beast, Bane. Action cues jostle and charge all over the show, but the emphasis is on finality and personal sacrifice, the score climaxing with some of the most noble, euphoric and tear-inducing material that Zimmer has ever created. But it remains Bane’s ferociously punishing clarion-call, as heard in Gotham’s Reckoning, that totally embodies this outing’s go-for-broke nature and sense of extreme physicality.
Fans will already know that several versions of this score exist. With extra tracks appearing in a variety of downloadable editions, it is both irritating and rewarding having to root them all out to create to the fullest possible compilation. It isn’t the best way to market the score to any film, let alone one as hugely popular as Christian Bale’s last swirl of the cape, but this remains one of the most potent and thunderous soundtracks of the year.
Wolfen The Unused Score - Intrada
I have waxed lyrical over Michael Wadleigh’s splendid lupine 1981 chiller, Wolfen, many times for AVForums, and especially how gorgeous, haunting and downright frightening James Horner’s score turned out to be. Ominous, dark and sombre yet shot through with an emotional resonance and lyrical pathos that captured both the plight of the scapegoat Native Indians and the titular pack of creatures that have been preying on the derelicts of an uncaring society, this was a horror score from an up-and-coming maestro who would go on to win Oscars and become one of the most sought-after and prolific of screen composers.
But the real treat this year was the release of the original score that had been composed for the film and then rejected … and that came from Craig Safan. Icy and dark, disturbing and insidious, Safan’s music is experimental and bleak, full of torment and terror. He, too, suffused his music with a reflective treatise for the Native Indian theme of the story, but he ladled on the glacial suspense with wicked élan. It is fascinating to hear both the similarities and the differences between the two scores. Although there is no main theme, and no recognisable connective thread – something that Horner specialised in - Safan delves deep into a wounded world of angular tones, queasy phrases and gleaming metallic percussion. He creates a scratchy and disturbing environment that sounds minimal, yet incorporates a large orchestra. His endeavours are unusual and unsettling, yet highly engrossing.
Rosemary’s Baby – La La Land Records
Back in 1969, the Summer of Love was turning into something else – an entire generation of distrust, resentment and anger. Vietnam, and a hatred for a corrupt and lying government, gave rise to far more volatile and dangerous counter-culture trends than Flower Power. Some found their solution in Diabolism and the Occult, and with Ira Levin’s best-selling novel about the Devil impregnating a young New York wife, who is then coveted by a brownstone brimming with his disciples, including her own husband, a new horror sub-genre was born.
The filmed version of Rosemary’s Baby came courtesy of the controversial genius Roman Polanski, making a star and a fashion-icon out of the pixie-like Mia Farrow, and paving the way for such hellish milestones as The Exorcist and The Omen. He turned to his friend Christopher Komeda to create the bizarre musical world that poor Rosemary encountered in the satanic trap of the apartment block, and this led to a dazzling construction of esoteric lullabies and demonic fury.
La-La Land’s release of the score delivers this persuasively evil milieu with lyrical clarity and superb dynamics, ensuring that the experience is wildly chilling and damningly captivating. Turning to the dark side has never been breathtakingly fiendish or so intoxicating. The devilish stuff is soul-numbing, but kudos must go to the deliriously woozy cues depicting Rosemary falling into the foul clutches of a horny Devil, Komeda perfectly finding a voice for the desires of the Pit. There is beauty, horror and elegance at play here.*The Devil is very charming and manipulative. Komeda translates for him with uncanny ease.
Dredd – Fontana Distribution
The long-awaited and faithful live-action portrayal of 2000 AD’s unforgiving post-apocalyptic lawman Judge Dredd reached the screens in a blistering salvo of high-velocity bloodshed and hyper-kinetic 3D action in Pete Travis’ awesome Dredd.To go alongside this future-shock blitzkrieg assault on the senses, Paul Leonard-Morgan unleashed a pulsating, industrial-grind-cum-techno-ram-raid of a score that drove relentlessly through a ballistic storm-cloud of adrenalised chaos like a renegade Transformer on super-steroids. With furiously catchy electronic rhythms that paid homage to the synth noodlings of John Carpenter, he also heightened the senses with blissfully euphoric trance-tracks denoting the deadly beauty of the film’s society-blighting drug, Slo-Mo.
This combination of the relentless rush of pulverising musical violence, replete with thrashing electric guitars, smothering bass, and lush mindwarping, soul-caressing hypno-candy makes for one of the most elegantly bludgeoning tapestries of cathartic overkill. Fitting the film’s adult style like a studded-glove, this is one drokking cool score that moves like an armour-plated serpent through a mire of blood and napalm. There are plenty of great cues – with The Rise of Ma-Ma, It’s All A Deep End and Judge, Jury and Executioner being amongst the best – but once you have clicked into the groove, the whole score becomes a sizzlingly visceral trip with a mean razor’s edge to tease out a little pain along the way. Grungy, throbbing and blissfully brutal, this is Mega-City One’s anthem of aggression.
Prometheus - Sony Classical
Sir Ridley Scott ventured back into the dark and scary outer reaches of the universe that made his name when he led us on a wild goose chase to meet our makers on a distant planet aboard the good ship Prometheus. The movie split the camp with possibly the greatest margin of defenders and attackers that I have ever encountered, being at once a sublime visual and moody treat, and a terrible slice of hackneyed, poorly executed hokum.
But into the agitated no-man’s-land that developed between those who accepted this flawed vision and those who despised it, came the magnificent score from Marc Streitenfeld who, coming off the back of the elementally haunting and often gruelling score for Joe Carnahan’s death-voyage of The Grey, cemented his as a name to look out for. With the ghostly echo of Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting elegy for the doomed crew of the Nostromo making a cameo appearance, and some exquisite thematic material courtesy of supporting composer Harry Gregson-Williams, who stepped in when Streitenfeld realised that he had possibly bitten off more than he could chew with the project, this score would flow with an ethereal grace between the cosmic wonder of spiritual exploration and the deep, dark fears of the unknown.
There are glorious themes for the beginning of life on our world in A Planet, and for Michael Fassbender’s android, David, locating Earth amidst our alien creators’ giddy 3D star-map provide the beauty and awe of it all, whilst powerful terror-tracks like Hammerpede and Hello Mummy deliver the requisite jolts and suspense as alien creatures kill and mutate their human visitors. The film did not, in my opinion, even come close to meeting its own hype, but the score did its damndest to provide the lax and confused story with as much atmosphere and emotion as possible.
John Carter – Walt Disney Records
Staying with the galactic for a spell, it is also worth doffing the space-helmet to Michael Giacchino for bringing a glorious old school orchestral embellishment to Disney’s ill-fated and ludicrously miss-marketed fantasy-spectacle of John Carter, a long-awaited cinematic adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ proto-action-hero saga. Although I strenuously defended this colourful space-opera from theatrical release to Blu-ray, the masses avoided it like the plague. Critics and forums derided Pixar-ace Andrew Stanton’s first live-action foray, but I found the film to be terrific entertainment … and one of the prime factors in my enjoyment of this genre-establishing yarn of a Civil War hero relocating to Mars (as you do) to become a champion in another conflict was the barnstorming score from fast-action specialist Giacchino.
Full of rich mystery and unearthly splendour in the tradition of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, the score alternates between furious battles and chases, rousing fanfares and rip-roaring escapes and, most acutely, some genuinely moving passages for a man who believed himself lost suddenly awakening to a life with renewed meaning. And there is some sweet romance stirred into the pot, too. Giacchino had shown a more sophisticated and sentimental side with his score for Pixar’s Ratatouille, and this added string to his bow allows John Carter a much more varied and fulsome flavour than his usual kinetic bombast heard in the likes of MI:3 and MI:4 Ghost Protocol or the Bond pastiche of The Incredibles. A fabulous and overlooked gem of a score.
Dark Shadows – Sony Classical
Another big fantasy movie that was a critical and commercial misfire is Tim Burton’s massively condensed adaption of US television’s wacky horror soap, Dark Shadows. The gothic, quirky wunderkind didn’t seem to know quite what sort of film he was making, with the result being something of a stew of ideas and themes that veered from outright vampirical farce to snarling slaughterfest, which even the cult appeal of perpetual muse, Johnny Depp, failed to ignite. But his regular composing buddy of Danny Elfman, who had surprisingly stumbled with The Wolfman, rose to the challenge with a crazy, funny, demented, mournful, shadow-draped musical tour of a bizarre roster of infernal characters that just can’t seem to get along.
His trademark swooning choir and ethereal melodies luxuriate in the warmly melancholic darkness he is able to conjure, becoming a delightful, large-scale epic of revenge, obsession and undead love. He builds a dark fantasy realm that grows out of his brooding Batman wallow and takes supernatural succour from his giddy and relentless Sleepy Hollow. For a film that is, in parts, scary, funny and freakish, he folds his gothique vernacular around a gorgeous central theme of twisted, tragic love, sweetly tainted by the perverse agonies of cursed flesh. Of particular note is his homage to the funky main theme of the original TV show, with its wickedly rising-and-falling electronic, Theremin-like warble. Utterly insane, but absolutely gorgeous, the score, as a whole, is immensely satisfying.
When A Stranger Calls – Kritzerland
One of the most spine-chilling and suspenseful maniac-in-the-house flicks arrived without ceremony and sans much recognition back in 1979 with Fred Walton at the helm. Taking the premise of the beleaguered and terrorised babysitter, made so potent and seminal by John Carpenter in the classic Halloween, this expanded TV movie went under the radar of many critics, yet caused quite a stir with all those who managed to catch it. Word of mouth ensured that it gained some justified notoriety and a fine slice of quiet cultdom. A lousy sequel and an even worse remake eventually followed, but the original remains a masterclass in wire-taut dread and simmering, slow-burn fear.
With only his second score, Dana Kaproff pulls out all the stops in creating a sense of innate and unforgiving paranoia and pure, unadulterated white-knuckle severity. Cold and devilish strings, edgy, grating bass and prepared piano form a musical wall of dark suspicion and cruel animosity, Kaproff tightening the thumbscrews with almost malicious glee, and simply never letting-up. Strange metal percussion lends a weirdly exotic stance to some moments of chilling suspense, whilst the immediately recognisable and wildly atmospheric thickening push effect that is heard on a couple of occasions was clearly the inspiration for the classic THX logo music. It is definitely no coincidence, folks. An unsung gem of the psycho genre gets a score that truly rattles the nerves. Foreboding, single-minded and uncannily brilliant.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – La-La Land Records
Here is another Holy Grail, Jerry Goldsmith’s absolutely groundbreaking score for Robert Wise’s leviathan production of Star Trek’s first beaming-up onto the big screen. In a year that also saw the composing god release such incredible and game-changing works as Alien and The First Great Train Robbery, his achievement here was nothing short of miraculous. Although the score has existed in various different incarnations over the years, this lavish 3-disc set is, without doubt, the most comprehensive, meticulously arranged and gloriously reproduced.
With enough music here to keep the creator-seeking V’ger satisfied on his next spin around the universe, this is an experience that should not be passed-up, whether you are a Trekkie or not. Goldsmith, who never wrote a score that wasn’t brilliant, is at his most profoundly mesmerising here. Not only do we have one of the most significant and rousing of fanfares, but also a complete musical kaleidoscope of unearthly textures, ominous motifs and soaring, quasi-religious passages that take us on an incredible odyssey that steadily undulates with passion and energy around a huge orchestra and paints the cosmos, with all of its beauty and its danger, all around us.
Lights out, volume up … and just savour the thick, helix-expanding might of Craig Huxley’s iconic Blaster-beam, the rattling, percussive excitement of the Klingon Battle phrase, the weird and wonderful ritualised mystery of Vulcan, the ethereal wonder of the delectable Deltan Ilia and, most evocative of all, the menace, awe and wonder of the journey into the heart of The Cloud; one of the most yearning and mysterious pieces of music ever written. At times swirling, abstract and eerie, at others grandly heroic and brazen, Goldsmith forged a monumentally worthy evolution from Alexander Courage’s famous TV theme, and began what became a scintillating series of successive scores from the likes of James Horner, Leonard Rosenman, Cliff Eidelman and Dennis McCarthy, before falling back into his own hands for the Next Generation clutch of movies. With stacks of alternate tracks, additional music and even the unused early score that Goldsmith wrote, this is about as rich a tunesmith’s treasure trove as you could hope for. An essential release of a landmark score.
All in all, this has been a tremendous year for film-music lovers. That was our top ten. What’s yours?
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