Stardust, Matthew Vaughn's spirited romp through author Neil Gaiman's fantastical faerie-land of Stormhold, is a thoroughly enjoyable and flamboyant movie on its own, but with a powerful, moving and fanfare-rife score from Ilan Eshkeri backing it up, it becomes a much more satisfying and exciting experience. And, divorced from the film, Eshkeri's colourful and energetic music makes for a very rewarding album in its own right. Having worked with Vaughn before on the superb Layer Cake, adding tension and drama with distinctively haunting and recurring cues, the composer now lets rip with the vigour of a full orchestra and a rich and varied texture of rousing pomp, cheeky mysticism, lilting romance and frantic action. I had commented in the HD review for the film that it is all-too easy for critics to make comparisons between one film and another and often to the undeserving detriment of the primary subject, but with Eshkeri's score such an approach is absolutely necessary, for he certainly riffs on a vast array of previous genre efforts in the process of creating his own exquisite music. But this is no bad thing at all when the results are as fine as this.
There is no mistaking the influence of Howard Shore's seminal Lord Of The Rings compositions here, with early cues - Prologue (Through The Wall), Snowdrop and, especially, Tristan - evoking the playful innocence of The Shire and the Hobbits who dwell there. Yet the style is perfectly in-keeping with the tone of the film and sounds just fine as a wondrous and magical introduction to the score as a whole. At first subtle and enchanting, the music soon gives way to slightly off-beat comedic licks, informing us of the innate likeability of the leading man, the world from which he comes and the dangerous yet boisterous one into which he will venture. Track 1 even throws in a little exotic flavour reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's world music penchant. Yet, as gentle and as intriguing as these early cues are, Eshkeri takes them by the scruff of the neck and segues them into the excellent standout piece that is Track 4 - Shooting Star - the music that heralds Claire Danes' star Yvaine falling from the sky and crashing to earth with a resounding bump and crater to match. Exciting, awe-inspiring and deeply heartfelt, Shooting Star brings in strings and a heavenly choir to serenade Yvaine, and the theme for Stardust eventually takes over with a triumphant call from the horns and a resounding percussive undercurrent that delivers a truly grandiose tour de force. A superb track that sound righteously epic, folks.
Low strings and a bassoon mark the arrival of the Three Witches in Track 5, supplying oodles of menace and slow-burn, twisting mysterioso. Pfeiffer's primary witch, Lamia, is treated to several more cues that build impressively upon her character and presence, layering-in dark motivations and insane creativity with the renditions of Creating The Inn and, particularly the follow-on, Lamia's Inn which incorporates a strong section that is almost note for note the Vampire Hunters cue from Wojciech Kilar's score for Bram Stoker's Dracula. This relentless and insistent beat becomes a real high point when it makes a final stage chord change and tempo shift. Once again, Lamia and the witches' theme play out in various incarnations throughout tracks 16, 17 and 18 (Track 16 particularly with its pounding drums beating out against and then defeating the Stardust theme with a barrage of demented energy), before meeting their match in the triumphant The Star Shines, with its hints of Alan Silvestri near the start and then a full-on burst of Yvaine's transcendent and victorious theme swirls all away to end on a few soft, tinkling piano notes.
Another standout cue arrives in the all-too-brief, but tremendously exciting and propulsive Track 7 - Septimus - significantly upping the action ante with its signature theme for Mark Strong's devious prince as he rides out across the windswept plains of Stormhold. More fantastical fanfares can be found when the album reaches the music surrounding Robert De Niro's Cap'n Shakespeare and his sky ship. Track 12 is the happy, ebullient charge that every self-respecting fantasy needs to counterbalance the ever-present dark doings elsewhere and, although only brief, the cue is a joyous antidote to the ominous tones of the witches. Track 13 then brings back Tristan's theme as it swirls and caresses with the more tender harmony of Yvaine's.
One of the best and most affecting tracks is The Mouse, which was actually co-composed with Matthew Vaughn. This cue delightfully underscores the scene when Yvaine confesses her true love for Tristan who, she believes, can't understand her as he has been turned into a mouse. After the wild and formidable drive of Septimus and the embracing awe and fate off Shooting Star, this is the track that I replay most of all. Absolutely ravishing and heartbreaking, Eshkeri's plaintive string-led cue could melt even the hardest and iciest of souls. Simple, yearning and achingly poignant. Sheer brilliance and it is also impressive to know that Vaughn was able to bring such lyricism to the scoring table as well.
Eshkeri pitches in a few classical and well-known pieces too. Most accessible and popular of all would be Offenbach's Galop Infernal, or as it is more commonly known, the “Can-Can” which he employs to lend a comical tone to the bizarre Pirate Fight (Track 14). Some would argue that it is simply lazy to splice in such cues as this instead of actually creating something new and original and, ordinarily, I would tend to agree with them. But the cue plays very successfully alongside the film and is a nice, although admittedly light-hearted, interlude on the album. Certainly I know that when I play the CD my son, Luke (only 6) has a field-day with this track, cavorting around the house like a miniature Buster Blood-vessel (remember him?).
Climactic splendour is achieved with the afore-mentioned The Star Shines and then continued with typical resplendent glory and ceremony in Coronation (Track 20), in which everything comes together in one superb and uplifting piece - the type of cue that often signs off an adventure that has seen the bad guys offed, the wrongs righted and the heroes crowned. The thing is, barring the ensemble in The Return Of The King, most actors never seem able to rise to the occasion with the same conviction as the music. And, ironically, Shore's Rings music is recalled again here but, as I said earlier, this is no detriment to Eshkeri's work at all. This sort of thing just goes with the territory and the composer does an intelligent enough job of crafting his own milieu around such familiar melodies and fanfares.
You won't find Take That's song “Rule The World” on this album, although the final Track 21-Epilogue - is actually Eshkeri's own arrangement of their composition. Whilst their track appears on their own album, it seems strange that it is dropped from this release because the song is so damn fitting with the film and its theme. Now, I wouldn't normally say something like that, you understand - so many films have their end credits play out under a ridiculously uncomfortable and inappropriate pop song - but in this case it would have tied-in very nicely with Eshkeri's score as it stands.
Eshkeri's music may not be as immediately iconic, or as adept at telling a story as say Shore's scores for the Rings Trilogy, or as liltingly ethereal and dramatic as John Williams' music for the early Harry Potters, but it is harmonious, sweeping and lush in all the right places and bolsters the film to a point where some people have claimed that it actually overpowers the visuals. I didn't have that problem with it whilst watching the film, but the most emphatic thing that I took away from seeing it for the first time was that I loved the soundtrack and knew that I would have get hold of it.
One of the things that you hope for with a soundtrack score is that it will expand upon the themes you actually heard in the movie. So many composers have their work cut down and altered or placed over scenes that the cue had not been intended for, and a CD release of their original work should rectify this. Polydor's release gives nothing away, however. There is still music in the film that is not present on this disc and some of the cues, although terrific, remain slightly short. But whether or not Eshkeri had designed longer versions I do not know. Certainly, there is more to Septimus's theme (Track 7), which is broken into several snatches throughout the film, but merely reduced to the one charging cue on the CD. However, this is just me nitpicking because I want more of this stuff ... so please do not take this as a negative point regarding the release which is, on the whole, very impressive. Production standards on the disc are high, too. The sound is loud, crisp, clear and full of life. When the bombast arrives it grabs you and drags you with it. When things quieten down, for romance, revelation or mystery, the sound becomes lilting, resonant and beautiful. Overall, Polydor's release and the disc's producers Steve McLaughlin, Paramount's Randy Spendlove and Matthew Vaughn, himself, should be applauded as much as conductor Andy Brown and The London Metropolitan Orchestra.
Full Track Listing is as follows -
1. Prologue (Through The Wall) 3.45
2. Snowdrop 2.46
3. Tristan 0.40
4. Shooting Star 3.26
5. Three Witches 2.42
7. Septimus 1.22
8. Creating The Inn 1.58
9.Lamia's Inn (Part 1 adapted from “The Well Tempered Klavier” by J.S. Bach, Book 1, Prelude 2 in C Minor) 8.04
10. Cap'n Shakespeare 1.27
11. Flying Vessel (Includes an excerpt from “Slavonic Dances, Op.46: No. 6 in D Major, Allegretto Scherzando” by Antonin Dvorak 3.41
12. Cap'n's At The Helm 1.01
13. Tristan and Yvaine 2.05
14. Pirate Fight (Adapted from “Galop Infernal”, Act 2 Scene 2 of “Orphee Aux Enfers” by Jacques Offenbach) 2.03
15. The Mouse (co-composed by Matthew Vaughn) 2.25
16. Lamia's Lair 3.57
17. Lamia's Doll 1.41
18. Zombie Fight 1.08
19. The Star Shines 3.21
20. Coronation 2.32
21. Epilogue (composed by Take That) 0.52
Total Running Time approx 53 minutes
Extras-wise, all we get is a photo-filled booklet that gives thanks to all involved and lists the performers of The London Metropolitan Orchestra.
VerdictIlan Eshkeri's score for Stardust is a lovely piece of work. Haunting, exciting and stuffed-to-the-gills with the type of rousing fantasy fanfare that lovers of the genre crave. I saw the movie the first time and was simply swept away by the music. Not only does it perfectly embody the drama and romance of the story, but it makes for a terrific album as well. With thickly detailed orchestral verve and a keen note of heartfelt emotion coupled with a smartly comedic nod or two, the score whistles by and is a simple joy to hear. The action cues work and the more lyrical, softer and magical cues interweave majestically to produce almost an hour of simple, unequivocal musical bliss. The conjunction of searing strings and blaring horns and percussive aggression make for a thematically and emotionally complete musical saga. In a year of threequal-films that simply rehashed and re-heated their scores - Pirates, Bourne, Shrek (although Spidey 3 actually benefited from Christopher Young taking over from Danny Elfman in many ways) - Eshkeri's fantastic but less-heard soundtrack came out as one of the front-runners. My only caveat ... I wish it could have been longer.
Definitely a worthy addition to any film-score collector's shelf. Fits the film well, and works sublimely as a musical experience on its own. Highly recommended.
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