What are the Ten Best Film Scores released 2012 - Part 2

Steve Withers

Reviewer
The second half of AVForum's movie reviewer Chris McEneany's run down of his ten favourite film score releases this year

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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's my top ten. What's yours?
 
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