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Ready Player One by Alan Silvestri

Legendary director Steven Spielberg surely has been very prolific again. Only four months ago, his acclaimed film The Post had been released and recently Ready Player One hit the theaters. As a matter of fact, the latter was actually scheduled for December 2017. However, due to the fact that Star Wars – The Last Jedi had already opened, the premiere of Ready Player One was pushed back a little.

For his most recent project, the brilliant director brought Ernest Cline’s science fiction novel to the big screen. The story revolves around the orphaned teenager Wade Watts (Parzival) who, in order to escape the bleak and desolate reality of the year 2045, finds comfort in virtual reality.

The film itself is not the kind of project you would associate with Steven Spielberg right away. He indeed tried something new and fresh and I must say that it worked quite well. Despite the film’s fast-paced and spectacular action sequences, I did not think that Spielberg was pushing it too far. In many ways, I felt that he did what he had to do in order to realize his vision properly. In the video game world all bets are off and there are basically no boundaries. You dive into a digital world and you are likely to be mesmerized by it. Despite the film’s big sequences, Spielberg still takes his time to tell the story and he nicely portrays the characters. The cast was put together well and I felt that all actors did a convincing job.

The film is filled with nostalgia as there are many references to the 1980s. On top of that, many easter eggs can be found and I must say that, for non-movie buffs, it might be at times hard to really understand every reference that is presented. Steven Spielberg also provides many feel-good moments. The dancing sequence between Parzival (Wade Watts) and Art3mis (Samantha Cook) stood out in particular. It was really fun to watch the characters dancing along to the Bee Gee’s hit Staying Alive. However, my absolute favorite moment of the entire movie was the recreation of The Shining. In this particular sequence, the characters find themselves in the Overlook Hotel. It was a stroke of genius. The setting of The Shining was incorporated stunningly.

“Never change a winning team” seems to be a Spielberg motto as he, with one very notable exception, once again reassembled his regular crew. (Editor Michael Kahn and director of photography Janusz Kamiński). This time, one of his most loyal companions, John Williams, was not available to score the picture and Alan Silvestri, one of Hollywood’s most beloved composers, got the chance to work his magic. Reportedly, he was recommended directly by John Williams.

As far as the score for Ready Player One is concerned, I was never really worried about the outcome. As I mentioned already at some point in the past, Steven Spielberg is one of those directors who is very much aware of what music should do in a film. All of the scores John Williams wrote for his movies are an integral part of the story. He allows the composers to really express themselves musically so his projects receive the music they deserve. No matter how great most of Spielberg’s film are – they would not be the same, if it wasn’t for the music.

In many ways, Ready Player One is classic Alan Silvestri material. It features all of the ingredients so many people love about his music. The score album is a massive two-disc set featuring over eighty minutes of music. I must say that WaterTower once again released a great edition. The album starts off with “The Oasis” –  a superb choir piece that underscores the sequence when Wade Watts takes the audience inside the video game world for the first time.

This project certainly contains many sequences that needed big orchestral and very rhythmic music. In “Why Can’t We Go Backwards”, Alan Silvestri skillfully and brilliantly underscores one of the first huge action sequences. This piece showcases his incredible talent for writing big, exciting and mesmerizing music. As the film includes many references to several classic movies, Alan Silvestri also quotes his own Back To The Future score a couple of times. Long time fans of the composer, will certainly recognize his style right away – brass, woodwinds, strings and basically the entire instrumentation is pure Silvestri. He not only manages to write very exciting music for the action, but he also once again shows his gift for beautiful melodies. Once thing is for sure – when Alan Silvestri delivers, he does so big time. Cues like “Looking For A Truck” are simply masterful. This is not some generic and totally trite action music – this is action scoring at a very high level. For many cues, Silvestri brought out the big guns. His signature brass fanfares combined with his fantastic string writing result in a very rewarding listening experience.

Fans of quality film music really get their money’s worth here. It is one of the finest scores Alan Silvestri has written in years. This time we even get a proper album presentation right away. There are quite a few great scores of his that did not get the release they deserved. During the final ten minutes of the album, you get to hear some of the score’s most important and best material. Alan Silvestri proved once again that he is one of the very best composers around. The primary themes are very catchy and downright hummable. How many times do you walk out of the theater these days humming a theme? How many scores stick with you right away? If you find one, you should grab it right away and cherish every minute of it. Ready Player One is one of my favorite scores of the year so far and it certainly stands as one of the best ones Alan Silvestri has written in his long and very impressive career. Music of this kind is the reason why so many people fell in love with film music in the first place. We certainly have a winner here. Well done, Mr. Silvestri!

Death Wish by Ludwig Göransson

These days, remakes are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. Surely, the film industry has always had a tendency to create a new version of a film which did very well at the box office or that had established a fan base to a certain degree. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But does it make sense? For years, many people have been saying that Hollywood basically ran out of ideas. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that notion. There are still films out there that are very good, entertaining and also profound. From a business point of view, a remake seems not to be as risky as creating something from scratch. You take a concept which worked years ago and you polish and rework it with new effects, different actors and a new director at the helm.

History has shown us there are indeed high profile and well-made remakes. Brian De Palma’s Scarface immediately comes to mind as do Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly. All of these movies are absolutely outstanding and the directors did a fantastic job to realize their vision of the subject matter.

In 1974, director Michael Winner shot the original Death Wish starring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey – an architect who turns into a vigilante after his wife and daughter had been brutally attacked in their own home. As the crime rate had severely increased, he feels that the police can no longer cope with the situation at hand. On top of that, in order to defend himself, the architect decides to deal with criminals himself. Vigilantism has always been a hot potato and many people felt the film glorified self-administered justice.

Forty-four years later, Eli Roth, director of films such as Cabin Fever & Hostel, was in charge of the Death Wish remake. This time, Bruce Willis was cast as the lead role. The basic concept of the film remains the same. Nevertheless, some changes have been made. This time, Paul Kersey has a different profession. He is a respected doctor in Chicago and he seems to lead a happy life until his entire world comes crashing down around him. After having lunch with his family, Paul Kersey hands his car keys to the valet so he can bring his car around. However, he gets hold of the family’s address by taking a picture of the car’s sat nav. That night, when Kersey is being called to the hospital, his family is being brutally attacked by three intruders. His wife, upon having been shot, dies in the hospital and his daughter falls into a coma.

In the 1974 version, Kersey’s family is being followed home by three hoodlums, after they were shopping for groceries. When comparing the two films, I feel that the 1974 version had more atmospheric density. Since Eli Roth shot the 2018 version, I feel as if it were almost unnecessary to mention that his film is much more graphic and at times even gratuitously violent – a scene in which Kersey tortures and kills one of the criminals stands out in particular. In this film, Kersey takes revenge on the people who wrecked his life whereas in Michael Winner’s film, Kersey kills people that threaten him or that try to harm others.

Nevertheless, I should point out that this film did not turn out to be a fast-paced action spectacle. As a matter of fact, the film starts rather slowly and becomes more action oriented and violent as the story progresses.

The score was composed by Ludwig Göransson who previously showcased his talent with the Rocky spin-off Creed and he most recently wrote the well-received score for Black Panther. For the most part, his Death Wish score feels rather unspectacular and uninspiring. It is pretty much what one would expect from a modern action score. There is lots of synth work and droning which we have basically heard many times before – thematic work and musical motifs barely exist. It is not always easy to determine what could have been done instead and maybe there just wasn’t enough “room” for a different approach.

I certainly did not expect many themes or good themes in the first place. In some ways, I even felt the album was too long and cues like “Intruders” certainly don’t add much to the listening experience as the whole track mostly consists of “noise”. However, in “Death Wish End Titles”, which to me stands as the album’s best cue, the composer nicely reprises the material written for Paul Kersey and his daughter. Other than that, the music feels mostly creepy and atonal – barely making it a good stand alone listening experience.

However, despite following a certain formula, the composer at times managed to create a certain atmosphere for the film itself. I simply felt it could have been more elaborate and more precise even for a film of this kind. The pieces which underscore the more emotional aspects of the story are indeed not bad at all – they barely lift the scenes though. Those twenty tracks on the album are certainly not a good representation of Mr. Göransson’s musical talent. You might want to seek out other efforts of his instead.

The bottom line – both film and score offer very little new and innovative material to make them stand out. I guess we could debate whether this remake was a necessity or not. Well, at the end of the day it is a mediocre action thriller with a mostly bland and rather colorless score.

Red Sparrow by James Newton Howard

Director Francis Lawrence and composer James Newton Howard have so far worked together on six movies. In 2007, James Newton Howard had scored I Am Legend starring Will Smith – a film in which most of the very good score written by Mr. Howard was not included. At that time, this decision seemed rather illogical to the fans of the composer and most likely to James himself. However, when looking back, it might have been the right call to have very little music in this particular film. Thankfully, we at least got the score as James Newton Howard had originally written it on CD.

For Water for Elephants, James once more teamed up with the director and wrote a gorgeous score that worked brilliantly with the picture. Two years later, when Gary Ross would not return for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, director Lawrence once again hired James Newton Howard and together they successfully completed the Hunger Games franchise.

It came as no big surprise that, for his next big project, Francis Lawrence would once again leave nothing to chance music-wise and with James Newton Howard in charge certainly nothing should go wrong. The story and setting of Red Sparrow is rather dismal and bleak. Jennifer Lawrence starrs as Dominika Egorova, a well-known Russian ballerina who, due to a terrible on stage accident, is unable to further pursue her dream. As a direct result, in order to be able to make money and to take care of her sick mother, she needs to find an alternative which is then suggested to her by her uncle Ivan who happens to work for the Russian intelligence. Her first assignment would go terribly wrong though. As part of her job, she is asked to seduce a Russian politician, who upon raping her, is being killed by a Russian operative.

This is where the plot thickens – there are to be no witnesses of this incident. In order to save her own life, she needs to proof that she is of value to the Russian Government. Therefore, her uncle sends her to a training facility where she is to be conditioned to become an operative (Sparrow) herself.

The scenes and some events depicted in this film are at times nothing for the squeamish. Every individual who has been sent to this facility is to be turned into a tough, unscrupulous and cold spy. Francis Lawrence certainly shot a film which is intense and also very interesting. I have always been attracted to spy movies and I must say that this is one of the most well-executed ones I have seen in quite some time. Despite some graphic scenes which can be tough to watch, Francis Lawrence never takes it too far though. The presentation of the whole story, the intrigues and all plot twists have been carefully executed. At some point, I felt the film was just a bit too long though. However, at the end, upon the revelation and when everything was said and done, I understood that the entire build-up was a necessity to see the complete picture. Besides the great ensemble, the splendid cinematography and superb editing, composer James Newton Howard made a major contribution the this film.

When the album had been released, I was notified by a friend that there were three tracks in particular which absolutely stood out. Needless to say, I was immediately curious about the result so I went home to get an impression myself.

I can say without exaggerating that those pieces of music, which take up a good third of the entire album, represent some of the finest work of James Newton Howard’s career and that is saying something. The massive and brilliant eleven-minute “Overture” accompanies the entire opening of the film. This is James Newton Howard at his very best. He wrote a classical piece of music which is perfect for the whole ballet sequence. The whole opening was phenomenally crafted to say the least.

The bulk of the score which follows is rather low-key. Sometimes it is barely noticeable, merely a soft layer on top of the images on screen. Sometimes, small sections of the “Overture” reappear and some of Howard’s string work caught my attention. I even felt that some parts of the eighty-minute album did not make it into the film. The music is at times very subtle and it enhances the dramatic parts of the film very well. Just like the images on screen, the score sometimes feels very cold and downright creepy. You also should not expect any big action cues as chase scenes are not depicted in this film. It is all about dialogue and story-telling.

By the time we reach the big climax of the film, composer James Newton Howard once again shows his brilliance. He magnificently underscored the finale. On many levels, this was filmmaking at its very best. I don’t intend to disclose too much of the content but as the film’s finale took place, I surely was on the edge of my seat. James Newton Howard’s composition “Didn’t I Do Well” is a fantastic piece of music which easily ranks among the best cues I have heard in quite a while. It is simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

Shooting a film is all about collaboration and communication. I have come across some statements that James Newton Howard, apart from writing three sensational cues, could have done a much better job for the rest of the score.

Well, how the music is presented in the final film, is not necessarily the choice of the composer. A composer starts writing themes and then he or she presents to material to producer and director. After those cues have been reviewed and put up against the picture, massive changes might occur. Some people of the filmmaking team may find the approach too classical or even too thematic and they ask the composer in charge to make adjustments. The composer may believe this is entirely wrong but at the end of the day, they might have to relinquish control and just give the filmmakers what they want.

Sometimes a composer isn’t given the opportunity to display his true talent because they are asked to go into a completely different direction. I previously mentioned I Am Legend. Most of the great score had not been used for this particular film. If you spend so much time on writing the score which you feel is right for the movie, only to find out that most of the material was rejected, I doubt anyone would find this pleasing – quite to the contrary. You can write the most brilliant score of the year. If the producers and directors don’t like it, you simply have no choice but to adept and come up with different material – no matter how good the score was. In this case you simply have to please the people you are working for.

Sometimes it might also be a good idea to simply check your ego at the door and just try to find a common ground. James Newton Howard is a consummate professional who certainly knows how to handle these situations. James once said: “I will defend my music as strongly and comfortably as appropriate but at a certain point, I relinquish control and realize that this is somebody else’s movie and I am here to enhance their vision”. People who always “blame” the composer on the final result should carefully read this statement again. James wrote three phenomenal pieces of music. (“Overture”, “Didn’t I Do Well”, “End Titles”) The rest of the score, when compared to those masterful cues, may sound “pale” and as a pure listening experience, it may not be what many people had in mind. However, for the film it certainly feels absolutely right. When I listened to the whole album, which contains almost eighty minutes of music, I felt that some cues could have been dropped indeed. At the end of the day, this is just a minor “complaint” on my part. James Newton Howard wrote thirty minutes of absolutely stunning, brilliant and inspiring music. Composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky would have been proud of James Newton Howard, if they could have listened to what he came up with. James Newton Howard once again proved he is an artist of the highest caliber.

The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

The career of composer Alexandre Desplat has been flourishing for years. I first took notice of his music back in 2003 when Girl with a Pearl Earring had been released. Ever since his career has been on a roll. He was catapulted into Hollywood’s A-List rather quickly and he has become one of the industry’s most prominent and sought-after composers.

His style is very pleasant and expressive. His gift for writing beautiful melodies is more than obvious. So far he has been nominated for many awards including several Golden Globes ( he won two Globes so far) and in 2016 he took home the Academy Award for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Award Season is around the corner again and for The Shape of Water, Mr. Desplat has recently one the Golden Globe and his beautiful score has now also, quite logically, been nominated for The Academy Award. On March 4th we will find out who the lucky winner will be.

The Shape of Water is indeed a beautiful and charming score. Once again, Desplat managed to come up with very nice themes that are absolutely enjoyable and downright hummable. “Elisa’s Theme“ is one of the principal themes which is reprised several times throughout the album. Once I had heard this tune, it stuck with me immediately.

As a matter of fact, all themes are really attractive as the opening cue “The Shape of Water” shows right away. This cue has an almost hypnotic quality to it. For the most part, the album offers really expressive and gorgeous music. Only very briefly does the music feel dark and ominous. (“The Creature”)

“Elisa’s Theme“ represents one of the album’s true highlights. Alexandre Desplat wrote a very lyrical and sweet melody for this character. Theme development and application are spot on. Desplat never takes the music too far. It never becomes sappy and he never lays it on too thick. Themes are varied and arranged nicely and the instrumentation was handled very well. (piano, strings, woodwinds, french horns etc.)

As a whole, this album is a winner. Desplat’s score provides quite a few feel-good and heart-warming moments to boot. At times, for instance in the ten-minute piece “The Escape”, the music feels a bit “anti-climactic”. However, the music becomes more vibrant in the second half of this cue.

Will Alexandre Desplat win his second Oscar? This might indeed happen. Yet, at the end of the day, this is only secondary to me. First and foremost, I care about the film and the music. I care about how the score functions inside the film and whether I like the music as it is presented on the album and Alexandre Desplat certainly delivers once again.

The Post by John Williams

The collaboration between director Steven Spielberg & composer John Williams has certainly been one of the most fruitful and inspiring ones in film history. They have been working together for more than four decades. These two phenomenal artists seem to compliment each other so well and of all the films they have worked on together so far, it seems almost impossible to select a favorite film and or score. John Williams has scored all of Mr. Spielberg’s movies with only very few exceptions. Prominent examples are The Color Purple (Quincy Jones), Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman) and the upcoming Ready Player One. (Alan Silvestri)

For his new film The Post, director Spielberg would not only team up with John Williams again (for the 28th time) but he also once more assembled a stellar cast. Steven Spielberg is a director of the highest caliber and I hold him in very high regard. In his new film, he tackles the true story which deals with a team of journalists and their attempt to expose highly sensitive government secrets. A subject matter of this kind seems like perfect Steven Spielberg material. He has always been one of the very best storytellers and needless to say the same goes for John Williams and his musical abilities. The film itself is definitely not the kind of film today’s mainstream audience craves for. For a movie of this kind, the story itself and especially how it is told are the most important aspects and Spielberg once again delivers.

At times, the film feels a bit “dry”. Nonetheless, this is only a small drawback in an otherwise really well-executed movie. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep deliver noteworthy performances and the other cast members also don’t fail to impress. The Post has been nominated for two Oscars – Best Picture and Best Actress in a Leading Role. Those two nominations don’t come as a big surprise as Spielberg’s ability to tell this story and his craftsmanship are beyond reproach and Meryl Streep is one of the finest and most impressive actresses to ever work in this industry. Unfortunately, long-time Spielberg collaborators such as Michael Kahn (editor) and Janusz Kamiński (director of photography) have not been considered for nomination this time. Surprisingly absent from this list is John Williams. This year, the maestro has been nominated for Star Wars instead – a fact which I find a bit surprising. Don’t get me wrong. Williams’ most recent Star Wars score is superb. However, I thought that the Academy would go for The Post.

As The Post deals with a delicate subject matter, John Williams had to reflect this sensitivity musically as well. With a film of this kind, I am sure nobody would expect a hugely spectacular musical approach by the maestro. The great thing about Williams is that he has always been a composer who seems to be able to effortlessly capture a film’s spirit with just a few notes. Many people praise him for his big thematic scores and grand writing for large orchestra. I tend to believe that his smaller and somewhat more low-key scores are just as attractive.

The Post is not likely to be a historic John Williams score. Neither is it likely to be considered a future classic of this extraordinary composer. Yet one thing is for sure. This man still got it. At the age of eighty-six, he is still able to write absolutely fascinating and simply brilliant music. As a matter of fact, of all the scores he has written in his career, I would consider very few efforts “uninteresting” or even “lackluster”. 

The Post, despite having some classic John Williams material and orchestration, feels rather delicate and quiet. It is a well-written score which, in some areas, also echoes previous Williams’ efforts.

In addition to the classic sound of John Williams, the first piece “The Papers” features a very nice electronic rhythm which is something he is not necessarily associated with. Of course he has used electronic elements before, but synths are not a regular “tool” for this brilliant composer.

“The Presses Roll” and so does the music. Williams wrote an interesting cue with nice and expressive string work. This piece accompanies a very important scene in the film’s third act when the decision is made to finally print and publish the story. Throughout this score, Williams varies the tempo skillfully. As always, he knows what he is doing and the music is at times powerful and nonchalant at the same time. Besides being a fantastic composer, Mr. Williams is also a great pianist. Three cues in particular showcase his talent for writing beautiful piano melodies. “The Oak Room, 1971”, “Two Martini Lunch” & “Mother & Daughter” are three gorgeous cues that represent some of the album’s highlights. Ironically, “The Oak Room, 1971” is barely noticeable in the final film and it was more a source cue than score. The album is kept rather short and sweet. It features ten tracks and clocks in at forty minutes.

On top of that, most cues are under three minutes. Only in the final piece, “The Court’s Decision and End Credits” do you get to hear most of Williams’ primary ideas fully fleshed out. This eleven-minute piece nicely sums up the entire score.

Like I said before, this score won’t go down in history as one of his very best. Yet, it is a very good score that simply has that John Williams magic which will most likely satisfy his fans. The score sounds at times delicate, sometimes glorious & also withdrawn. Especially during the final moments of the film, the music picks up the pace. “Setting the Type” is a textbook example of good filmmaking as Williams’ score and Michael Kahn’s editing are in perfect sync again. Steven Spielberg & John Williams have proved countless times that they know how to capture the audience with their brilliant skills. We should consider ourselves very lucky to still be given the chance to experience films of this kind. Both film and score, despite having some “weaknesses”, are definitely worthy of your attention.

James Newton Howard – 3 Decades Of Music For Hollywood

Film music is the kind of music which I consider to be the biggest and most important musical art form. There is no musical genre which has moved me more deeply. It is also fantastic to see that film music, now more than ever, has entered the mainstream world. Quite a few composers have already entertained so many fans around the globe with their fantastic concerts.

Composer James Newton Howard recently finished his first ever European concert tour, covering no less than sixteen cities. There are very few composers that have made a bigger impact on me than James Newton Howard. There is no composer alive that I am more in awe of than this man. He is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the finest artists this industry has ever known. More than eighteen months ago, the tour had been announced. As the tour approached, I was eager to see the final programme. If an artist has written so many brilliant and exciting scores as Mr. Howard, it seems like an almost impossible task to incorporate every essential score. After all, we are talking about three decades of music for Hollywood.

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Let’s take a closer look at this magnificent event. I had the chance to attend the shows in Mannheim (Rosengarten) and Frankfurt (Jahrhunderthalle). James Newton Howard entered the stage to a huge applause. The maestro raised the baton and started the show with a fantastic opener – the “Main Title” of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them which directly transitioned into a really well-arranged suite of Snow White And The Huntsman. Parts of the movie were shown on the big screen during the performance. This suite was phenomenal and one of the biggest highlights of the first act of the show. James has always been great at scoring films of this kind and Snow White And The Huntsman is no exception. The suite started off with the beautiful “Snow White Theme”, followed by a really exciting, fast-paced performance of “Escape From The Tower”. The orchestral and choral performance was spot on and as mentioned above, it was a well-arranged piece of music which also included parts from “Warriors On The Beach” and “Coronation”. James’ detailed action writing certainly gave the orchestra members something they could sink their teeth into. What a fantastic start of the show.

The Hunger Games franchise stands as one of the most popular ones in recent film history. It is extremely well-known all over the world. Even though I am not the biggest fan of those films, the music by James Newton Howard is certainly worth exploring. He wrote some really good and exciting pieces for the first two films. However, the final two movies offer the very best music of the entire franchise. Sadly some very good themes had not been incorporated into the concert programme. Despite the absence of some pieces, the audience got to hear some awesome (action) music. This part included material of cues such as “Katniss”, “Peacekeepers” & “Rebels Attack”. The Hunger Games segment was nicely concluded with “Horn Of Plenty”. Although this theme had not been written by James Newton Howard, it was wonderfully arranged and produced by him for the movies. It was a nice addition to the concert and it worked really well, especially since once again, a brief clip of the movie was shown on the screen which added some extra flavor to the great performance.

Peter Pan is a prominent example of James Newton Howard’s ability to write music for any genre. He wonderfully captured the spirit of the movie and he once more worked his musical magic and orchestra and choir gave a fabulous performance of this outstanding music.

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James Newton Howard has written so much music over the course of his impressive and incredible career that it is really hard to determine his best efforts. One thing is for sure though. His work for director M. Night Shyamalan needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to his career highlights. Signs stands as one of the director’s better movies and James Newton Howard got to write some of his most exciting music of the first decade of the new millennium.

The Howard / Shyamalan segment started with a very well-performed “Main Title” of Signs which then transitioned into “The Hand Of Fate”. The final act of the movie offered absolutely thrilling music. Every time when I hear those pieces, I feel very moved and mesmerized at the very same time.

The Sixth Sense was the first big hit of director M. Night Shyamlan. On top of that, it is also one of his most acclaimed films so far. For the concert, they decided to show some footage of the film and it worked really well with live orchestra as they performed bits of “Suicide Ghost” & “Cole’s Secret”.

Subsequently, we were treated to one of the biggest highlights of the entire night. The Last Airbender was finally on. This has got to be one of James’ best scores ever. Not only was “Flow Like Water” the standout cue of the score but is surely is one of the best pieces he ever wrote. It shows this man’s musical genius. The video montage, which encompassed all the projects James Newton Howard and Mr. Shyamalan have collaborated on so far, was the icing on the cake. This was absolutely mind-blowing and there is no way that anyone will ever by able to deny that this is film music at its very best.

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James Newton Howard conducting the Czech National Symphony Orchestra

If I were to compile a James Newton Howard top-ten-list, Wyatt Earp would definitely be included. The “Main Title” offers thematic excitement and it contains one of his best themes of the 90s. “The Wedding” shows some of his most eloquent and beautiful writing of that period. It was a stunning performance which closed act one of the concert. No, wait – we weren’t quite done yet. The time had come for the first act’s encore. Earlier on, I talked about the Hunger Games. Since Jennifer Lawrence herself could not perform “The Hanging Tree” live, they had been looking for a suitable replacement. Hence, there had been a competition to find a singer for each city the concert was performed in. Everything worked out well. The singing, the build-up to the choir and the orchestral performance certainly were spot-on. The first act came to an end and during the break, the audience got some time to reflect on what they had just witnessed – film music magic at its best.

The second act started off with Disney’s Dinosaur. James himself said that he might not even have considered scoring this picture, had it not been for his children who were very young at that time. Fortunately, he did score the film. The result is absolutely impressive. “Inner Sanctum” was nicely performed first, followed by the fantastic piece “The Egg Travels” which to this day, remains my favorite piece of the entire score.

James then threw in a little “master class”. King Kong was next on the programme. What James pulled off with this score almost equals a miracle. He had to write and record this score in just under five weeks. Many scores need to be written fast. In this case, we are talking about a film with a running time of more than three hours – a fact which makes the final result even more awe-inspiring, as the music is very detailed and complex.

James had picked a scene from the film in which Naomi Watts slowly approached King Kong. He said that scoring a two-minute-scene can indeed feel like two hours when you have to write the music for it. This little “master class” was so important since it showed the audience how essential music is for a film. The scene felt so different without the music. I am well-aware that many people experience film music subconsciously. Nevertheless, nobody should ever underestimate the power and importance of a score. Music can be just as important to a film as any actor. Subsequently, that very same clip was accompanied by the orchestra – a lovely, yet too short and incomplete version of “Central Park” had been performed. This piece was followed by the exciting and at times glorious piece called “Captured”. As a whole, it was a great little suite. However, this entire score is so good and popular that I felt it was simply too short.

If you look at the filmography of James Newton Howard, then you will certainly notice that he has written quite a few scores for romantic comedies. Dave is one of those that I remember fondly. It is a lovely film and the score contains some of his best melodies for this genre. James himself performed this theme live on the piano that night.

Pretty Woman was up next. James stated that up to this point in his career he hadn’t written for a film of this kind. So it certainly became a huge opportunity for him to showcase his skills when it comes to writing for this genre. “He Sleeps” is simply a gorgeous piece of music. Since he has composed music for nine films starring Julia Roberts, a nice montage was put together showing footage of all nine films while the orchestra beautifully performed Pretty Woman. The romantic comedy part was then concluded with the entertaining cue “The Chase” from My Best Friend’s Wedding.

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James Newton Howard playing the piano

The film business never ceases to surprise me and sometimes I wonder why certain films become a huge hit. Sometimes I wonder why great films barely break even at the box office and why they seem to be ignored by the mainstream audience. Scott Hicks’ film Snow Falling On Cedars seems to have vanished rather quickly. It is a very good film which was absolutely beautifully shot. The brilliant score was certainly one of the reasons this film worked so well. James Newton Howard’s dramatic instincts and his gift to write subtle and hauntingly beautiful music were clearly on display here.

James conducted the “Main Title” first – a piece of sheer musical beauty which was followed by “Tarawa”. This is a phenomenal choral piece which still overwhelms me. I bet that there were many people in the audience that were neither familiar with the film nor the score. This is a pity as this is quality film making and textbook film scoring.

Now the time had finally come for The Village. This score’s violin parts could not be any more beautiful and “The Gravel Road” was certainly one of the best pieces of the score. Actually, I wish “The Vote” had been chosen for the concert. Nevertheless, the aforementioned piece is incredibly effective as well. It has a lyrical quality to it that is simply fascinating. It does not surprise me at all that The Village is still considered to be one of the best scores of the composer’s entire career. If you seek expressive and inspiring music, then you need not look any further. It is one of the finest and most beautiful scores of recent film history.

I can imagine that everyone was completely clueless when they bought the programme and came across “Solo Piano – The Limitless Possibilities Of Life”. James started describing his early career and mentioned his collaboration with many fantastic musicians. One of them was Elton John who James started working with in the 1970’s. The concert team also produced a really nice and funny video which accompanied his narration. Back then he had also recorded a solo album which he thought nobody had ever listened to. However, it turned out that Elton John himself had several copies of this very album. This is how Elton John took notice of the composer and as a direct result of that, James’ manager had been notified that Elton John wanted to add a member to his band. The whole point of this story is that you simply never know how your life will turn out and which door might open up for you. If you have a goal and a dream, then you should pursue it by all means and don’t ever be too scared to try out new things or to fail. You never know who might listen to a song or a piece of music that you wrote. No matter which profession you work in, you never know who might take notice of you – the possibilities of life can indeed be limitless.

When this inspiring story was finished, James presented some of his early compositions to us – a stunning and virtuoso piano performance which I am sure left many in the audience speechless. Elton John once said he was in awe of James’ musicianship. I am positive the whole audience felt the very same way that night.

When James’ most popular and best work of the 2000s is discussed, I am sure there is no way to ignore Blood Diamond. This score features some gorgeous choir parts and a beautiful solo voice which was, that night, performed by the great Velile Mchunu. She added so much depth and authenticity to this wonderful music. “London” and “Solomon Vandy” were presented to the audience and the combination of orchestra, the fabulous choir and Velile Mchunu gave me goosebumps. It was really breathtaking.

In 2005 a collaboration between two giants came about. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer worked on Batman Begins and three years later, they would reunite for The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, Batman Begins was not included into the concert. Instead, they picked the “Harvey Dent Suite”. However, it was not the suite as heard on the album. It was a combination of the actual “Harvey Dent Theme” as heard on album and some bits of “Aggressive Expansion” with primary focus on the latter part of this cue.

James has written so many scores up to this point of his career. One of his very best efforts to date was released one year ago – Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. In terms of composition, orchestration, theme application and development, this is absolutely top-ten-material. The “Main Title” of this score opened the show and a fantastic suite would close it. The orchestra delivered a noteworthy performance of this magnificent score. For the final parts of the suite, another clip of the film was shown which focused on some of the film’s final moments – “Newt Releases The Thunderbird” was pure magic and the orchestra once more nailed it.

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The audiences in Mannheim and Frankfurt loved it and they gave James Newton Howard a well-deserved standing ovation. It is not every day that you get to witness a concert of this magnitude and caliber. Luckily, we were not quite finished – James got back on stage and delivered an encore. When I first checked the programme, I was wondering why Maleficent wasn’t listed – it wasn’t ignored after all.

I don’t think there are many composers out there who could have delivered an equally impressive score for this movie which is full of musical finesse. I think I should point out that a second encore had been added to the tour’s first concert in London at Royal Albert Hall. An encore which would not return until his final concert in Frankfurt. I am talking about the score that got James his first Oscar nomination back in 1992 – The Prince Of Tides. It was a great end to a fantastic show. 

As good as the musical selection was, I must say that I am a little disappointed that scores like Lady In The Water were not included. It goes without saying that it is hard work to not only arrange a tour of this size, but also to figure out what to perform. I am sure many of his long-time fans feel the same way about Lady In The Water. I was so sure that this marvelous score would be included and I even would have bet money on that. Waterworld would have been another candidate for a knock-out concert performance. Leaving those scores out is certainly a pity, yet only a “nit pick” when you look at the quality programme we received.

I am extremely happy with the outcome of his first European tour. It was an absolute privilege to see this composer’s music performed live. I would like to thank everybody involved with this tour. I cannot even begin to imagine what an effort it must have taken to get this job done and I could not be more grateful. It was a concert experience of a lifetime. I hope he will return to the concert hall. I can say without exaggerating that this was one of the most inspiring and magical concert experiences of my life. There is no way that I will ever take this for granted.

What did we witness that night? We got to see a live concert of one of the most brilliant composers the industry has ever seen. A composer who dedicates his life to the world of movies. A composer who deserves nothing but respect. A composer that will be remembered forever by the industry and his huge fanbase and without whom the world of music and movies would certainly not be the same. Nobody should ever take his music for granted. After decades of writing music, spending long hours in his studio and in recording facilities, the maestro finally gave his fans what they had been waiting for. There is no way I will ever forget this experience. From the bottom of my heart – thank you, James Newton Howard.

Photo Credit for first picture: Mark Hanauer

Photo Credit for all other pictures: Paul Sanders

Hollywood in Vienna – Fairytales & A Tribute to Danny Elfman

Hollywood in Vienna certainly has become one of the most popular and best events when it comes to staging a fantastic film music concert. It all started in 2007 and ever since, the event has set an unbelievably high standard not only as far as the musical selection is concerned but also in terms of execution and musical performance. Some of Hollywood’s finest composers ever have already been presented with the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award and one can only hope that many more will join this club.

The following composers have been honored so far – John Barry, Howard Shore, Alan Silvestri, Lalo Schifrin, James Horner, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat & Danny Elfman. This is indeed some list.

This year’s event was special, since it marked the tenth anniversary of Hollywood in Vienna. If you look at the names I mentioned above, you will certainly realize that only nine names are listed in total. The very first Hollywood in Vienna actually took place in 2007. The event was staged on the occasion of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 50th death anniversary.

This year I once again had the chance to visit Vienna. When it had been announced that Danny Elfman would be awarded, I was immediately very excited. I have been a fan of Mr. Elfman’s music for such a long time and he certainly is one of the greats in this business.

As always, the event was comprised of two parts and this year’s concert was named Fairytales & A Tribute to Danny Elfman. Before we reached the part of the concert which focused entirely on the career of Danny Elfman, the audience at the Wiener Konzerthaus had the chance to witness fantasy magic.

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Host Steven Gätjen, conductor James Shearman & the ORF Radio & Symphony Orchestra

The first part of the concert was conducted by Mr. James Shearman. James is regarded as one of the industry’s leading orchestrators and conductors who has worked with some of the best composers including Patrick Doyle. In between the musical pieces, host Steven Gätjen, who once again did a great job, provided information about the music we were about to hear.

The concert started off with a very nicely performed suite of Justin Hurwitz’s Academy Award winning score for La La Land. Mr. Hurwitz’s score was actually one of the finest and most interesting ones of 2016 and it certainly was a nice way to start off this year’s Hollywood in Vienna. When it comes to magic in terms of film and of course the musical score, there is simply no way around a Walt Disney movie. For decades, those films have presented great opportunities for any composer to come up with a fine score. Alan Menken has been one of the lucky ones who has had the chance to contribute wonderful music to several Disney films. One of his most well-known and beloved scores – Beauty And The Beast – had been selected for the programme and the ORF Radio and Symphony Orchestra delivered a marvelous performance of this beauty.

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Conductor James Shearman

The two suites which we were about the experience, represented some of the very best musical moments of the first part of the night – The Chronicles Of Narnia by Harry Gregson-Williams and Mulan by Jerry Goldsmith.

James Shearman conducted a powerhouse orchestral and choral performance of The Chronicles Of Narnia, which I was more than happy about, since Mr. Gregson-Williams is one of my favorite composers working in the industry. When it comes to my own personal heroes, the name Jerry Goldsmith is always present and Mulan represents another masterpiece of the legendary composer. This fabulous suite was wonderfully performed that night.

Now Steven Gätjen announced a Hollywood in Vienna world premiere – it was the very first time that a video game score was to be performed. Final Fantasy VIII by Nobuo Uematsu had been picked and what a killer performance this was. The orchestra nailed this piece and the audience clearly loved it.

Back in 2005, composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek had won the Oscar for his lovely score of Finding Neverland. The competition that year was tough, since John Debey (Passion Of The Christ), Thomas Newman (Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events), John Williams (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) and James Newton Howard (The Village) were also nominated. Mr. Kaczmarek was the lucky one to win and a “Piano Variation In Blue” was stunningly and beautifully performed by the ten-year-old piano virtuoso Emil Weller. Another Oscar-winning score was next – Life Of Pi by the very talented Mychael Danna. “Pi’s Lullaby” was given a gorgeous arrangement backed by a superb vocal performance by Sohini Alam and the Indian Ensemble.

What followed next was a memorable performance of one of my favorite scores of all time – a sensational suite of The Lion King written by Hans Zimmer & Lebo M. To be exact, it was a suite of “King Of Pride Rock” and “He Lives In You” which was featured on the album Rhythm Of The Pride Lands. Lebo M’s presence on stage and the vocal performance by Lebo and The African Singers resulted in a knock-out performance which closed the first part of the show. What made this medley so special is the fact that a very different version of “He Lives In You” was performed. For The Lion King 2, a different version had been recorded with phenomenal African vocals which had been incorporated into this great suite.

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Lebo M & Refi

The second part of the night was about to begin and I was especially excited, since this part was dedicated to the music of one of my favorite film composers of all time – Mr. Danny Elfman. It was showtime in Vienna. The orchestra and Mr. John Mauceri, who conducted the Danny Elfman part, geared up and gave us a fantastic “Main Title” version of Mr. Elfman’s Spider Man.

Every year, a medley is prepared that is comprised of some of the career highlights of every composer who is honored at Hollywood in Vienna. Four scores had been selected for Mr. Elfman. Black Beauty is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of Danny Elfman’s most beautiful compositions. The musical beauty was captured very well by the orchestra and this score should be included in any Danny Elfman top 10 list. Milk is one of the composer’s Oscar nominated scores which is not necessarily well-known. Don’t let this fact fool you. It is a beautiful score to a very good film.

Now the orchestra performed one of Danny Efman’s most iconic “Main Titles” ever – the very creative and fun Men In Black – which was an absolute joy to listen to that night. The medley was concluded with The Avengers – Age Of Ultron. Back then Danny Elfman joined Mr. Brian Tyler to write the score for this particular film. The show was on a roll.

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Conductor John Mauceri

Previously I praised Danny Elman’s Black Beauty. Let’s go from one musical beauty to another – Sommersby was on next. In my book, Danny Elfman wrote one of his most hauntingly beautiful themes for this movie. It is an absolute tear-jerker and I was incredibly moved during this exceptional performance. If there is any film music fan out there, who is not familiar with this score, then I strongly suggest you listen to it as soon as possible. 

The “Wolfman Suite” featured a very good viola performance by the great Lena Frankhauser. I must admit that The Wolfman is not one of those score that I listen to regularly. Yet, hearing this fabulous suite certainly brought the album back to my attention.

The collaboration between Tim Burton and Danny Elfman will certainly go down in film history as one of the most successful ones of all time. Danny Elfman has written some of his very best and most exciting scores for Mr. Burton’s films.

When I was listening to Alice In Wonderland for the very first time, I felt right away that this has to be one of his best themes ever. The Alice In Wonderland part was indeed special and magical. This is due in no small part to the two boy sopranos Manuel Haumer and Fabian Winkelmeier.

The collaboration between Danny Elfman and Tim Burton was a big part of this concert as it should be, since those films put Danny Elfman on the map and they represent some of his best work as a composer.

Beetlejuice is regarded as the big breakthrough of actor Michael Keaton and it certainly also helped to launch the career of Mr. Elfman. The theme was really nicely arranged and performed and it certainly was a necessary addition to the programme.

The Elfman / Burton show continued with a fantastic and intriguing performance of “This Is Halloween” from Nightmare Before Christmas. This piece of music was executed wonderfully and the entire vocal arrangement was extraordinary.

The suite of Edward Scissorhands represented some of the night’s biggest highlights. The piece which ended with “The Great Finale” was magical and powerful to say the least. It is so easy to tell why this score is beloved by so many people. It contains musical moments which we don’t get to hear too often these days. This is film music at its very best.

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Speaking of film music at its best – the time had come for one of Danny Elfman’s most well-known and certainly one of his very best scores of all time. As a matter of fact, this score stands as one of the best in the entire film history – a suite of Batman was up next.

Every time when I watch the film or when I listen to the album, the opening bars always knock my socks right off. I could listen to the first 40 seconds over and over again. The suite was basically comprised of the fantastic “Main Title”, “A Descent Into Mystery”, the great waltz heard in the piece “Kitchen, Surgery, Face-Off”, a short version of the “Opening Titles” of Batman Returns, the theme for the penguin and the fantastic “Finale” of the first score. Given the fact that those two scores are so detailed and simply brilliant, I actually felt that the entire suite was too short. Well, you simply can’t have everything.

Besides his many accomplishment in the world of cinema, Danny Elfman is also known for one particular piece of music – “The Simpsons Theme”. It was a nice way to “close” the official part of the show before the actual award ceremony started. It was a touching moment to see one of Hollywood’s finest composers receiving this achievement award. In addition to Mr. Elfman’s acceptance speech, Sandra Tomek read a letter to the audience. This message was written by Elfman’s long time collaborator Tim Burton. In addition to this letter, Mr. Sam Raimi spoke a few lovely words about Danny Elfman as well. Sam Raimi could not attend in person so his message was recorded and shown on the screen.

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Composer Danny Elfman

However, we were not quite done yet – Danny Elfman himself then performed “What’s This” of Nightmare Before Christmas live. It was a great way to close the Danny Elfman part of the show and I am pretty sure that the audience left that night knowing they had witnessed a wonderful and really well orchestrated anniversary of Hollywood in Vienna. I had the chance to attend both concerts. As great as the performance on the first night was, I felt that the orchestra and everybody involved kicked it up a notch for the gala concert. Events of this kind are indeed magical and every fan of film music should strongly consider visiting Hollywood in Vienna. It is a musical experience that you will never ever forget. 

photo credit:

(c) Hollywood in Vienna Franziska Liehl & Rene Wallentin

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. by James Newton Howard

Composer James Newton Howard has had a very busy time recently. He has not only written music but he has also prepared his first ever European tour covering 15 cities. Preparing such a big tour is a huge undertaking and needless to say it must have been quite an effort to not only finish his scoring assignments in time but to also pick and arrange the pieces for his concerts. Since James Newton Howard is no stranger to tight schedules, everything seems to have turned out fine.   

The tour is in full swing and I have been lucky enough to experience James Newton Howard live and I must say that his concert was absolutely phenomenal and at times even mind-blowing. One of the projects James had finished recently was the legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film stars Denzel Washington and was directed by Dan Gilroy who James had already worked with on Nightcrawler a few years ago.

Legal dramas and or thrillers can be a difficult affair when it comes to scoring them. Quite a few of those have very little score or the score they do have feels somewhat uninteresting. This of course varies from project to project and there are movies in this genre that have a gripping score.

For Roman J. Israel, Esq. the director picked one of the most brilliant film composers of all time – James Newton Howard – a composer who has the ability to adept to any kind of genre. His range is enormous and he can certainly tackle everything. The score James wrote for this particular film feels very solid. It is not particularly spectacular or memorable. However, it does have that special James Newton Howard magic in places.

In “Supreme Court of Absolute Universal Law”, James introduces one of the principal themes which was wonderfully arranged for choir. He has written for choir on many occasions and this piece showcases his ability to use voices to create the right atmosphere.

James is not only a master of huge and complex orchestral writing, but he also understands how to incorporate electronics into his compositions. “Just Continuances” is a good example of just that. He mixed organic instruments with nice synth sounds.

By and large, the music feels subtle. It is never intrusive or feels out of place. The score also features some nice brass and string work. However, I felt that his choral writing stood out the most. James also throws is some acoustic guitar. By doing so, he manages to create a very pleasant listening experience which is further intensified with his elegant string writing.

This album certainly isn’t the best one of the year. Neither is it one of James’ best scores. However, this 40 minute album presentation does offer some very fine moments. There is choral beauty, some of James’ trademark string work and elegance. James also nicely varies the instruments. To me the piece “Maple Glazed Donut” stands as one of the true album highlights. This playful, entertaining and simply gorgeous piece of music is a true treasure. The piano playing is spot on and you just have to love the “lounge feeling” it provides.

Besides the subtle and beautiful moments, James also throws in some more intense compositions – “Guard! Guard!” Yet, the music does not become intrusive and I never really felt uncomfortable. It is a decent score, which probably won’t top the list of the best scores of the year or James’ career, but in the end I felt that most fans of the brilliant composer will probably conclude that there is some fine music on this album. “Filing The Briefis a nice suite which reprises the principal themes. It is the second best piece on the album. The choir shines brighter, the orchestration is bigger and all in all, it is a very effective piece of music. For some listeners it may be a “filler album”, but to me it is further proof of the composer’s ability to come up with music for any kind of genre. James Newton Howard has many scores left in him and one can only hope that he will continue to enrich this business with his musical brilliance for a very long time.

Blade Runner 2049 by Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer

Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner is certainly regarded as one of the very best Science Fiction films that have ever been shot. I think it was ahead of its time and the film still looks great. Ridley Scott has always had a great eye for detail and Blade Runner has aged very well. However, the film was not a big success at all. As a matter of fact, it bombed at the box office and the huge fan base this film has now developed slowly. I think I already mentioned in the past that box office success is by no means an indicator for quality. It is a common misconception that a film must be very good just because it made a lot of money at the box office. Neither is it correct to say that a financial failure is a bad film. Let’s face it, there are some outstanding films which were not necessarily a financial success. I must admit that I wasn’t that keen on Mr. Scott’s film either when I watched it for the first time many years ago. I had to watch it three times to fully warm up to it and very recently, before I went to see Blade Runner 2049, I revisited Ridley Scott’s film and I still very much enjoy it.

The film itself is not that complicated at all. Yet, Ridley Scott’s approach is simply fascinating. The cinematography and the editing are superb and on top of that you get one of the most groundbreaking scores in film history. I am really fond of Vangelis’ score and I still listen to it regularly. Fans of the score will realize right away that quite a big part of the music Vangelis had written was not used in the final film. A couple of years ago, a three disc set had been released. It featured the original album, unreleased music from the picture and material which Vangelis wrote for the Blade Runner anniversary.

For years it had been debated as to when a Blade Runner sequel would be released and who was to direct it. For some time, it had been rumored that Ridley Scott himself was going to direct, but in the end he served as executive producer and Denis Villeneuve, one of the most sought-after directors working today, was set to direct the picture. Given the director‘s most recent success, the film was certainly highly anticipated by many. 

Let’s take a closer look at the film – A few days ago, I went to the theater to watch Blade Runner 2049. When I left the theater, I had very mixed feelings about the project. I had come across several rave reviews on the internet. Many people called it a masterpiece on every level. Those statements certainly also made me curious. Truth be told, I seem to be one of the very few people that believe that this is not a masterpiece at all. The first twenty minutes of the picture are rather interesting. Ryan Gosling is introduced as the new Blade Runner as we get to see him on his first assignment. I sort of felt that after the interesting beginning, the quality of the film deteriorated a lot.

The most important aspect of any film is the story. You need to tell the story in an interesting way. You could take a very good screenplay and still ruin the film. It is all a matter of timing. A film is like a puzzle. The best actors in the world cannot turn a mediocre film into a good one. Many films have a story which at first strikes you as simple and you still think it is a great movie because the story was told so well. Cinematographers, composers, editors and everybody else involved need to work closely with the director to help him carry out his vision.

Several people might argue that the story of this film is more interesting and complex than Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. However, as far as I am concerned, the film is rather uninteresting. Only when Harrison Ford is introduced, does the film become more appealing and the story seems to evolve. I think Ryan Gosling was a rather good choice for the project and Harrison Ford’s involvement certainly added some quality and nostalgia as well. The cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins is absolutely stunning to say the least. Some of the images are phenomenal and Deakins once again proved that he is indeed some of the very best the business has to offer. As far as Denis Villeneuve is concerned, I think he is a very talented director. Prisoners might still be my very favorite of his films. Maybe my opinion of his Blade Runner vision will change drastically after I have seen the film a second time. After all, I felt the same way about the original Blade Runner. It is not unusual at all that a film is better received after you have given it another chance. Many times, a film is surrounded by a huge hype that ultimately results in disappointment. Let’s wait and see what happens. I will certainly give it another shot. That is for sure.

Usually Jóhann Jóhannsson is the composer of choice for director Denis Villeneuve. However, this time Mr. Jóhannsson left the project. I don’t know what really happened behind the scenes here. It had been reported that he was to receive support by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. A few days later, it had been announced that Mr. Jóhannsson was no longer involved and that Wallfisch and Zimmer would take over.

Reportedly, Hans Zimmer supported Wallfisch when he had some time off from his busy tour schedule. I am sure he gave Mr. Wallfisch lots of feedback and he might have written some material and or listened to several cues while he was on tour. I don’t really know how big Mr. Zimmer’s influence was and how much music he actually contributed.

Basically Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer did not write a very thematic score. There are a few motives. Yet, the main focus seems to have been on creating a synth soundscape to help tell the story. This certainly worked pretty well. For the final scenes of the film, Wallfisch used Vangelis’ “Tears In Rain” and added some synth sounds to the cue. This was a particularly nice idea since he not only paid homage to Vangelis but he provided a big moment of nostalgia.

In some ways, the sound is rather close to Vangelis’ score. “2049” starts off with a nice percussion hit and a simple motif and a very effective synth sound that accompanies the opening scene of the movie. It works nicely when it is put up against the picture. Some cues really transcend the images. Yet, some of them, for instance, “Sapper’s Tree” merely create tension.

When I listened to the album without having seen the film, I did not quite know what to make of it. I felt that some pieces were very effective whereas several others felt “uninteresting”. Having experienced the film, I concluded that a thematic approach might not have worked at all. I felt that the synth soundscape was quite appropriate for this film. It is hard to tell if a different score would have worked. Given the time constraints, I think Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer did a really good job here and some cues, especially in the third act of the film, work wonderfully with the picture. Cues like “Sea Wall” and “Blade Runner” are two ten-minute-cues that are actually quite impressive in terms of sound and they create a really nice musical atmosphere. Those two cues are by far my favorite ones. “Sea Wall” starts off in a powerful way and some sounds are really strong and expressive. It gets really intense, especially towards the end when the music accompanies some of the film’s climactic scenes.

No matter if the listener can warm up to this score right away or not. It is further proof of Benjamin Wallfisch’s ability to write music for several genres. He and Hans Zimmer created a dense soundscape for this picture.

Fans of orchestral and or thematic music are not likely to enjoy this album right away. Those of you that are attracted to synthetic scores with really interesting sounds will probably be very keen on this album presentation. At first, I was not that impressed with the album myself. I needed to watch the final film to see how the music would work with the images. Having seen the film definitely helped to appreciate the musical vision of Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. The 90-minute-album certainly does not feature multiple highlights. Yet, there is still very effective and attractive music to be discovered.

Stephen King’s IT by Benjamin Wallfisch

When people talk about Stephen King, they usually associate his name with horror novels. Yet, this brilliant writer has published quite a few novels that deal with other subjects. Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are prominent examples. All of those films are featured on my list of the best motion pictures of all timeHowever, when it comes to the horror genre, this man has written some of the best novels you will ever read. His range is enormous. Of all the books he has written so far, IT certainly stands as one of his most popular and best ones to date. It is a masterpiece on every level and rightfully considered a classic.

In 1990, IT was released on television with a running time of three hours. Many people felt that the film was way too short and that it was not close enough to the book. As a matter of fact, people regularly voice this complaint when it comes to a book-to-film adaptation. You simply cannot take a 1500 page book and turn it into a three hour movie and cover every aspect. It is simply impossible. In my book, IT is one of the very best horror movies ever shot. When I watched the film for the first time, it scared the bejesus out of me and to this day, the film is still incredibly effective and fascinating.

I simply loved how director Tommy Lee Wallace approached the book. He didn’t shoot a graphic movie, filled with gore effects. He decided to shoot a film which is simply unbelievably suspenseful and absolutely frightening. To me there is no art in shooting a film that focuses on splatter effects. It is much more difficult to build tension to captivate the audience. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise was fantastic and all actors basically did a very good job. Back then, Richard Bellis wrote the original score and his effort contributed largely to the dense atmosphere of the film.

27 years later, the remake hit the theaters. Remakes are generally a double-edged sword and as far as I am concerned, most of them are unnecessary. However, ever since it had been announced that IT was about to be given a new version, I was immediately curious. The film was split again in two parts. The first one called The Losers’ Club, which focuses heavily on the young kids, was released a couple of weeks ago and in 2019 part two is expected to arrive at the box office.

Very recently, I wrote a review on Benjamin Wallfisch’s score Annabelle and I praised the composer’s musical ability. In terms of IT, Wallfisch certainly delivered a big effort. We are talking about an album with 90 minutes of music. In the past, Benjamin Wallfisch had already proven that he is not only able to write beautiful melodies, but he can also deliver dense soundscapes that send a shiver down your spine – IT certainly gave him the opportunity to do both.

The album starts with one of the very best cues of the entire score. “Every 27 Years” introduces a very effective choir part, followed by a beautiful piano theme which was  also wonderfully arranged for strings. The theme has a sensitive, yet powerful and expressive touch. In “Paper Boat”, Wallfisch introduces another delicate piano theme. The relationship between the kids was primarily scored with piano and strings. “Georgie Meet Pennywise” is one of the most interesting and frightening cues of the score. The tension builds nicely. The cue becomes more mysterious and intense. When Pennywise strikes and Georgie is murdered the cue reaches a big climax. The soft choir turns into a massive musical outburst. This moment stands as one of the most effective ones of the entire score – it is incredibly powerful. “Derry” is the next cue on the album and now the listener is given some time to breathe and “relax” after some very intense minutes. The creepy choir returns in the cue “Egg Boy”. Wallfisch really used the voices very skilfully.

There are also some lovely moments on the album. The theme Benjamin Wallfisch wrote for the young Beverly is absolutely gorgeous and simply a beauty. However, things also get really heavy. “Come Join The Clown, Eds” contains some very harsh synth effects and a pulsating rhythm. Those moments are nothing for the faint-hearted and the music can become very demanding. The composer clearly knows how to create tension and he is certainly able to use the orchestra, choir and the electronics in a very appealing way. Fans of horror scores will certainly get their money’s worth here. Due to the nature of the subject, some cues are “unenjoyable”. As you know, an album speaks a different language than the score inside the film. I am also pretty sure that fans of non-horror scores will find many cues which they can enjoy. Tracks like “Blood Oath”, “Kiss” and “Every 27 Years reprise” clearly show the potential of the album. Those are beautiful musical moments that go straight to the heart. Benjamin Wallfisch has done a sublime job and I am very much looking forward to his next albums. He seems to be on his way to become a major player in the film music world.