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.

Annabelle Creation by Benjamin Wallfisch

The horror genre certainly is one of the most difficult ones to score. As a matter of fact, I believe that those films offer very little for a composer when it comes to really show their talent. Of course there have also been really great examples of superb and innovative scores in the past. Sinister stands as one of the better films of this genre that have been produced over the past few years. Christopher Young’s score included some really impressive and effective pieces.

A composer like Mr. Young has written music for this genre for decades and he certainly knows what he is doing. The reason why a score, or in this case, a horror score is really difficult to rate is due to the fact that most of them include a large deal of musical dissonance. I often feel that those scores are somewhat interchangeable. Most of the time, the music underscores moments of suspense and disturbing images, or they simply lead up to a big scare moment. This is quite logical, since those films are meant to shock an audience and the music needs to reflect that. Naturally those scores do not entirely rely on creepy effects or wild string playing. Actually many of them do have some sort of theme or motif or even a choir that underscores the tragic events or the relationship of the people involved. This genre still has some quality movies. The aforementioned Sinister is a favorite of mine and The Conjuring also offers suspense and “entertainment”. Nevertheless, it only seems to be a matter of time until the audience will get tired of those films.

Yet, it is not only the horror genre which is difficult to score. Basically every movie, no matter which genre, presents several difficulties. This is not necessarily due to the film itself. It is the collaborative process which makes it difficult. As I had already pointed out in previous reviews, there are so many people involved when it comes to shooting and producing a film that a difference of opinion seems natural.

The music that ends up in the film, is not necessarily what the composer had in mind. Ideas do get rejected all the time and many cues need to be adjusted. A composer is often asked to “copy” a score which had previously been written by somebody else. If a certain approach has worked multiple times, then why not go down the same road again? It has worked before and why shouldn’t it work this time? Studio executives and producers apparently want to minimize the risk factor. Can you blame them? In terms of business this might be a smart decision. Creatively speaking it strikes me as wrong. Ideas are used over and over again. This affects both film and score.

In terms of the music for Annabelle Creation, composer Benjamin Wallfisch was not given an easy task. How does one create a musical score for a film of this kind and still sound fresh or innovative? I think he is a very talented composer who has written beautiful melodies and very effective scores such as A Cure For Wellness – a score which stands as one of his best efforts to date.

His music for Annabelle Creation feels well-balanced. There are cues which underscore the terror and horror and also those that offer more subtle musical moments. The score starts quietly with a nice four-minute piece called “Creation”. The cue starts with a nice piano and string arrangement. The tension rises slowly and Wallfisch added some very scary effects. Unfortunately, many of the cues are rather short. The album contains 24 tracks with a total running time of 48 minutes. Cues like “The Mullins Family” offer some nice musical moments as well. Sadly those cues are just too short, clocking in at just under two minutes or even just one minute. “A New Home” is another fine example of a very effective cue in which Wallfisch utilizes the cello to underscore some “family moments”. If only there were more pieces of this kind. The score was written primarily for an orchestra. Benjamin Wallfisch skillfully uses the instruments to create tension and he quite cleverly underscores the horror part of the film. He also uses the brass and string instruments in an interesting way. Of course there is also the obligatory dissonance featured in “Shadows and Sheets” and many other tracks. Up to this point, the score never really felt too intrusive or scary. However, this will change drastically later on and the music becomes rather unpleasant to my ears.

No matter how effective the music may seem, in some ways this album feels like a standard horror score. I sometimes feel that just about everything has been done in this genre. At the end of the day, you simply cannot “blame” the composer for going down this road. As mentioned before, composers are often asked to simply copy a certain style or write something which is very close to a score which had been written in the past. It is a complicated process. This score does offer some good cues though. On the other hand, there are also quite a few cues that are extremely difficult to listen to. If you enjoy creepy music and dissonance, then you are likely to be attracted to this album as well. For those of you that are more attracted to melodic efforts, you might want to listen to some samples before you grab the album. If this is not the right album for you, then I suggest you listen to other scores written by Mr. Wallfisch. No matter how hard it may be to listen to some of the cues, I think Benjamin Wallfisch did a fine job. He clearly has a lot of talent and he knows how to write and I am pretty sure he will continue to impress us with his talent in the future.

Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

The collaboration between composer Hans Zimmer and director Christopher Nolan has turned out to be one of the most successful ones of recent Hollywood history and it all started back in 2005 with the amazing Batman Begins. In my book, Christopher Nolan is one of the world’s best directors and his films usually have a very high standard, since they are absolutely well-crafted.

He seems to surround himself with many absolutely talented and brilliant people and I guess it was only a matter of time before Nolan and one of the best film composers of all time, Hans Zimmer, would team up. Their first collaboration, the aforementioned Batman Begins, was historical.

This is not only due to the fact that director mastermind Nolan chose to tackle one of the most popular comics in history, but the project would also see a collaboration of two of the most brilliant composers on earth – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. They wrote a fantastic score. Hence, the return of the dynamic scoring duo was inevitable and The Dark Knight turned out to be a huge success as well. Unfortunately, James Newton Howard would not return for The Dark Knight Rises.

Christopher Nolan seems to be a director that likes his composers to work freely. On Inception, for instance, the score was not written directly to picture. A method which turned out just fine and I still consider this film to be Nolan’s crowning achievement to date. The score itself was absolutely stunning inside the film and I would like to see an official expanded album of this score. Quite a few really exciting cues were not included on the final album. Fortunately, two tracks were released digitally a little later on.

The team of Zimmer and Nolan has been on a roll so far and after the successful Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, Mr. Nolan would go on to shoot another masterpiece – Interstellar. Luckily, fans got a beautiful and complete recording of this score. This film turned out to be another highlight in Nolan’s filmography and Zimmer got his 9th Oscar nomination.

Shortly after Interstellar, the next project of Mr. Nolan had been announced – a World War II film about one of the defining moments in history. Expectations of fans and critics alike were once again enormously high. The film got rave reviews and I could not wait to get to the theater to see whether the film was really as good as everyone said. Yet, before I saw the final film, I paid attention to Hans Zimmer’s score. Before the full album had been released, WaterTower put out one of the score cues in advance. The piece is called “Supermarine” and right off the bat, reactions were extremely mixed. Some called it a brilliant track of rhythm and sound design and others, who were not that impressed, voiced that the track was simply repetitive and boring. Given the story of the film itself, I did not really expect a thematic or hugely melodic score. Hans Zimmer reportedly got instructions not to write much thematic or emotional material. His task apparently was to underscore the horror of war, the isolation of the soldiers and the constant fear of the people involved in one of the biggest rescue missions in history. What does that tell you?

It might be a hint that you would be dealing with a score that could work brilliantly inside the picture, yet once the music is experienced out of context, it might not stand alone. When I had already listened to the album twice, I was told by quite a few people, that I needed to see the film, before I could judge the music. Well, this is where it becomes tricky. Film music is beyond a shadow of a doubt the musical genre which is the most difficult one the analyze. Why? The answer is simple – it is called film music. It is designed for a motion picture. It needs to work with the images, it needs to support the picture. The music is psychologically linked to every frame that you see.

In terms of Dunkirk, the music basically accompanies the entire film. There is music, or sound design in every frame. Truth be told, the film can be a bit exhausting to watch. This is not only due to Mr. Nolan’s terrific directing, Lee Smith’s great editing, or Hoyte Van Hoytema’s brilliant cinematography. The film also works so well, because of Hans Zimmer’s menacing score. Especially the first 15 to 30 minutes are extremely captivating and one of the most fascinating and effective pieces of music, a threatening string piece, was unfortunately omitted from the album. For the most part of the film, I felt uncomfortable and it was a pulse-pounding experience. Hans Zimmer’s score is largely unpleasant to listen to. Nevertheless, you can be assured it is absolutely effective. Do you see what I am getting at? It is not the composer’s job to write a hit record. It is not the composer’s job to write a score which you can play over and over again. It is the composer’s job the write the right music for the film.

Furthermore, people tend to forget, that a film is not a one-man-show. It is a collaborative effort that involves many, many people and you get lots of input. A composer works for the producer and the director. It is not the other way around. Hence, they have to deliver something which is in accordance with the instructions they get. One of the things I have also noticed so far, is that Hans Zimmer either seems to get praise for his Dunkirk score or he gets criticized rather heavily. Some even go so far to call it an anti-score.

Was Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen a pleasant listening experience? I don’t think so. Yet, it is one of the most effective and brilliant scores of all time. What about Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho? It is one of the most iconic scores ever. The music he wrote for the shower-murder-scene is one of the most easily recognizable pieces of music in the entire film history. It is extremely effective, yet hard to listen to. Nobody calls that an anti-score, at least not as far as I know.

Hans Zimmer seems to be a composer who is often “misunderstood”. Quite frankly, much of the criticism is complete rubbish. There was a time when people only associated his name with big actions films. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There was a time when people said that Hans only writes electronic scores. This statement was and still is complete nonsense. Some people said he does the same stuff over and over again. To me, this is absolutely wrong. Hans Zimmer does not want to deliver the same music in the same style over and over again. He has proved that so many times over the years. Nobody is forced to like an artist, but I don’t think it is too much to ask to get the facts right. Hans Zimmer is a true professional. You simply need to admire his willingness to experiment, to find new sounds and to also challenge the orchestra and let them try out different things. He is a composer that did not make it to the top by accident. He is one of the best the industry has ever seen.

Let‘s get back to the album. Earlier on, I mentioned that there were basically 100 minutes of music. A total of 57 minutes made it to the album. Hans Zimmer and some of his well-known collaborators such as Benjamin Wallfisch, Lorne Balfe, Satnam Romgotra & Steve Mazzarro, not only wrote and arranged new music for the picture. A piece called “Nimrod” by British composer Sir Edward Elgar was skillfully incorporated into the score. The inclusion of the “Nimrod” variation actually provides the most emotional musical moments of the score. The most effective and beautiful arrangements of this piece are included in the tracks “Variation 15” (Dunkirk) and the “End Titles”. I need to point out that “Variation 15” was written by the very talented Benjamin Wallfisch and produced by Hans Zimmer. For the “End Credits” the team of Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Benjamin Wallfisch, arranged a beautiful and very effective piece which includes some of the principal motives of the entire score.

The piece “Supermarine”, which was released in advance, is the longest track of the album. This cue, however, is not presented in the film in this form. The very effective and constant ticking was basically spread out through the entire film and reappears in more or less threatening variations. The siren-like motif which reaches a culmination at the end of the cue, certainly stands as one of the most intense moments of the album. When I listened to the piece again, after having watched the film, I got a more complete picture of the musical approach.

Many times during the showing, I kind of felt overwhelmed by the impact of the final result with all its elements. I also need to point out that this film has been rated PG-13. It is not the kind of war film that shows cruel images. This film focuses on the emotional component and shows the constant struggle for survival. At times, the film becomes really challenging. The same can be said for the musical score as well. When you combine images of this kind with the score as it has been written, you certainly are in for a tough experience. Yet, not all of the material is unpleasant. “Variation 15” and the “End Credits” are my favorite cues on the album. Other pieces like “The Mole” and “We Need Our Army Back” & “Home” definitely make you feel as if something was lurking in the dark. It feels like as if you were drowning and you try to make it to the surface and you just never quite make it back to the top.

The film has intense moments aplenty. “The Oil” underscores some of the most drastic scenes in the picture. Needles to say, this is exactly what the score brings across.

Like I said before, the album as a whole is not what I had hoped for. It is not the album of Mr. Zimmer that I will fall in love with and apart from a few cues, I don’t think I will revisit the album that often. As far as I am concerned, a big part of the score does not work when it stands alone. Yet, you simply have to acknowledge the impact of the score inside the picture. Christopher Nolan has directed another very good film. He managed to take us right to the battle and gave us some of the most fascinating theatrical moments of the year so far and this is, in no small part, due to the effort and contribution of Mr. Hans Zimmer.

The Lord Of The Rings Online – 10th Anniversary Commemorative Soundtrack by Chance Thomas

It is pretty safe to say that The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy will go down in film history. For years, it had been said that it was impossible to shoot the films. However, director Peter Jackson somehow made the impossible possible and he most definitely had set a new standard for the fantasy genre.

The films became huge hits and in addition to the box office success, the story of Middle-earth had also found its ways to the video game world. It is not only the film world that is associated with iconic and big music. A video game certainly needs a proper score as well. Given the popularity and the magnitude of The Lord Of The Rings, composer Chance Thomas faced a huge challenge and a story this big certainly presents a huge opportunity for a composer to pull out all the stops.

Recently, Chance Thomas’ score for The Lord Of The Rings Online has been released digitally as a 10th anniversary edition. The fantasy world, created by J.R.R Tolkien, certainly is bleak and very dark. Needless to say, both the video game and the score needed to reflect that as well.

The music written by Chance Thomas has a lot to offer. Not only do you get to hear multiple themes throughout, but the level of quality and musical detail is rather high. A lovely tune is introduced in the very first piece „The House of Tom Bombadil“. Chance Thomas‘ use of the flute and acoustic guitar creates a very beautiful musical moment. The mood changes quickly, though. „Moria“ is exactly the opposite as far as the atmosphere is concerned. The dark male choir, combined with the string and brass instruments create a big tension. I think that throughout the score you will recognize that the writing is very detailed and often really impressive. Video game music should by no means be underestimated. After all, the creators spend years and lots of money to produce their game. Hence you might also consider investing time and money in the scoring process. The final product makes you feel that they did just that.

Drums in the Deep“ is a wellwritten action cue with a big choir part and massive instrumentation. The choir is actually an important element of this score. In „Ages of the Golden Wood“, composer Chance Thomas again skillfully combined choir with orchestral elements. On top of that, the themes he wrote are beautifully performedby the orchestra.

It seems there a highlights a plenty. „Horse Lords of Norcrofts”, again showcases the composer’s ability to create a soundscape which is both intense and impressive. „Khazad-Dum” sees one of the biggest and most interesting choir statements of the entire album. The intensity level certainly rises here. „Tears of Nimrodel“ is one of my favorite cues. It was primarily written for strings and harp and it is simply a beauty.

The entire listening experience was really pleasant. The themes, the orchestration and the use of choir are altogether really formidable. As a matter of fact, much of the music presented on this 73-minute-album is superior to quite a few of today’s film scores. Since we are talking about music for an entire video game, is seems like an impossible task to include all highlights. Nevertheless, the 26 cues that have been selected for this album, do provide excellent material that certainly made me wish more music had been released.

Pirates Of The Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales by Geoff Zanelli

To say that the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise has been a huge success would be an understatement. In 2003, when the first film hit the theaters, it became a massive success and basically a cultural phenomenon. Everything just fell into place and producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his director of choice Gore Verbinski had struck gold. I guess the time was just right and they made this genre popular again. Yet, on paper, this was a risk indeed, since several years earlier, the film Cutthroat Island bombed at the box office and contributed to the downfall of Carolco Pictures. Despite massive success at the box office, the quality of the films certainly is debatable. In my book, only the first film was really great and extremely enjoyable. The sequels just did not live up to the quality of the original.

Yet, not only the films became huge hits, but the music as well. At first Alan Silvestri, one of Hollywood’s most popular and best composers, was attached to the project, since he had worked with the director before on a film called MouseHunt. However, in the end things did not quite work out and Silvestri was replaced. Hence, time was indeed a factor and the pressure was on right away. Reportedly, a new score had to be written and recorded within five weeks. Certainly not an easy task and hence a team of composers had to work around the clock to meet the deadline. At this time, Hans Zimmer had a contractual obligation with Warner Brothers to write the music for The Last Samurai and therefore he had recommended Klaus Badelt for the project and Hans Zimmer was credited as the score producer. However, later on we learned that it was actually Mr. Zimmer who wrote most of the principal themes and that he had a huge influence in the writing process of the score. Due to huge time constraints, several people had to work on the score. Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Djawadi, Nick Glennie-Smith and a few others had to pitch in to get things done and they did succeed in the end. The score of the first picture remains one of my all time favorites. Yet, not everybody was happy with the final result and several critics disliked the approach the team had taken. Be that as it may, fans around the globe simply love this score. For the sequels, Hans Zimmer received an official credit as the lead composer and he created massive scores. The music for Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, as heard in the film, is simply amazing. Musically speaking, the fourth installment was a bit of a letdown. Furthermore, Gore Verbinski did not return to direct and Rob Marshall was hired instead. Despite some good new ideas, I have always felt that this score was a bit of a “mess”. Reportedly, Disney just wanted to use the material which had been written beforehand and Hans Zimmer did not have much leeway on the project.

This might also have been the reason why Hans did not return for the latest part of the franchise. Geoff Zanelli was now given the chance to write the score. Having Mr. Zanelli on board certainly is a good thing, since he had contributed additional music and arrangements on all previous films and hence it was a rather logical decision to go with someone, who is not only really talented, but someone who is familiar with the requirements of a Jerry Bruckheimer production.

Was Geoff Zanelli the right choice? Yes, he indeed was. The composer really kept the pirates sound alive. He used music which existed previously and added his own new material, orchestral colors and themes. When you listen to the first piece of music “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, it becomes pretty obvious that Mr. Zanelli had worked on all four movies before. It is a nice piece of music which kind of reminds me of the theme created for Tia Dalma, which was introduced in the second film. The next cue “Salazar” contains one of the new key themes and I must say it is really catchy, poignant and addictive. It is reprised several times throughout the score in different variations. Furthermore, I must point out that Zanelli really understood how to blend the old themes with his new material. The approach he took is largely orchestral. “No Woman Has Ever Handled My Herschel” is one of the first action cues in which the pace really picks up. Here the composer once more shows his ability to create powerful themes combined with a soft string part. This score is not just comprised of trite percussive material and endless ostinati. The orchestral force is big and he uses the instruments well. A full orchestra, sometimes combined with the Metro Voices Choir, really turned this into a fun and exciting musical ride.

“The Devil’s Triangle” sees another very interesting statement of the “Salazar Theme” with a powerful choir performance. Despite the new material which has been written, “Kill The Filthy Pirate, I’ll Wait”, contains the “Jack Sparrow Theme” and Zanelli, also quite cleverly, incorporates material which had been written for At World’s End. Another theme used in At World’s End, “What Shall We Die For”, is beautifully and powerfully reprised in the short, yet big piece “The Dying Gull”. So far, this score was pretty good with some impressive parts. Yet, once we reach “El Matador Del Mar”, Geoff Zanelli brings in the big guns. As of this point, the score becomes really huge and exciting. It is also very interesting to see how well he used the “Jack Sparrow Theme” and intertwines it with the “Salazar Theme”. This cue has a great build up and the choir adds even more depth and emotion. This piece stands as the longest and possibly the best track so far. In “Kill The Sparrow”, Zanelli continued to impress me with his terrific action writing. This is the composer at his very best. “The Brightest Star In The North” is one of the top five cues of this album. It is basically one of the very few tracks, in which you get to hear more sensitive musical moments. After the first minute, this track turns into the most emotional one of the album. The opening bars and the percussion of “The Butcher’s Bill” are strongly reminiscent of the cue called “Singapore” from At World’s End.

Zanelli keeps the action and excitement going. “Treasure” sees a big statement of one of the new principal themes. For this cue, Zanelli used one of the biggest and best parts that were written for At World’s End. “I Don’t Think Now Is The Best Time” was one of the standout moments from that score and Zanelli impressively used sections of this piece.

All in all, I must say that this is a really strong effort. Fans of the previous scores will definitely get their money’s worth here. With a running time of 71 minutes, this marks the longest of all five albums. I think this release is well structured. The music never really feels dull or bland. There are barely any “filler cues”. Even the biggest musical moments never sound over the top or overbearing. Finding a way to blend the great themes introduced before with your own material, must have been quite a challenge. “My Name Is Barbossa” might just be the best example to show how good a job he did to get it right. The phenomenal “Love Theme” Hans Zimmer had written for At World’s End was beautifully incorporated into this piece. Here, Zanelli managed to create a big musical climax and I don’t think any fan will be disappointed. In terms of pure musical quality, I feel that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were the strongest efforts. Yet, this album has a lot to offer. For those that, by this point, are tired of bland and uninspired adventure and action scores, you can be assured that this score is quite the opposite.