Film soundtracks from the 2010s; some of the best – part 3

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FOR ONE LAST time we venture into the musical world of films from the last six years. Join us as we take you from the industrial world at the turn of the century, to the Folk and Pop worlds of the 1960s, all the way through to the dystopian future. Plus Karl Urban pulling the angriest face of all time.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – 2011

by Tom Jennings

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When Hans Zimmer was asked about the work on the soundtrack for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows he commented that “you have two cultures collide on this soundtrack, that you go from this typical heavy Germanic action music to just the frivolity of one of those Gypsy songs, full of life, full of lightness, full of spirit”. Aside from being the most obvious difference between this and the first Sherlock Holmes film’s soundtrack it is the first thing you will hear on listening.

Throughout this soundtrack you have the same musical cues from the first film played against Romani musical motifs. In clumsier hands the contrast would sound too jarring, but in Zimmer’s the whole soundtrack is expertly crafted. There are several instances where the music drops the familiar cues and becomes a completely Romani sound. The beauty of the soundtrack is the blending of the two so that the change is more subtle. By using the cues from the previous film but with Romani style, we are able to appreciate the difference in tone this film has.

The music in Game of Shadows has a much more industrial sound than the previous film, reflecting the direction the film takes in portraying a pre-WW1 Europe. Zimmer has certainly crafted a punchier score but he also knows when to let the film speak for itself by dropping the music down. There are many instances of the soundtrack becoming minimalist in its composition so as not to draw focus from the action on screen. Whereas some composers would write a variation on their theme in a softer tone during the intimate moments, Zimmer has a tendency to use drones; usually one or two, played in the background of the quieter moments of the film.

Where music in this really shines is in its subtle usage of faux- diegetic sounds. At the beginning we hear a ticking clock. This works as a beat indicator but also a subtle reminder of the ticking clock that hangs over the film. Interplayed amongst the ticking clock is the sound of a typewriter which opens up the film as a diegetic sound as Watson types away. This highlights to the listener that this is a story being told by Watson in reminiscence which may explain some of the more outlandish occurrences in the film but adds a nice flourish and nod to the source material.

If this soundtrack can be criticised it’s for the over-usage of aspects from the previous film. The similar cues can make the soundtrack a little too indiscernibly different from its predecessor. The Irish jig, ‘Congress Reel’ by Poitín, to score a lively action scene, whilst well used can feel out of place in the tone of the sequel. However, even with the addition of some music sampled from other sources (like ‘The Braying Mule’ by Ennio Morricone), the soundtrack does have a tendency towards being similar to the first.

In 2011 I loved the film and its soundtrack. In 2015 I still do but after looking closely I can see the holes, even if I have poked them myself. It’s a soundtrack that shows a composer who is comfortable enough in their own work that they can utilise motifs from a film in its sequel and play around with them. However whilst the sound may be a fresher we still have the underlying aroma of the previous film permeating it. This is something that could be said for a lot of movies produced by the big Hollywood factory in this decade. But I guess if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Saving Mr. Banks – 2013

by Truan Evans

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Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964) reinvigorated what was already an enduring children’s classic in P L Travers’ Novels, and enshrined it as a centrepiece in generations of children’s childhoods. Though few might nowadays remember Travers’ children’s novels first-hand, Mary Poppins sits in pride of place amongst Disney’s most fondly remembered classics, and you’ll still be hard-set to find a British kid or grownup who doesn’t remember at least the odd verse of a ditty or two.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious has essentially joined the English lexicon, and, as a song, is far better remembered than practically any old schoolyard chant. Even if, like me, you began school at a dreary concrete vista in East London, it’s hard not to remember the veritable host of ridiculously catchy numbers from Mary Poppins hummed and whistled on an almost nauseatingly repetitive basis.

In Saving Mr Banks (2013) then Thomas Newman would seem to have a pretty insurmountable task in producing a soundtrack that wouldn’t disappoint the audience on some level, when considering the pedigree of its source material. But not for nothing is Newman a multi-award winning composer, and in Saving Mr Banks he skilfully blends his own craft with faithfully reproduced versions of the original delightful Sherman brother’s tracks. What results is a soundtrack that is full of wonderfully pacey piano and cello pieces like ‘Travers Goff’ and ‘Walking bus’, easy listening, but very stylish and soulful easy listening at that.

In between racier, upbeat tracks like Ray Charles’ ‘Mint Julip’ and breathless swing pieces like ‘Heigh-Ho’ (The Dave Brubeck Quartet) which help orientate us in Disney’s heady early 60s showbiz environment, Newman smuggles in some more reflective and, at times, almost painfully indistinct pieces like the refrain from ‘Walking bus’, ‘Celtic Soul’ and a ‘To My Mother’ which beautifully evoke that sense of coming to grips with a lost and challenging childhood which is so central to the plot of the film itself. Then there’s treats like ‘Let’s go fly a kite’ make sure we never lose sight of the original subject’s ability to delight and disarm audiences.

Though many of his tracks variate upon a familiar theme, there’s easily enough variety and pace throughout this soundtrack to keep us hooked; whether watching the film or listening to the OS independently, Saving Mr Banks makes for an engaging and compelling listen, wonderful in its airy simplicity. Its exacting work that’s often on a par with Newman’s best pieces from the fantastic American Beauty (1999).

Dredd – 2012

by Andrew Noel

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After 1995, Dredd needed a big screen makeover, so in 2012, the Pete Travis gave the Judge a gritty, 21st century look with a fitting, bloody story. Paul Leonard-Morgan, the BAFTA award winning composer, was brought in to score the film. Leonard-Morgan helps Dredd achieve its dark, futuristic tone with an Industrial score that seeps with gritty guitar and keys.

There’s no gentle break in with this score; from the opening of ‘She’s A Pass’, Leonard-Morgan delves straight into it, with pounding drums and heavily distorted synthesizer. Already, he is transporting the audience to a future dystopia. A world where machines and destruction have taken over, and crime has reached new highs. He adds in another synthesizer in a higher octave, contrasting to the heavier, grunge synth.

‘Mega City One’ shows Leonard-Morgan introducing the listener to deep bass and lighter drones, with a very airy feel to them, before bringing in the pounding bass drum. Leonard-Morgan, for a lot of the score at least will experiment in mixing these two very distinct, very different, sounds. One distorted, pounding, synthesizers and drums, the other, quieter, pulsating bass and glitch electronic sounds.

Then there are certain point’s where Leonard-Morgan’s score is as intense, if not more so, than the action occurring on screen. Take ‘Cornered’ as an example; building up the tension with simple bass and drums, without warning the song lurches into a electronic scream that sounds like a cross between someone crying for help, and an old dial-up modem. It’s enough to make the listener sit up and pay attention, as well as sending shivers down your spine.

And then out of nowhere comes tracks like ‘It’s All a Deep End’ and ‘Ma-Ma’s Requiem’; songs that keep in fitting with the storyline, about a drug that appears to slow down reality for the user. Originally, Leonard-Morgan used a Justin Bieber track, slowed down by 800%, for these sequences before writing orchestral music and slowing it down for a similar effect, although there are certainly still elements of ‘U Smile’ to be heard. It’s amusing to know that something so Pop influences something that at times is not dissimilar to Heavy Metal. Listening to ‘Taking Over Peach Trees’ shows how Leonard-Morgan takes on a slightly more traditional Rock perspective when he needs to. Even combining it with a more Hip-Hop like beat, for example on ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’.

Dredd is highly underrated film, and with it comes a highly underrated yet incredibly exciting soundtrack. The combination of Industrial, Electronic, Metal and even elements of Pop makes for an eclectic soundtrack that compliments this film greatly.

Inside Llewyn Davis – 2013

by Dan Abbott

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If the success of a soundtrack is defined by the synchronicity it shares with its partnered film, then Inside Llewyn Davis is a fine example. An ode to the folk scene of early 60s New York that perfectly captures that era’s atmosphere, the Coen Brothers’ film demonstrated the darker side of musical aspiration. Charting the struggles of the titular, capricious musician through the difficulties of being a small-time artist in a big town (on top of other, manifold problems), it was uncompromising in its depiction of poverty and how, most of the time, you just can’t make it in the business.

The soundtrack, filled with (largely) era-authentic folk songs, is at its most striking when it accompanies Jason Isaac’s plaintive Davis as he sings solo to a silent audience, the cigarette smoke obscuring their faces. ‘The Shoals of Herring’, ‘The Death of Queen Jane’ and ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ all fit this mould, with slow acoustic guitar strummed to the sound of Isaac’s nasally tenor.

The songs elsewhere are no worse for expanded production. ‘Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)’, featuring Marcus Mumford on backing vocals, offers a jubilant contrast to the grave solo version. The Mumford take throws in a mandolin and a violin to exuberant effect, on top of its ringing guitar, the two harmonising. The album is gorgeous throughout; produced by frequent Coen collaborator T. Bone Burnett, the sound is crystal. Perhaps a little too crystal, given how sparse the accompanying film can be, but it’s a refreshing antidote if nothing else.

Not so stark is ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’, a Justin Timberlake-led bit of ludicrousness that’s nonetheless impossibly catchy. Intended as a political protest song, it loses its edge somewhat when Timberlake implores JFK not to “send me into outer space” against his will, as Adam Driver contributes some “puh-puh!” soundbites. It’s ridiculous – and ridiculous in its sincerity within context – but it’s a great little ditty that rolls around in your head long afterwards.

‘Five Hundred Miles’ pairs Timberlake with Carey Mulligan, who also stars, and Stark Sands. It’s a beautiful ramble with three-part harmonies and a stirring violin in the mix. The late Dane Van Ronk, whose biography inspired the film, even manages an appearance with ‘Green, Green Rocky Road’, lending the air of whiskey-soaked authenticity to proceedings. On the subject of the real deal, there’s even Bob Dylan’s ‘Farewell’; in folk terms, that’s about as real as you get.

Both tracks come at the end of both film and soundtrack. They’re a fitting end to an assemblage of music that’s fixated on the past; concluding on these two, masterful folk artists in their own right, is the perfect capstone, laying out the future within the film’s context. It’s a gorgeous soundtrack to an often troubling film, and while it may lack the well-worn grit of Davis’ struggles, it crystallises the hopes and dreams of a seminal moment in popular music.

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