The Martian – music by Harry Gregson-Williams

The MartianFor the sake of clarification and brevity, it’s important to get one thing out of the way: The Martian is the best Mars movie anyone’s ever made, and its soundtrack is the best Mars music that’s even been made.

The movie’s score (and this is an important distinction, as there are both score and “songtrack” albums from The Martian out there) is a triumph of tone. Harry Gregson-Williams knows when to deploy his full orchestral resources and when to pare things back to a sparer sound fitting Mark Watney’s plight. But here’s where The Martian differs from, say, the overriding bleakness of the later TV miniseries Mars: Gregson-Williams brings percolating synths into play, practically providing a soundtrack for the synapses firing in Watney’s head as he vows to “science the shit out of this” and then proceeds to do precisely that. At times playful, at times dense and technical-sounding, these sequences are the sound of hope and resourcefulness in a movie that many are praising for – somewhat unusually for Hollywood – getting a great deal of the science right.

That’s the difference, both musically and thematically, between The Martian and Mars.

The dramatic stakes are upper orchestrally where appropriate, whether it’s the Ares IV’s initial desperate blastoff to the safety of Mars orbit, or the crew’s even more desperate attempts to recover their crewmate against staggering odds. Where the synth sequences are lighter and energetic, these scenes are heavy on percussion and rumbling bass lines, because Serious Stuff is happening.

It’s easy to forget that there was a great score for this movie when it seems like the studio was so eager to fashion a tie-in album of existing ’70s songs from the movie’s plot device of Commander Lewis’ behind-the-times playlist, but the music for the travelogue of Watney abandoning the safety of his habitat and 4 out of 4setting out on a perilous trek to an already-landed ascent vehicle alone is worth the price of admission here. In terms of both music and movie, it’s scenes like that which keep The Martian as my favorite movie of a year that brought back the Star Wars franchise amid considerable hype. Heat up some potatoes and give this a listen.

Order this CD

  1. Mars (2:25)
  2. Emergency Launch (3:09)
  3. Making Water (2:38)
  4. Spotting Movement (1:49)
  5. Science the S*** Out of This (2:16)
  6. Messages from Hermes (3:31)
  7. Sprouting Potatoes (1:39)
  8. Watney’s Alive! (2:46)
  9. Pathfinder (2:33)
  10. Hexadecimals (2:33)
  11. Crossing Mars (3:36)
  12. Reap & Sow (2:21)
  13. Crops Are Dead (3:26)
  14. Work the Problem (1:58)
  15. See You In a Few (5:11)
  16. Build a Bomb (5:06)
  17. I Got Him! (4:45)

Released by: Columbia Records
Release date: September 30, 2015
Total running time: 51:42

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – music by Harry Gregson-Williams

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - music by Harry Gregson-WilliamsWhile this fourth installment of the comic-inspired film franchise finally gives in to an unabashed celebration of the character (and, let’s face it, the actor who plays him) who has intrigued both long-time X-Men fans and uninitiated viewers for ten years, it’s an understatement to say that there’s been a little less cohesion behind the scenes. Each of the X-Men films has been handled by a different composer, with no one under any apparent obligation to build upon the themes established by his predecessors. The X-Men films have been scored by some top-flight talent as well, from John Ottman (Superman Returns) to no less than the late Michael Kamen.

It’s into that august company that rising star Harry Gregson-Williams (The Chronicles Of Narnia) steps with his score for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His two scores for the Narnia movies thus far are worth mentioning, because the Wolverine score very strongly resembles those: many passages of Wolverine can be described, in a nutshell, as “Narnia, but darker.” Wolverine delves more into screeching string crescendos, electric guitar textures, and dark, pulsating electronics.

One of the strengths of Wolverine – the movie – is its obvious focus on one character. The score follows suit, but that turns out to be a musical weakness; much of the score CD has the same “feel” to it, with few major variations in the music to break the tension. Kayla gets a theme that strikes me as very Narnia, while an interesting motif creeps into the “Adamantium” cue (the scene in which we see the horrifying process Logan undergoes to become invincible), but then vanishes for the rest of the soundtrack. Would it really have killed anyone to, for example, roll out just a little hint of zydeco for Gambit’s scenes? That may sound silly, but we’re not talking about taking it to a ridiculous self-parodying degree that would take the viewer right out of the movie, but just enough of a flavoring to signify the character’s 3 out of 4presence. Instead, most of the scenes that don’t involve balls-to-the-wall, bold-and-brassy action music are kept to a menacing restrained thunder with few, if any, concessions to anything overtly thematic.

It’s an enjoyable enough listen, and a fine specimen of modern orchestral-with-a-smattering-of-electronic movie music that serves its visual accompaniment well, but Wolverine won’t be replacing Harry Gregson-Williams’ Narnia work as the composer’s definitive calling card anytime soon.

Order this CD

  1. Logan Through Time (4:16)
  2. Special Privileges (1:58)
  3. Lagos, Nigeria (5:10)
  4. Wade Goes to Work (1:29)
  5. Kayla (2:50)
  6. Victor Visits (2:05)
  7. Adamantium (4:17)
  8. Agent Zero Comes for Logan (3:06)
  9. To The Island (3:43)
  10. Deadpool (4:09)
  11. The Towers Collapse (3:23)
  12. Memories Lost (2:57)
  13. “I’ll Find My Own Way” (1:24)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 45:23

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe soundtrackI’ve been ambivalent about the new film version of C.S. Lewis’ classic tale on many levels; for one, despite enjoying some of the past attempts that have been, to put it charitably, steeped in cheese, I’m just not sure this is something that can be accurately committed to the big screen. (Oddly enough, I have the same feeling about Dune – I’ve enjoyed various attempts to put it on film, but I’ve also been more than ready to say “okay, enough” at the next attempt.) This big-budget, big-screen, CGI-filled, Disney-backed version looks like it may actually convey the story satisfyingly. And if the soundtrack, released before the movie’s opening, is any indication, we may actually luck out this time.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score, the main component of the soundtrack release, is gorgeous stuff. From its opening cue, The Blitz, 1940, it’s clear that much of the music will be in a traditional leitmotif mode, but Gregson-Williams still finds plenty of room for originality within that context. “The Blitz, 1940” cleverly uses rumbling, downward portamentos of brass to accompany the bombing of London, sounding almost like diving airplanes (who needs sound effects?). Things get decidedly more modern with “Evacuating London”, which almost sounds like it’s taking a few Enya-inspired pointers from Titanic in places.

Things settle down a bit until we actually step through the wardrobe, at which point the music conveys a great sense of the fantastic and the epic. There are numerous cues which – at least judging by their track titles – are lush, flowing travelogues, making for a very relaxing listen without quite fading into the blandness of background music. Having completely missed a few guesses in past “heard the music before I saw the movie” soundtrack reviews, I’m not even going to try to guess at how well the music fits the film, but it’s great stuff; out of the entire score, I will admit to having kept “The Blitz, 1940” and “The Battle” on repeat play quite a bit.

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe deluxe soundtrackThere are four songs included on the tail end of the CD; Alanis Morissette fans will enjoy her track, “Wunderkind”, and I was stunned beyond belief to see Tim Finn turn in a new tune, “Winter Dream” (especially since I’m a fan of his work and hadn’t heard a peep about his participation). (I don’t know who worked the deal to get Tim on this soundtrack or how they did it, but hopefully he benefits from the exposure.) Imogen Heap contributes “Can’t Take It In”, while Lisbeth Scott, the vocalist who can be heard at several points in the score itself, gets a song to herself (“Where”). There’s also a nicely packaged two-disc “special edition” release; the contents of the soundtrack CD are identical, but the package also includes a DVD with interviews with composer Gregson-Williams, concept art galleries and trailers from the movie, and a few other promotional pieces.

rating: 4 out of 4All in all, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe gets a very nice orchestral score with some modern touches (though not overpoweringly modern). If you’re looking for a good film score with a balance between action scenes and more contemplative cues, and something that’s not John Williams (nothing against Mr. Williams, but 2005 at the theater has been jam-packed with his music – Revenge Of The Sith, War Of The Worlds, Munich, Memoirs Of A Geisha…), this will do nicely.

Order this CD

  1. The Blitz, 1940 (2:32)
  2. Evacuating London (3:38)
  3. The Wardrobe (2:54)
  4. Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus (4:10)
  5. A Narnia Lullaby (1:12)
  6. The White Witch (5:30)
  7. From Western Woods To Beaversham (3:34)
  8. Father Christmas (3:20)
  9. To Aslan’s Camp (3:12)
  10. Knighting Peter (3:48)
  11. The Stone Table (8:06)
  12. The Battle (7:08)
  13. Only The Beginning Of The Adventure (5:32)
  14. Can’t Take It In performed by Imogen Heap (4:42)
  15. Wunderkind performed by Alanis Morissette (5:19)
  16. Winter Light performed by Tim Finn (4:13)
  17. Where performed by Lisbeth Scott (1:54)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 70:44