San Andreas- Score Review

Release Date: 12th May 2015 (REGULAR RELEASE)
Composer(s): Andrew Lockington
Length:  1:12:12
Recorded At:  […] unknown
Label: Watertower Music

*

Why You Should…
Andrew Lockington’s remarkable handling of the project yields some fine calibre highlights in a raw, powerful score.

Why You Shouldn’t…
Confusion is raised several times, over the layering of styles and themes within several cues, and its application onscreen.
The revitalisation of summer blockbuster entertainment resumes in Brad Peyton’s SAN ANDREAS. Disaster films are sub-tropes of the human desire to protect one another from the possessive dangers Mother Nature may bring, and with them come a sense of low-key appeal, with plenty of eye candy and a multitude of special effects in array. The screenplay, however has always been a weaker point of aspect in such films, and commonly serves as a deal-breaker to many within the orientated demographic of audience.  San Andreas’ packaging of the familiar elements within an earthquake disaster film is more than adequate to compensate for its narrative shortcomings, instead wielding enough on-screen presence satiated by charisma and a thunderous arsenal of visual illusions to encourage the average viewer to invest their time watching it. It should come of no surprise, that this film is one of the better examples within the genre.
The film follows the course of divorced Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot Raymond Gaines (portrayed by the ever-likeable Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) whose unquestionably workmanlike daily routines are interrupted by an earthquake of formidable magnitude and high impact. A stereotypical ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and an exuberant daughter (Alexanddra Daddario) are thrown in the mix, and soon the lives of the innocent civilians at risk became as much of a priority for Gaines as do his loved ones. With additional support from several resourceful characters that are intertwined by the story, Gaines must find a way to protect them from the oncoming gargantuan at play. An assortment of reviews, ranging from mixed to positive awaited the film’s release, but had little to no influence on the reasonably decent box office undertakings.

The application of Andrew Lockington as composer was a surprisingly cerebral choice- though limited in his body of work, Lockington has proved that he is perfectly capable of applying traditional symphonic mold to a contemporary canvas. Noted examples would be his stellar work on the Journey To The…franchise (also with Dwayne Johnson), as well as his City Of Ember. As such, Lockington’s handling of the scenes are no less than exemplary, relying on harnessing emotive response instead of wild action rhythms that one may commonly find in most generic efforts today.  “Main Theme” is audible proof of this, Lockington’s use of wavering strings and a soulful boy soprano voice highlighting the fragility of nature well. Counterpoint between the strings can be heard in the latter half of the piece, and the tone is surprisingly optimistic in terms of rendering. Subtle horns dictate the growing heroism displayed by the characters onscreen. “Natalie’s Rescue” harnesses the bleak feel, before using a drum-kit to pound tension to accentuate the chase.  The fluctuation in meter is commendable, as is the exploration between the strings and the brass and the required sense of desperation is evident. Vicious, accented staccato strings help enunciate this further. You have to give credit to Lockington for using more than just a horn blast to accompany the scenes( though in some contexts, that technique is more than appropriate). The rhythm towards the end of the cue is captivating in its buildup. The emotional core takes prevalence in “Caltech”, as the main theme is fragmented hauntingly, as if surveying ruin. This brief cue is expertly handled, with fleeting piano and string warmth to resonate in the latter half.

Lockington continues to explore the emotional focus in “Divorce Papers”, with solemn cellos emphasising the separation of two lovers. It’s not cheesy in the slightest, and nimble in its purpose, with intimacy painted by the strings and occasional piano interludes. A subtheme of sorts is gradually introduced by the piano, rising and falling meticulously with the flow of heartbreak. The latter half is nostalgic in its oboe renditions, but ends mysteriously. “Hoover Dam” returns Lockington to the action, with intelligent but wild horns complemented by the relentless strings and crashing timpanis.  Sections of this cue evoke memories of some vintage Williams scores (a good example being Jurassic Park). The theme then is sung by the choir, before the looming electronics take control. “San Francisco” brings the piano into the field again, with wistful traversal of the destroyed city. To contrast this, he uses the strings to give hope to the situation, with valiant horns sounding out gorgeously. This cue is a definite highlight for relaxed minds. An ominous tone is set in “Connecting The Dots”,with a low pumping electronic backing under some turmoil in the strings. The brief woodwind interjections generate curiosity well.

In “Emma’s Rescue”, the monstrous percussion and sliding strings make the blood boil. Tension is handled superbly by Lockington, and one may find themselves asking for more outward efforts from him as such. The horns become suddenly heroic, with a propulsive force giving way to panic among the violins, the sinking feeling evident again. The unashamed yet controlled bombast within this cue showcases Lockington’s innovative action writing. A cutting, abrasive electronic wave is referenced repeatedly throughout the cues, perhaps an allegory for the scenes of destruction. The tone become drastically out of control in the latter half, with the strings and horns flailing for control. This frantic pursuit continues in “Escaping The Tower”, the brass marching with the bouncing strings in determination in vigorous stature. “Need A News Feed” employs advantage over the synths, tastefully handled, with a more melancholy feel, but robust in its pulsating movements. At 1:20, some truly cool waves of electronics are interwoven into the cue, a cold sound proving highly effective. “Blake’s Trapped” uses the horns to create animalistic timbre at the start, before those horns and fleeting strings return. This score never tires the listener with its mastery of tonal control, and the theme is inserted commendably. “Remembering Mallory” flips the tone into reflection of the character, with some mournful trombones and horns, and wailing cellos, and electronic manipulation gives this heavy cue balance amidst the shaking ground. Another poignant highlight, as the bravery overshadows the sorrow at the end of the cue.

“Coit Tower Destroyed” relaxes the tempo suitably, but timpani flourishes and gentle strings make their mark. It’s clear that Lockington gave just as much focus to humans as well as the earthquake, and the synthesis of these responsibilities is remarkable. The subtheme is mildly reintroduced from “Divorce Papers”, the violins striking the strings with brute force. “Skydive” is instantly brooding, with the ballet-like strings wonderful in this highlight, the best cue of the score. A powerful array of horns huff and puff in unison, and the percussion transcends the territory to epic heights. Distorted electronics breathe life into this cue too. “Stanchion Collapse” send the listener into a wild frenzy, the strings scaling against the weighted horns, and the addition of shakuhachi flutes and tribal drum patterns are interesting in the middle of the cue. Discord is conveyed here admirably, that abrasive electronic synth screeching against the horns. “Plan B” is a cue that is given a depth of soul with the bleak strings and tonality overshadowing the low double basses. At 1:49, driving optimism is clear as the crescendo grinds to an ear-shattering pause, before grim electronics end the cue.

“Tsunami” continues to toy with post-modern Zimmer-like video game writing some high violins and choral grace present alongside the troubling brass section. Again, the frenetic writing is complemented by the shifts through the chord progressions. On a side note, it is refreshing to hear raw, powerful glissandos to accentuate tension. There is plenty of activity from the percussive front, the Taikos deserving a mention “Extinction” reuses the choral motif from the previous cue, with serenading strings and tubular bells serving as supporting forces of brief grandeur. A sense of intimacy is heard in “The Kiss”, flutes gorgeously bracketed along the strings, as the harp is plucked lushly. The thematic identity is fragmented further, with impressive interpretations from the choir. The direction of control upon the woodwinds remarkable in this fluttering cue, as the horns grow brave once more to overshadow the characters’ fears. The masculine driving rhythmic force is subdued with the romanticism, leading to some wild stomping from the percussion. “I’ll Bring Her Back” continues to flirt with the fusion of discord and melody, the chase-like feel conveyed superbly by the energetic vigour of the string section. Lockington blends romanticism and tension commendably well, and it is that strength that bolsters these final cues. Sinister strings rumble, much like the land that these people walk on. An old piano is used to create a grinding effect for the destruction of buildings, perhaps the most unusual element in this score.

In “I Love You Dad,” a warm piano couples against soothing synths to enunciate the paternal affection Johnson shows for Daddario onscreen- this infuses tenderness, before an unpredictable blast of timpani rumbling and dooming horns take over, the meter fluctuating akin to a crack in a fault line. The addition of tubular bells alongside synths is appropriately abrasive. “Resuscitation” is a choral delight, the main theme whispering breaths of life into the cue in synonymous fashion. At six minutes and thirty-eight seconds, this cue is oddly reminiscent of Zimmer’s Aurora tribute cue, the emotion flooding in admirably well. Parts of this cue does evoke “Chevaliers De Sangreal” to an extent, the influence being ostensibly clear by now. A sense of aftermath is definitely felt, the toning back of instrumentation a calmer presence that offers a good soothing piece to zone out to. Those horns sing valiantly with the strings towards the end, a fitting end to the cue. The hyperactive score ends with “San Andreas End Credits”, the subtheme being the main identity this time round, but thankfully, the romanticism is washed over the chopping strings, with ornamentation from the flutes and even the choir here and there. The chord progressions are sheer nostalgia, evoking some Horner scores from the 90s. Then there is, of course, the Sia song to contend with: “California Dreamin’ modernised power anthem with stomping bass drums and tinkling piano with the reverb of the haunting choir. While it adds no value to the overall score, it does serve as a relaxation point for the score’s ultimatum.

There isn’t any major criticism that can be flung towards this raw beast of a score. Though repeated listens are a must for one to fully acknowledge the multiple themes interwoven, the balance between styles of writing and scale are as perfect as any director for a film like this could ask for. Lockington has offered an intelligent score which employs the tool of rhythm well to sustain momentum. Certain sections in cues are examples of this, though the hyperactive cerebral writing wasn’t always necessary.  The romanticism has been well handled, and is pleasant in its softer portions. There are times when the music may raise questions for the application of scenes, but it’s rare for a film such as San Andreas to be bestowed with a fine workman score of high calibre, and its merely a pleasant reminder of how well the carefully structured balance of orchestration and electronics count for a final product.

Music in connection to the film: [****] 4/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [*****] 5/5

Overall Consensus: [*****]  5/5

***
Track Listing:
1)San Andreas Main Theme        (all cues 1-23 by Andrew Lockington)
2)Natalie’s Rescue
3)Caltech
4)Divorce Papers
5)Hoover Dam
6)San Francisco
7)Connecting The Dots
8)Emma’s Rescue
9)Escaping The Tower
10)Need A News Feed
11)Blake’s Trapped
12)Remembering Mallory
13)Coit Tower Destroyed
14)Skydive
15)Stanchion Collapse
16)Plan B
17)Tsunami
18)Extinction
19)The Kiss
20)I’ll Bring Her Back
21)I Love You Dad
22)Resuscitation
23)San Andreas End Credits
24)California Dreamin’            (song by Sia)

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Woman In Gold- Score Review

Release Date: 1st April 2015 (DIGITAL RELEASE)
                        1st June 2015 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Martin Phipps & Hans Zimmer
Length: 40:47 (36:19 as score alone)
Recorded At: By the London Sessions Orchestra
Label: Sony Music Classical

*

Why You Should…
Within this excruciatingly short but tempered soundtrack, therein lies an impactful contribution from Phipps, and some guest noteworthy performances by Zimmer.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If arthouse scores are venomous to the less stagnant mind, for this effort will instead serve as a gentle lullaby.

The obsession with art as a prized possession and/or personal belonging is an ancient concept when it comes to Hollywood. Still, yet deep, nuanced and layered, these timeless paintings serve as a quiet, subtle reflection of influence. Such is the case of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee who had relocated to Los Angeles just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Aged, yet relentless in her familial pursuit, WOMAN IN GOLD is the biopic of how she fought with resilience to secure a series of paintings of her ancestors from the art restitution board in Austria. The eponymous title refers to her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the film’s narrative follows Helen Mirren(Tatiana Maslany in her younger years) in a bid to reclaim her rightful possession from the restitution, even escalating as far as the Supreme Court of the United States. Her victory is fondly remembered by officials and admirers as the Republic of Austria V Altmann 2004, and showcases a strong supporting performance by Ryan Reynolds as her persevering advocate. Directed by Simon Curtis, mixed reviews awaited the film.

As convention would have it, relatively obscure composer Martin Phipps, famed for his contributions to the BBC would collaborate with the ever-popular Hans Zimmer, to score this courthouse drama. Phipps, whose last noteworthy release was the cult TV program Peaky Blinders, would gain wider exposure with the scale of the cast and crew involved within the project, and for Zimmer, it was merely another prototypical day in the office, having scored the robotic dystopian film, CHAPPIE. The most interesting aspect to observe about their collaborative efforts is the unexpected, definite identification of their respective efforts on the score. With only two songs mildly interrupting the cohesive flow, the end result is a short soundtrack that garners intimate moments.

Ignoring the opening blues number ‘O Mary Don’t You Weep’ by Deren Johnson, Phipps’ contribution opens the score, with ‘Hotel Jazz’– a cue that lives up to its title, with warm piano playfully conveying the stereotypical hotel scenery, while subtly acknowledging Phipps’ sublime investment in the niche genre. Zimmer’s first chord appears after ‘Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra’ by Dawid Kimberg in ‘Restless’. The contrast of the piano writing between the two is evident, with Zimmer opting for an eerie echoing soundscape. It does, however convey the title’s meaning well, with haunting strings towards the end.
‘Maria Altmann’ is Phipps’ character suite for the protagonist, the melancholy, sorrowful atmosphere integrating with her age and internal emptiness in workmanlike fashion. The piano is the focus of the score, a tired but nevertheless effective technique applied by composers when scoring war-related films. There is a sense of mild beauty fragmented within the theme, and succeeds in reaching a lusher feel in the listener. Phipps continues with ‘The Beldevere’, the electronic manipulation for atmospheric finality more invasive yet effective with touch. The lonesome piano continues to sing in the darkness, but is thankfully backed by some interesting string writing, with the cello resounding emotively. Generic droning occupies the latter half of the cue, a shame considering the promise the opening showed within the cue.

‘Vienna’ marks Zimmer’s return. It is curious that Zimmer has only scored six of the cues, a refreshing change from his dominance in prior collaborations. It is, however, equally refreshing to hear him explore the piano further, a refection of his more raw tendencies. The cue does boast some of Zimmer’s more intelligent writing, abysmally downplayed by the abrupt ending. Phipps also handles the character suite for ‘Randy Schoenberg’, as well as co-writing the next cue ‘Open The Door’ with Zimmer. The former cue pulsates with electronica, a more rhythmic force driving the piano this time. The chord progression is a commendable area, having heard only tepid sequencing thus far. The latter cue opens with a nostalgic cello, and brooding (at last!) strings help further enunciate Altmann’s tragic past. The cello whines helplessly, and thirst for instrumental variation is satisfied adequately.  ‘Apotheke’ opts for a solemn brass/woodwind start, with Gladiator– like melodic development. The piano pervades the piece again, with discord effectively used. ‘Fleeing Vienna’ is the lengthiest cue at four minutes by Zimmer, as discordant piano and wavering warm pads(?) mature into string writing of a tense calibre. One of the better suspense cues in Zimmer’s illustrious career, the sinister horns are heard halfway into the cue, and harsh force is unleashed. The evacuation and resulting separation from family is well depicted in this cue, Zimmer’s minimal style painting the on-screen tension very well. He continues with ‘Flight 12 To Cologne’, the eerie moods more resonating this time. A low register, constant pounding is the backbone of the cue, and gives a sinking feeling. It is however, Zimmer’s weakest cue in terms of melody, though the brass work is subtly handled.

Phipps returns briefly in ‘First Hurdle Down’, the tonality differentiation a godsend in this otherwise troubled score. One of the better cues in this short effort. The growing promise on the strings and the pulsating electronics is complemented with warm piano.  ‘Art Theft’ is Zimmer’s last cue in this OST,  the descending piano sequences somewhat of a highlight against the distorted piano. The majority of his statements, particularly on the horns are evocative of Sherlock Holmes. Zimmer’s two note progressions are his calling card, this time opting for a more conventional, lighter, fleeting approach. The variation in tonality, more than compensates. Phipps takes responsibility for the remainder of the score, with ‘Statues’. The minimal strings and electronics contrast nicely, the raw cello against the brooding synths offering a brief highlight. ‘Final Testimony’ takes advantage of the lonely piano once more, with an appealing statement in the higher regions, mildly conveying a sense of finality. The score alone is simplistic, but adequately gives life to the presence on screen. A crescendo can be seen as a bit of a refreshment!
Slow horns and strings are heard in ‘The Language Of Our Future’, the clarinet/woodwinds in general taking control over the cellos and violins. A hint of refined classical elegance is what gives this cue some life, though at its own gradual pace. There is a sense of optimism layered within the cue, and supposedly, that does say something. The piano returns for the final cue, ‘I Lived Here’, as the cellos aid the soft piano in conveying nostalgia and finality. The strings are given resurrection for this final cue.

From an analytical point of view, it’s hard to assess this score in one single take, because the slow tempi and sole reliance on the piano alone will lull listeners to sleep. While Zimmer does make an impact in his contributions, with more refined and gentler exploration, Phipps is the composer who ultimately carries the voice of Altmann on his shoulders. Repeated listens are required to fully appreciate the work at hand, but deep within its brief pieces, there are melodious highlights to be sought. For a film like this, unfortunately, it inevitably deserves better. The lowering of expectations can prove key to your opinion on this score.

Music in connection to the film: [***] 3/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [**1/2] 2.5/5

Overall Consensus: [** 1/2] 2.5/5

***
Track Listing:
1) O Mary Don’t You Weep- Deren Johnson
2) Hotel Jazz (Phipps)
3) Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra – Dawid Kimberg
4) Restless (Zimmer)
5) Maria Altmann (Phipps)
6) The Beldevere (Phipps)
7) Vienna (Zimmer)
8) Randy Schoenberg (Phipps)
9) Open The Door (Zimmer, Phipps)
10) Apotheke (Phipps)
11) Fleeing Vienna (Zimmer)
12) Flight 12 To Cologne (Zimmer)
13) First Hurdle Down (Phipps)
14) Art Theft (Zimmer)
15) Statues (Phipps)
16) Final Testimony (Phipps)
17) The Language Of The Future (Phipps)
18) I Lived Here (Phipps)