May 9, 2009

Soundtracks: Wolverine and the other X-Men flims

I managed to track down a copy of Wolverine's soundtrack the other day, and man I'm not happy about the delay to get such things down here!

So quickly before I talk about the music on the album, my summary of Wolverine is that considering what it was (a prequel in which we already knew the ending going in) it was pretty good. Note I said good, not great, but by the same token neither bad nor awful.

I'll have to do a post of all my photos of the films various locations, as it was all filmed within 4 hours of where I live.

Well the music of Wolverine is above average, but just like the film that's about it. It is not fantastic, and certainly won't be making it into an updated version of my favourite albums list. There are two individual tracks that will probably stick around on my mp3 player for a while, but I'd only give them 4/5 stars (I actually have on my media player ranking and sorting system).

With this album by Harry Gergson-Williams, I had high hopes. As of course he is in my top five composers. Despite the fact this album didn't knock my socks off, it wasn't a total let down either.
Before I can fully discuss this album it's probably easiest to review all the X-Men movie scores to put it into context. The X-Men as a franchise has suffered from different composers. Even more so then different directors...
No films share the same musical creator, and you would think it would effect the quality of the franchises musical identity. Yet apart from X-Men 1 (which was rubbish musically) I'd say this isn't really the case:
X-Men by Michal Kamen
This was of course the first of the X-Men scores. To be honest it was a real disappointment. I bought it seeking the heroic theme present in the film in a few scenes, and only got the most minimal presentation of these on the album.
That having been said, the villainous music of Magneto's escapade around the train station in the middle of the movie has grown on me, and is the one redeeming track of this album.
Otherwise it is just a set of overly electronic pieces that lack any coherent theme or sound composition. It does an excellent job conveying the science fiction element of the X-Men universe, but fails to conjure the heroics of the team (as that heroic theme I yearned for as a old teen just isn't that good frankly in hindsight 10ish years later) or anything else really. Just that it is futurist or something electronicy...
I bought it more for a love of the movie, as I did back in those days as a naive kid.

X-Men 2 by John Ottman

Was the turning point. Why Brian Singer couldn't get Ottman, his usual composer, for the first X-Men I can't remember (a scheduling conflict if I recall), but the second film sure does benefit from him being on the job.

Of the films I'd say X2 is without doubt the strongest. musically though it is only the 3rd best, but it served a very important role of laying the theme and compositional foundation on which the rest of the franchise would be built on.

Ottman defines a very strong heroic theme for the mutants, but due to the atmosphere and pacing of the film it rarely gets played. On album it is only really present in the intro and concluding tracks. It is a strong point, but not one on which the films music gets built.

The majority of the music is that of subtlety and intrigue. A quality Singer's films (until Superman Returns anyways) are famous for. The music works perfectly, and in casual listening can really add suspense to your day.

This album though not weak in any section, suffers from uniformity. The music is such a great part of the atmospheric layer of the film it doesn't vary a lot, and thus isn't the most enjoyable to listen too removed from this context.

It does offer 4 standout tracks though. The two heroic themes I mention are an immediate must for superhero music fans. The one out right action piece, the armies storming the X Mansion, is a roller coaster of musical fun and has one of my favourite snare drum sequences ever written. Finally Jean Grey's sacrifice has a build up to utter crisis that matches the brilliance of Star Trek 2's music for Spock's similar death. It is really spine tingling stuff, and the loss and sorrow theme afterwards is rather touchy (though not my out right favourite unlike the 30 seconds of the song when the water envelops Jean).

Though I rank this third of the films it JUST falls behind Wolverine as we'll see. Only the first X-Men was a major disappointment.

X-Men 3 The Last Stand by John Powell

Now of course when I discovered my (at that time) newly favourite composer Powell was in charge of this film, my expectations were very high. John didn't disappoint either! This is one of his strongest solo efforts in my opinion.

It has everything from heroic themes, mournful and sad moments, pure awe and dread, and best of all dynamic and textured action ques. I can't say enough good things about it, especially in comparison to the other scores this franchise has to offer.

Though the build up music on the first 1/3 of the album is a bit on the boring side, as of Angel's dramatic escape cue (a piece of majestic wonder... in some ways is over the top for the scene of the film... but on album removed from this, is amazing!) the album kicks off.

The tracks are all arranged on the album organically and often run into the next which right away makes it hard to pick highlights. What I like about Powell's score compared to all the other X efforts is that his heroic theme is entwined throughout the score, and even in the dark tracks hints of it can be heard. Reminding us who this film is about, and who we should be cheering for.

However the villains have some great musical moments. Magneto gets a great solo track of awe when he lifts the golden gate bridge, and the music matches the sheer power of such a concept. The energetic army piece denoting the government going to war with the brotherhood is a lot of fun, and matches the X-Men's less ominous and more hopeful theme in tempo.

What is even cooler is despite Powell making this score his own, it is built around the spirit of Ottman's X2 themes. You could claim they are the same, but because Ottam's were so lethargic in comparison Powell's infusing them with more life and excitement have turned them into something else.

It should also be noted that if you're into BIG orchestra's that use all their instrument all the time, this is the best score I've heard for that. Powell has a lot of different players crammed in here, and they each do get breaks, but they're not long! It is the only super heroic tour of an orchestra that I know of...

Wolverine by Harry Gregson-Williams

Based on the thrill ride that was Powell's X3, I was surprised, but stoked to hear that Gregson-Williams was replacing him for "X4". Surprised as Powell did so well with 3, and also him and Gregson-Williams can be very similar (they did after all work in tandem for their first few scores... these being among my favourites of all time!). Yet I was very excited to see what Gregson-Williams would bring to the table.

In a way I have to say I'm disappointed, but only a little. This is more with how the film was a lot more low key then the others, and so naturally Gregson-Williams had to match this with the music. Which was a let down. As I know given a bigger superhero clash he'd have produced something much more memorable.

When you break this film down it consists of only a few different themes played in different modes and speed.

The only of these that really hits the mark is Wolverine's "theme" which fortunately plays throughout 1/3 of the tracks. It is a multi layered and brilliantly constructed motif, that I'd say is the most intelligent musical product of an X film.

Gregson-Williams realizing he was picking up after so many other composers, started Wolverine's defining music by echoing Ottman's and Powell's hero themes. I say both of them, as playing all three together I can detect snippets of all of them in each other (so one must give Ottman the most credit for starting this mutant and the egg cycle!). Gregson-Williams then followed this brief subtle statement of the "proper" X-Men theme with a choral piece, reminiscent of his Kingdom of Heaven or Narnia scores (his identifiable calling card I'd venture) to give the Wolverine character an alieness (his mutation) and yet a grounding soul.

Depending on the track Gregson-Williams then composes this theme sometimes to reflect bestial side of the character by making the choral sing in a very savage manner backed up by furious drums and electric guitar. Sadly these are the only highlights of the album.

The only action music worth mentioning is the battle between Wolverine and Zero which is based on this character theme music. The end confrontation with Deadpool is an interesting combination of choir and electronic, but it never builds beyond a background tension. The music doesn't convey the battle beyond the screen. Additionally there is no strong villain theme for either Stryker or Sabretooth. Which is a shame, as one of my favourite villain themes is from Kingdom of Heaven, and it was short enough that a rehash here (or anywhere else) would probably go unnoticed by most (and welcome by noticing me!).

However this score still steals second place in the X film score list for me. The cleverness and effectiveness of this Wolverine theme, and its liberal use throughout the score make it a 35-40% of the time enjoyable album. X2 is about the same, but as it is darker and less "epic" I put Wolverine ahead of it.

X3 on the other hand is depending on your mood (as it is the most diverse of the X tracks apart from 1) enjoyable for about 60% of its content. X1, well I don't even have a copy here, and if I did I'd only listen to the train station track, is probably best avoided.

If you want to buy the ONE good X-Men album I'd say X3, but failing that X2 is actually your best bet (I liked Wolverine more, but I'll admit it was a one trick pony... and I fall for those if their well done like this one).


Michael Hoskin said...

Just got back from the film; I was reminded of X2's soundtrack at a few points.

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

yeah! I'm into big orchestras!