However this promise was made when I thought my than next trip to the cinema would fuel my rage with the second Iron Man soundtrack, and we'd get that post organically. Instead I was in for a very pleasant treat, which would than be followed up by another wish list album!
Basically 2010 has been defying all my expectations, and setting itself easily apart from the past 3-4 years... Good soundtracks have become a rarity in recent years, with the Zimmer clones choking much of the market, and many of the great composers lower their productivity (possibly due to this increased demand for popcorn music by studios). It appears that perhaps there has finally been some backlash against generic film music, and as of such I'm struggling to keep up with all the great new scores coming out!
The first Iron Man, while an amazing movie, had one of the weakest superhero soundtracks ever made (only Danny Elfman's Hulk comes to mind as worse). The official line was Director Jon Favreau wanted a score that could be played solely on an electric guitar. Okay on face value this sounds "cool" right? It was his intention to have a very cool sound for the film. Well think about that for a moment. Basically you're asking for a whole movie to rely on music a 12 year old in guitar lessons could play... It was just a really weak score, in every sense of the word!
I had expected a repeat of this entering the sequel. Only to discover seconds into the opening credit music I was in for a surprise, the music was of a more strong nature! Thinking this had to be fluke, and we'd leave the nice villain theme and reenter generic music, the explanation was spelled out on screen. Zimmer-clone Ramin Djawadi had been replaced by veteran utility composer John Debney.
I can only wonder if someone had realized how pathetic the first movie's music was, and thus sout a more capable composer (as Zimmer-clones of Djawadi's generation are not really capable of making more than one type of sound), or if the Zimmer clan was so engaged else where they couldn't be booked (I hope to learn of the first option personally).
The choice of Debney was frankly kind of brilliant. Debney has built a career on being incredibly versatile, and has often been brought in to save franchises musically. While he is not in my top 5 he is a composer I respect, and typically enjoy the work of. His Iron Man 2, while not the best score of the year (he is up against some very steep competition!), is a remarkably enjoyable score.
It still has electric guitar for the cool factor, but it is wisely a buried element among a strong orchestral arrangement. The highlights are the villain theme of Whiplash, Iron Man's new much more defined theme, and the finale action sequence where these two themes duel with each other on a epic scale!
This was nice extra punch by 2010. Though I'd settled into the notion that Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon were going to be the true highlights of the year... When we had another heavy hitter enter the ring this week!
The Last Airbender, by none other than my favourite composer James Newton Howard...
I'd been starting to miss Howard. His productivity dropped considerably post 2006, and what he was doing proved impossible for m3 to track down in New Zealand. In his absence I found that John Powell's huge recent output and old Jerry Goldsmith classics I hadn't owed were eating up the niche in my musical listening that Howard had occupied back in 2000 till my move to NZ.
It is so lovely to have him back!
With one of his most ambitious epic scores yet! What is even more cool is it is one of his M. Night Shyamalan collaboration scores. Howard has done all of M. Night's music, and these have resulted in some of my favourite musical tracks of all time. However as overall albums they have typically been lacking in across the board quality, with isolated tracks (one of which inevitably always being the climax track) being the highlights and the rest being somewhat forgettable.
The exception to this was Lady in the Water which is one of the strongest soundtracks of the modern age if you ask me. There had been hope that this new high quality would continue in their joint projects. From what I hear The Happening (in addition to being a truly awful movie) was not able to keep this going, with Howard's music being more like his earlier M. Night efforts. I won't judge it as I still haven't heard it.
However with Airbender we have another absolutely solid album start to finish! While not as immediately obvious as How To Train Your Dragon on the thematic end, Airbender is an absolutely solid fantasy effort on par with Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings. I have had to listen to it three times in the last two days to grasp its scope and more subtle (but very rewarding) themes. Once you get in its head space it is incredibly compelling!
Like the other greats of 2010, I'll do a proper review of these later. I'm still having to absorb most of these scores properly yet. I'm just enjoying having more music to absorb than I can handle. This hasn't happened in over 5 years!
Avatar has fully sunk in with its 6 months to digest. So I will get to these shortly when they have equally fully hit home.
I conclude with the hope this isn't the end from 2010 on the movie music end. It is turning into an incredibly memorable year!