Sunday, January 8, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Love Story (Michael Giacchino)

You always hope that the first listen to a score goes well. But halfway though listening to this score, I was resigned to relegating this to the middle tier of Giacchino’s impressive oeuvre. The themes were OK, the action was more simplistic than usual for the composer, and “Star-Dust” was perhaps one dip too many into the Lost well. As I listened to the lengthy “Confrontation on Eadu” lurch around in fits and starts, I was fully prepared to tell the score the bad news: It may be called Rogue One, but it wasn’t “the One.” Not for me. But then, the end of that cue happened, and I started to listen to this score with new ears, paying closer attention to its point of view, its thoughts and feelings. The use of the Imperial theme from A New Hope earned my respect, as did the “Shark Cage Fugue” tribute in the score’s eponymous track. Had I been taking this score for granted, ignoring its strengths all along? As the music for the film’s climatic action arrived, I underwent a climax of my own. And as “Hope” and the suites formed the score’s peroration, infatuation had turned into true adoration. Philia had become Eros. As the final soft, tender notes of the “Guardians of the Whills Suite” faded out, I gazed upon the score lovingly and whispered, my voice husky with emotion, “Let’s do it again.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Overview of 2015 Scores Part 3 of 3

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Gregson-Williams’s finest score to feature both orchestra and electronics in prominent roles, The Martian perfectly portrays Mark Watney’s perseverance and ever-aspirational attitude. In fact, with Damon’s performance focusing on witty, slightly glib one-liners, Gregson-Williams’s score actually does much of the heavy lifting to emphasize both Watney’s dire situation and the unquenchable spark that keeps him going. The simple, sanguine main theme plays well on both electric guitar (“Mars”) and full orchestra (“Emergency Launch”). “Hexadecimals” is the best of the “science montage” cues, propelling Watney’s spirit of innovation with video game-like synths and an energizing build-up. “See You in a Few” and “Fly Like Iron Man” add female and male choir to the mix, joining the orchestra in celebrating the near-miraculous achievements of the film’s characters. In “Crossing Mars,” Gregson-Williams takes the dramatic swells he used in his Narnia scores’ battle cues and stretches them even further, encapsulating the intrepid essence of the score in three-and-a-half minutes. I’ve always liked HGW’s music more than many others do, but I admit that he still surprised me with his spot-on evocation of the film’s spirit through his dexterous blend of synths and symphs.

9. Cinderella (Patrick Doyle)

Lush, opulent, sweeping romantic—such adjectives befit Patrick Doyle’s best scores, and his score for Disney’s live-action remake is certainly one of his best. It suffers a bit from thematic anonymity; in fact, the big moment when Prince Kit sees Cinderella on the dance floor (“Who Is She”) is underscored not by Doyle’s own theme but by his arrangement of the traditional “Lavender Blue” song. To be sure, Doyle does write several themes of his own, but I find their attributions rather fuzzy. A playful theme on tuned mallet percussion (bells or glockenspiel, maybe; I can’t tell) and piano at the end of “A Golden Childhood” forms the basis of “La Polka Militaire;” another theme, richly harmonized and tinged with melancholy, first appears in “The Great Secret” when Agent Peggy Carter dies and again in the final score cue, “Courage and Kindness.”

The one theme of the score that I really like (I think it’s supposed to be the love theme) heralds its brassy arrival in “The Stag,” recurs in flowing, full strings in “You Shall Go,” adds glorious choir in “Who Is She,” and concludes the score amidst regal trumpets and wedding bells in “Courage and Kindness.” It’s a full-blooded, passionate theme in the best Doyle tradition, and I only wish he had used and developed it more. And speaking of tradition, what’s a Doyle score without a waltz (“La Valse de L'Amour” is the best) and rapid-fire ascending and descending arpeggios (“Pumpkin Pursuit”)? Despite the relative paucity of great themes, this score mostly makes up for it with its sumptuous orchestrations and irresistibly idyllic mood.

8. Texas Rising (John Debney and Bruce Broughton)

Two composers—one who’s given more silly comedies than the dramas and epic adventures he’s so clearly suited for, and one who’s underused period—unite their forces for a rollicking, throwback Western score. The galloping, spirited main theme (which sounds just a bit like “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain”) starts the “Texas Rising Suite” off with a bang, whistle leading to unabashed brass and thrilling punctuations from the full orchestra. The suite, like the score as a whole, explores a wide range of moods—martial, tender, lighthearted, lyrical, reflective, and triumphant. “Anderson Wakes Rangers” evokes the classic, lively “cowboy riding into town” feel,  “Rangers Run Into Mexican Army” runs the theme through classic Western treatment with gleeful abandon, and “Gettin’ a Whippin’,” as you might guess from the title and genre, delivers banjos and fiddle-like violin intonations.

The ingeniously titled “Santa Ana and Emily Sex in the Bath” (it’s not just any sex—it’s Santa Ana and Emily sex) features romantic explorations from acoustic guitar. (So does “Deaf’s Goodbye to Lupe,” but the name of that cue just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) The two “Battle of San Jacinto” cues charge ahead with brawny action, brimming with complex rhythms, blaring brass fanfares, and judicious use of the main theme. “Emily Rescue” is almost like a modern country instrumental, complete with drum kit and fiddle (or fiddle-ish playing from a violin). Both Debney and Broughton make the most out of the expansive canvas afforded them, penning a score that, if not quite a modern classic, can still stand unashamedly amongst the best of its Western brethren.

7. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman)

I was thoroughly thrilled by Brian Tyler’s scores to Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, so I was eagerly anticipating this score—at last, some musical continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Danny Elfman’s sudden entrance caught me by surprise, but he’s one of my favorite composers, so I wasn’t miffed. While I love Tyler’s incorporation of his burly Iron Man theme in “Hulkbuster” and Thor’s majestic theme in “The Battle,” I dearly wish he had done more than just token references. Tyler’s Hulk/Black Widow theme captures the fragile, tentative nature of the two relationships, but his action cues, with the exception of the galvanizing “Rise Together,” fall below the standards of his other Marvel scores.

Thankfully, Elfman more than picks up the slack with some gentle cues for the farm scenes as well as his trademark frenetic yet melodic action—Elfman’s “Inevitability-One Good Eye” even ties Tyler’s Iron Man theme seamlessly into the intensity. Elfman charges Scarlet Witch’s theme with minor-key heroism, never more so than in its impassioned rendition in “Can You Stop This Thing?” But the real superheroic feat of the score is Elfman’s main theme, an utterly monumental tune that incorporates Alan Silvestri’s theme from the first Avengers and inflates it to mammoth proportions. Given a concert treatment in “Heroes” and “New Avengers—Avengers Age of Ultron” (the latter adding chorus), the theme climbs to near-intoxicating levels in the epic “Avengers Unite,” matching the most thrilling, comic book-y shot I’ve seen in a mainstream superhero film. The score is, by its nature, a work of two halves, but they mesh together remarkably well, with Elfman's contributions soaring to empyrean heights. I’m extremely grateful for the improved musical continuity (Silvestri’s Captain America theme gets a couple subtle nods as well), but with one composer with a singular musical vision, this score could have been even better.

(I admit that I didn’t know quite where to rank this score; the Tyler portions probably wouldn’t make my top ten, but the Elfman cues are so outrageously outsized and entertaining that I might rank them as high as #3 or #4.)

6. Inside Out (Michael Giacchino)

Giacchino has established such high standards in his Pixar scores that his superb score for this sublimely moving film still ranks below his other scores for the studio save Cars 2. The score revolves around two primary themes. The first, heard in the opening “Bundle of Joy,” (representing, well, Joy) is a wispy little tune that repeats each of its phrases with minor variations; as Joy is the primary character of the film, this is the theme that recurs most often. It’s pleasant enough but not as emotionally deep as Giacchino’s themes usually are.  Joy’s theme remains upbeat and lightweight through its various iterations, whether played on solo piano in the opening cue or with more colorful instrumentation, as in “Team Building” (though it does receive an action variant in “Rainbow Flyer”).

Fortunately, the theme for Riley’s core memories proves more intriguing, more appealing, and, ultimately, more malleable. It’s introduced in a breezy, almost “travelogue” mode in the title sequence (“Nomanisone Island/National Movers”) before plumbing the depths of poignancy in “Tears of Joy” and the sweeping confidence of the full orchestra in “Joy Turns to Sadness/A Growing Personality.” Giacchino saves this wonderful theme for significant moments in the film so that when we do hear it, it’s all the more cathartic. But Joy’s theme, Sadness’s melodically related motif, Bing Bong’s circus-like theme, a third-act action motif, and an awe-inspiring one-off melody in “Rainbow Flyer” (reprised with celestial organ in “The Joy of Credits”) provide plenty of rich, melodic goodies besides the core memories theme. Giacchino scores the two most touching moments of the film with sparse chords, deciding to stay out of the way; a more dramatic musical approach possibly would have driven the already emotional film dangerously close to cornball territory. Because of this, Inside Out is not as gratifying a listen as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, or Up, but it supports and even augments the film flawlessly.

Pan is a score of moments—that is, individual cues burst with Powell’s signature high-octane, heady electricity, but the score as a whole doesn’t quite hang together. But I enjoy those moments so much that I can partially forgive the lack of cohesion. Many of the early tracks drive me mad because of their abrupt tone shifts; just as they’re getting good, they suddenly stop and make an about-face with a comic musical pratfall—“Mine Escape” and “Nerverbirds” are especially guilty of this crime. Even though the main theme resembles the flying theme from How to Traiin Your Dragon, I still find that particular chord progression invigorating and even inspiring. Peter’s theme is nice—when we actually get to hear the whole thing, which is maybe twice in the whole score (“Floating/Neverland Ahoy!” and “Transfiguration”).

However, the captivating, rhythmic energy of “Kidnapped/Galleon Dog Fight,” the elation of “Inverted Galleon,” and the emotional release of “Transfiguration” provide the “moments” that make this score so addicting. Nowhere in the score is Powell’s energy on more rambunctious display than in “Flying Ship Fight” and “A Boy Who Could Fly.” Rollicking percussion, swashbuckling fanfares, magnificently kinetic renditions of the themes, and near-apocalyptic choir pump the thrills to prodigious levels. Even if these cues pale in comparison to Powell’s work on X-Men: The Last Stand and the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, I’ll take “epic” Powell over cartoony, schizophrenic/ADHD Powell any day. For me, the former outweighs the latter in this score; I’m content to let my mind and ears soar along with the handful of spectacular cues from this score, even if the whole package doesn’t gel together.

4. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson)

I make no apologies for declaring this my fourth favorite score of 2015, just as I make no apologies for declaring the film as my favorite action film of the year. Two ballsy, vigorous themes propel this enthralling score. The primary theme consists of two pairs of three notes each, often followed by a concluding pair of notes. Introduced (on the CD, at least) in “Manners Maketh Man,” the theme works equally well as a vibrant fanfare and as a relentless action ostinato. In fact, in “The Medallion” (actually the first score cue in the film) the theme starts in ostinato form on delicate harp, and then gains energy in strings, which transition the theme to fanfare mode with French horns joining in as the main title appears on screen. The villainous, lisping Valentine’s theme starts out as an electronic tone (like a crappy dial-up connection, to paraphrase the composers), but the actual melody is an audacious, Bond-like melody in which pairs of ascending notes create an overall descending shape—creating a dramatic tension fit for a character full of contradictions. In fact, Valentine’s theme sounds a bit like Jackman’s rejected theme for Magneto from X-Men First Class (before director Matthew Vaughn told him to keep the bass line and chuck the rest).

Anyway, the main theme serves as the nearly omnipresent spine of the tremendously exhilarating action cues, especially in the edge-of-your-seat “Skydiving,” in which electronic beats, churning strings, and whooping brass steadily build momentum, continuously modulating and increasing tempo all the way up to the breathtaking conclusion. Equally impressive is the 16-minute climax, comprising the cues “Calculated Infiltration,” “Out of Options,” “Hand on the Machine,” and “Finale.” As the stakes increase, the music intensifies relentlessly; highlights include a near-elegiac orchestral anthem in “Out of Options” reprised even more dramatically in “Finale” over electric guitar phrases similar to Jackman and Margeson’s work in Kick-Ass 2. The latter track also features a fateful statement of the main theme augmented by wondrous choir. (Can you tell that I really like choir?) And, of course, there’s the cheeky use of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance to underline a colorfully violent yet tongue-in-cheek scene. There’s nothing particularly complex about this score on a technical level, but there’s just something about Jackman’s better works that captivates me--certainly much more than the music of just about every other Hans Zimmer ex-apprentice save for Mark Mancina, Harry Gregson-Williams, and John Powell.

3. Jupiter Ascending* (Michael Giacchino)

It’s a bit of a shame that the themes in this gargantuan score aren’t utterly splendid, for that’s really the only notable flaw in this work—if the themes had been as good as the ones in, say, Tomorrowland, this would’ve been an outright masterpiece. As it is, we still get an impressive, complex score in which we hear Giacchino’s musical voice at its most unadulterated. Giacchino builds the score around three major themes, though he doesn’t consistently use them all the way through the score. “Jupiter Ascending—1st Movement” blasts the listener with an assertive, three-note brass motif that crops up in several action cues, most notably “Shadow Chase” and “Commitment.” The serpentine Abrasax theme rears its sinuous head in “The House of Abrasax” before slithering its way though numerous orchestral and choral developments in “The House of Abrasax.” Best and most malleable of all is what I’ll call the main theme, first heard on halting piano in “Jupiter Ascending—3rd Movement;” in that cue alone the theme burgeons into a sensational variation, complete with raging choir.

The serene cue “The Titus Clipper” patiently develops its almost pastoral melody with limpid orchestrations, but the bulk of the score’s marvels stem from its relentless action music. Before Jupiter Ascending, Giacchino’s best non-jazz action music was in his Medal of Honor scores; here, unfettered by John Williams’s influence, he concocts complicated, intense, full-bore kinetic energy in his own style. Among the shifting rhythms, fanfares, and instrumental pyrotechnics, Giacchino injects shots of choral splendor. A raw boy soprano also features in cues such as “Jupiter Ascending—4th Movement” and “I Hate My Life,” his unpolished voice adding a ragged, eerie edge to the compositions. “The Shadow Chase” and the climactic “Commitment” are the best of the action cues, incorporating the three major themes amidst the tumultuous action; Giacchino has the choir enter at judicious moments to escalate the spectacle at choice moments rather than just slathering them liberally over everything. The other action cues also boast rousing action, but these two rise above the rest with their thematic strength, allowing the melodies to accentuate the dramatic arc of the music. Although the themes aren’t top-tier Giacchino, a more consistent application of them would have pushed this score over Tomorrowland; the themes inexplicably disappear for long sections in the middle of the score. Giacchino has always been superb at fun, snazzy scores, but he has now fully come into his own in regards to straightforward dramatic action—and it’s an intricate, rip-roaring style that I can’t wait to hear more of.

2. Tomorrowland* (Michael Giacchino)

While this score isn’t as ambitious as Jupiter Ascending, the themes are so bright, so infectious, and so unabashedly optimistic that they would make me grin if I weren’t so outwardly phlegmatic. It’s a little hard to determine what each theme represents; with the exception of the delicate yet emotionally sincere theme for the robot “girl” Athena, each melody serves as a different puzzle piece of the film’s central conceit: the fantastic dimension of Tomorrowland. Such an approach is fitting for a film in which the main characters are trying to locate this utopian realm, putting together various clues in their attempt to reach Tomorrowland (though the film, much like the score’s application of its themes, isn’t that intellectual).

“A Story of the Future” presents snippets of all but one of the major themes: Athena’s theme opens the score followed by a French horn statement of a theme (vaguely reminiscent of the Grail Knight theme from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”) often associated with George Clooney’s character Frank Walker. The track closes with what I call the Tomorrowland motif, melodically related to Athena’s theme, its chugging, rhythmic brass underpinning evocative of the scientific wizardry behind Tomorrowland. A longer Tomorrowland theme enters tentatively in “You’ve Piqued My Pin-trist,” an exotic sounding tune that receives its best workout in “Pin-Ultimate Expereince” over an exhilaratingly peppy piano ostinato. The Frank/Indy theme soars with declamatory trumpet fanfares in “Edge of Tomorrowland” and ascends to more formal but no less impressive heights in “What an Eiffel!” (exclamation point not mine). “Electric Dreams” features Athena’s theme stripped away to its poignant essence before the Tomorrowland theme blossoms in its choral apotheosis. The last couple minutes of “Pins of a Feather” contain the most electrifying film music I’ve heard this year, Giacchino using the Frank/Indy theme and the intensifying orchestration to increase the almost unbridled momentum until the cue reaches its final peroration.  The action music isn’t as melodic or rich as it could have been, but this irresistibly buoyant score is yet another feather (or at least the pin of one) in Giacchino’s already extravagantly plumed cap.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens* (John Williams)

I wouldn’t call Williams’s new themes instant classics; they certainly took a few listens to grow on me. But right from the “Attack on the Jakku Village,” we know we’re back in that warm, familiar Star Wars universe, even if it would sound more at home in the prequels than in the original trilogy. Rapid-fire brass proclamations, rich strings, and woodwind filigree welcome listeners back to a faraway galaxy. The themes for Finn and Kylo Ren come across as undeveloped—rather befitting the characters, but I doubt Williams could make concert arrangements out of them without considerable embellishment. The “March of the Resistance” isn’t as direct and robust as the Rebel fanfare, but it inspires a sense of punch-the-air heroism, particularly when the Resistance first arrives on Takodana and when they prepare for the assault on the Starkiller base. Williams’s fugal arrangement adds a touch of class to the march; unlike the scrappier Rebel alliance, the Resistance is backed by a Republic that’s been around for a while. Even more stirring in Poe’s underused theme; rippling with brazen valor, this wonderful theme made me perk up my ears and take notice when I first heard the score. Best used in the one-shot scene when Finn watches Poe’s aerial calisthenics, this theme deserves further development and greater prominence in future installments.

Rey’s multilayered theme accentuates the complexity of the character, a depth only hinted at in the rapid-fire-paced film itself. Starting off with a pair of wistful, distinct, and catchy ostinatos, the theme expresses an almost ineffable yearning along with a healthy dose of nascent heroism and just a dash of melancholy. This last emotion is a particular point of interest; we get glimpses in the film of a traumatic event in Rey’s past, but in the present, she forbears from outwardly evincing much sorrow—a complicated trait elegantly expressed in Williams’s graceful theme. I also get a kick out of how Williams’s molds two of the classic themes—he mostly plays the Force theme, Leia’s theme, and the Han/Leia love theme straight, but he tinkers with the Rebel fanfare’s intervals in “The Falcon” and fashions the main theme into an exuberant scherzo in “Scherzo for X-Wings.” And as for “The Jedi Steps and Finale,” I’ll plagiarize a Facebook comment I made: The first 90 seconds are absolutely spine-tingling, “further proof of John Williams’s adroit dramaturgical expertise.” I’d still rank the score below all the other Star Wars scores except Attack of the Clones (Across the Stars and the Coruscant chase are all that score has going for it, honestly, though without those, it would still be a mid-tier Williams score), but that’s only because the others are nearly peerless. I don’t know if this score will make somebody fall in love with film music, but for those who are already film score fans, it offers a luxuriant bounty of riches to savor.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Overview of 2015 Scores Part 2 of 3

Read Part 1 here.

20. The Good Dinosaur (Mychael and Jeff Danna)

Although the Danna Brothers’ Pixar score ranks behind those from Michael Giacchino and Thomas Newman as well as Randy Newman’s better efforts, it still aptly accentuates the breathtaking landscapes and straightforward relationships of the film. While the quantity of themes is impressive—the score features tunes for Arlo, Arlo’s home, Arlo’s family, Spot, and the T-Rexes—many of them sound just a little too similar.  The family theme, first heard in “Make Your Mark,” imparts nobility with its reverent chords, while “Run with the Herd” features galloping statements of the T-Rex-theme, the home theme, and Arlo’s theme. The Dannas’ characteristic use of exotic instrumental colors adds zest to the harmonically pleasing tunes, even if the effect fails to reach the admittedly lofty heights that Thomas Newman periodically reaches using similar musical ingredients. Perhaps the score’s only crime is not being as spectacular or memorable as other similar scores; it’s certainly pleasant with a well-structured dramatic arc.
(The Good Dinosaur Film Review)

19. Disneynature: Monkey Kingdom (Harry Gregson-Williams)

Gregson-Williams in electronic thriller mode is hit (Spy Game) or miss (The Number 23), but his orchestral scores almost always evince the composer’s command of melody and color. Exotic, ethereal voices and frisky, frolicsome rhythms abound in this score—sometimes in the same cue (“A Magical Kingdom”). “Maya” introduces a winsome little tune on pan flute—amidst all of the Tony Scott scores, one can forget that HGW is so good at writing these softer, appealing themes. “Top of the Trees” starts a pleasant groove—the delicate flute flourishes are a particularly nice touch. There’s an unexpected but lovely waltz in “The Lily Pond,” while “Termites” and “Retaking the Rock” boast lush strings fit for long shots of some natural vista. The latter cue features a touch of action as well, though it’s not top-tier Gregson-Williams material. As the adjectives in this long-winded paragraph reveal, this is a feel-good score, but it doesn’t have any truly spectacular moments or strong melodies.

18. Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman)

Faced with the unenviable position of filling in for John Williams, Thomas Newman more than acquitted himself with his dignified music for this lauded Spielberg film. While Newman doesn’t abandon most of the elements that constitute his musical voice—the vivid instrumentation, prickly rhythmic ostinatos, and passages of tranquil harmonic bliss—he molds these elements into a more classically dramatic approach in the best Williams tradition. Resonant Russian choral tunes and a sincere, almost ballad-like main theme form the staunch foundation for the score, culminating in the impressive trifecta of “Glienicke Bridge,” “Homecoming,” and “End Credits” (which also make up more than half of the score’s running time). The first cue in this trio offers a master class on how to steadily build suspense without relying on dull drones or humdrum percussion patterns, the second explores heartfelt Americana, and the end credits showcase Newman’s invigorating choral writing. The first half of the score remains rather restrained, but I suppose that’s only reflecting the nature of the film itself.

17. The Hunt (Steven Price)

Although I wasn’t the biggest fan or Price’s Gravity, he did establish a distinct voice. The Hunt takes the most appealing aspects of Price’s musical style and spreads them out over 2.5 hours of mostly standalone cues, each one aurally portraying different species or aspects of the natural kingdom. Price starts the album with the best cue right off the bat—“A Game of Strategy” features an energizing anthem at once lyrical and heroic, reminiscent of Gravity’s penultimate cue. Price’s signature electronic manipulations of the orchestra don’t grate as they did in Gravity, but instead galvanize the theme, the sounds meshing with the counters of the melody organically. “The Blue Whale” is another highlight, orchestra and choir moving from ethereal wonder to almost transcendent majesty; string patterns play off each other, adding to the music’s kinetic energy. However, aside from five or six other cues, much of the rest of the lengthy score, while competent, fails to approach the stirring vibrancy of these two highlights.

16. Fifty Shades of Grey (Danny Elfman)

Given the movie’s sensationally lurid subject matter, Elfman wisely decided not to get too kinky with the music and risk camping up the images. (Or maybe they were still campy; I’m certainly not about to watch the film to find out.) A more lush variation on his recent documentary scores, the score relies on patterns, textures, and motifs rather than on overt, hummable themes. “Shades of Grey” sets the tone with bubbling electronics, sighing flute, and Elfman’s characteristically skittering strings. “The Red Room” finds Elfman getting a little funky with the electronics, recalling his music for Dead Presidents and the main titles for To Die For. Electric guitar creates an atmosphere of slowly simmering preparation and release in “Ana and Christian” (similar to the finale of The Kingdom), while voices denote sensual ecstasy in “Counting to Six” (and reaching ironically angelic heights in the non-Elfman composed “Bliss”). Elfman threads the conclusive “Variations on a Shade” (the best track) with an almost pop-ish beat on drum kit and electronics, orchestra churning under aspiring parallel notes from violins and bass guitar. The lack of a strong melody is a bit of a shame, but Elfman, as is his wont, still creates appealing music with just a touch (in this case) of cheekiness.

15. Jurassic World (Michael Giacchino)

Although this score shows that Giacchino isn’t quite John Williams’s successor, it does offer further proof that he is one of the most talented composers working today. After a welcome arrangement of Williams’s fantastic Jurassic Park theme (“Welcome to Jurassic World”), Giacchino mostly sticks to his own material, with snatches of Williams’s “island” fanfare and even the Lost World theme adding a kick to the proceedings. Giacchino shrewdly writes his new themes so they reflect the tone of Williams’s themes. The Indominus Rex theme’s low horns echo the ominous cast of the Velociraptor theme; the delicate family theme recalls the sparkling, childlike lullaby of “Remembering Petticoat Lane;” and the resplendent Jurassic World melody effortlessly flows into Williams’s Jurassic Park theme in “Nine to Survival Job.” However, it’s best not to compare the score to Williams’s near-peerless original as you’ll admittedly come away disappointed. Giacchino’s action material isn’t quite up to his usual standards, relying more on staid repetition of short musical fragments. Despite this minor reservation, choice moments, such as the brutal choral chanting in “Our Rex Is Bigger Than Yours” inject ample thrills, while Giacchino applies and develops his new themes—the arrogant, militaristic melody for InGen is particularly admirable—with remarkable aplomb.

14. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (James Newton Howard)

From the first to the third entry in Cookie Monster’s favorite franchise, James Newton Howard’s scores have gotten better, even if they haven’t quite reached the apex of his capabilities. The final entry continues the trend by being slightly better than its immediate predecessor, featuring the most sustained, thrilling, and rich action cues in the series. It’s not all blood and thunder, with “Your Favorite Color Is Green” developing a folk melody into a liturgical hymn and a spoiler-titled track pushing a solo female vocal into near-operatic peaks. The two “Attack” cues (Sewer and Rebels) surge with dynamic syncopated ostinatos, sumptuous fanfares worthy of the composer’s Disney scores, and staccato choir outbursts—a far cry from the stripped down action cues in the first Hunger Games. To cap off the series, Howard sends off Rue’s heartbreaking theme with a gorgeous threnody followed by cascading waves of strings joined by triumphant brass and choir. The score is still far from Howard’s best, but he did manage to gradually introduce the lush compositional mannerisms that made so many (like me) fall in love with his music.

13. Pixels (Henry Jackman)

While not as John Williams-esque as Jackman proclaimed in various interviews, Pixels still mostly eschews the 8-bit video arcade palette the composer had so adroitly employed in Wreck-It Ralph in favor of florid orchestral and choral gestures. The score’s primary weakness is its relatively anonymous theme. First heard in “The Arcaders,” the melody’s ascending shape, strumming electric guitar backing, and triumphant, brassy orchestration—all reminiscent of the superior Big Hero 6 theme—do mark it as an unmistakably Jackman composition. The score is all about the action cues, and the composer provides all the bells and whistles (though there aren’t many actual bells and whistles, if any). “Call to Cavalry” marches ahead with forthright determination towards a descending rendition of the main theme amidst swirling strings, while portentous choir threads its way through “Centipede,” “Shoot ‘Em Up,” and “Mothership.” In the climactic “Roll Out the Barrels,” Jackman deftly weaves various harmonic variations of the theme throughout the action, ending with a noble brass version that sounds like the song “City of Lights” from The Brave Little Toaster. Finally, Jackman concedes to the film’s video game villains with the addictive, all too brief “Arcaders ’82,” even if does contain a healthy dose of modern electronics alongside the retro samples. With a longer, more sophisticated them and a better dramatic arc, this could have been one of the scores of the year; as it is, it’s still a lively, energetic composition.

12. Ant-Man (Christophe Beck)

Beck’s swaggering, animated music deftly combines tropes from superhero scores and heist scores to pleasing effect. The odd-metered rhythm of the main theme provides the jazzy heist element (even more pronounced in the surf-guitar cue “Tales to Astonish!”) while the actual melody furnishes the requisite brassy heroism. “Scott Surfs on Ants, “Into the Hornet’s Nest,” “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and “Ants on a Train” offer the best moments of snazzy action while “Small Sacrifice” plays the main theme in a warmhearted guise. The similarly warm theme for the Wasp balances all the stylish licks, though it too plays in action mode in “Your Mom Died a Hero.” “First Mission” features a grin-inducing cameo of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme and even more pleasantly surprising statements of Henry Jackman’s Falcon motif from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Such respectful references to other Marvel scores alongside the lively heist elements make for an attractive score, even if it ultimately fails to reach the raw entertainment value of Alan Silvestri, Brain Tyler, and Patrick Doyle’s contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

11. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (Jack Wall)

Jack Wall’s scores for Myst III and IV were the first game scores I loved, so I always look forward to any new work of his. Wall’s electronics-heavy, high-octane music here is, on the surface, the polar opposite of his lush, lyrical work on the Myst games. Indeed, cues such as “Chasing Secrets,” “Cloud Mountain,” and “P.A.W.W.S” bristle with synthesized momentum and power anthems; “Ramses Station” almost sounds like something you’d hear on a dance floor. (No, not a ballroom one, though someone should try it and see what happens). However, “Prologue/Black Ops” and “I Live (Orchestral Version)” feature the explosive, dramatic mixed choir writing that were a staple of his Myst scores, with “Ego Vivo” showcasing the voices in a more liturgical mode. “Liberty Road” surges with triumphant orchestral action, complete with flute and brass flourishes, excited strings, and a stirring melody that Basil Poledouris would be proud to call his own. Several tongue-in-cheek jazz, blues, country, swing, and Caribbean songs (for the game’s zombie mode) are delightful bonuses. More entertaining to Wall’s work for Black Ops 2, this score impresses with its mix of propulsive action and robust melody.

Read Part 3 here.