Thursday, July 16, 2009

John Williams to return to score the final Harry Potter film(s)?

In a recent interview with the Harry Potter films' producer, David Heyman, a fan asked whether John Williams, the legendary composer of the first three films' scores and who in 2007 had expressed interest in returning to score the final film in the popular franchise, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (which is now being split into 2 films filmed back to back, due to be released in late 2010 and summer 2011), would be allowed back onboard. In response, Heyman confirmed that they indeed talked with Williams about the film and if he could accomodate Part 2 in his schedule. Though it's rather unclear from the interview, it certainly seems that Willams is almost cleared for scoring Part 1. Today in a sneak peek from an upcoming FSM interview, composer Nicholas Hooper, who scored the fifth and sixth films of the franchise, said he won't score the final film due to the pressure and stress of the project, and hopes John Williams should be back to score the final installment of the series he started.

Although not officially confirmed yet, this is certainly a great news for fans of Williams and the series like me. The scores Williams composed for the first two films were, although not perfect, very emotional and powerful. Even casual listeners best associate the franchise with the lovely Hedwig's Theme composed by Williams, which has since become the signature tune for the movies and included in all subsequent scores even after Williams left. Williams left the franchise at the fourth film, The Goblet Of Fire, in preferance over Memoirs Of A Geisha. The film was scored instead by Patrick Doyle. Later, new director David Yates, who will also direct the final film(s), brought along friend Nicholas Hooper to score the fifth and sixth films. Let me give you a short summary of the scores we've had so far.

!!!!!!!!!! SPOILERS AHEAD !!!!!!!!!!!!

Williams' themes for the first three films have been very memorable for me. Although somewhat overscored and laden too much with Hedwig's theme, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone had lovely musical material that so excellently captured the childlike wonder of a magic world, greatly summed up in the cue Harry's Wondrous World. A brilliant theme for the majestic Hogwarts, upbeat orchestral glory for the Quidditch matches and sinister brass theme for the arch villain, Voldemort, were really enjoyable both in film and CD. The second film, Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets, had a more fantasy/adventure nature and the score followed that. Dumbledore's pet phoenix Fawkes recieved one of the best themes ever by Williams, a serene, touching and noble melody that returns in heroic fashion as the bird turns up for Harry's rescue in the climax of the film. Harry's battle with the basilisk is scored with a rip-roaring fantasy choir and thundering orchestral music in one of the best action cues in the series (perhaps a little more than the poorly animated scene deserved), and the cunning theme for the Chamber itself popped up in various forms at the right places. The Voldemort theme returns in the spot-on moment too, actually chilling. The near-comical Lockhart theme and quirky Dobby theme are also remarkable. The finale scoring has to be one of the most grand ever.

As the series got darker, Williams went for more gothic and medieval style in the third film, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. I personally regard this as the best Potter score to this day. The first of the new themes I want to point out here is the one for Harry's family, in the track A Window To The Past. With a gorgeous start with Richard Harvey on recorder, the lovely orchestral piece powerfully highlights the sense of bereavement and love Harry has for his late parents gave their lives for him, and the extent to which this music captures it is remarkable. Never fails to send shivers down my spine. If John Williams indeed comes back for Deathly Hallows then I really hope he uses this theme again in the "Forest Again" scene near the climax.

Buckbeak's Flight is another lovely piece, starting with thundering timpani and moving into a gorgeous string-based melody that could rival the Flying theme from E.T. The darkness of the films literally creeps in with the arrival of the sinister Dementors, wraith-like foul soul-sucking creatures. Williams creates a terrifyingly creepy atmosphere with electronics, squiggly strings and dissonant brass, which are later accompanied by a sinister, equally dissonant choir in tracks like The Dementors Converge and Finale. Harry's patronus is accompanied by serene, almost church-like choir. Small but effective motifs for Sirius and Wormtail, a comical waltz for the Aunt Marge scene, the jazzy Knight Bus music, clarinets and staccato trumpet in Hagrid The Professor and Macbeth-inspired medieval song Double Trouble all make this score a diverse and very enjoyable listening experience. Quidditch, Third Year and The Werewolf Scene are really impressive action cues. Not to mention the clever ticking sound during the time turner sequence!

As mentioned above, at this point composer Patrick Doyle (known for his scores to Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare adaptations) took over the scoring duties to Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. The score tells you it's gonna be dark right from the first track, which I personally feel is the best Opening Credits music of the series so far. I can remember how the shrieking strings and bold brass leading to a darker, "serious" version of Hedwig's theme gave me chills while watching the film. Although the score and themes are effective and memorable, I have certain gripes with Doyle's score. First, Doyle's scoring is quite incoherent, unlike Williams. While most of Williams' music was perfectly enjoyable as a standalone music track and effectively composed piece of music, Doyle's music seems to have been scored almost shot-by-shot and very incidental, so you can't understand why the orchestra blares for one second, goes quiet, again rises, again goes quiet and so on. The layering of the music is not too good either. Secondly, Doyle went over the top in quite a lot of scenes which could have easily been scored more subtly (and this is coming from somebody who likes his scores loud and bold). He drastically overused cymbals and loud brass which I felt was totally unnecessary and in fact a distracting factor both in film and CD. Howard Shore's music for the Khazad Dum sequence in Lord Of The Rings is a perfect example to show that cymbals and brass can be effectively used for action scoring without going through the roof.

But nevertheless, the score is a honorable entry into the franchise. Doyle's new family theme, first appearing in Harry In Winter, is by far my favourite here. How it plays out in the climactic Priori Incantatem scene gave me shivers, as much as I'd have liked Williams' family theme here. The two classical adapted waltzes are great too, as is the Irish string music and percussive chanting in The Quidditch World Cup. The dark French horn motif for Voldemort is effective for the character, even though I feel the middle half of the Voldemort track suffers from the same incoherentness and blow-'er-up-ness as mentioned above, although its magnificent ending makes up for that. However quite a few good action cues can be found here such as The Dark Mark, Golden Egg and The Black Lake. The second one introduces the fantastic and powerful Triwizard theme, which returns in heartbreaking form in Death Of Cedric, one of the saddest moments of the entire series. Thumbs up to Doyle on this one. I particularly like how the score closes somberly with Another Year Ends and Hogwarts Hymn.

Nicholas Hooper took up the baton next for Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. By far one of the darkest of the series, the film had more dark and disturbing themes/scenes than any of the previous films. And Nicholas delved the score to a similar situation, a little perhaps too dark. The opinion of fans about his scores have been rather mixed, and I think that's the situation with me too. I think I'll start with the positive. Hooper created some really lovely themes and pieces that we can be proud to call a part of the Potter music franchise. The theme for Professor Umbridge, one of the most hateable characters in the books and brilliantly portrayed by Imelda Staunton, could be barely more catchy and effective than Hooper made it with the high, annoying strings and staccato brass. The full-bodied orchestral "flying" music he wrote for scenes like the Flight of The Order of the Phoenix and the Thestral ride (in The Sirius Deception) are truly top notch and a real pleasure to hear on CD. The Dementor attack music is as close to Williams' sound as possible. The rebelliousness theme was boldly represented by a wild wailing electric guitar, a rather unusual but effective inclusion in the score. Voldemort is given a new dark theme here, mainly to represent his invasion of Harry's mind, and personally I prefer it over Doyle's theme. The jovial themes for Dumbledore's Army and the Ministry Of Magic were lovely too.

Now to the negative part... my main complaint with Nicholas' style is that while he shone in the louder moments of the score, the quieter moments were so minimalistic and drone-like that I barely noticed them at all either in the film or CD. This is sadly the case with a lot of cues where he could have done something better. My main gripe is with the Possession music in one of the most emotionally gripping scenes in the series (great acting by Daniel Radcliffe, I'd like to add). The music failed to push my emotional buttons at all, the slowly rising strings were supposed to be effective but personally I couldn't feel they elevated the scene's emotion in any way. In fact, there are some moments where he hit spectacularly wrong notes that didn't fit with the onscreen emotions at all. Sadly such moments are a little too abundant on the CD and kind of distract from the much better aforementioned tracks.

The score to the sixth film Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince, which just opened today, was released yesterday. I am happy to say that Nick did a much better job in this score than the previous one. While I haven't seen the film yet, I've heard from a lot of people that the score works very well in situ. While quite a lot of it seems to remain background music and incidental, it is much better structured and coherent than Order Of The Phoenix. It is evident Nicholas was inspired by John Williams' themes as not only do we have the classic version of Hedwig's theme in Ginny, but the bold brass motif for Quidditch from the third score appears here in tracks like Ron's Victory and Of Love And War. Parts of the score are minimalistic but very sweet, with good use of classical guitar and piano in Harry And Hermione and When Ginny Kissed Harry. Hooper brings a more modern touch with loud drums and jig-esque music in tracks Wizard Wheezes and The Weasley Stomp, while for some unknown reason Umbridge's theme is partially reprised in Living Death.

A new, dark theme underscores the tragedy and tight situation of the now almost sympathetic Draco Malfoy in Malfoy's Mission, while Voldemort's sinister theme from the previous score has a cameo in the track Dumbledore's Foreboding. The Possession theme makes a more dissonant and choir-based appearance to good effect in The Drink Of Despair and Inferi In The Firestorm. The best point of the score is that the emotional material is greatly improved, in tracks like Farewell Aragog and Dumbledore's Farewell, the latter being surely one of the most powerfully touching tracks in the series. But my main grouse with the score is that the action music here is even blander than the previous score. The bridge attack music (Opening) has only constant percussion and trilling strings with supporting brass that might give an impression of a moderately suspenseful scene but definitely not the terrifying action scene it's meant for. A slightly sped-up version appears in Into The Rushes, hardly bringing along anything more interesting.

While the score might be serviceable enough for the film, it's not really a very engaging experience on CD. Nicholas Hooper did a much better effort than his previous work and I applaud him for that, but I cannot feel scoring in this vein would be anywhere suitable for Deathly Hallows. Anyone who has read the book can tell how action-filled and emotionally powerful the plot is, which only demands an as engaging and powerful score. When I first got the book (6:30 AM the very first day of release!) and started reading through it, a subconscious part of my mind began thinking what score would be required for such a dramatic book adaptation. This is why I really, really want maestro John Williams back for scoring the grand finale of the saga he started so beautifully. I cannot wait to hear how he scores the high octane action scenes and the so many emotionally powerful scenes throughout the book, and might even deliver something that will be remembered as one of his best works of all time.

So here's hoping for the Return Of The King for the finale! Fingers crossed!

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