Yes, I am posting after over a year. Speaks volumes about my schedule, I guess! Hehe.
Presented in my comeback post is a series of spontaneous thoughts about John Williams’ wonderful, thematically rich score to Steven Spielberg’s latest film – an adaptation of Herge’s famous Tintin comic books, which I had the privilege to watch in exquisite 3D today. As an avid fan of the books, TV series, director and composer, there’s no way I could gonna miss on this one (many thanks to my wonderful parents for this, without whose support it wouldn’t have been possible). While the film itself is an excellent action/adventure flick expertly combining The Secret Of The Unicorn with the events of Crab With The Golden Claws while faithfully retaining the spirit of Herge’s classics at its heart, equally appreciable are the so-called “technical” aspects like the animation, cinematography, art direction, vocal performances… and the score.
NOTE: Spoilers ahead.
Collaborations between Williams and Spielberg are legendary, beginning with the critically acclaimed score to Jaws in 1975 and followed up with classics like the Indiana Jones series, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan and the recent War Of The Worlds. Their latest collaboration would be Williams’ first score for a full fledged animated film, and as an enthusiast of that area, my interest was certainly built up even more. As someone who’s held Ray Parker’s dynamic main theme to the Ellipse animated series as a definitive theme for Tintin since childhood, I was certainly hoping that Williams would come up with something equally memorable and powerful for Spielberg’s film. The Adventures Of Tintin, which plays over the charmingly animated opening titles sequence, therefore certainly came as a mixed surprise. Far from a heroic or adventurous fanfare, we have a quirky, playful piece featuring woodwinds, harpsichord and tubular bells playing both themes for the titular character in a rather unconventional way that is a bit slow to grow, but immediately appreciable in its unique orchestral palette.
It is in union with the visuals that the significance of this decision displays its perfect aptness. Tintin’s theme is a catchy motif first introduced on clarinets and then bursting forth on brass in various points of action and adventure. The theme itself isn’t really developed much further, just like its character in this movie and the comics; he is essentially our guide and active narrator through the events, and that’s what the theme does – propel us forth through the adventure and boost its strength. The “B” portion of the theme (a signature of the maestro) also shows up separately during scenes of stealth or action, but neither of these is the driving them of the movie. That position is held by the ten-note theme representing the Unicorn, the majestic ship once commanded by Sir Francis Haddock, which held the treasure everybody is after in this film. It plays on suspenseful, mellow horns whenever it is referenced, whether in the form of the three miniature models holding the scrolls or when the ship itself is hinted at in some form.
Deliciously haunting through the first half, it gains its first full-on performance on the massive orchestra during a spectacular flashback sequence of Sir Francis and his crew engaging in battle against Red Rackham’s pirates in the stormy seas. I truly got chills when the theme raged into presence as the two ships crash into each other, the occupants of the enemy vessel leaping into the other in full onslaught. The theme is played in destructive mode in Red Rackham’s Curse And The Treasure as Sir Francis blows up the ship rather than let her fall into the slimy hands of the pirates. Perhaps the most well-developed theme is that representing the famous Captain Haddock, here in his introductory phases; the conflicted oboe tune represents his struggle with alcoholism and lack of focus and confidence. It receives performances of comic heroism during the events of the frentic Flight To Bagghar, and eventually reaches a sober zenith in the noble Captain’s Counsel as he bucks up the hopeless Tintin. When I first read of the book to be adapted, the sequence I was most looking forward to was undoubtedly the aforementioned sea battle, and here we also get two exquisite swashbuckling pirate themes from Williams – one representing the diabolical Red Rackham himself, and the other frequenting in swordfight scenes, before representing the “thirst of adventure” in general in The Adventure Continues.
The main villain of the film, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (a fairly minor character in the original comic), is initially given a menacing, vaguely Mid-Eastern nine-note motif during the scenes of Tintin and Haddock’s escape from the Karaboudjan, which is eventually replaced by Red Rackham’s theme in the final confrontation as Sakharine is revealed to be the descendant of the sinister pirate. Then there’s Snowy’s Theme, a refreshingly light-spirited and fast paced tune on strings and flute which perfectly fits Tintin’s hyperactive and cute companion as he faithfully accompanies him in the adventures. The two bumbling detectives, Thomson and Thompson, are given an aptly lazy clarinet theme that accompanies their sloppy efforts to chase the pickpocket, whoops, I mean kleptomaniac Mr. Silk. This wealth of themes, no less than the fabulous treasure of the Unicorn, is an absolute delight as it unfolds through the events of the film and each of them aptly interacts with the others as the circumstances unfold.
Whether it is in suspenseful cues like Marlinspike Hall or the ones featuring tooth-and-claw action music like Sir Francis And The Unicorn, never does Williams miss a single hit on time – the latter track even featuring several orchestral hits in rapid sync with sword clashes as Red Rackham’s and Sir Francis’ (a variant of the former) themes furiously battle each other with their respective characters. Notable is the liberal use of energetic woodwinds in tracks like Flight To Bagghar and fast-paced action material like Pursuit Of The Falcon and Clash Of The Cranes, though Williams takes care to never let them overpower the onscreen visuals. Some portions where the music takes a more prominent position are the aforementioned pirate sequences and portions of Escape From The Karaboudjan, especially the terrifying dissonant crescendo as the treacherous first-mate Alan steers the ship to crush what he thinks is Tintin and Haddock’s boat. Comic cues like Introducing The Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase and Capturing Mr. Silk are a delight in their respective scenes. The summary and union of this wealth of themes in Return To Marlinspike Hall and Finale is truly wonderful as well. While the official album is missing some interesting cues (including the scenes of Tintin first meeting the captain and their hijacking of the Portuguese seaplane), it is relatively well presented.
Although Spielberg’s upcoming film War Horse seems like a stronger contender at the Oscars next year, inevitably in the score department as well (also delivered by Williams), I do hope the score for The Adventures Of Tintin gets due recognition eventually because while not really something groundbreaking, it’s a refreshing return to Williams’ earlier action/adventure scores that turned many of us into his fans, and is undoubtedly one of the finest and most entertaining scores of this year so far, while effectively enhancing the already great film it accompanies. And how can it not be even more special when you finally get a refreshing new drink of your favourite composer’s material after a drought of three long years? Top quality material as far as I am concerned; highly recommended.