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SONIC DEATH MONKEY SOUNDTRACK REVIEWS - Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter

by Laura Kyle

I’ve been a bad monkey. Probably no one noticed – but there was no soundtrack review last week. I don’t believe there’s ever been a week that quiet in the history of Sonic Death Monkey. Okay, that’s not true. But it’s almost true. And because of that, I’m really sorry. No bananas for me.

K. Let’s get to it.

It’s Christianity v. Witchcraft and Wizadry. The Cross v. The Broom. English Kids With Weapons From Santa Clause v. English Kids With Magical Powers. Narnia v. Hogworts.

Harry Gregson-Williams and company v. John Williams and Patrick Doyle doing a pseudo-impression of John Williams.

Already, the Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack is down one point. The fact that Narnia has a spin-off soundtrack, with music “inspired” by the motion picture, makes me want to barf. More like it's “inspired” by the marketing department over at Disney. Hey, I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we make a CD featuring up and coming and popular artists and somehow connect it to a Blockbuster movie so that people will go and buy it, thinking it’s something special, because we know nobody’s interested in boring things like instrumental music. So anyways, that really pisses me off. Narnia: -1.

The real Narnia soundtrack’s not too bad however. Still, it’s sort of a rip-off of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score. Which is convenient, seeing how the movie is a suckey rip-off of Lord of the Rings.

Seems like they could’ve hired a more seasoned composer than Harry Gregson-Williams (Kingdom of Heaven’s the closest thing to Narnia that he’s ever done). The guy only started scoring films in the 90’s and his resume isn’t all that remarkable. Still, he bangs out some really great tracks that often upstage the film itself. It’s never a good sign for a film when you listen to its music and it fails to stir up any nostalgia.

Gregson-Williams’ score is commendable but it’s obvious he’s taking cues from his colleagues. I hear a lot of James Newton Howard, some Howard Shore, maybe even a tad of Danny Elfman and John Williams… but nothing too original. Plus his musical themes try a little too hard to be memorable. Why is this thing getting nominated for a Golden Globe?

Maybe I’m being too hard on it. Because it really is an enjoyable soundtrack, from the quieter pieces that accompany the children’s wonder as they discover Narnia to the more adventurous ones where they prepare to battle the White Witch. I just get the feeling I’ve heard all of this before.

The Chronicles of Narnia demands an epic soundtrack with a whole lot of range in mood, so there aren’t many instruments Gregson-Williams neglects.

“The Blitz, 1940” is a jolting, matter-of-fact intro. Then the score backs off in “Evacuating London,” hinting at some of the larger themes to come. It features a nice little piano melody that’s followed up with a really pretty wind instrument/string orgy of sorts. And then suddenly you’ve got this pseudo-pop tune by some Bjork-like singer. It’s okay I guess.

“Wardrobe’s” your first hint at how jealous Narnia is, of Lord of the Rings. (For a movie with such a wintery backdrop, Narnia's a little too green at times, don’t you think?) The actual theme reminds me of something out of the Peter Pan score (by James Newton Howard) but the flute action just screams Lord of the Rings. “Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus” is a gentle, lovely piece though, mostly a solo violin and some slight piano accompaniment. Then it’s “Narnia’s Lullaby” (the tune Tumnus puts Lucy to sleep to, so he can kidnap her) and I sense that this is supposed to be a lot more haunting than it really is. The choir and instruments that go under this theme and eventually take over, I like though.

Throughout the whole soundtrack, you get a lot of choir voices singing incomprehensible things and that Lord of the Rings-esque flute, mixed in with the more foreboding, ominous tracks which use more complicated themes and orchestrations. Bits of the main melody are scattered about, and it’s likeable enough. Simply doesn’t grab me as I imagine it’s supposed to. It's only occasionally enchanting.

The second to last song from the score, “Battle,” is a highlight. And so of course, is the last instrumental piece “The Beginning of the Adventure.”

The instrumental score ends prematurely. But I guess you’ve gotta make room for the songs that’ll get the younger audience to pay attention. Good old Disney, you always do know how to make a buck, huh?

I’m not sure why, but I never appreciate songs written for a movie unless they are actually IN the movie. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. Explain to me how four spots on the soundtrack (that’s almost a fourth of it) are dedicated to songs that aren’t even in the frickin’ film! Luckily, they’re alright (Gregson-Williams had his hand in them) and compliment the film… the film they’re NOT IN. Ah well, I guess it’s like an extra gift or something. Female singer Imogen Heap (from the band Frou Frou…she did that song “Let Go” from Garden State) contributes “Can’t Take It In” which has a very Enya feel to it…did I mention Narnia is like a wannabe Lord of the Rings yet? Alanis Morrisette does “Wunderkind” which stands on its own pretty well. Morrisette always seems to pop up in the most random things, doesn’t she?

Who gives a fuck about the last two songs? Were the credits even long enough to feature them? I didn’t hang around, so I don’t know.

I’m not quite sure why Narnia didn’t have as majestic a sound to it as I would’ve liked. All the technical aspects of a great score are there – clearly Gregson-Williams knows what’s he’s doing. But perhaps his limited familiarity with the fantasy genre, in that he’s only scored films that are nothing like Narnia , forced him to copy other composers.

Now on to a score that is quite intentionally copying John William’s music to the first three Harry Potter movies. Goblet of Fire is the first flick Williams opted out on; I guess he figured he wrote enough material for the first three to pass it off to another composer to rearrange, etc.

And noticeably, the new music’s not as spellbinding as it’s been in the other Potter movies. The movie isn’t either. Still, with William’s magical themes and framekwork, composer Patrick Doyle can’t screw up too bad.

The Goblet of Fire score is real centered on strings and it’s a lot more melancholy (or maybe detached) than even Prisoner of Azkaban was. But for a movie where Harry Potter is told, “dark and difficult times lie ahead,” after he’s already lost a pal and come face to face with pure evelllL…I guess that’s expected.

There’s some lighthearted stuff too. “The Quiddich World Cup” is a fun number, all Irish jig like. And the waltzes are effectively, well, waltz-like.

The score’s nicely dark, no doubt. In fact, I’d say Doyle does more than what’s required of him – he’s definitely a reason moviegoers aren’t as quick to figure out Goblet of Fire's flaws in pacing/storytelling.

It’s just not too memorable. If you’ve got the first three soundtracks, or just one of them even, there’s no reason to populate your Harry Potter music intake with much more than that. You’re really not missing out on anything if you don’t have the Goblet of Fire soundtrack. So, if you happen to be a completist or are just eager for a change or are simply curious (“Voldemort” is an awesome track), then yeah, maybe invest in this guy. Otherwise, I can’t help but want Williams to hop back on board for Order of the Phoenix.

Like Narnia, Goblet of Fire sports a non-instrumental group of songs, but unlike Narnia, it makes a little more sense to have them here. They’re from the band that plays at the Hogwarts dance and they have an old-fashioned rock feel to them. A bandmember shouts “Hogwarts!!! Are you ready for some REAL music?” How can that not make you giggle a little?

I’m not going to go into details about this one. It’s good – and definitely not as overambitious as I personally think the Narnia soundtrack to be. But it’s not too incredible either.

I lost track of the points. I’d say for entertainment value, if you had to pick one soundtrack to downlo-buy, go with Narnia. But I just have a little more respect for Doyle’s score. I mean, what an intimidating task that is! To take on such a beloved franchise and do such an admirable job. I mean, it’s not like Williams is an easy act to follow. And even though Goblet of Fire is influenced by Harry Potter’s former composer, Doyle manages to create music that’s even more unique and original than Gregson-Williams' Narnia score.

Okay friends, that's a wrap for 2005!!! Sonic Death Monkey is now taking its Christmas break. We'll return in January. Until then, remember that when you buy a soundtrack you are putting yourself at risk. Cuz you'll have no SDM to guide you.

See you in 2006!

Be good now.

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originally posted: 12/15/05 06:48:51
last updated: 01/01/06 15:03:49
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