- Composed by Alexandre Desplat
- Watertower Music 39212 / 2010 / 73:42
A book of such importance that it had to be split into two films, the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has arrived , with the second part coming to wrap up the cinematic franchise next year. The kids have grown up and they have more serious matters to attend to, such as dealing with death and seeing off the evil Voldemort for the last time. The film is, as with its two immediate predecessors, directed by David Yates; this time his usual composer Nicholas Hooper did not return, with scoring duties passing instead to the prolific Alexandre Desplat, whose earlier foray into fantasy led to him writing a wonderful score for The Golden Compass but then not being able to continue the work after plans to make the other two films in the trilogy were shelved.
The score, predictably given its composer, is intricately detailed and rewards the patient listener willing to explore all its depths. In many ways, this seems to have proved to be its stumbling block amongst many mainstream film music listeners, who (in the 21st century way) seek instant gratification. I’m more a 19th century man myself, so to me this approach is wonderful – refreshing to see a film composer given the opportunity to write music of such colour when the landscape for scores for films of this profile is usually drawn these days in black and white.
However, this in no way implies that the score is lacking obvious thematic material. While it is undoubtedly unlikely that many listeners will go away from it and start humming any of the new themes the way they might have done with John Williams’s “Hedwig’s Theme” after the first film, they are there. A sweeping darkness pervades the melody in the early “Snape to Malfoy Manor”, offering a beautiful sense of adventure while also leaving little doubt that the adventure may be rather misguided; there’s a haunting theme in “Harry and Ginny”, more suggestive of separation than togetherness; a devastating piece of sorrow and despair, “Godric’s Hollow Graveyard”; a playful, Golden Compass-style hint of comedy in “Ministry of Magic”; and the most typically Desplatian theme, frequently heard for cello, runs throughout the score. The melodic highlight for many will be the heartbreaking “Farewell to Dobby”, so full of the kind of emotion which many of his detractors accuse this composer of not being able to convey.
None of the above is particularly surprising; what I did find surprising was the action music. From the first big action set piece, “Sky Battle”, onwards Desplat offers a massive tip of his hat in John Williams’s direction. I have read a lot of online chatter about this score in which Desplat is accused of completely disregarding Williams’s earlier work on the franchise (criticism which was rarely aimed at either Patrick Doyle or Nicholas Hooper in their respective scores, mysteriously); from the thunderous brass through the beefed-up winds in the lowest register, some of the action music in this score could barely sound more like Williams’s modern style, leaving me utterly mystified at some of the comments. One review of the score says that the action music certainly doesn’t sound like The Empire Strikes Back‘s “The Asteroid Field”. No shit, Sherlock. What it sounds like is the darker action music that Williams has written since the turn of the century, in such scores as Minority Report and certain moments of the second and third Star Wars prequels. If John Williams himself had scored this film, this is what the action music would sound like. The notion that he might score these very dark scenes with “Harry’s Wondrous World”, as suggested by many as the way Desplat should have gone, is completely absurd; Williams would no more have done that than he would have scored Anakin’s transformation into Vader in Revenge of the Sith using “Parade of the Ewoks”.
In no way am I suggesting that Desplat is simply impersonating Williams here – he isn’t, and nor should he have done. But he has blended his own highly-individual style with that of the other composer (quite possibly aided by Conrad Pope, who worked with Desplat on the orchestrations here, a job he has done for Williams on numerous occasions) and this score is far closer to the one Williams would have written for this film than most people have admitted. It has by far the most emotional depth of any of the Potter scores (the irony with this series is that until now, after Williams departed, the films got deeper and the scores got shallower). I don’t think it quite reaches the rich heights of the composer’s work on The Golden Compass, but it’s still one of the year’s most highly-developed works. I for one can’t wait to hear what the composer does for the second part. **** 1/2