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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Composed by Nicholas Hooper
  • New Line Records / 2009 / 62:40

The Harry Potter series continues to rake in the cash in the latest cinematic instalment, The Half-Blood Prince, with David Yates retaining directorial duties following the $900m global receipts for The Order of the Phoenix.  His rather darker style is not to everybody’s tastes, but it’s obviously to Warner Bros’, since he will also be helming the two-part finale to the series.  With John Williams having departed after the third film, Yates has turned again to his pal Nicholas Hooper to provide the music, despite his relatively mediocre score for the previous film.  

There were two key problems with Hooper’s music for There were two key problems with Hooper’s music for The Order of the Phoenix - first, it sounded really small.  The orchestra was smaller than on the other films, but it wasn’t only that – the way it was orchestrated and recorded just added to its limp feel.  When Hooper tried to make the music more expansive, it just didn’t work – he didn’t have the right tools at his disposal.  The other big problem – and this is nothing specific against Hooper, he just happened to be the guy affected – was that the fleeting appearances of music by John Williams completely dwarfed the 98% of the album which was by Nicholas Hooper.

Nicholas Hooper

Have either of those problems gone away this time round?  Not really, is the answer.  If anything, the orchestra sounds even smaller this time round.  But what has certainly improved is that this time Hooper seems to have been more deliberate in his attempts to write for the small ensemble, rather than make a futile attempt to make it sound big.  The chamber dimensions of much of the music may not sound much like they belong in a Harry Potter film, but musically-speaking, they’re fine.  The score is at its finest in its very softest moments – like the lilting, beautiful “Harry and Hermione” and “When Ginny Kissed Harry” and most especially the sweet “The Friends”, which are up there with the loveliest moments of Patrick Doyle’s score for The Goblet of Fire.

The problem of the score being in the shadow of John Williams remains – frankly there’s not really much Hooper could have done about that, but it brings up something which for some reason makes me feel terribly guilty for saying, but it gets to the core of why this is an average album when it could have been a great one.  These films are guaranteed money earners.  So far, their combined box office receipts add up to something like five billion dollars - Warner Bros. could get absolutely anyone they wanted to write the music.  So how did they end up with a guy who, whether through lack of inclination or lack of ability, can’t provide any memorable themes – any interesting set-pieces – or deviate away from the generic sound of low-budget television music?

This isn’t bad – but it’s impossible not to let one’s mind drift and think – well, if Williams doesn’t want to do these any more – just think what George Fenton might do, or Bruce Broughton, or Joel McNeely – or so many others – Harry Potter films are a film composer’s dream – so how come we end up with something which can most favourably be described as “not bad”?  This film could have something great!  It’s not Hooper’s fault that he was asked, and nobody could think badly of him for signing up, but either he has been curiously reigned in by somebody, or he just isn’t the right kind of composer for a Harry Potter film.

Loads of people will buy this album and there is no doubt that it features some fine moments – particularly the aforementioned more intimate ones, and it has to be said that the choral music is beautiful throughout.  It’s a marginally stronger album than that from the previous film – and while I wish someone else had scored the film (at best one might politely describe Hooper’s scoring approach within the film to be “counterintuitive”) it’s certainly not awful, which is what many commentators have suggested.  The scoring of the film’s pivotal moment – indeed, probably the whole series most emotionally-powerful moment so far – “The Killing of Dumbledore” - is, sadly, awful (bland string passages, the kind that anyone could write, suggest it is the most trivial moment of the film).  Leave that apart and there’s nothing offensive here – it’s pleasant throughout and were it from some other project then I’m sure it would be better-received (but of course, sell only a fraction of the number of copies).  Come in with an open mind and I’m sure you will find moments which are highly-appealing – but with the best will in the world, they’re mixed in with some which are just plain dull.  ***

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