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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Composed by Nicholas Hooper
  • Warner Bros. / 2007 / 52:24

With another new director comes a new series of reviews saying that this Harry Potter is the darkest one yet, the best one yet, the most mature one yet, and so on (it happens with each new film – and is probably true each time, too!)  David Yates found himself in the director’s chair this time around, and with a new screenwriter too, much of the jolly Enid Blyton material was cut from the book and a more focused dramatic film resulted, with the young leads improving more and more (apart from Daniel Radcliffe, still awful as Harry) and the great supporting cast of the great and the good of British acting seemingly having a great time too, with Alan Rickman in fine form as usual.  

After John Williams scored the first three films in the series, Patrick Doyle did a pretty good job of following in his footsteps with the fourth, and another composer gets his chance on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with Warner Bros. slightly surprisingly allowing Yates to keep his collaborator from various British television productions, Nicholas Hooper, on board.  Hooper has never scored anything on this scale or with this expectation before, so I imagine it was a daunting task; and while it’s nice in a way that a less well-known composer could be given his big break on such a massively high-profile, guaranteed blockbuster – at the same time, listening to the music, one begins to wonder whether it was such a good idea.

Nicholas Hooper

Had this album not contained Williams’s familiar “Hedwig’s Theme”, and had I been passed the disc and told it was from a British tv movie, I’d have probably thought it was of a pretty high standard for such a production, but I very much doubt I’d have bothered to listen all the way to the end.  But, of course, it isn’t – it’s from a $150m summer blockbuster, which brings its own pressures – and is a follow-up to music written by John Williams, who is not the world’s most famous and most popular film composer for no reason – and that brings even more.

The disc gets off to the worst possible start with the hideous “Fireworks”, which certainly left this writer fearing for the worst when he first heard it – fortunately it’s a one-off.  It opens with a pompous new theme which is reasonable enough, if unmemorable, but then goes very peculiar with tribal percussion and electric guitars which would surely have Mr Williams exploding with anger (just like that time he discovered a small crease in one of his 4,000 identical black turtlenecks).  The other main new theme is “Professor Umbridge”, the score’s best feature, a sprightly, colourful, comic little march which is a little delight, though it isn’t particularly memorable.

It doesn’t help that after its concert presentation in the second track comes a little snippet of Williams’s main theme in “Another Story” – whatever it is that makes Williams so adept at conjuring up themes which you can hum all day after hearing for just a couple of bars, I don’t know, but he’s incomparable in that respect.  “Dementors in the Underpass” is the first dark music of the score, and it’s vaguely grandiose and gothic, but the orchestration leaves it feeling limp where it should be overpowering – I don’t know if the orchestra is small (it’s billed as “The Chamber Orchestra of London”, though that doesn’t necessarily mean anything) or it’s down to poor orchestration, but it’s a pity, whatever it is.

The score is at its best when Hooper provides playful, summery music for the lighter sequences – “Dumbledor’s Army” features a really charming theme, perhaps something that might feel at home in a Jane Austen adaptation (and it feels at home in a Harry Potter movie too), and “Journey to Hogwarts” is positively brimming with a sunny glow.  It is at its worst when he is trying for something epic or magical – he just doesn’t pull it off.  As I hinted above, one reason for this is the inevitable suffering by comparison – much though people will no doubt write in and moan that I shouldn’t be comparing Hooper with Williams, it’s impossible not to, and he just isn’t in the same league, let alone ballpark.  There’s nothing here remotely comparable with “Buckbeat’s Flight”, “A Window to the Past”, “The Patronus Light”, “Fawkes the Phoenix” and the other great pieces Williams wrote for the series, and for that matter there’s nothing which approaches Doyle’s “Golden Egg” or “Harry in Winter”.

It’s not all doom and gloom, by any means – there’s still some lovely music here, but without an obvious sense of real dramatic purpose to the whole thing, what is the shortest of the Potter albums seems like it’s easily the longest.  I do think the building blocks are here for a good film score, and maybe 15-20 minutes of it is really pretty good indeed (and those parts probably make it worth recommending) – but it’s just so hard to resist the urge to grab Prisoner of Azkaban off the shelf and stick that on instead.  Hooper has reportedly been retained to score the next movie in the series, too – I hope a more focused score with more memorable melodies and less limp orchestration will be forthcoming next time to build on the foundations which are laid, but never developed enough, here.  ** 1/2

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