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Spring round-up

Spring sprang a while ago – no doubt you remember all the little bunny rabbits bouncing around, and the beautiful lambs everywhere enjoying their short lives before being slaughtered. It’s been a little while since I did a round-up (the last one covered the month of February, in fact) so I will for the purposes of this post count the boundaries of spring as being from 1 March until yesterday, which is vaguely appropriate in the northern hemisphere, but I must apologise (yet again) to my millions of antipodean readers if this causes absolute confusion: don’t worry, you haven’t jumped forward by six months to your next spring.

The biggest hit of the period was – perhaps a little unexpectedly – The Super Mario Bros. Movie – indeed, it’s become one of the most lucrative animated movies ever released. I went to see it with my daughter – she loved it and I liked it too. For many weeks afterwards she was singing Jack Black’s Princess Peach song almost 24 hours a day – and to her delight, it does appear on the soundtrack, alongside nearly an hour and a half of Brian Tyler’s excellent score. It goes without saying that that’s too long, but such is the way things are done these days. Tyler’s big-hearted music combines big orchestral action and adventure with nods to Mario’s 8-bit sound (and just about everything in between) – and he incorporates countless nods to Koji Kondo’s music from the video games, blending it seamlessly with his own material.

The seven-minute “Super Mario Bros. Opus” which opens the album focuses on Tyler’s main theme for the movie, which is a real ear-worm (one of his best, I think). You hear it plenty more times through the album – including in the quite brilliant second cue, “Press Start” – but there are many (many) others worked in alongside it. The theme for Bowser – a classic, cartoonish villain theme – is heard most fully in “King of the Koopas”; Princess Peach’s gets an heroic airing in “Platforming Princess”.

It’s a fast-paced score, flits between styles frequently, but somehow never feels disjointed nor annoying – Tyler clearly put his heart and soul into it and that shines through. All the ingredients for a hugely entertaining action/adventure score are here, and that’s precisely what it is – so much fun throughout. The composer is very good at scoring big action movies but he’s great at these more family-orientated ones too and it’s so good that he got chance to do it. Given the movie’s success it seems almost inevitable we’ll get a sequel and it will be great to hear whatever he comes up with for that.

Ghosted is an Apple film directed by Dexter Fletcher with Chris Evans inadvertently getting drawn into the secret agent world of his new girlfriend Ana de Armas. I didn’t particularly like it, but I’m probably three times as old as the target audience. Tetris is an Apple film directed by Jon S. Baird with Taron Egerton as a software developer who notices the brilliance of someone else’s game (spoiler: it’s Tetris) and gets drawn into various dodgy dealings while trying to secure the distribution rights. I did particularly like this one. There isn’t much in common between the films except that both were scored by Lorne Balfe, released one week apart (a week being the longest period in between Balfe-scored films being released so far this year).

For Ghosted, he wrote a fairly light score reflecting the film’s semi-comedic nature (it isn’t actually funny but I think it was supposed to be). My favourite moments are those where he keeps it lightest – strings both bowed and plucked, chilled-out keyboards – it’s very pleasant. The more action-based material does its job absolutely fine but is not as distinctive as his best. Tetris is completely different, needless to say – for the second time in a few paragraphs I find myself describing music which combines more traditional scoring with an 8-bit sound. I have to say I really like it: in “Two Tribes” the strings at times reach religioso proportions, then we get the 8-bit, kaleidoscopic “Puzzle Piece” which is perfectly judged. Two albums were released – the first features 18 minutes of Balfe’s score alongside various songs, the second a whole lot more score (but oddly doesn’t seem to feature any of the tracks from the first album – perhaps they were suites and are heard in different forms on the second – if I’d heard it I’d be able to say). It’s something completely different from the composer, a really deft piece of work which is genuinely striking on its own while functioning perfectly as a film score – impressive stuff.

Peter Pan and Wendy is one of the better Disney remakes of recent times, low bar though that is, though you have to sit through the London-based sequences which are in almost total darkness before you even see anything. Daniel Hart’s score is quite good: several of the biggest moments in the movie see him incorporate melodies from the old animated Disney version of this tale. Frustratingly, none of these appears on the soundtrack album which means it doesn’t quite hit the soaring heights it otherwise would have done.

Still, there is some decent stuff on it: the opening cue, “The Darling Darlings”, includes a swashbuckling adventure theme (perhaps slightly more Kamen-style swashbuckling than the Williams-style swashbuckling of Hook) and – accustomed to the ways of 21st century film music – my first thought when hearing it was that it was very nice and it was a pity that inevitably the rest of the score wouldn’t sound like it. Well, the rest of the score is very much more 20th century than I was expecting, with vibrant colours, melodies, emotion – it seems like Hart and director David Lowery actually understand what the score for a film like this is supposed to do. Unfortunately where it falls down somewhat is that the various themes don’t really stick, at least not for me – they do their job but I’ll be damned if I can remember any of them afterwards. Texturally it’s great though and more than worth a listen, as long as you don’t go in expecting Hook.

See you next spring.

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  1. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Thursday 15 June, 2023 at 02:16

    Any chance of a Star Trek Picard Season 3 review? It was a refreshing return to what a Star Trek series should sound like.

  2. Max (Reply) on Friday 23 June, 2023 at 11:33

    Dear James,
    you were complaining that nobody reads your reviews so you could just shut your website down. I read your reviews for years and i am not the only one. Even if i have completely different taste than you. I think most Horner soundtracks are boring and repetitive. And his stealing from other composers, like in Aliens he completely stole themes from Shostakovich. Not to mention stealing themes from himself. The main motif from Avatar and Titanic differences just from one note! And last 20 years of his cariere he used every time in every movie the motif of danger or dispair “too doo doo do dooo”. Also you wrote that John Williams is maybe the best composer that ever lived.Try to listen The Nutcracker from Tchaikovsky for example. That is completely different level. Williams himself said that he is a hack and that most of he his music he stole from much talented predecessors. But make no mistake, i love your reviews. Because of you i have discovered a lot of composers and soundtracks which i love. Please, never stop writing reviews.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Friday 23 June, 2023 at 11:50

      I am not sure I did say that John Williams is the best composer that ever lived, did I? (Though he is magnificent I certainly don’t think that.)

      • Max (Reply) on Friday 23 June, 2023 at 12:48

        If it was not you, i apologize. But someone wrote it not long ago. But what about the other stuff i wrote?

  3. Jose (Reply) on Friday 23 June, 2023 at 19:45

    I liked Tyler’s score but I wished it was a bit better and wilder. Grant Kirkhope did a more fascinating job with the Mario music in his Rabbids scores in my opinion. Also, I think it’s best moments are were Tyler references the music from the Mario games. His own themes aren’t as good specially compared to what he’s referring.

    • Marco Ludema (Reply) on Saturday 24 June, 2023 at 14:30

      I felt the same way after my first listen, but Tyler’s themes really grew on me with repeated listens. Kirkhope did great too (and, side note, it’s a crying shame he wasn’t credited for the DK Rap in the movie), but I thought Tyler really gave his all for the project, and I hope he’ll be brought back for the inevitable sequel.