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Summer round-up, part one

I’ve not written many reviews of the big summer scores (if there are “big summer scores” any more) so here’s a round-up of my brief views on some of them. It feels like he’s had a new score out every week or so, but actually only two of them here are albums featuring music by Michael Giacchino (I wrote a proper review of the final Jurassic World before I disappeared into a cave). You will also find some thoughts on Prey, Luck, The Man from Toronto and Grey Man. While this post is labelled “part one”, don’t take that as any indication that there will ever be a part two.

Scholars will debate long into the next century exactly what Lightyear was meant to be. The movie that inspired the toy that Andy had in Toy Story, apparently. General confusion about why the “real” Buzz Lightyear didn’t have the right voice. Not much love on display for the film, at all. He will go sailing no more. But Giacchino will keep sailing for a long time. His music has the odd nod to Randy Newman, thankfully, but of course he just does his own thing for the most part, and I have to say his main theme is a real ear-worm, one of the best he’s written.

It’s absolutely all over the early parts of the album (which goes on far too long) – “Mission Perpetual” a highlight – but its best appearance comes in “Infinite MOEtion” for the credits. Elsewhere I like the deliberately over-cooked Zurg material with choir added to the big orchestra. And that orchestra gets a real chance to shine in some great action tracks, dotted throughout the album. For whatever reason, it feels like it’s a bit less than the sum of its parts – maybe because it goes on for so long. Favourite track title: “Afternoon Delight Speed”.

The other big Giacchino score is Thor: Love and Thunder, aka “the movie where perhaps Marvel fatigue really started to set in.” Taiki Waititi could do no wrong, it seemed, until this one. It’s interesting that Thor gets his fourth different composer and hence his fourth different main theme, in his fourth movie. Well, maybe a different word than “interesting” but this is a family site. Patrick Doyle gave him a grandly heroic one for his first movie; Brian Tyler’s balls-to-the-wall approach to his second was spot-on; Mark Mothersbaugh and team wrote the third one, which I can remember nothing about; Giacchino’s rock-and-orchestra theme has a touch of the Michael Kamen about it if I dare to suggest such a thing, and I like it.

Much of the score itself – co-credited to Nami Melumad – is more straightforward orchestral Marvel histrionics and struggles to find much to distinguish it from the rest. Five years ago if you’d told me that Lorne Balfe would write the best Marvel score of the following five years I’d have been more than a little surprised. What made his stand apart was that he crafted a sound that was identifiably for Black Widow and wouldn’t have worked in any of the other films. Actually Giacchino had done this previously, for Doctor Strange. But Thor just sounds like more of the same. Giacchino’s one of the best guys around but this one struggled to hold my interest.

Since it went straight to streaming I don’t know whether Prey should be eligible for inclusion in a blog about summer movie scores, but I’ll include it anyway. Sarah Schachner is best-known for her video game music and the filmmakers sought her out on the basis of one of her game scores – Prey is a rather raw and visceral score that enhances its movie (which is really good) a lot. Alan Silvestri gets a credit in the end titles for “Theme from Predator” but you only just about hear it, and only the percussion bit. Lots of people have said they hear a Last of the Mohicans influence in Schachner’s music – and it is there, but it’s the strained strings, not the expansive theme. More coming to my mind through it all was James Horner’s Apocalypto – Schachner doesn’t quite push that hard, but it has the same sort of intensity. Percussion all the way up the wazoo, great tension in the orchestral forces used. It’s really intelligent, well-crafted music; an album I doubt I will listen to with any great regularity, but a film score I can certainly admire.

John Debney got a chance to pen a traditional fully orchestral score for Luck, Apple tv’s animation about a rabbit and other things. (The great thing about this blog format is that I don’t have to look up what the movie’s about any more, since I don’t have to fill a paragraph of filler talking about it. Though this type of parenthetical distraction seems to be eroding some of that benefit.) He used to get to write this sort of music for every film he scored, back in the distant era known as the 1990s. It does rather suffer from its themes failing to leave much of an impression, but if you like his music from earlier in his career then you’ll almost certainly like this too. It doesn’t really have enough personality of its own to be one I will returning to much in future, but I can’t deny how nice it is to hear a composer get to write this sort of music for a film in 2022, a style that has largely been lost.

The Man From Toronto is an action comedy, words which send the fear of god into me. Ramin Djawadi wrote the music, and as I’ve listened through the album I’ve compiled a list of highlights worth noting, and here’s that list in full: … It’s a shame because Djawadi seems to have come into his own in the last few years and is clearly capable. Don’t know what went wrong here.

Finally, there’s The Grey Man, another Netflix one, this time directed by the Russo brothers. Their favoured composer, Henry Jackman, wrote something interesting and different for their previous movie, Cherry. This time is just the usual monochrome modern thriller score, which is bizarre because the movie is this great big colourful explosion of stuff. I’m not sure any kind of music would have made it seem good, but the music it did get sounds like it was written for something else entirely. I read what was basically a puff piece press release masquerading as an article in a magazine, where the music was described as being like David Shire. Well. That’s a bit of a claim. One good thing that did come out of it was that it inspired me to listen to some music by Shire – now there was a composer who couldn’t resist writing interesting music for even the drabbest of films. The mind boggles at what he might have come up with for this.

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  1. MalteM (Reply) on Sunday 4 September, 2022 at 15:54

    May I suggest to structure the text with headlines per score section? It would really improve readability as people can more easily jump to parts they are specifially interested in (also useful for SEO if you care about that).

    • Gil (Reply) on Monday 5 September, 2022 at 20:56

      I’d settle for just bolding the first relevant instance of the movie or album title.

  2. Tom de Ruiter (Reply) on Sunday 4 September, 2022 at 15:59

    Great article. I like the new route you have taken!!

  3. Michael Horne (Reply) on Sunday 4 September, 2022 at 18:06

    I like this new direction for reviews. Cutting the cr*p and letting more humour in is a great way of doing them. Interesting comments, still though, which is great!

  4. Clark (Reply) on Monday 5 September, 2022 at 00:53

    Excellent roundup, James! Enjoyed the piece, and look forward to seeing what you do with the site going forward. Ha, I think I read the same article you did on The Gray Man, and I was most intrigued, so I listened to that 17-minute suite. Alas, couldn’t quite work up the nerve to keep going after that.

  5. Luke Hollingshead (Reply) on Tuesday 6 September, 2022 at 17:01

    I like the new format for the reviews, great read and great info. Very accessible in this form. Thanks James!

  6. Alexander S. (Reply) on Wednesday 7 September, 2022 at 07:57

    I like the way this is written. Couldn’t help laughing out loud while I was reading it. “Here’s that list in full: …. .”

  7. Luke Feo (Reply) on Thursday 8 September, 2022 at 05:05

    Always a pleasure to read.

  8. Sean (Reply) on Tuesday 20 September, 2022 at 13:35

    The king returns