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The Witches
  • Composed by Alan Silvestri
  • WaterTower / 72m

There was already a perfectly good adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches – directed by Nicolas Roeg! – produced by Jim Henson! – released in 1990, so I’m not sure why anyone thought it was a good idea to produce another one. Robert Zemeckis’s new version – with Anne Hathaway in the Anjelica Huston role as the Grand High Witch – has, it is fair to say, not been as well-received.

Not only is Alan Silvestri Zemeckis’s composer of choice – their collaboration is by now the stuff of legend – he is also known the world over as the preeminent composer of music for animated rodents, having in the past scored Mouse Hunt, Stuart Little and its sequel. While this film may disappear from the memory a lot sooner than those, there’s no reason why its score will – it’s vintage Silvestri. (As a side note, it is – as far as I know – the first major orchestral film score to be released which was recorded entirely during Covid-19, with its composer sitting thousands of miles away from the orchestra, recording in London observing social distancing protocols.)

Alan Silvestri

The main theme is introduced early in the opening track, “Witches are Real” – a little synth figure opens the cue and create a feeling of magic before the strident theme itself bursts forth from the horns after a minute or so. It is such an unmistakable Silvestri theme – it couldn’t be by anyone else – and it is instantly memorable. The piece is constructed well, with that magical fantasy sound opening and closing it and boisterous action/adventure music in between – and it is boisterous action/adventure that completely dominates the score – but actually there’s a delightfully warm and lovely cue that appears next, “My First Witch”, with a very sweet version of the theme (eventually overtaken by some macabre orchestral hijinks).

There’s a grand sound (as you’d expect) in “Enter the Witches”, with those horns shining again – and this leads into the first extended take on the score’s secondary theme, a darker piece usually heard on strings swirling round like steam coming out of whatever’s brewing in the cauldron. It really gets its chance to shine a few tracks later in “Witches”, a classically devilish piece of film music.

There’s some great action music here. At times it’s absolutely enormous – “A Narrow Escape” being a prime example – Silvestri has always been amongst the best at great big, martial action music and that unmistakable sound of his goes on to appear in numerous tracks in the second half of the score. I do like how the majority of it is based on motivic fragments from the two main themes.

The sequence of tracks “The Mission”, “Soup is On”, “Pigtails” (which is fantastic!), “A Stolen Key” and “Let Me Out” is essentially one long set of action music, which very rarely pauses for breath. It’s all very entertaining. This leads up to the rousing “I Didn’t Hear a Thing”, which is a “Crimson Gump”-style take on the main theme and is probably the best track on the score except the wonderful end credits suite.

Silvestri does not break any new ground here. There is an amazing consistency of sound through his orchestral writing over the last 35 years – as the movies have evolved, he has managed to stay at the top of the game despite his sound not really changing much at all. The magical twinkles and chimes here are just like Back to the Future‘s; the softer moments are like Forrest Gump‘s; most of the action music could easily be from one of his Marvel scores (or G.I. Joe or the rest). This is not a criticism – he has such a distinctive musical voice, I think it’s absolutely great that he can still score massive blockbuster movies in the same way as he’d have scored them in the 1980s, as if Hans Zimmer’s revolution had never happened.

Because of this, what generally sorts the many Silvestri action scores apart from each other is the quality of the themes. In the case of The Witches there is nothing to worry about on that front: it’s main theme is a great one and the composer gets maximum mileage from it. It’s probably a shade below Avengers: Endgame from last year but this is still a very decent score, blessed (as is usually the case with this composer) by having a wonderfully crisp and detailed recording.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Brendon Kelly (Reply) on Wednesday 28 October, 2020 at 17:49

    Brilliant review! I bought this today based on your words and am thoroughly enjoying it.

    Looking forward to your review of Intrada’s Robin Hood!

  2. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Saturday 31 October, 2020 at 12:07

    No matter the film, Silvestri is never the weak part. Though I think I might check it out some time in the future.

  3. dave (Reply) on Sunday 8 November, 2020 at 18:41

    Silvestris Witches is great…but Marc Timon Barcelos Witches is a MASTERPIECE!

  4. dave (Reply) on Sunday 8 November, 2020 at 18:49

    Marc Timon Barcelos Witches is one of the best fantasyscores of all time for anyone who isn’t familiar with it.