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Thor
  • Composed by Patrick Doyle
  • Walt Disney Records / 2011 / 71:55

Kenneth Branagh seems an unlikely candidate to direct a Marvel superhero film, but he was the choice to make Thor.  A little odd – like Ang Lee making Hulk, perhaps.  Film music fans were hoping a similar fate didn’t befall Branagh’s favourite composer, Patrick Doyle, as befell Lee’s, Mychael Danna, on that earlier film (where the studio rejected the score).  Fortunately, it didn’t – and the reason for that may be the thing that seems to have proven unpopular about this score with many, that Doyle chose to take a “modern” (read: Zimmer-like) approach to aspects of the music.  There are certainly elements (the synths and drums, the simplistic nature of the composition) that clearly owe something to that school of film composing, but actually Doyle brings his own take to it, so you’d never mistake this for Steve Jablonsky.

I love the fabulous main theme.  It’s vibrant and dynamic – but, yes, simple.  I don’t think that’s particularly a problem for a film like this.  Unlike some of his other action/adventure scores, Doyle doesn’t just restate it over and over again – so, while there might not be the sophistication of something like Eragon, neither is there the dull repetition.  There’s some good action music here too – it comes with the simplistic Zimmer touch, but it doesn’t come with the cheap sound.  You can tell that even if he might be “writing down”, this is still music written by a proper composer who knows how to get the best out of an orchestra.  Tracks like “The Compound” are particularly exciting.  I’d say that you could take 35-40 minutes of highlights from this and have a fabulously entertaining album.  So, my inevitable comment – actually, the album’s twice as long as that.  It ruins it.  I can live with the dumbing down, since this style of music can be very entertaining when done well (and Doyle does it far better here than any of the Zimmer clones do) – a shame that the album doesn’t present it in the best light.  Chop out the filler and you’d have a real keeper.  ***

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  1. Jon (Reply) on Friday 6 May, 2011 at 01:50

    Oh, I don’t know about that. I mistook it for Steve Jablonsky!

  2. Mikal (Reply) on Friday 6 May, 2011 at 07:46

    Out of curiosity, how would you rate the album if it ran 35-40 min.?

  3. James Southall (Reply) on Friday 6 May, 2011 at 07:54

    I think a well-produced album could easily be a four-star one.

  4. Mark (Reply) on Saturday 7 May, 2011 at 06:24

    I think this score is fantastic! If Doyle would have written anything else by today’s standards, it would surely be replaced for the MV sound (ugh). He gave them the sound they were all looking for but with the reputation to back it! Great main theme too!

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Wednesday 11 May, 2011 at 12:27

    To be brutally honest, I’m getting a bit fed up with your constant comments about the length of the album. In my opinion, a 70 minute album is far superior to the days when we only had 30 minute albums and all the best music was left in the film. Honestly, how much trouble is it to take the highlights and put them in a separate playlist?

  6. James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 11 May, 2011 at 18:44

    I just honestly don’t see the point of releasing a 70 minute album if there are only 30 interesting minutes. When you only have an hour or two a day to listen to music, it is I’m afraid far too much trouble to take the highlights and put them in my own playlist. I want the album producer to do that for me. If the rest is released as bonus tracks, that’s the ideal scenario for me, since everyone can be happy that way. I think it is the single biggest blight on modern film music albums. I paid good money for this album and will never listen to it again because nobody could be bothered to actually produce it properly – it’s such a shame. (Having said that – after mentioning it however many hundreds of times over several years – I am beginning to suspect that I am not going to change the habits of soundtrack producers.)

  7. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Wednesday 11 May, 2011 at 22:19

    Well, I always rate on a cue-by-cue basis, so it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to only listen to a given album’s highlights by, say, filtering out anything rated less than four stars (just write four asterisks into iTunes’ search box). And incidentally, I’d agree that there’s 30 minutes of really strong, interesting material in Thor (four to five stars), but also about 25 minutes of stuff which is pleasant at worst (three to four stars). That leaves only 15 minutes of less interesting material (three or less stars), and I’d go so far as to say that “Laufey” is the only truly weak cue on the album (two stars).

    The thing with Thor is – if you read Christian’s highly detailed review – it warrants several revisits to truly appreciate it. Hardly a cue goes by without a reference to a theme, which might not always be gripping listening, but still adds to the score’s overall merit. The same thing is true of Arnold’s third Narnia score, which you similarly dismissed as being too long.

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful, because you do write an astonishing amount of reviews, but lately I’m starting to get the feeling that you only listen to each score once and then (very briefly) jot down your first impression, and then move on to the next score. I’m almost tempted to insert some snarky comment about your attention span! It’s one of the reasons why I’ve become a bit disillusioned with your site…and lately have found myself only really visiting it for old Goldsmith or Morricone or Bernstein reviews – for your coverage of those composers is unmatched.

    I mean, it IS your site, so feel free to do as you feel fit – and I’ll still drop by here often. However, I have to admit that Filmtracks’ tendency towards fewer, but more in-depth reviews, seems superior to me.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 11 May, 2011 at 22:54

      I guess “superior” is a matter of opinion and I certainly respect yours. To be honest, it’s a deliberate move to offer my briefer reviews, simply because that’s the sort that I wanted to read and I realised that nobody actually wrote them, so I thought I would start in case there were others like me who would be interested in reading that sort of thing. I believe a skilful critic can impart all the necessary information in a relatively short space – that’s what I’m trying to do. Maybe I succeed, maybe not, but that’s the aim. Sometimes I do the longer reviews (and try to offer a lengthier analysis) when something comes along which elicits that kind of response from me. Filmtracks and MMUK do that sort of thing so well.

      I certainly appreciate your words and always like reading feedback – and the negative is particularly helpful. I would assure you, though, that I certainly don’t review things after a single listen. It would be deeply disrespectful to the composers to do that. Even if the reviews are very brief – quite a lot of thought can go into them.

  8. Mastadge (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 01:57

    To be brutally honest, I’m getting a bit fed up with constantly being told how simple it is to just program a Good Parts version of every overlong score release. I want a finished, polished product when I’m spending $10-20. I don’t want an author’s complete manuscript, to edit down to what I think is the best novel within it. I don’t want every scrap of footage shot for a film, to assemble into what I think would make the best cinematic experience. And I don’t want a jam-packed CD that’s overlong, tedious and/or repetitive. Sometimes 70-80 minutes is fine; in most cases, it’s too much. (Wasn’t Intrada going to start releasing their CDs with an album arrangement first and then other material after, with instructions on how to program it in for completists?

    As for how much trouble it is to take the highlights and put them in a separate playlist — sometimes very little trouble; sometimes, however, it’s very difficult to figure out which cues are, in fact, the highlights. As, for instance, with Battle: Los Angeles. Some obvious highlights, some obvious filler, and a whole lot of stuff that isn’t quite either.

  9. Mastadge (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 14:16

    Yikes. Sorry if I came across as a jerk — I was trying to ironically use the same language to make the opposite point, and it came across as just being nasty, I think.

    More to the point, Edmund, you say you rate on a cue-by-cue basis, and I think that might start to get at the root of the difference here. I definitely don’t go cue-by-cue. I think the album should be more than the sum of its cues — a score’s presentation should have some sort of overall musical architecture. To go back to the book analogies — when I read a short story collection, yes, I think about each story individually. But the best collections are the ones in which the stories are thoughtfully arranged by the author, where the collective impact of the stories in their presentation is greater than the impact of each of the stories individually. The same with song albums — sure, an album can just be a jumble of songs, but aren’t the great albums ones with some thought put into the presentation, some thought to the flow of the music and the cumulative effect, so that the individual songs work in synergy toward a greater experience? So I think it should be with a film score: a thoughtful arrangement to present the music in its best light; a complete whole that is more than just the sum of its cues.

  10. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 18:23

    I know what you were trying to do, Mastadge, and don’t sweat it – it’s the sort of thing I’d do myself 😉

    Maybe there’s a difference in the way we approach scores. I tend to do a lot of cue-by-cue listening (Shuffling my iPod’s five-star cues playlist, for example), whereas I get the impression that most people tend to listen to entire scores or not at all. That’s why Thor is a strong four-star score in my opinion – there’s a large quantity of very strong music here, and even the in-between bits are listenable for the most part.

    As for Battle:LA, here’s my answer: the obvious highlight cues are five-star, the obvious filler three or two, and the in-betweeners four.

    Incidentally, would you (Mastadge, Southall or anybody) prefer it if Thor had half an hour of score, fifteen minutes of pointless guitar strumming and another half hour of obnoxious remixes? Because I just listened to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and I would kill for a 70-minute release of that.

  11. James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 18:56

    I would certainly prefer that version of Thor if the half an hour of score was the best half an hour, since I could just press stop at the end of that.

  12. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 20:45

    Hmm…in that case, I think the best thing for both of us would be what Brian Tyler occasionally does (with things like Rambo, AVP:R and Battle:LA) and concentrate the best material at the beginning of the album, with the rest tacked on at the end. That way, you get your listening experience of concentrated awesomeness and I get my reassurance that nothing of importance has been left off album.

    Although maybe you really do need a pointer, because there’s a complaint in all three of those albums that they’re too long. Well, okay – with Rambo stop after “Hunting Mercenaries” (and tack “Battle Adagio” on at the end), with AVP:R stop after “Requiem Epilogue” and with Battle:LA, stop after “For Home, Country and Family”. Maybe if all the cues after a certain point are labeled “Bonus”?

    Hmm. I’d still rather have too much than too little ten cases out of ten.

  13. James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 21:11

    I would rather have the right amount than either too much or too little! 🙂

    I think it would be great if the albums were produced to give the best listening experience – then all of the rest of the music is presented as bonus tracks. Give instructions on how to put it into film order in the booklet notes. Everyone’s happy.

  14. Ben (Reply) on Friday 13 May, 2011 at 00:58

    James, the problem I have is that whenever it’s left to producers to edit down a soundtrack from 70 minutes to half an hour, I usually find that they leave some of the best tracks on the cutting room floor in favour of what I consider to be filler material.

    What counts as awesome and what counts as filler is something that is totally subjective anyway…. and I think it’s better that the consumer should be able to make up their own mind about that for themselves than have it dictated to them by a record company.

    Hence I consider releasing the complete score to be the lesser of two evils. Sure, it means that I might have to put up with some filler material…. but it also means that I’m not made to miss out on stuff that I think is good… the way I had to with the release of older scores like “Conan The Barbarian”, “Flesh + Blood” and “First Knight”.

  15. Hasta (Reply) on Friday 13 May, 2011 at 01:40

    James, tell these damned record producers to hire me as a producer; I’ll be sure to slim down these obese sob’s.

    I basically agree 100% with your opinion on album length… Generally speaking, very little scores seem to deserve a 70 minute release. 50 seems about right for a solid composition, but even at that length you may find half the album is often filler. A lot of the great scores from the 90’s that Varese released ran about 30-40 minutes (or the often great, lesser known scores Milan used to put out), and those were often perfect, or at least tight, satisfying listening experiences.

    Horner seems to be the one composer who can write a score of 70 minutes that actually warrants it, but he has a handful that could have been masterpieces if edited to proper length (‘Enemy at the Gates’).

    I think rule of thumb, unless you have a truly exceptional score, keep it under 50.

  16. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 13 May, 2011 at 11:21

    In case you’re interested, I relistened to Thor the other night and have somewhat come to agree with you that it could have been a better album if trimmed somewhat. However, I’d argue that the long version is still a four-star album that could have pushed five if it had been better sequenced, rather than three to four – and I wouldn’t trim more than 15 minutes.

    Could it be that I just like the score more than you? 😀

  17. christopher (Reply) on Tuesday 17 May, 2011 at 00:27

    I’m a bit late to the party, here, but I love your review length, James. I think the shorter reviews are just right. I can NEVER make it through Christian’s reviews anymore.

  18. Ernesto (Reply) on Friday 21 October, 2011 at 22:14

    I guess the real problem is what one considers stand out or filler material. I remember how I felt about Varese’s release of Matrix – it was really good and I wanted more of it. Dont’ know how would I felt if it was twice as long – maybe it could have been too much and ranked lower – who knows..