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Fine action score towers over its predecessor and sees this composer finally return to old form
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media, LLC.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
Not very well-liked critically, but a smash hit commercially, there was never any doubt that Disney would continue with its live-action series based on The Chronicles of Narnia following the first film. The second to be filmed is Prince Caspian, a much darker story, and a film which is reportedly more satisfying than the first, which must be one of the few $300m box office triumphs which few people actually love. Shrek director Andrew Adamson is back (though he will not direct the third part, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, instead handing over to Michael Apted) and so is his favourite composer, Harry Gregson-Williams, whose score for the first film was quite pleasant in places but left little impression.
Prince Caspian is a more focussed and satisfying effort. It opens with "Prince Caspian Flees", a decent piece of James Horner-style action music, slightly generic perhaps but the composer uses his orchestra and choir well enough. "The Kings and Queens of Old" is a beautiful piece, full of understated heroism - it's a surprisingly mature and delicately-hued track. "Journey to the How" begins with a more ethereal sound (led by an electric violin) before more of that Horner-esque action, half-way Apollo 13 and half-way Kingdom of Heaven (and probably not as enjoyable as either). On the other hand, "Arrival at Aslan's How" is one of the score's real highlights, a beautiful, uplifting piece of music of the kind I expected to make up the bulk of the first score (but which didn't).
"Raid on the Castle" is the first of several major action set-pieces, which are unusually lengthy and see Gregson-Williams have a chance for some real musical development within an action music context, which is pretty rare these days, and while he still doesn't manage to define a unique sound-world for this fantasy universe he does manage to pack quite a whallop from an entertainment perspective. "Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance" is a very interesting track; it begins with a dissonant, electronically-enhanced soundscape, with throat singing and abrasive synths, before the orchestra and choir enters for the most wonderful action piece of the year so far. Frenzied, hitting almost apocalyptic heights at its largest moments, it's probably the finest piece Gregson-Williams has ever written.
"The Duel" starts as if it's going to be a more typical piece for a Media Ventures alumnus, with synth pads and apparently aimless plodding, but develops into something far more interesting, with an engaging Goldsmithian (13th Warrior in particular) motif binding the action music together. "Battle at Aslan's How" is another terrific piece of action music and, while I have been critical in the past of modern film composers' penchant for just increasing the number of instruments as if that will make the music more exciting, here the combination of large orchestra and choir is done well and the music retains a strong focus. The constant 35-minute action spectacular concludes with the triumphant, heroic "Return of the Lion", ending easily the most impressive sequence of this composer's career.
There's another lengthy track of score left (the satisfying "The Door in the Air") and a handful of forgettable songs, and this is a very entertaining album. It reprises the best parts of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, ditches the other parts (the horrible new-agey stuff) and adds plenty of exciting fresh material too. It's within a whisker of being really very good indeed - had a couple of the weaker tracks not made it to the album and some of the more imaginative material been extended, it would have got there. I can't escape from the lack of depth, but frankly it's been so long since there's been an action score which did have any depth (maybe they died with Jerry Goldsmith) it barely even warrants a mention any more. Impressive.