Maleficent Soundtrack by James Newton Howard (2014)
Get it: If you enjoy the classical themes of Tchaikovsky and are looking for a mysterious yet beautiful soundtrack
Don’t get it: If you are looking for a soundtrack that incorporates a rhythmic, clear-cut action theme as the main focus
Where to begin? James Newton Howard (Signs, The Hunger Games Series, The Dark Knight) had an enormous task before him when he was tapped to compose the soundtrack for Disney’s Maleficent. The 1959 cartoon film Sleeping Beauty had a score that was mainly adaptations of Tchaikovsky’s 1890 ballet. James Newton Howard essentially had to fill the shoes of one of the greatest music composers to ever live. One could change the style of music for the film, as Hans Zimmer completely altered the music for Man of Steel from the John Williams classic theme. Instead of this, however, JNH went all-out on this score and delivered in ways some didn’t think could happen in today’s modern times.
Immediately the listener can easily detect a hint of Tchaikovsky’s influence. JNH makes wonderful use of instruments such as the harp and choir to make a traditional yet unpredictable mysterious and enchanting music. As the score continues it builds. A very smooth soundtrack, it has a classical feel that can only be described as astounding. Along with that feel, however, are very gripping undertones of modern intensity and suspense. This is for a modern movie without a doubt, but even in the more “modern sequences” there is still a retro tone. It is a brilliant combination of the old with the new that enforces splendid depth. The strong but not loud brass in the foreground with the intense strings supporting them combine for a complex sound which does not cease to astonish. At times, it almost feels as if the listener is in a fairy-tale daze. While the soundtrack is largely focused on a heavy tone, there are multiple instances of uplifting moments. James Newton Howard makes wonderful use of a choir at specific parts to add gravity to a situation or charm to another.
This soundtrack is overflowing with a type of beautiful mystery that is not accomplished quite the same by most composers. The Maleficent soundtrack is, without a doubt, among the greatest soundtracks done is recent years. Some might argue that it isn’t all that great since it is unoriginal in the reuse of Tchaikovsky’s sound. But that is what gives the OST it’s excellence. It is the re-creation of Tchaikovsky’s sound with the infusion of a more modern sound that makes this soundtrack as fantastic as it is. Some might even say it is like what Tchaikovsky himself might do if he were still alive today and wrote the score for the film.
On a final note, something needs to be said of Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream.” Her voice is usually associated with a somewhat “dreary” sound, which goes well with the music accompanying it. This dark twist on the traditionally light song fits the premise of the movie and is a perfect match. Lastly, if you can hear past Lana Del Rey’s voice and just listen to the music, it is, along with the rest of the soundtrack, expertly done. What an amazing job James Newton Howard has done on this soundtrack. It is beautiful in-and-of itself, which is something he strives for. He once said, “The only advice I have ever been able to give anybody is to focus on writing music, and if you’re writing a movie score particularly, don’t worry about the picture. Just write great music and the rest will take care of itself.” In this case, it certainly did.