Now You See Me 2 (Brian Tyler)

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Now You See Me 2 Soundtrack by Brian Tyler (2016)

Get it:  If you were a fan of the first soundtrack and like to see it’s development

Don’t get it:  If you wouldn’t enjoy a development from the original film’s score

When Brian Tyler released the score to the first Now You See Me film, many were astonished with it and took it to heart.  With that as a precedent, Tyler returns to score the sequel to the film.  How does the score live up to the expectations?

The first three tracks set up the tone for the remainder of the score, and here’s why.  The first track, “Now You See Me 2 Fanfare”, is an epic piece that almost sounds like what would happen if John Williams got his hands on the score.  This sets up the rest of the score for its complexities.  There is so much going on in the background that an average listener may not even consciously notice, but will nonetheless feel.  The second track is “Now You See Me 2 Main Titles”.  This contributes to setting the tone because it is the theme we already know and love, but still new.  It’s a condensed version, lasting 3 minutes, and sounds like the first theme grew up and matured.  This sets the tone in that it provides something familiar, but it’s still new to the listener.  The third track is called, “300 Seconds.”  Finally, this contributes to the tone because it starts to really settle into the style of the film’s score while still interjecting — quite subtly — the familiar motif.  However, while watching the film, you probably wouldn’t even notice the familiar part.

The score reflects a big band element, but one that is definitely set in the NYSM film world from the first film.  In addition, this in no way means that any orchestral elements are lost.  The balance between the new, stylistic approach, and the original orchestral qualities is definitely satisfying, again providing something new while still being positively recognizable.  There are also elements that were inspired by part of the story’s locations, including China.  The overall sound feels very cool, fresh, and clean.  It feels a little more crisp than the original, but it is still exceptionally smooth and majestically mysterious.  Plus, when the theme peeks out, it does so triumphantly. 

It’s also interesting to note that this features a character theme (for the character Walter, played by Daniel Radcliffe).  There is definitely a threatening quality to the cue, though hidden behind “pleasantries” in the sound which was seemingly done to match the character.  The score seems to be perfectly in line with the action oriented magic show style this film has.

Final verdict?  Hats off to Brian Tyler for delivering such a strong sequel to one of his most beloved scores thus far.  If you’re a fan of the original, this is no-question something you must check out.  If you aren’t as familiar with the predecessor, this is still one that any soundtrack fan would definitely want to check out.

From Varese Sarabande, this soundtrack is available digitally June 10th, or you can preorder the CD here from Amazon

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (John Williams)

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Soundtrack by John Williams (1983)

Get it:  If you like the previous two works in the series and look forward to a further development of the music

Don’t get it:  If you’re looking for a soundtrack that has a consistent action-oriented quality to it and doesn’t focus on themes

We’ve made it this far.  The first post of this series, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, was published last year in December.  Now, we’ve come to the end of the series as it currently stands.  However, this December, we will put up the review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII).  For now, though, here’s the review for the final film in the current series.

The soundtrack to Return of the Jedi is, as it should be, a development of the style and themes created in the previous two films in the franchise.  The style matches the progression of the film as well.  Early on, when the story is placed in the middle of a gangster’s desolate location, the music is correspondingly lonely yet intimidating.  When, also early on, the main villains of the series (the Imperials) enter, the music is a progression from the Imperial themes from the movie before it.  The pomp and grandeur are minimized, while the threatening elements receive more of a focus.  As the action increases with the characters, the music matches the pace.  However, the listener doesn’t really notice a sense of real familiarity with the music until the characters make it off the dangerous planet and are flying in space.  This was no accident, since that is also visually what was familiar – the characters were back together and flying through space in their most recognizable spacecraft. 

The reuse of themes, with changes appropriate to the film, is done especially well.  When “Yoda’s Theme” is used, it is done so in a much more subtle, gentle way, as the character is.  The overall feel of the score is a little stronger, again matching the characters.  One of the bigger parts of this score is the introduction to the “Emperor’s Theme.”  It is much more dark and intimidating than the “Imperial March,” and shows more control.  As mentioned in that review as well, it is very interesting how this theme is used, though in a sped-up and lighter manner, in The Phantom Menace.

It wouldn’t be a thorough review if the different versions were not addressed.  The original soundtrack from 1983 had a few elements that the current ones do not.  Perhaps the most disputed difference is in the added track, “Jedi Rocks,” and the finale.  Regardless of opinion, however, this soundtrack does a fantastic job of pushing the perception of the characters and stories in the proper direction.  Imagine this film with the soundtrack to A New Hope.  It doesn’t work, does it? It’s not supposed to.  Williams made an incredible body of work with this franchise, and when each individual piece is examined, more brilliance can be found through the specific elements unique to each part of the series. 

Now, we’ve come to the time where we wait and see what the next sound for the Star Wars universe will be.  Until then, listen to a part of the score below and check out where you can grab the soundtrack.

Click here or here to purchase the soundtrack

The Murder Pact (Matthew Llewellyn)

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The Murder Pact Soundtrack by Matthew Llewellyn (2015)

Get it: If you like electronic styled soundtracks with an orchestral approach

Don’t get it: If you want a light, classic feel for this score

From MovieScore Media comes the soundtrack to The Murder Pact.  Matthew Llewellyn has continued to show his multiple musical facets with this score.  Winner of two awards at the 2014 Film Soundtrack Center Awards, including “Up-and-Coming Composer”, he demonstrates different styles with his two recent projects.  This variation continues to this score. 

Previously, we’ve seen Llewellyn’s work on Deep in the Darkness and Wishin’ and Hopin’.  While completely different styles, both of these scores shared an orchestral sound.  With The Murder Pact, he and director Colin Theys agreed to come up with something that they haven’t done before.  In fact, it hasn’t really been done by anyone before.  There’s a contemporary edge present that still has elements of traditional scores in it.  Llewellyn was to do an all-electronic OST.  However, he still had an orchestral approach.  This adds a unique and rather nice element to it that sets it apart from others in the genre.  Sometimes, you can find an electronic, or synth, score that can settle into a somewhat monotonous theme or tone.  That isn’t the case here.  Instead, we have the progressions, variations, and influences of an orchestra, but with a new sound.  There are numerous changes in tone and feel throughout that keep the listener actively involved in the music. 

If you are a soundtrack fan who doesn’t usually like an electronic sound, you may still be interested in giving this a listen anyway.  If you are an electronic score fan, you will also want to listen to this score.  Why?  It incorporates aspects of both sides, so there’s something for everyone to like.  Some tracks have the beats and rhythm that is commonly associated with a synth score, while others have more of the focus on the individual sections combining for the overall sound (as associated with an orchestra). 

With an average of about 2:30 time, the tracks run a perfect length – not too long, and definitely not too short.  Due to Matthew Llewellyn’s previous work, expectations were high for this score – and it did not disappoint. 

Here is a preview track from the score, titled, “Belle Gets Rung”:

Click here (iTunes) or here (Amazon) to shop for the soundtrack, or here for more info

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack Cover

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack by John Williams (1980)

Get it:  If you like the classic themes of the Star Wars Universe with the focus on the galactic battle and romantic themes

Don’t get it:  If you like the more subtle cues from the previous film

We are getting closer to the end of our run of Star Wars soundtrack reviews, which can only mean we are even closer to the release of the soundtrack to The Force Awakens.  For now, however, we have this one to look at.  First, a little bit of context.  This was the first time anyone returned to the Star Wars Universe.  The last, and only, time anyone had been there was for the first film, A New Hope. Some things were similar, such as the main theme – but other elements were completely new.  If you picture a Star Destroyer flying in space, what do you hear?  Most likely, it’s “The Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme.”  This film is the first time that sound had been heard.

“Yoda’s Theme,” also so iconic, was introduced in this film along with the character himself.  Already, we have two brand-new themes introduced in this film, this soundtrack, that have become among of the most iconic cues in film history.  But what makes this soundtrack, other than the specific character themes, different from the movie before it?  To put it simply, the overall tone has a completely different approach.  In A New Hope, a large part of the score was based in isolation with glimpses of coming events here and there.  Then, as the story progresses and the character’s destinies become more evident, the music increases to a more rapid and adventurous pace to match that of the film.  For The Empire Strikes Back, there isn’t that sense of loneliness or isolation anymore.  It is less about growth, although there is some of that as well, and more about the galactic battle and a bit of romance.  Although that describes the movie, it also describes the score.

Going back to the two new themes for this score, they perfectly embody their intended characters.  For “Yoda’s Theme,” it is half quirky and playful, but the other half is subtly heroic and full of respect.  This matches the character Yoda, as represented in this film.  “The Imperial March,” or as it’s also known, “Darth Vader’s Theme,” is rooted in power.  It feels unstoppable and untamed – just like the character.

Ultimately, this soundtrack took a step forward in the evolution of the Star Wars music following the first film.  Next in the timeline will be a review of Return of the Jedi, which will then be followed by The Force Awakens this December.  Until then, check out the clip below of “Yoda’s Theme” from The Empire Strikes Back.

Click here or here to shop for the soundtrack

Pixels (Henry Jackman)

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Pixels Soundtrack Cover

Pixels Soundtrack by Henry Jackman (2015)

Get it:  If you like a very orchestral adventure/action score that uses heavy strings and brass

Don’t get it:  If you are hoping for something with a little more electronic punch

The soundtrack to Pixels, composed by Henry Jackman and released by Varèse Sarabande, is something Jackman fans should be very pleased with.  This fits in line with some of his previous films, such as Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph.  Although this isn’t strictly an animated film, as those two, it does still make sense that the sound would be fairly similar.  It can be sharp (in a good way) and full of action — but orchestral action, not just electronic bass and beats.  The orchestral timbre is quite noticeable.  That’s not to say Jackman doesn’t use a lot of percussive sounds, but rather that the body of the score isn’t based on those types of sounds. 

Jackman uses the strings very well to convey both a mysterious feel as well as a little sense of fun adventure (in the beginning).  The way he holds back from using the brass early on makes it more impactful for the action sequences later in the score when he does.  On that note, it should be said that when he does start to use the brass, he does so with great power in a supportive manner.  However, it does not overtake the strings, which are the main consistent element through this score.  Woodwinds are used sparingly throughout. 

The cues (there are 21) are not very long at all.  In fact, 2 minutes is on the longer side for this.  The exception is the track “Roll Out,” which is over 5 minutes long.  Otherwise, expect 1-2 minute tracks.  Overall, this is a good score that will do its job in the film very well.  Whether you want to buy it or not depends on two things – 1) if you are a fan of this style, which is pulled off extremely well, or 2) if you liked its use in the film and consequently wish to own it. 

Below is a visual preview of the soundtrack:

Click here or here to pre-order the soundtrack on CD