Last year was by far one of the best years for movie soundtracks, not just in terms of “good music,” but also in terms of experimentation on the part of composers (as some of my choices below will show). The year prior, of course, was a good year too, but 2010 really grabbed me, with some composers playing a greater role in the merger of source material with musical material. I don’t know if this is a “new” thing, but it sure is something I haven’t noticed in past years from major pictures (the experimentation on the part of composers seems to have been centered on “blockbusters” in 2010; whether that means anything is up to the music critics to figure out).
One of the best science fiction films ever made has the luxury of having one of the most important and (I hope) influential soundtracks ever written. Hans Zimmer certainly has a lot of detractors, but his use of layers, his manipulation of audio to produce a variety of effects (then replicated in various ways for the body of the musical narrative), and his unflinching willingness to experiment to the extreme (see the behind the scenes stuff for The Dark Knight) are prime examples of why he his one of the best composers living today.
Tron: Legacy (Daft Punk)
One of the biggest surprises for me was the announcement that Daft Punk would be scoring the soundtrack for Legacy. I was apprehensive about the duo, because as much as I love their music, I had a hard time imagining it forming the background of a film like Legacy. The result, however, blew me away. Legacy‘s soundtrack is a clever mix of heavy electronic rhythms and traditional orchestral scoring (some of which is then manipulated by the duo–who are, of course, known for their audio manipulations). The soundtrack is actually quite clever, since it mirrors the intersection and conflict between two worlds (the real world vs. the Grid). Hopefully we’ll see more soundtracks from Daft Punk in the future; they’ve clearly got a knack for it.
How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)
Light. Bubbly. Fun. Despite the film’s flaws, I loved How to Train Your Dragon, and the soundtrack is no exception. It brings out the spirit of adventure that made How to Train Your Dragon such an enjoyable film. Then there’s “Sticks and Stones” by Jonsi (the end title piece), which is one of the happiest songs I’ve heard in a long time (which might explain my love for it in times of annoyance or sadness: it has a way of lifting one’s spirits (sort of like the movie, right?)). I recommend the soundtrack if you want something uplifting. It might even make for good walking music!
Here’s my review of How to Train Your Dragon.
The Last Airbender (James Newton Howard)
First things first: the movie was bloody awful; so awful, in fact, that it might very well be the end of M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s career. A good thing? Maybe.
But the music for the soundtrack, while somewhat simple for a Howard score, sets up the epic scenario better than the actual film. It is suspenseful, fun, and (sometimes) quite beautiful. There are a number of great little themes at work here, and if a second movie is made, perhaps we’ll hear these develop (if we’re lucky, maybe someone will tell Shamalamadingdong he can’t write or direct the next in the series). I think Howard could have been more ambitious with his use of themes/instruments from non-European cultures, but considering the near-gutting of practically all of the representations of non-European cultures from the original series for the movie, I suppose it’s unfair to blame Howard for the oversight. In any case, the soundtrack is a good mood-setter and well worth listening to.
Skyline (Matthew Margeson)
I didn’t see the movie and have no intention of doing so. The soundtrack, however, is dark and suspenseful. It’s like listening to David Arnold (Independence Day) one moment and Graeme Revell (The Chronicles of Riddick) the next. There is plenty of beauty here, too. The melodies shift from chaotic to idyllic (as would be expected of an action-oriented science fiction film) and the overall feeling is a mixture of excitement and wonder. I suspect we’ll see much more of Margeson in the future, particularly for genre films.
Book of Eli (Atticus Ross)