Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In loving memory of maestro James Horner

I realize I have not updated this blog for a long, long time now. I do hope to pen down more thoughts once the professional and personal fronts permit. However, I simply cannot keep silent in wake of this terrible tragedy that has shaken all of us film music fans, movie audiences and human beings alike. I cannot think of what more to say than everyone already has. There are so many who knew Mr. Horner so well, worked with him, shared wonderful memories with him, at least had a chance to meet him or get a photo taken with him. I know that all those dreams of this humble fan from India, of meeting him or seeing him live in concert, will now remain dreams forever. But that is not what concerns me. It is for the first time, that I am truly feeling a gaping void inside, some essential part of me that has been torn away and left me forever. I may not have known Mr. Horner in person, but he was always there for me in some of the darkest times of my life, in the form of his timeless music which has touched the hearts of so many all across the globe. I can only express what James Horner meant to me in my life and offer my humble words in his memory, if at least to get some of the sadness off my heart.

I must admit that my collection of Mr. Horner’s music is woefully incomplete. Several of his most cherished and praised scores such as Jumanji, Battle Beyond The Stars, Krull and Deep Impact, I still am not very familiar with. I have also not actually seen many of the films which he scored, the most notable one being Titanic, mostly due to my general aversion towards the romance genre. I don’t know when, or if I will ever see it though I see it playing on Star Movies or AXN all the time. But I do know that its soundtrack will forever maintain a special place in my heart. Not because it won maestro Horner two well deserved Oscars, not because it’s the highest selling film score album in history as of now, but because it was one of the first scores I fell in love with and which turned me into a film music fan. I’ve read many accounts of viewers being blown away by the well known Southampton piece with the famous synth choir as the ship moves away from harbour, or the tender piano pieces during romantic scenes, but for me it was the dramatic The Sinking cue which carved a niche in my mind from the first second. I first heard it during a gymnastics performance in high school and the crashing percussion, dramatic horn chords and heart-searing strings under a relentless line of shrieking trumpets had me captivated. Once I found out what the track was, I set out to search for it. With film score albums being nearly impossible to find in local markets, at least in my place, I had to settle for a rip from a streaming site. The tinny sound quality barely bothered me. The track was on repeat for weeks and I could feel the sheer panic and desperation of the helpless passengers caught in the midst of that dreadful tragedy.

I watched Commando at a friend’s place years back when I was only in 4th standard or so, in black and white. While I never liked violent action movies much, I still have vague memories of the dramatic music during the climax as Arnold Schwarzenegger impales the bad guy with a metal pipe. Although I didn’t realize the importance of the score at that time, it was a nostalgic moment of joy when I got the soundtrack several years later, a souvenir of those carefree days of childhood. Once I was familiar with Mr. Horner, I took the opportunity to listen to more of his works including How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Land Before Time, Braveheart, Mask Of Zorro, some of Krull and Balto. Disappointment of a poor performance in college exams was mellowed down after listening to his beautiful score to The Spiderwick Chronicles. I am usually not someone to fall in love with something upon first sight or listen. Mr. Horner did it first with The Sinking, and now with the well-known track War from Avatar. The moment I heard the powerful battle choir and forceful yet beautiful themes from the orchestra in the 30-second samples during November 2009, I knew this was something that would get countless repeat plays from me. As much as the Avatar soundtrack received criticism for being derivative of Mr. Horner’s earlier works and prominently featuring the famous four-note “danger motif”, it doesn’t bother me at all. I find his distinctive style to be moulded aptly for each different film and never becoming repetitive or monotonous. He proved his versatility with scores like The Karate Kid.

Watching the film Avatar made me fall in love with the entire soundtrack all over again, the wondrous musical world Mr. Horner crafted for the film. Be it the tribal chants during the flight scenes and call for arms, sublime orchestral themes for Jake and the Na’vi, his relationship with Neytiri, the menacing martial music for Quaritch and his army, everything fit like a glove. I also lamented that some of the best cues from the score including the Thanator Chase and the final battle were not included on the commercial soundtrack album. It was right before a very tough and draining phase in my life that I was able to obtain these tracks from a promotional version of the score (not that I’m encouraging that kind of stuff, but where else do we die-hard fans have to go? I’ll be the first to buy an official complete release of the score when it happens). I literally stuffed these tracks into my phone music folder as the taxi stood waiting outside; I did not want to leave without taking along these tracks I had been yearning to have for so long. It was the sheer joy of having these four tracks to listen to, on a loop for hours, that somehow counterbalanced the despair I was facing then. I cannot imagine how I would have fared if Mr. Horner was not there with me every day, every moment as I drowned myself into the world of his music.

It’s still not possible for me to accept and digest what has taken place. I keep hoping I’ll wake up and find out it’s nothing but a nightmare. It feels incredible that only a few months ago I was listening to his new album to Wolf Totem, which is as glorious and striking as any of his much beloved classics to blockbusters. Whether a little known film like Cristida or blockbusters on top of the box office like Titanic and Avatar, he did justice to all of them with his wonderful music. As much as I was disappointed by the first Amazing Spider-Man film, almost regretting my decision to watch it in the cinemas, I’m now grateful and proud to have had the opportunity in my lifetime to watch a new film featuring Mr. Horner’s wonderful music in the cinema, a soundtrack which will forever remain special for me now. It's devastating to think that there will now be no new soundtrack album from James Horner to look forward to, except the last few films he had finished scoring. We can only treasure his beautiful works more than ever and be thankful to have had this legend with us. I thank you, maestro Horner, from the bottom of my heart for enriching my life and inspiring me and countless others all across the world with your brilliant music, your gentle and humble personality and your spirit of dedication, hard work and adventure. My humble thoughts go out to your loved ones and all your well wishers. You will live forever in our hearts and will be immortalized with your timeless music. May it continue to soar and keep inspiring us forever. God be with you.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A "generic" cue

I’ve often wondered about what exactly shapes up my taste in music. Now granted, where I’m from, a dude who listens to nothing but the “background music” of films is already weird enough to earn a shining geek badge. But even as a film score fan, I find myself repeatedly revisiting material which most other listeners would consider generic or subpar at best. Of course, music is a very subjective experience and you can’t really judge a piece solely by the opinion of others – no matter now universally accepted that opinion may be. A recent example is from Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack to last year’s Oscar-winning Pixar film, Brave. It’s a wonderful Scottish-flavoured score with bagpipes, Celtic fiddle and whistles magnificently creating an appropriate sonic aura to compliment the film’s setting. While the score received mostly positive reviews, like many other scores, not all of its tracks got space in the spotlight. One of my favourite tracks on the album is Show Us The Way, a largely suspenseful cue which explodes into a frenzy of brutal orchestral savagery as Merida is ambushed by the demon bear Mor’Du. It’s a brief but exciting moment of action music that, while nothing groundbreaking, has earned many repeats on my music player. However, many reviews of the soundtrack I read criticized this track for being dull and slowing down the pace of the album.

Action cues are often said to be too chaotic to be enjoyable on their own outside the film. I, however, have a special thing for action music. At least 90% of all scores in my collection have at least a couple of action cues in them and it is those that get the most repeated visits from me. Usually it is the action cues that I listen to first upon getting the album. And I feel there’s plenty of scope for harmony and melody in action music as well. This is a major reason why I always prefer to as much score as possible in a soundtrack. Creating a short album program for a better listening experience is both creatively and economically very understandable (honestly, given the current economic times and remembering how most of A.R Rahman’s amazing Indian scores are only available as SFX-riddled DVD rips, I’m grateful enough just to have a score CD in my hands), but I’m never going to be one who complains about the length of a score CD. What’s a boring track for me could well be the highlight of the album for someone else. I can easily remove that track from my playlist, but if it’s unreleased then nobody else can have it even if they want to (through legitimate means, that is). The more complete the soundtrack is, the more of a win-win situation I feel it is.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Rise Of Alexandre Desplat

My journey with Alexandre Desplat and his lovely music has been an enthralling one. The French maestro had scored several theatrical and cinematic features in his country before rising to prominence in Hollywood with his Golden Globe-winning score to The Queen in 2006. However, I was acquainted to him after he was nominated for the 2009 Academy Awards for his sublime score to The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. This particular score did not leave much of an initial impression upon me, but there were moments of genuine beauty in the tracks like Sunrise On Lake Ponchartrain. After repeated visits, my appreciation for this score has greatly increased now. It made me check out more of his numerous works, many of which quickly became my favourites.

His theme music for the second entry in the Twilight saga, New Moon, is simply otherworldly in its charm. His scores for The Ghost Writer and The King’s Speech received enthusiastic acclaim from critics. He provided two dynamite scores for the Wizarding World’s final stand against Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters in the two-part finale of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. He continues to write a surprising number of calculated and impeccable scores for films every year, and is already being considered a strong competitor in the upcoming awards season for his edgy, impactful score for Ben Affleck’s Argo. However, for me and many other fans, the standout highlight from coming from Alexandre this year has been the one for the recently released DreamWorks animated film, Rise Of The Guardians. This delightful announcement had been made back in February, and highly anticipated by all his fans since. Apart from the official soundtrack release, the complete score has been made available for preview on a promotional DreamWorks website.

The score is a grand orchestral adventure brimming with lively orchestrations, bold themes and an omnipresent aura of adventure and fantasy. Fanfare Of The Elves is one of the most addictive pieces I’ve heard of late, which is already earning my “repeat” button numerous pushes. Lively winter/festival-favoured tracks like Snowballs, Easter and Sleigh Launch are complemented by burly action material in Chasing The Nightmares, Sandy Fights and Pitch At The North Pole (which features a frantic string ostinato similar to the one in Broomsticks And Fire in the final Potter film) among others. Jack’s bond with the Guardians and kids is portrayed by gentle symphonic score at apt places between the bombastic material. There are many more themes that’ll likely be better understood after watching the film. For my money, this is one of the absolute best scores of 2012 and a real treat. Here’s hoping that maestro Desplat finally receives his long-awaited Oscar for his delightful works this year.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Thematic Scoring

While sharing musical themes associated with villains in a group of fellow film music fans earlier today, I put forward the piece Grond – The Hammer Of The Underworld from Howard Shore’s magnificent score for Return Of The King. It isn’t one of the most well-known tracks from the set, but happens to be a personal favourite of mine owing to the tremendous power and remarkable thematic core it retains for duration of a little over two minutes. Right after a fearsome amalgamation of the Gondor and Sauron themes in vicious struggle, obviously representing the clash between their representatives, the latter joins forces with the Uruk-hai 5-beat pattern as the orc armies of Sauron and Saruman crash the sinister battering ram, Grond, into the gates of Minas Tirith. Low brass and high strings hold on a single, tense note as Gandalf addresses the terrified but resolute soldiers behind the city walls as they stand their ground, watching the terrifying spectacle of the battering ram’s snarling wolf-head poking in through the ever-expanding hole in the gate.

“You are the soldiers of Gondor. No matter what comes through that gate, you will stand your ground!”

Horns and trumpets blare in unison as Grond is slowly withdrawn only to be smashed a fourth time into the gates, breaking them open this time. Two pairs of vicious trolls barge into the city, followed by the rest of the enemy’s forces and start brutally laying waste to Gondor’s ranks. A single, desperate rendition of Gondor’s theme sounds on low horns as they futilely launch a volley of arrows at the relentlessly attacking orcs, but is left incomplete and overcome by the diabolical Sauron’s theme as their foes press deeper and deeper into Minas Tirith.

Of course, these are just my views. For the real picture, I suggest reading Doug Adam’s amazing annotated scores for these films. Nobody could understand or analyze them better.

For me, such thematic complexity and buildup is what separates a great score from a serviceable one. John Williams is especially famous for working around with themes, motifs and leitmotifs in truly unique ways. Hans Zimmer took the noble theme for Mufasa and turned it into a no-holds-barred battle anthem as Simba battles his father’s killer atop the Pride Rock in The Lion King. Michael Giacchino turned the cute, swingin’ version of Muntz’ theme (Up) in Up With The Titles into a ferocious, villainous version in battle with Ellie’s theme during the latter half of the score. More recently, I loved how Alexandre Desplat rearranged John Williams’ classic Hedwig’s theme for the final film in the Harry Potter series. A bold, elongated version on trombone plays over a dramatic string ostinato as Harry confronts Lord Voldemort atop a tower – I could barely recognize it until it was pointed out by someone else.

There are several more examples for the same, and I think each of them is something truly worth appreciation. This precision and care in thematic scoring never ceases to fascinate and enthrall me, and is something that ought to be greatly encouraged and promoted in order to improve the quality of both film and music, in my opinion.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Thirst For Adventure

Yes, I am posting after over a year. Speaks volumes about my schedule, I guess! Hehe.

Presented in my comeback post is a series of spontaneous thoughts about John Williams’ wonderful, thematically rich score to Steven Spielberg’s latest film – an adaptation of Herge’s famous Tintin comic books, which I had the privilege to watch in exquisite 3D today. As an avid fan of the books, TV series, director and composer, there’s no way I could gonna miss on this one (many thanks to my wonderful parents for this, without whose support it wouldn’t have been possible). While the film itself is an excellent action/adventure flick expertly combining The Secret Of The Unicorn with the events of Crab With The Golden Claws while faithfully retaining the spirit of Herge’s classics at its heart, equally appreciable are the so-called “technical” aspects like the animation, cinematography, art direction, vocal performances… and the score.

NOTE: Spoilers ahead.

Collaborations between Williams and Spielberg are legendary, beginning with the critically acclaimed score to Jaws in 1975 and followed up with classics like the Indiana Jones series, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan and the recent War Of The Worlds. Their latest collaboration would be Williams’ first score for a full fledged animated film, and as an enthusiast of that area, my interest was certainly built up even more. As someone who’s held Ray Parker’s dynamic main theme to the Ellipse animated series as a definitive theme for Tintin since childhood, I was certainly hoping that Williams would come up with something equally memorable and powerful for Spielberg’s film. The Adventures Of Tintin, which plays over the charmingly animated opening titles sequence, therefore certainly came as a mixed surprise. Far from a heroic or adventurous fanfare, we have a quirky, playful piece featuring woodwinds, harpsichord and tubular bells playing both themes for the titular character in a rather unconventional way that is a bit slow to grow, but immediately appreciable in its unique orchestral palette.

It is in union with the visuals that the significance of this decision displays its perfect aptness. Tintin’s theme is a catchy motif first introduced on clarinets and then bursting forth on brass in various points of action and adventure. The theme itself isn’t really developed much further, just like its character in this movie and the comics; he is essentially our guide and active narrator through the events, and that’s what the theme does – propel us forth through the adventure and boost its strength. The “B” portion of the theme (a signature of the maestro) also shows up separately during scenes of stealth or action, but neither of these is the driving them of the movie. That position is held by the ten-note theme representing the Unicorn, the majestic ship once commanded by Sir Francis Haddock, which held the treasure everybody is after in this film. It plays on suspenseful, mellow horns whenever it is referenced, whether in the form of the three miniature models holding the scrolls or when the ship itself is hinted at in some form.

Deliciously haunting through the first half, it gains its first full-on performance on the massive orchestra during a spectacular flashback sequence of Sir Francis and his crew engaging in battle against Red Rackham’s pirates in the stormy seas. I truly got chills when the theme raged into presence as the two ships crash into each other, the occupants of the enemy vessel leaping into the other in full onslaught. The theme is played in destructive mode in Red Rackham’s Curse And The Treasure as Sir Francis blows up the ship rather than let her fall into the slimy hands of the pirates. Perhaps the most well-developed theme is that representing the famous Captain Haddock, here in his introductory phases; the conflicted oboe tune represents his struggle with alcoholism and lack of focus and confidence. It receives performances of comic heroism during the events of the frentic Flight To Bagghar, and eventually reaches a sober zenith in the noble Captain’s Counsel as he bucks up the hopeless Tintin. When I first read of the book to be adapted, the sequence I was most looking forward to was undoubtedly the aforementioned sea battle, and here we also get two exquisite swashbuckling pirate themes from Williams – one representing the diabolical Red Rackham himself, and the other frequenting in swordfight scenes, before representing the “thirst of adventure” in general in The Adventure Continues.

The main villain of the film, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (a fairly minor character in the original comic), is initially given a menacing, vaguely Mid-Eastern nine-note motif during the scenes of Tintin and Haddock’s escape from the Karaboudjan, which is eventually replaced by Red Rackham’s theme in the final confrontation as Sakharine is revealed to be the descendant of the sinister pirate. Then there’s Snowy’s Theme, a refreshingly light-spirited and fast paced tune on strings and flute which perfectly fits Tintin’s hyperactive and cute companion as he faithfully accompanies him in the adventures. The two bumbling detectives, Thomson and Thompson, are given an aptly lazy clarinet theme that accompanies their sloppy efforts to chase the pickpocket, whoops, I mean kleptomaniac Mr. Silk. This wealth of themes, no less than the fabulous treasure of the Unicorn, is an absolute delight as it unfolds through the events of the film and each of them aptly interacts with the others as the circumstances unfold.

Whether it is in suspenseful cues like Marlinspike Hall or the ones featuring tooth-and-claw action music like Sir Francis And The Unicorn, never does Williams miss a single hit on time – the latter track even featuring several orchestral hits in rapid sync with sword clashes as Red Rackham’s and Sir Francis’ (a variant of the former) themes furiously battle each other with their respective characters. Notable is the liberal use of energetic woodwinds in tracks like Flight To Bagghar and fast-paced action material like Pursuit Of The Falcon and Clash Of The Cranes, though Williams takes care to never let them overpower the onscreen visuals. Some portions where the music takes a more prominent position are the aforementioned pirate sequences and portions of Escape From The Karaboudjan, especially the terrifying dissonant crescendo as the treacherous first-mate Alan steers the ship to crush what he thinks is Tintin and Haddock’s boat. Comic cues like Introducing The Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase and Capturing Mr. Silk are a delight in their respective scenes. The summary and union of this wealth of themes in Return To Marlinspike Hall and Finale is truly wonderful as well. While the official album is missing some interesting cues (including the scenes of Tintin first meeting the captain and their hijacking of the Portuguese seaplane), it is relatively well presented.

Although Spielberg’s upcoming film War Horse seems like a stronger contender at the Oscars next year, inevitably in the score department as well (also delivered by Williams), I do hope the score for The Adventures Of Tintin gets due recognition eventually because while not really something groundbreaking, it’s a refreshing return to Williams’ earlier action/adventure scores that turned many of us into his fans, and is undoubtedly one of the finest and most entertaining scores of this year so far, while effectively enhancing the already great film it accompanies. And how can it not be even more special when you finally get a refreshing new drink of your favourite composer’s material after a drought of three long years? Top quality material as far as I am concerned; highly recommended.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thoughts on video game music and Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Being a fan of video games, I’ll be among the first to stress how important music is in the game, as it is in films. From the catchy analog chip-processed tunes of Game Boy and Sega console games (I think the ant-lion boss sequence from Sonic The Hedgehog 2 of Game Gear featured some truly remarkable scoring) to Bobby Prince’s incredible MIDI scores to DOS games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, and now to full-on orchestral scores to highly advanced games by many well-known film composers like Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer, video game music has shown tremendous evolution, something which never fails to awe me. It’s now a distinct genre in itself with live concerts being performed, and official soundtrack albums being released so that the era of having to resort to crappy game rips to obtain the music is over.

It’s important to mention how many individual composers got their break through the video game music career. A great example would be Michael Giacchino (who won the Oscar this year for Up), whose Medal Of Honor scores are considered to be among the finest game scores ever, which helped him get his break into Hollywood film scoring. James Hannigan surpassed Nicholas Hooper’s Harry Potter film scores with his amazing, full-on orchestral scores to the fifth and sixth games, incorporating John Williams’ Hedwig’s theme brilliantly (sadly omitted from the digital soundtracks due to licensing issues). Martin O’ Donnell and Michael Salvatori produced some stunning material for Microsoft’s Halo games. There are so many examples to list, I could go on and on.

But firstly, someone who deserves special mention is composer Jesper Kyd. Most well known today for his award-winning scores to the Assassin’s Creed games, he is also famous for scoring the four Hitman games by Eidos Interactive. The games involve the player as a cloned assassin only named as Mr. 47, with a mysterious past and a connection with a dark Agency, carrying out various hits as stealthily as possible while evading guards and witnesses. The moral fibre of the games is usually cleverly maintained to some extent because the targets are usually high-profile criminals, mafia bosses, smugglers etc. One thing which fascinated me about these games is the many number of ways in which a mission can be accomplished, and having the choice of doing it both stealthily, or just dash in with guns blazing and massacre everyone in the level. Everything is accompanied by Jesper’s threatening, suspenseful music which is usually electronic/orchestral in nature.

The first game is a little too simplistic with some edgy controls, while the games 3 and 4 venture into seriously dark and bloody territory which I’m not really fond of. However, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is one of my all-time favourite games and, in my opinion, the best of the series so far. Although not as sophisticated with the arsenal, maps and AI as the later games, it’s still a wonderful experience with enough thrills and tough missions that would require ample practice, and very good graphics. The violence is quite kept in control and the bridge between darkness and suitability for most people is well made. Most importantly, it possibly features the best story in the series so far with a very satisfying and powerful ending. The full synopsis of the story can be easily found online, but in this post I’ll mainly be dealing with the salient material and its connection to the music.

NOTE: Spoilers ahead.

The story of Hitman 2 begins with Agent 47 retreating to a church in Sicily to seek peace. During his time in the church, he works as a gardener for the priest, Father Vittorio. 47 views Father Vittorio as his best friend and mentor, attending regular confessions to admit his sins. The priest understands that 47 has killed many but believes the man is decent at heart. Now, it wouldn’t exactly be an action/stealth game with a storyline so simple, would it? Perhaps to signify this, Jesper Kyd’s Main Title theme, instead of the electronica-laden tracks of the other games, begins with a large Gregorian male choir doing a majestic chant, soon joined by full orchestra – staccato strings supporting and brass blaring to play what could easily be a piece for a medieval war film. As a fitting companion to the superior storyline, a lot of the soundtrack features similar grand orchestral pieces, while maintaining the tradition of the Hitman music by incorporating some electronica-driven ambient material too. Jesper Kyd states in an interview –

“After the electronic-driven score for Hitman: Codename 47, the orchestral Hitman 2: Silent Assassin score was a new direction for the sound of Hitman, although there are still a few purely electronic tracks in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin.”

Shortly after meeting the priest and the player learning the controls, 47 enters the church’s confession booth to admit his sins. Here a new three-note motif is introduced for 47, played by trumpet and a restrained flute, gradually incorporating more of the orchestra. The track, titled Waiting For Action, is followed by a full-fledged dramatic track based on the same motif titled Action Begins, as Father Vittorio is kidnapped by the Italian Mafia and 47 discovers the ransom note left by them. The track is simultaneously exciting and tragic – with strings playing emotional counter melodies as horns blare and snare rhythms drive the music forward. This is the same track which plays in the next level (Anathema) as 47 ventures into the Villa of the Don responsible for the abduction and kills him, but is unable to find Vittorio. I didn’t notice this track much in the other levels, so I guess this represents 47 taking revenge on Vittorio’s immediate kidnappers.

After reading the ransom note, 47 decides to contact his old Agency again and take their help in finding Vittorio. He knows this is a deal which works for both sides – he’ll have to go back to his dark ways from which he had been running so far. But his respect for his friend Vittorio and determination to find him at all costs, striking down every obstacle and leaving a trail of dead enemies in his wake, propels him to finally make this hard decision. The emotion behind this is what is captured in the following track – 47 Makes A Decision, quite possibly the best track of the soundtrack. Beginning with low strings on percussive beats, a French horn plays notes of both tragedy and vigour with determination as eventually the string section joins in – a part which never fails to give me the shivers. The track eventually rises to a grand heroic crescendo with full orchestra, literally shouting “Behold, the hero has returned!”. This portion is particularly fun when it plays alongside 47 causing great massacres in various levels. The usage of this track in the final scene and end credits as 47 leaves Father Vittorio and the Gontranno church behind to go back to his old ways, realizing that’s the life which was always meant for him, is another truly inspired decision.

47’s missions in this game take him to various countries around the globe, and most of them have their own suitable theme music to provide an authentic feel to the locations. The missions in Russia feature well-composed, catchy martial marches in the tracks 47 In St. Petersburg and Trouble In Russia, as 47 disguises himself as a Russian soldier to assassinate enemy military generals. A clever play on these motifs is done in the track The Setup, as 47 returns to St. Petersburg towards the end of the game, only to discover that the mission is a trap set up by the mastermind behind everything, Sergei Zavorotko.

It’s remarkable how Jesper Kyd brings a truly authentic feel to the levels’ musical scores even with these highly Westernized tracks – Japanese Mansion, with its banging ethnic percussion and flutes joined by a huge orchestra, was stuck in my head for weeks after completing the missions to infiltrate Hayamoto’s ninja-infested castle. Japanese Snow Castle, with the Westernized Eastern motifs on brass, brings back memories of the treacherous trek through the snowy valley surrounding the location, infested with highly alert guards and deadly snipers.

The action then moves onto Malaysia, where 47 is supposed to take down an enemy systems hacker named Charlie Sidjan. Curiously, the Malaysian missions do not have any specific theme music of their own, and most of the music is a mixture of the previously mentioned tracks or the ambient material. A new track named The Penthouse does appear during the final of the levels, playing during 47’s encounter with dangerous women in Charlie Sidjan’s penthouse. The track is a highly tense action track, featuring high strings screeching out notes of danger and dread as eerie blasts from the brass highlight it. The level itself is a fairly easy one, but the track reappears during another highly tense moment in the Setup level, as 47 sneaks up from behind to take down his evil clone, Mr. 17, in the embassy building, before making a narrow escape.

The following missions in Nuristan feature appropriate Middle-Eastern influenced orchestral melodies in the track Desert Sun and Arabian Dance. The missions in India are underscored by the tracks Streets Of India and Mission In India. Being an Indian myself, I couldn’t help but notice that the music doesn’t really sound Indian, and feels much more similar to Mideastern material. There’s a tabla on high reverb with strings playing the aforementioned melody over it, but neither the rhythms nor the melody sound close to Indian music to me. I wish some more research had gone into Indian music for this one. Nevertheless, this isn’t a big complaint and the tracks work great both in the gameplay and as standalone music.

Moving past the thrilling Return To St. Petersburg mission, 47 discovers that he’s been betrayed and returns to Gontranno, only to find the place in a much more sinister situation than we remember. The lively animals are gone and underneath the dark and rainy sky, Sergei’s henchmen circle the church like jackals as Sergei himself holds Father Vittorio hostage in the confession booth. In the inevitable final battle that follows, the track End Boss provides an apt musical backdrop – a very un-melodic and wild track with eerie string ostinatos and dissonant brass bursts building the tension in the ugly situation. There’s no heroic resolve – as 47 finally disposes of each of the armed goons and takes down Sergei, the ambient music takes over, followed by a reprise of Waiting For Action as 47 talks to the injured Father Vittorio about leaving Gontranno. Taking the cross Father Vittorio gives him, 47 walks out of the church – now littered with the bodies of slain enemies. Stopping at the broken door, he stops and presents a dramatic monologue –

“Always knew I didn't belong in this world. I wasn't made for this. But I'll never forget- those who betrayed me, and those who never failed my trust. I'll be carrying nothing from Gontranno but this lesson: never trust anyone and rely on your instincts. Forget the past. I'll never find peace here. So, I'll seek justice for myself. I'll choose the truth I like.”

The second decision is made; he hangs the cross on one of the splinters of the door, he pulls out his good ol’ hardballers and walks out into the fog to seek his destiny. And, apt to the situation, 47 Makes A Decision plays for a final time as the credits roll over the still gently swinging cross.

The score to Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is one of my favourite modern video game scores and goes on to show how much the genre has evolved lately. The majestic orchestral cues work extremely well within the game and are also great as a standalone listening experience. I personally feel this is both the best game and the best music score of the series so far, and truly worth checking out. The soundtrack was originally released on iTunes after the game’s release, and later released by La-La Land Records as a 2 CD set along with the soundtrack of the first Hitman game. The soundtrack also features the electronic ambient tracks which play throughout suspenseful situations in the game. I really recommend this one to fans of scores and orchestral music alike.

Monday, March 8, 2010

'UP' with the Oscars!

Find more videos like this on Soundtrack Fans

Well deserved award for a well deserved score to the most talented Mr. Giacchino!