Classical Music
10:00 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

Soundtrack Reviews: "War Horse" And "Tintin"

Steven Spielberg has asked John Williams to score almost every single movie he’s ever directed since “Jaws,” which won Mr. Williams his second Oscar, and his first for Best Original Score.  It’s a working relationship that has lasted nearly 40 years, and given us some of the most memorable melodies of our time.

This holiday season, Spielberg is back with an unprecedented feat. He’s releasing two movies right on top of one another. “The Adventures of Tintin,” an animated adventure based on the Belgian comic, opens today, and “War Horse,” a period drama set in England and based on a stage play, opens on Christmas Day.  Williams was employed once again to create a unique atmosphere for each film.

Williams’ score for “War Horse” is sequenced on the soundtrack album programmatically. The early cues are pastoral, and evocative of the Dartmoor countryside. The music is ripe with Celtic influences, and a friend of mine even picked out a quote from an old Irish sea chantey. There are few big themes established, but the mood is set as a young boy takes in a steed named Joey.  Midway through the album, the mood turns more somber, as Joey is placed into service.  A solo trumpet passage is faintly evocative of a similar device in “Saving Private Ryan.” The biggest payoff for Williams fans comes in the final three tracks of the album, “The Reunion,” “Remembering Emilie,” and “The Homecoming.” All three are rich with those big melodies one expects from Williams.

For “The Adventures of Tintin,” Williams calls on his early jazz influences (he once played in a combo as Johnny Williams) and the grand scores of Korngold and Waxman that some say Williams built his career on aping. Personally, I think that Williams has at least distinguished himself from those other composers, even if there is a similarity. “Tintin” opens with a jazzy sound reminiscent of 1950s television sleuths, with a drummer using brushes to keep things hopping. Williams opens the orchestra up to allow unique colors like accordion and harpsichord to steal the spotlight.

I played the second track cold on the day the CD came in to the library at KPAC, and I wasn’t disappointed by the short and sparky “Snowy’s Theme,” representing Tintin’s loyal dog. Vertical runs by the orchestra are echoed by a solo piano at a fast clip. This is “Raiders”-esque high adventure, folks, and it’s a lot of fun.

Williams goes for mystery with some cues, and humor in others, such as a “shattering” guest turn by Renee Fleming.

Both “War Horse” and “Tintin” are welcome additions to the Williams canon, and “War Horse” seems a likely candidate for an Oscar nomination.