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Thursday, December 29, 2005

CD REVIEWS - King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

It's blockbuster night here at ScreenSounds as I bring you my reviews of the scores for the hottest films at the box office today.

King Kong
Music by James Newton Howard
Decca 476 5224 (EU)
21 Tracks 74:40 mins

Considering James Newton Howard joined the project so late in the day, after the desparture of Howard Shore, he and his army of orchestrators and conductors did a remarkable job as evidenced by this generous soundtrack recording (though there is much more music in the film that couldn't possibly fit on the album).
I must admit that my initial reaction was one of disappointment when Shore left the project as I think many of us were looking forweard to another score of the quality of his LOTR music but, on reflection, perhaps we might ultimately have expected too much of him and were probably destined for disappointment anyhow. After all, how could he possibly have topped LOTR?
No, perhaps it was better some other composer had a go, but the question was should it be Howard? Some had their doubts, but I kept an open mind for the most part, though still disappointed not to hear Shore's work.
Well, I'm pleased to say that Howard has delivered a perfectly serviceable score, which pushes all the right buttons. There is music of awe and majesty for Kong himself, a delicate piano-lead love theme for Ann and some truly exciting action music, with just a touch of humour provided by the jazzy theme for Carl Denham. Often the tracks flow seemlessly between one another, no more effectively than the final five cues, entitled Beauty Killed the Beast I-V, which beautifully cover the fight with the bi-planes, Kong's death and the final resolution.
Howard utilises choir to good effect alongside his orchestra and there is a telling solo by boy soprano Ben Inman during Kong's requiem, following his tumble from the top of the Empire State Building.
For those of you still lamenting the departure of Howard Shore, you can take heart that his chameo, conducting the pit orchestra when Kong is put on exhibition in New York, remains in the film and, a nice touch, Max Steiner's music from the original is utilised for the scene, as well as Kong's escape.
In conclusion, another fine score to add to James Newton Howard's list of credits.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - The Special Edition Soundtrack
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Walt Disney 094634768122 (EU)
CD - 17 Tracks 70:53 mins + Bonus DVD

Some critics have been disappointed with Harry Gregson-Williams' music for this long-awaited adaptation of the classic C.S.Lewis childrens' adventure, saying it's a typical Meida Ventures score and, as such, inappropriate Well, I have to say I don't totally agree with that analysis. True, there are similarities, but then the composer does come from that school, so it's maybe understandable, but this is not the same sound at all, in that it is mostly live orchestra and choir that can be heard, with any electronics being so subtle as to not draw attention to themselves.
In fact, Gregson-Williams has written a number of cues which feature solo parts, which stand out effectively amongst the larger orchestral-choral showpieces. The score is awash with themes, some delicate and bittersweet, others quite heartwarming, whilst the main Narnia theme itself is quite splendid and I'd love to hear a concert version someday.
The featured orchestra is the Los Angeles Recording Arts Orchestra, with no less than three choirs being utilised, The Bach Choir, The Choir of the King's Consort and the Sylvia Young Theatre School Choir; and the excellent Lisbeth Scott also features tellingly.
The only disappointment is that more score could not have been featured on the disc, as the last four tracks are taken up with songs by Imogen Heap, Alanis Morissette and Tim Finn, with the composer himself collaborating on the final track with Lisbeth Scott. Not that the songs are unpleasant, it's just I would have preferred them to be included on the "Music Inspired by" album to make room for more of the fine underscore.
This Special Edition is attractively packaged in a simulated leather-bound foldout cover and comes with an attractively illustrated and informative 40-page souvenir booklet and bonus DVD, which features a Film Art Gallery, Concept Art Gallery, Film Trailer and "Behind the Magic of Narnia" - a series of 6 featurettes, including a 12-minute interview with the composer, with footage from the recording sessions and another on the "Music Inspired By" album, with interviews with some of the featued artists. A very nice score and package indeed.


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