Troy (Gabriel Yared)

When it was revealed that Gabriel Yared was the composer chosen to score Wolfgang Petersen’s historic action epic Troy, I was thrilled. What an inspired choice of composer, how original and brave to go for something different in a typical Hollywood blockbuster. As the composer himself puts it, he wasn’t “well known for writing big epic scores” (Yared’s best known music was written for deeply emotional dramas like The English Patient, City of Angels and Betty Blue). As things turned out, and as most film music fans are now very well aware of, Troy will not do much to change the situation for Yared. After having worked on the score for a whole year, Wolfgang Petersen and company decided to reject Yared’s score following a test-screening where the score was considered to be “overpowering and too big, old fashioned.” James Horner was brought in to rescore the picture in thirteen days and the rest is history. I haven’t seen the film. I haven’t heard Horner’s score. I can’t say if the filmmakers made the right or wrong decision when they turned their back on Gabriel Yared, but I can tell you one thing: Yared’s rejected score for Troy is one of the most magnificent epic film scores I have come across in the past ten years. Recorded with large orchestra and choir in London, superbly orchestrated by veteran Jeff Atmajian, John Bell and Stephan Moucha, this is a highly dramatic, deeply emotional and immensely inspiring score of classic proportions. Yared is best known for his low-key love themes, but let’s not forget about Yared’s early score for the little known 1985 French epic Adieu Bonaparte which actually foreshadows his work on Troy. His approach is at par with the great Hollywood epics scored by Miklós Rózsa, Alfred Newman and Dimitri Tiomkin. Call it “old-fashioned” if you will, those of us who love symphonic music with a wide range of emotional qualities call it “great music.” Thankfully, Yared has not walked down the typical Hans Zimmer path; this is definitely not a Gladiator type of score and – I take the liberty to speculate here – maybe that is what the filmmakers (or their powerful test audience) missed in the film. No matter what ended up on the final soundtrack, Yared’s score will remain one of the most sadly overlooked film works ever; this spectacular and beautiful work is right up there with Bernard Herrmann’s unused Torn Curtain and Alex North’s rejected 2001.

The score is built around several strong themes. Apart from the strong, influential theme for Achilles, there are a couple of superb love themes (‘Paris and Helen’, ‘Achilles and Briseis’). And those of you who thought that Gabriel Yared was unable to score heavy action – you were so wrong! The complexity of Yared’s rhythmical, brassy and percussive writing in action cues such as ‘D-Day Landing’ are as breathtaking as anything written by Hollywood’s action darlings. The use of large choir adds an epic dimension to the score and the use of Bulgarian singers to add an Eastern flavour to the approach gives the music an unexpected wide scope. Interestingly, James Horner used the same Bulgarian choir – and the same Macedonian soloist, Tanja Tzarovska – in his replacement score. So what can you say about that? Obviously, the filmmakers were quite happy with those specific elements in Yared’s score, so happy that they gladly flew in the London Bulgarian Choir to Los Angeles for the rescoring sessions. All in all, I think that I would like to put it this way: Gabriel Yared’s music probably was too good for this film. We will never know how good or bad or effective it was in the context it was written for. On its own, however, it’s a masterpiece. With a little bit of luck, maybe some day Yared’s music will be made available to the public. In the meanwhile, clips of the score are available for your listening pleasure at Gabriel Yared’s official web site (see link below).

Starsky & Hutch / 13 Going on 30 (Theodore Shapiro)

Here is a composer who is one of the busiest in Hollywood without anyone noticing it. Teddy Shapiro has scored numerous smaller hit films in the past years, including Along Came Polly, Old School, Heist and State and Main. Of the scores I have heard this composer create, the exhilarating 1970s kitsch exercise Starsky & Hutch is the most exciting so far. Several film critics mentioned Shapiro’s score as a clearly positive element of this cinematic recreation of the cult TV series, starring Ben Stiller as Starsky and Owen Wilson as Hutch. The main theme is a faithful and loving pastiche of those catchy TV themes heard in series like Kojak, Streets of San Francisco and Hawaii 5-0. Everything is there: the cool drum beat, the wah-wah guitar, the suspense chords in the strings, the big bad jazz riffs, the ultra cool flute solo, the electric piano and the funky clavinette. Shapiro told me that he had a lot of fun writing this score, and it definitely comes through. It’s not only that hip theme that is ultra-70s, the suspense music is also perfectly mimicking the sound of the cop show TV scoring of the era: Billy Goldenberg, Henry Mancini, Dick De Benedictis, Fred Steiner and Quincy Jones are among the composers paid homage to in Shapiro’s Starsky & Hutch score. Moog synthesizers, sustained strings and eerie electronic effects are used just as they were 30 years ago. Unfortunately, only one track from Shapiro’s score was included on the soundtrack CD. Another recent film with a calculated retro element is 13 Going on 30, taking place about one decade later, in the 1980s. On this film’s soundtrack, Shapiro is joined by such stars as Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield and Michael Jackson. The instrumental score – of which none is heard on the soundtrack CD - combines pop influences and guitar parts with traditional romantic underscoring with warm strings. Comedic elements are underlined with quirky pizzicato strings. This is pretty much your basic romantic comedy score, but Shapiro is really good at it. Interestingly, the score sounds very much like another recent romantic comedy score, the one following right here…

50 First Dates (Teddy Castellucci)

Teddy Castellucci is a composer who very few have had the chance to study due to the fact that basically none of his music is available on commercial CDs. However, his collaboration with Adam Sandler has resulted in quite a few entertaining, albeit traditional scores for successful comedies such as Big Daddy, Anger Management and Mr. Deeds, all of them grossing more than $100 million on the US box office. 50 First Dates, a sort of romantic take on Groundhog Day, is Castellucci’s latest effort. His previous scores have been pre-dominantly orchestral, and although the key moments in 50 First Dates are also scored traditionally with heartfelt piano solos, solo woodwinds and warm strings, the majority of the score supplies comic accompaniment in other ways. A ska-influenced bass riff, Hammond chords and cool Wurlitzer piano is heard in the ‘Waffles’ theme, for instance. Soon, however, Castellucci incorporates more traditional film scoring into the mix. Pizzicato and staccato woodwinds in a playful mode provide more familiar comedy scoring heard by Castellucci in previous scores like Mr. Deeds and Big Daddy – and by hundreds of other composers in thousands of comedies, I should add. John Debney gets a lot of his comedy scores released on CD, when will Teddy Castellucci get his chance?

Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London (Mark Thomas)

John Powell scored the first Cody Banks film a few years ago and his light, youthful and tongue-in-cheek take on agent scoring resulted in a quite enjoyable Mission: Impossible soundtrack for the GameBoy generation. This score pretty much set the tone for the music in the sequel, but this music is, in my opinion, a little more exciting as the orchestral elements are allowed to be a little more upfront in the mix. Mark Thomas, a British composer best known for his horror score Dog Soldiers, has written the amusing score where action and comedy are best friends. There are a few really nice highlights, including a lengthy chase sequence in the early part of the film. Thomas’ orchestral writing over a cool drum loop here is really entertaining and definitely has the same amount – if not more – of the excitement heard in Powell’s score. None of these two scores are available on CD commercially and I actually don’t think there is much demand for it – but both these scores are among the better to be found in the filmographies of these two composers.

The Core (Christopher Young)

Our contributor, Brendon Kelly, covers Chris Young’s extraordinary score for Jon Amiel’s sci-fi disaster movie The Core at length in his review, but I just have to applaud the composer for one of his finest scores. Young has created some of the most exhilarating film scores in the past two decades, including Hellbound: Hellraiser II, The Fly II, Hider in the House, Species and Bless the Child, and he is still finding new ways to conjure the most chilling emotions of horror and suspense. I can understand why his score for The Core never was released commercially: the film was a big flop and the score was very expensive (the re-use fees for this mammoth featuring a 103-piece orchestra plus choir would have been extreme). Nevertheless, it was one of the best scores written for a Hollywood feature last year and if you can get hold of the promo CD manufactured by Intrada and given away (!) as a gift for those who bought their premiere release in the Signature Editions series, The Tower, you will be able to witness some 90 minutes of very exciting action scoring. Like they say: Bullseye!