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How to Train Your Dragon 2 by John Powell

How to Train Your Dragon 2

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Soundtrack) by John Powell
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Soundtrack) by John Powell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Soundtrack) by John Powell

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Composed by John Powell
Relativity Music (2014)

Rating: 10/10

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“What this score slightly lacks in immediate, visceral punch compared to its predecessor, it makes up for with an increased depth of themes, an even more consistent level of quality and an effectively matured overall sound.”

How To Score a Sequel
Review by Edmund Meinerts

 

JOHN POWELL took the film music world by storm when his utterly fantastic score for DreamWorks’ best film, the atypically mature and ambitious HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, hit shelves in early 2010. It netted an unlikely but thoroughly deserved Academy Award nomination (why it didn’t win – especially considering what did that year – is beyond me) and set the bar into the stratosphere for the film music of the 2010s, a bar that hasn’t been reached by any score since. The score represented the high point of a period of very strong production for POWELL, with both 2010 and 2011 excellent years for him. Since then, however, he has only produced a handful of passable, but comparatively lackluster animated scores, followed by the further bad news that he would be taking a sabbatical from film music. One can only hope that he won’t end up like DON DAVIS did after his break: an enormous talent sadly neglected by Hollywood.

Fortunately, the prospect of returning to the same fruitful pastures that produced his career-best score seems to have nudged POWELL into making exceptions for this series; not only has he returned to score the sequel, but interviews seem to indicate that he’ll be along for the ride on a third and maybe even fourth film in the series. For film score fans, there can be no better news, because enough beating about the bush – HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is every bit the triumph that its predecessor was. It does what every good sequel score ought to do and which so few actually do: it takes the themes and musical foundation from the first score, builds on it rather than taking the easy route of rehash, and adds several new themes to the mix. The result is undoubtedly the richest score of POWELL’s career so far – thematically-speaking, at least.

New material is notable by its absence in the first cue; “Dragon Racing” (1), though full of fresh arrangements and orchestrations, would not sound at all out of place in the first score. If the entirety of the score had been like this, it would have been an enormous disappointment; fortunately, that’s far from the case. As it stands, “Dragon Racing” (1) is a wonderful introduction to the album, a thrilling return to familiar territory before the new score begins in earnest. And the arrangement of Hiccup and Astrid’s love theme in the final thirty seconds is particularly wonderful, bristling (as does the entire score) with those familiar fast-paced brass fanfare “fills” that are such a staple of POWELL’s writing.

The score has no less than five major new themes; the first of these – representing Hiccup’s dragon-back endeavors of exploration and discovery – is introduced straight away in the second cue, “Together We Map the World” (2). Keep an ear open for when POWELL puts the theme in a gorgeous “Forbidden Friendship”-inspired setting at 1:30 into that cue, the only hint of that striking and popular piece to carry over into the sequel.

Second to be introduced is the theme for Valka, Hiccup’s long-lost mother, which is responsible for a number of the score’s most arresting emotional moments. It makes its entrance proper at 1:29 of “Toothless Lost” (4), before a chillingly lonely distant choir cements it at 2:12. This rendition returns with glockenspiel for extra spine-tingling points in “Losing Mom” (7), before the theme rises up into a full choral statement of lamentation and down again into a heartbreaking, introspective solo piano (a la “Where’s Hiccup?” from the first score) – truly impressive stuff. In general, the choral writing has been significantly beefed up (and the Celtic elements toned back a touch) compared to the first score, helping to give it that elusive, impressive different-yet-similar feel that makes it such a strong sequel score.

These two new themes – for exploration/discovery and for Valka – are the true heart of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, and are brought together in its astonishing centerpiece cue, “Flying With Mother” (10). This is to the second score what “Test Drive” was to the first, one of those effortlessly addictive slices of joy that only POWELL could have come up with. It’s the slightly quirky orchestrations that really sell it: the glockenspiel ostinato, the staccato female choir, the subtle electric bass and, of course, POWELL’s usual array of weird and wonderful percussion.

The third theme is relatively elusive and doesn’t make a whole lot of appearances, but it’s something special when it does. It represents the colossal Alpha dragons on the side of both good and evil. The theme’s introduction in “Meet the Good Alpha” (7) at 1:51 (and with lofty choral shades at 2:51), obviously, represents the former. It is a very regal theme with a definite Golden Age feel to it, a bit like BASIL POLEDOURIS sounding like MIKLOS ROZSA in CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Its grandest statement of all is saved for the end, at 2:54 of “Two New Alphas” (18), tolling bells and all. And then there is the evil side, which is heard e.g. at the outset of “Battle of the Bewilderbeast” (12) as a strident brass motif over swirling strings. It’s actually quite hard to catch that these two are one and the same theme!

Next up is the theme representing the villain, Drago. It has a strong Slavic flavor to it with plenty of ominous low choir and percussive strikes, making it stand out quite starkly and effectively against the Celtic lilt of the score’s other melodies. A clever foreshadowing hint at 2:09 of “Valka’s Dragon Sanctuary” (6) – oddly no sign of it in “Drago’s Coming” (3), though – precedes its introduction proper in “Meet Drago” (8). He also receives a spiky action motif at 1:40 of that cue. This recurs in the gargantuan action cue “Battle of the Bewilderbeast” (12), which tosses themes both old and new back and forth at such a frenetic pace that occasionally one loses sight of the cue’s overall direction. That’s the only very minor criticism I would level at it, though – otherwise, it’s another stupendous piece, the best action music in a score not short on strong action music.

The final theme is introduced, not in the body of the score, but rather in the sweet little source song “For the Dancing and the Dreaming” (11) between the characters of Stoick and Valka. POWELL takes the melody from this song and works it into the second half of his score as a family theme of sorts for the two of them and Hiccup. It only appears a few times, but one of those appearances – in “Stoick’s Ship” (15) – is, without a doubt, the premier goosebump moment of the score. The moment about a minute in when the bagpipes and choir swell is nothing less than exquisitely tragic, one of the most emotional cues of POWELL’s career.

And then, of course, there are the reprises of the old themes which are too numerous to point out (although I’ll make an exception for the incredible variation on the flying theme at 2:22 of “Battle of the Bewilderbeast” (12)). Pretty much every identity from the first score makes at least one appearance in this one. The way POWELL constantly states, restates, combines, develops and varies the themes is perhaps the single most appealing thing about this score; “anonymous underscore” is a concept utterly foreign to the album, and every single cue contains multiple moments of note. Even Jónsi’s song is tied to the score this time around; its rhythmic undercurrent is built around the “friendship ostinato” and it uses the flying theme as an interlude of sorts. Nevertheless, “Where No One Goes” (19), like the previous film’s “Sticks and Stones”, feels like an afterthought compared to what came before.

Expectations for this score were so high. How could POWELL possibly top what he achieved with the first score? Well, top it he hasn’t. There’s an intangible magic to individual cues like “Forbidden Friendship”, “Romantic Flight” and “Test Drive” (or “Coming Back Around”) that this score doesn’t quite manage to recapture even in its best moments. Furthermore, the new themes aren’t as straightforwardly memorable as the old favorites and are often masked in clever variations; don’t be surprised if it takes two or three listens for them to properly settle in. It’s one of those scores that really benefits from repeated listens to uncover all of its treasures.

What this score slightly lacks in immediate, visceral punch compared to its predecessor, it makes up for with an increased depth of themes, an even more consistent level of quality and an effectively matured overall sound. To borrow something apt I read in the forums, the two scores feel like the left and right arms of an ambidextrous person...equally strong in the end, but for slightly different reasons. One thing is for certain: if POWELL maintains the strength of these first two entries for a third and possible fourth sequel, then a day will come when HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON will be mentioned in the same breath as STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS as one of the truly legendary film music franchises.

 

Rating: 10/10


 

1. Dragon Racing 4:35 *****
2. Together We Map the World 2:20 ****
3. Hiccup the Chief/Drago’s Coming 4:45 *****
4. Toothless Lost 3:28 *****
5. Should I Know You? 1:56 *****
6. Valka’s Dragon Sanctuary 3:19 ****
7. Losing Mom/Meet the Good Alpha 3:24 *****
8. Meet Drago 4:26 *****
9. Stoick Finds Beauty 2:33 ****
10. Flying With Mother 2:50 *****
11. For the Dancing and the Dreaming (cast song) 3:06 ***
12. Battle of the Bewilderbeast 6:27 *****
13. Hiccup Confronts Drago 4:06 *****
14. Stoick Saves Hiccup 2:24 *****
15. Stoick’s Ship 3:48 *****
16. Alpha Comes to Berk 2:21 ****
17. Toothless Found 3:46 *****
18. Two New Alphas 6:06 *****
19. Where No One Goes (Jónsi) 2:44 ***

Total Running Time: 68 minutes (Approximate)

 

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