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John Carter by Michael Giacchino

John Carter

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John Carter (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino
John Carter (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino
John Carter (Poster and Memorabilia)
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Carter (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino

John Carter
Composed by Michael Giacchino
Walt Disney Records (2012)

Rating: 8/10

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“JOHN CARTER ... performs better than the film itself and offers a number of great listening moments. Those who have enjoyed [Giacchino's] recent works, will enjoy this one, too. Those waiting and wanting more from the composer, will find more to sink their ears into as well. Finally, it is the promise held in the music of JOHN CARTER that might be the most exciting thing about it.”

The Leap
Review by Christopher Coleman

 

It only took 100 years from the publish date of the first volume of Edgar R. Burroughs’ JOHN CARTER sci-fi series to make the big screen; 100 years and about that many directors. One element or another of the JOHN CARTER series has been pursued for translation to a feature film (both animated and live action) since the 1930s, but for one reason or another, it was simply never able to make the leap. After most recently transporting itself from the directing-likes of James McTiernan, Robert Rodriguez, and John Favreau, the property ultimately came into the hands of Walt Disney and director Andrew Stanton.

Ironically, the century-old story finally finds a release in the full digital age but in the hands of a first-time, live-action, director. While Stanton has certainly proven his game in the animated feature arena with stunners such as WALL-E and FINDING NEMO, there was certainly a bit of trepidation on whether he’d be able to mimic that success in this territory. Afterall, even though live-action films can contain as many digital elements as animated, and even though Stanton’s Pixar-partner, Brad Bird, seemed to calm similar apprehensions with his work for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL, the world of animation and live-action can be as far apart as say Jasoom is from Barsoom.

Be that uncertainty as it may, a pretty safe bet these days is to hire composer MICHAEL GIACCHINO for your sci-fi, animated, or action film. While he does score the occasional drama, teen comedy, or television show, Giacchino has become the go-to-composer for many of those who are climbing their way to the top of Hollywood’s young-directors-list. Giacchino has already proven his own world-leaping abilities moving from that of video games to television to feature films.  Now, for JOHN CARTER. he has been tasked with scoring the leap of a 19th century hero across time and space.

While last year’s SUPER 8 and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL were solid efforts, for some, both scores fell a bit short of what was hoped for. So, with even an Oscar on his shelf for UP, Giacchino still hasn’t settled the discussion among soundtrack-geniuses on just how “good” his scores for feature films are. Always adequate and many times moving, but he hasn’t yet dropped that score that becomes an icon...that permanently stamps his own musical signature on the ever-moving timeline of film music. The question today is “Is JOHN CARTER finally that score?

Stanton and, by extension, Giacchino, were influenced by the iconic works of Maurice Jarre and John Williams, but that is not to say that Giacchino does not clearly place is signature upon this project. He most certainly does. The end result is a fairly thrilling, sci-fi romp of score...which was written for a film that endeavored to be it’s match, but failed.

The most striking and memorable musical feature is the John Carter theme. Giacchino makes thorough use of it throughout the film and its frequency of use is reflected well in this soundtrack release. We are pleasantly teased by it in the first few and last few measures of the opening track, “A Thern for the Worse” (1). We don’t have to wait long for the orchestra to belt out the theme in all of its glory, as track 2, “Get Carter” delivers it to us in spades. We also get our first detection of the Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia) influence as the last two notes of the central motif are just dripping with it...and much to my delight. If you’re looking for more of that sort of thematic punch, then don’t hesitate to move on to “Sab Than Pursues the Princess” (5) and “The Right of Challenge” (13). Now, Giacchino does much more with his central theme than just bang it out as loudly as possible. In fact, in another nod to Jarre comes one of my favorite performances of this theme. In “Gravity of the Situation” (3), Giacchino transforms it into a delightful waltz; lead by violin and accompanied by pizzicato strings before moving into full, orchestral, “Jarreness.” And it doesn't stop there. We can find shorter quotes of the John Carter main theme, creatively varied throughout.

JOHN CARTER contains a host of characters, peoples, and factions, and along with them come a good number of musical ideas to help us keep track of them. A lush and beautiful theme for Princess Deja; teased in “Thark Side of Barsoom” (4), but unleashed with unbelievable emotion in “A Change of Heart” (10). The not-so-little-green-men of Mars (Barsoom) receive an expressive theme centered on three, regal, notes by solo vocalist or choir and punctuated with percussion. We hear an elongated and glorious variation of it in “The Temple of Issus” and is a theme I wish the soundtrack contained more of. The baddies are not neglected in this score by a long shot. While the walking-predator-city of Zodanga receives the dark and sinister treatment with stabbing and dissonant strings, percussion and brass blasts (7), the real threats, the Thern, have their presence indicated by mystical, female choirs; see “Blue Light Special” (8).

As I mentioned, we hear a bit of Maurice Jarre coursing the veins of Carter, but we also hear the maestro, John Williams’, influence come shining through Giacchino’s work unlike anything we’ve heard since the Medal of Honor days...and it’s good to hear it again. There are certainly allusions to Williams earlier and later compositional styles found in the Star Wars saga, but one can also find an ostinato that comes straight from the heart of scores like A.I. and Minority Report. Just take a listen to tracks: “A Thern for the Worse” (1) and “Ten Bitter Years” (18).

What have recently become Giacchino's most familiar marks can be found all over the JOHN CARTER score. The action sequences appear to be those moments that the composer takes fully into “g-mode” evoking easy comparisons to previous efforts such as: STAR TREK, SUPER 8, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL. In fact, he doesn’t waste any time in signing this score as track 1, “A Thern for the Worse” deliver his trademark, dizzying use of brass. If there is anything more associated with MICHAEL GIACCHINO than his distinctive use of brass these days, its his use of brass + percussion. And don’t you know there is a good dose of that in JOHN CARTER: “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall” (9), The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen This Month (12), and “The Fight for Helium” (15), to name a few.

So is JOHN CARTER that score? Is it MICHAEL GIACCHINO’s own STAR WARS; that score that launches him and his music a notch or two above the cloud of excellent composers in Hollywood? As good as it is, I cannot say that JOHN CARTER is that score. In truth, when that score happens for Giacchino (and it WILL), you won’t need to read a review to find out about it...because everyone will be talking about it...EVERYONE.

Again, that time and that score are not yet.  There remains something in Giacchino’s most recent works which seem to hold it back from full, unadulterated, rapture...the kind of music that Williams and others seemed to churn out time and again, years ago. It’s not that Giacchino can’t, it’s that for whatever reasons, he chooses not to. While his main theme here is very good, it’s not an icon. As gorgeous has his love theme is here, as in STAR TREK and SUPER 8, it feels as though the music hits some sort of self-imposed ceiling. Just before it pushes our emotions over the edge, and our hearts are fully in the composers hands, to do with as he wills, it stops and leaves us a little bewildered, almost subconsciously unsatisfied.

Let me end by saying this. I do believe that score is coming soon from Giacchino. I say that because the evidence can be found in the final track “John Carter of Mars” (19). Put simply, it is the best single piece of music I’ve heard from MICHAEL GIACCHINO since his MEDAL OF HONOR: FRONTLINE score. I fully expect one of his next handful of scores to finally make that momentous leap and he, in the end, be sitting with the audience's hearts in his talented clutches at last.

So JOHN CARTER is a stellar score. It performs better than the film itself and offers a number of great listening moments. Those who have enjoyed his recent works, will enjoy this one, too. Those waiting and wanting more from the composer, will find more to sink their ears into as well. Finally, it is the promise held in the music of JOHN CARTER that might be the most exciting thing about it.


 

Rating: 8/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 A Thern for the Worse 7:38  ****
2 Get Carter 1:20  ****
3 Gravity of the Situation 1:20  *****
4 Thark Side of Barsoom 2:55  *****
5 Sab Than Pursues the Princess 5:32  ****
6 The Temple of Issus 3:24  ****
7 Zodanga Happened 4:01  ****
8 The Blue Light Special 4:11  ****
9 Carter They Come, Carter They Fall 3:54  ****
10 A Change of Heart 3:04  *****
11 A Thern Warning 4:04  ***
12 The Second Biggest Apes I've Seen This Month 2:35  ****
13 The Right of Challenge 2:22  ****
14 The Prize is Barsoom 4:29  ****
15 The Fight for Helium 4:32  ****
16 Not Quite Finished 2:06  ****
17 Thernabout 1:18  ***
18 Ten Bitter Years 3:12  ****
19 John Carter of Mars 8:53  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 74 minutes  

 

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