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Quick-Click Reviews | Volume 24

Battleship by Steve Jablonsky | Brave Hearts Umizaru by Naoki Sato | Elysium by Jo Blankenburg | Ice Age: Continental Drift by John Powell

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Battleship (Soundtrack) by Steve Jablonsky

24 Tracks
Running Time: 77:24


Battleship by Steve Jablonsky

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Released by Varese Sarabande 2012
Review by Richard Buxton (@monkeybutlerman)


"Guilty pleasure is an apt way of describing many a JABLONSKY score in recent years, and for some, BATTLESHIP is possibly the guiltiest of them all."

Chances are, most people have heard nothing but negativity surrounding PETER BERG’S BATTLESHIP, and STEVE JABLONSKY’S score for the film. While there’s very little one could (or would want) to say in defence of the film, JABLONSKY’S score may have been a little hard done by since its release. There’s no denying that it’s a score composed almost entirely on the Remote Control Productions autopilot system, but there are moments here that are nonetheless enjoyable.

Simply glancing at a poster for BATTLESHIP, or catching a flurry of images in a trailer for the film, it becomes very clear that it a production very much riding on the continuing success of the TRANSFORMERS films. This is a trait that extends deep into the score, with simplistic progressions that echo those of the TRANSFORMERS trilogy. The difference being that on the whole, TRANSFORMERS (the first film at least) provided crowd-pleasingly accessible themes in a constant stream. BATTLESHIP however, doesn’t ever provide the hook that surfaces so swiftly in the first TRANSFORMERS soundtrack release. The score is overflowing with testosterone, and in some ways that provides a satisfying listening experience, but it does wear thin all the quicker as a result.

“First Transmission” (1), and “The Art of War” (2) both serve as good examples of the in-your-face attitude of the majority of the music heard in the film, and unlike a number of the other tracks, don’t begin to grate after within the first listen.

The softer side of the score provides yet another unavoidable parallel with the TRANSFORMERS scores, the closing moments of “Water Displacement” (13) and “We Have A Battleship” (16) providing a warming flurry of strings and brass that could be inserted into many a JABLOSNKY-scored film and not sound out of place for even a second.

The third face of the BATTLESHIP score is the face that has likely provoked most of the criticism thrown at the release. Firstly there’s “The Aliens”, a composition seemingly inspired by a security alarm, and one that will not win JABLONSKY any fans. The other is JABLONSKY quickly developing a habit of taking the orchestral blasts so often heard in blockbuster trailers these days, and somehow transforming them into a “theme” that surfaces multiple times throughout. “Objects Make Impact” (6), and “Planet G” (23), are littered with the blasts, and both eventually ramp upwards to become near impenetrable walls of sound. Admittedly, the percussion and electronic pulsing of “Planet G” do make for a heart-racing rhythm, but the cues are unlikely to become anything other than a guilty pleasure for a minority of listeners.

Guilty pleasure is an apt way of describing many a JABLONSKY score in recent years, and for some, BATTLESHIP is possibly the guiltiest of them all. For most however, BATTLESHIP is an exercise in the generic, but ultimately harmless. BATTLESHIP has long been sunk in the depths of 2012’s summer releases, and JABLONSKY’S score stands little chance of escaping the current.

Rating: 5/10


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Brave Hearts Umizaru (Soundtrack) by Naoki Sato

22 Tracks
Running Time: 68:46


Brave Hearts Umizaru by Naoki Sato

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Released by EMI Music Japan
Review by Richard Buxton (@monkeybutlerman)

"SATO’S music for the series is of a more of a Retro Remote control variety, favouring bold and exciting themes reminiscent of the 90’s Media Ventures scores. "

Peril reigns once more on eastern shores, and that can only mean one thing - the return of Senzaki in the BRAVE HEARTS UMIZARU, the fourth in the manga-adapted action series. Returning with Japan’s most reliable rescuer is composer NAOKI SATO, having been a permanent fixture since the very first UMIZARU film. There’s no doubt that much of SATO’S music in the series has been greatly influenced by his Western colleagues, particularly those best known for their work at Remote Control Productions, an influence on his music that is often divisive. Thankfully, SATO’S music for the series is of a more of a Retro Remote control variety, favouring bold and exciting themes reminiscent of the 90’s Media Ventures scores.

The clear highlight of BRAVE HEARTS is the rousing main theme heard in “Brave Hearts” (1), and “Fujuo” (20). Beginning with rising strings and descending synth strings, the theme soon becomes pure UMIZARU with its unashamedly triumphant brass. While not quite matching the theme of the previous UMIZARU, THE LAST MESSAGE, SATO’S theme is instantly accessible and gratifying.

Beyond the main theme, BRAVE HEARTS is a mixture of typical NAOKI SATO action music and the more tender side that has been prevalent throughout the series. “Ikite Kaeru” (17) conjures memories of the third UMIZARU with its heavy percussion and brass rallies, features also notably prominent in “Tanker Bakuhatsu” (2) and “Kyoukou Chakuriku” (9). While at the other end of the spectrum, “Surechigai” (6) and “Tokkyuutai” (18) utilise delicate piano and strings to accompany the romance of Senzaki and Kanna to a generally good, but somewhat forgettable effect.

SATO’s main theme for the UMIZARU series as a whole is something of an enigma, in that it seems to appear once per film, but each film also has its own primary theme that dominates the score. This original series theme appears in the penultimate track “Shinjirareru Mono” (21), rounding out the bulk of the score with suitably over-the-top majesty and heroism. The theme hasn’t acted as a primary theme since the first UMIZARU, and has been comfortably overshadowed in this and the previous film by the other themes, but is nonetheless an engaging one.

BRAVE HEARTS never hits the rousing heights of THE LAST MESSAGE, but it is a solid action score that is a must-listen for fans of the series. NAOKI SATO is certainly capable of better, but most will be satisfied with his action-packed fourth effort.

Rating: 8/10

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Elysium (Soundtrack) by Jo Blankenburg

11 Tracks
Running Time: 30:04


Elysium by Jo Blankenburg

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Released by Postion Music 2012
Review by Christopher Coleman (@ccoleman)


"Elysium features the sort of music that is all too rare, because fewer and fewer feature films allow such unabashed emotion to be demonstrated in their associated scores. "


ELYSIUM, is the ninth release from Position Music’s Orchestral Series and the first volume of Jo Blankeburg-centric music since volume 6, VENDETTA. While Vendetta provided a solid, cinematic-rock-like experience in its own right, the overall experience of ELYSIUM is vastly superior. Keeping in mind that this is music written to be used in the never-ending parade of movie and television trailers being produced, ELYSIUM succeeds where most others tend to fail... as an album-listening-experience. In truth, the quality of the music here is superior to many of the original scores being produced for even the biggest-budget films.

As Richard Buxton pointed out in his review of Vendetta, Blankenburg created an arsenal of edgy-orchestral tracks which would surely add the necessary weight to any trailer of appropriate nature; however, as a stand-alone listen, it might be too much for a listener to take in at once.  Our expectations on these increasingly popular trailer music compilations should tempered with the thought those of us who have grabbed the full release are only secondary targets, at best.  Those creatives searching for the perfect piece to underscore their short-form video projects are who these tracks are intended for.  A coherent and entertaining track-by-track experience has been a rarity, but such instances are on the increase.  ELYSIUM is a prime example.

One could say ELYSIUM is the antithesis of Vendetta. Bold themes, waves of symphonic glory, poignant and memorable vocal performances permeate this release. Elysium features the sort of music that is all too rare in film these days, because fewer and fewer of them allow such unabashed emotion to be demonstrated in their associated scores.

Those who fell in love with Ilan Eshkeri’s stellar score for STARDUST will find quite a bit to enjoy here. From the triumphant, adventurous tracks like “Garador’s Fight” and “Voyage Dans La Lune,” to the effervescent hopefulness of “Ascencia” to the whimsical yet robust “Illumielle” to the exultant “Airon” and “Empyrea” to the finale of “Theogony,” this release delivers a compelling quality from start to finish. Even though this is not an original score for a single project, ELYSIUM carries connective, ostinato-tissues which makes the listening experience here that of a soundtrack for a major film.  The only thing missing would be the more subtle underscore pieces that often comprise the balance of an official soundtrack release.

If there were a fault to be found with ELYSIUM it would be that no track breaks the 3:30 mark. Of course, few trailers would ever require such length, but there are ideas here that deserve even greater development. This is music that deserves a film (or game) host and the chance for Blankenburg to grow these musical-seeds into the majestic, symphonic forest these seeds hold within.

If you find yourself a little starved for music with a strong thematic bite this year, I can’t recommend JO BLANKENBURG’s effort highly enough. In a year that has sadly had too few musical milestones, ELYSIUM offers, at the time of the writing of this review, some the most compelling “film music” I have listened to so far. And I can think of more than a handful of films released in recent memory where this music would have interjected some much needed life and color into plague of cloudy mediocrity hanging over them.


Rating: 8/10

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Ice Age: Continenal Drift (Soundtrack) by John Powell

14 Tracks
Running Time: 58:08


Ice Age: Continental Drift by John Powell

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Released by Varese Sarabande 2012
Review by Helen San (@helensan)


"The kinetic punch isn’t in enough tracks to overcome the more pedestrian and quirky listening experience in the rest of the album."

ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT (aka ICE AGE 4) is the latest installment in the popular ICE AGE animated movie franchise started ten years ago. Centered around the adventures of a woolly mammoth (Manny voiced by Ray Romano), saber-toothed tiger (Diego voiced by Denis Leary), and a sloth (Sid voiced by John Leguizamo)—plus the subplot misadventures of a prehistoric squirrel named Scrat—the ICE AGE franchise has raked in $2.7 billion worldwide, coming in second for animated franchises just after SHREK. Although CONTINENTAL DRIFT got mixed reviews and a slightly disappointing box office that earned less than the third movie, it still brought home a robust sum of $833 million at the box office to date, which is nothing to sneeze at. We know no one is sneezing because they are already talking about IA5.

CONTINENTAL DRIFT is about Manny‘s struggle as the father of a teenage daughter—and pirates. ‘Cause all movies are better with pirates. Diego finally finds a love interest, in a pirate no less. (No, this isn’t a spoiler, cause there’s only one saber-toothed female in the picture—draw your own conclusions.) Sid actually finds his family, only to be abandoned again and stuck with his seemingly looney Granny. True to form, Sid gets to be the hero despite his lack of social hygiene and helps defeat said pirates. (Okay, maybe that was a spoiler.)

DAVID NEWMAN composed a memorable, sprightly score for the first Ice Age movie with a snappy, trotting motif. When JOHN POWELL took over composition for the franchise in ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN (ICE AGE 2), he started from Scrat—er, scratch—developing brand new and soaring thematic material. As much as I enjoyed NEWMAN’s splendid effort, I was enamoured with POWELL’s MELTDOWN. It was touching and sweet (and the word "melting" crossed my mind). In ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (ICE AGE 3), POWELL’s score became slightly more prosaic; his 10th score for an animated feature sounded more like business as usual. So I awaited ICE AGE 4 with great curiosity: can he keep the series fresh and imaginative?

The verdict: I was surprised and impressed. While CONTINENTAL DRIFT has some overlap with its more cartoony sounding predecessors, it is by far the richest in terms of action, energy, and sophistication. And wit. Just so he can’t be accused of being prosaic ever again, POWELL brought in 20 bass accordions to highlight the pirates’ motif, as heard in No Exit Gutt (4). Yes, the score had its fair share of caricature piccolo moments that defined MELTDOWN and DAWN, but a good portion was dedicated to the kind of action heard in BOLT and KUNG FU PANDA. There were also some cues, such as Storm (3) and Sirens (11), reminiscent of HAPPY FEET and HAPPY FEET TWO, with profound dramatic reverberations or cavernous vocal echos weaved into the movement. You can hear how much POWELL has grown as an animation composer in the last several years.

Having said that, I realized I still prefer MELTDOWN over CONTINENTAL DRIFT. To be sure, CONTINENTAL DRIFT is indisputably stronger than DAWN, and most tracks are more mature than those of the earlier films. But MELTDOWN has a dramatic and comedic consistency and simplicity that makes the entire score more accessible emotionally. It’s a smoother and somewhat more enjoyable listen overall. CONTINENTAL DRIFT is more uneven, sometimes intentionally. POWELL will introduce brief segues from and interruptions to the main idea from other genres and themes, reminding me of the Attention Deficit Disorder heard in HANS ZIMMER’s RANGO. This was especially true in Scrat’s Fantasia by LVB (14), where Beethoven masterpieces were massacred by a gamut of musical styles dancing across the cue or popping their heads in. It’s creative, but it probably makes more sense on screen than off.

As can be expected from POWELL, CONTINENTAL DRIFT is a solid, reliable score. The good parts are outrageously good, such as Schism (2) and Storm (3). That is some of the best of Powell. I certainly feel this is a stronger score than POWELL’s last effort, THE LORAX. Still, the kinetic punch isn’t in enough tracks to overcome the more pedestrian and quirky listening experience in the rest of the album. As a whole, the album gets an above average rating. Given that CONTINENTAL DRIFT is Powell’s 17th animated feature, above average is also nothing to sneeze at.

Rating: 6/10

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