After the score ended on a musical cliffhanger, I was eager for the follow-up for Desplat's work. Desplat himself said that this last score would be the most difficult, and would be a massive challenge for him; too true, this is. With the final installment looking to have about 90% of the drama and exciting stuff that's even in the seventh book, Desplat has to compose a true powerhouse of a score, one that is at once touching and emotional while still epic in scale to stay true to the wars and battles. Moreover, he has to keep things human and yet visceral to symbolize the reality of the wars, something many composers still haven't quite gotten pat down yet. The expectations for the final score are high, indeed; having grabbed the score yesterday, I wondered how Desplat would do it. Would he succeed? Would it be worth anything at all?
Simply put, I loved it. It's not perfect, but it is definitely damn good.
Lily's Theme: *****
The Tunnel: ****
Dragon Flight: *****
A New Headmaster: ****/***
Panic Inside Hogwarts: *****
The Grey Lady: *****/***
In The Chamber of Secrets: ****
The Diadem: ****
Broomsticks and Fire: *****
Courtyard Apocalypse: *****
Snape's Demise: ****
Severus and Lily: ***
Harry's Sacrifice: *****
The Resurrection Stone: *****
Harry Surrenders: *****
Neville the Hero: *****
Voldemort's End: *****
A New Beginning: *****/*
Lily's Theme is the first track here, and it fits because it's used extensively throughout the score. It's quite a dark and dreary piece, highly melodramatic and depressing. Nonetheless, it's quite pretty in its instrumentation, with a solo female voice carrying on the theme at first. While this is a fairly brief track that makes the listeners long for more of it, it still isn't a half bad piece. It makes sense, then, that this piece gets much more expansion in the following tracks.
The track The Tunnel is the first action track of the score, with many more to follow. Its brass and strings are fast paced, and remind slightly of Danny Elfman's similar work in the 1989 c-lassic Batman. It's difficult to say why it only deserves a 4 star rating; whereas many James Newton Howard or Hans Zimmer action beats are easily enjoyable, Alexandre Desplat tends towards the darker, grittier s-tyle of action beats that are decidedly hard to enjoy, but not necessarily bad. As graded on a technical and emotional level, The Tunnel is a good piece; however, on a listenability level, The Tunnel isn't quite as great. As a result, it's a 4 star track that comes extremely close to meriting a 5 star rating.
Desplat's action methods are carried on into the unimpressive and long Underworld, a surprisingly dry piece. It seems to me that many long pieces often merit higher ratings because at least some portion of it has to be uncontestedly 5 star material; not so with Desplat. It makes some references to the Locket theme of the previous score, but Desplat fails to use it in any truly intelligent way. The lack of interesting moments and truly listenable instances is frustrating. You hear some clever hints at previous themes, but some of the action material is almost pure dissonance, and is basically unlistenable. The track ends on a great buildup, but altogether, Underworld is a completely uninteresting piece that merits your attention for one or two playthroughs at most.
Desplat plays around inside his comfort zone for the first part of the score; most of the first few pieces are either boring or predictable. While Gringotts has some excellent mischievous motifs in it, most of it is again dry and atmospheric. If there's one thing Desplat succeeds in, it is undoubtedly his ability to channel an ominous feel through his music; the strings in Gringotts remind of the Library Scene from the first score and the rather disturbing echo effects provide a very apt atmosphere. In a bit of Howard Shore work, Desplat closes the piece with a false build-up, something Shore is notorious for overusing in some of his tracks for Lord of the Rings.
Dragon Flight is another action track, and it finally propels Desplat's methods and themes into 5 star territory with bold brass and the same emotional power that Desplat is renowned for. You hear takes on Hedwig's Theme meshed with Lily's Theme in glorious strings and brass, making this one of the best pieces in the score. It's also one of the few with an actual resolution, as opposed to the usual false buildups.
Neville is a predictable piece; it begins with some briefly intense stuff, but quickly segues into the "allies" theme, an unofficial theme for the Order of the Phoenix that represents the good guys. It's great to hear it restated at last, with its previous statement in this form at the start of the first score in Polyjuice Potion. The track ends on a quiet note. The best part of this track is the order of the phoenix theme.
A New Headmaster is a far less interesting piece than the previous two, though Hedwig's Theme is most apparent in this piece. It appears around 0:22 and 2:14, though these little teasing are less interesting than hoped for. It seems Desplat didn't want to use too much of the theme, sticking to only the mysterious first portion of the music. Some interesting thematic developments at 2:29 remind of Lord of the Rings, though this quickly ends to be replaced with another frustrating buildup.
Panic Inside Hogwarts is outstanding. It sounds absolutely incredible, beginning with a wonderful brass statement meshed with choir. Lily's Theme appears in brass, together with the choir hovering slightly above everything else. The strings and timpani all work together extremely well, and you're left with an outstanding piece that mixes the orchestra and choir together with ease. It sounds natural, and it sounds beautiful. It comes close to the s-tyle of Howard Shore, and it's simply great. It even ends on a false-buildup. The track reminds of Hans Zimmer as well, with the brass themes and string loops playing and choir hovering through the piece. The only difference is that it's played with the orchestra, and consequently sounds great.
Statues continues the excellence of Panic in Hogwarts, with the emphasis on Zimmer's methods accentuated. The rising brass structure and the string loops, together with repetitive percussive beats and choir make for an outstanding piece. Better yet? There isn't any of that frustrating false buildup type deal that Desplat seems to have taken an interest to. It's outstanding.
Sadly, this brilliance is ended for two tracks, with the rather dry Grey Lady being filled with atmospheric fluff. One section at 1:10 or so sounds great, with some intense percussion and brass bursts. Sadly, it ends after about 30 seconds. At 2:04, another interesting sequence appears, with magical (albeit disturbing) choir taking over. It ends quickly, however, and doesn't get any reprisals elsewhere. Another wonderful sequence at 4:04 is outstanding because of its cello beats and outstanding choir. Some subtle references to Lily's Theme, clearly the predominant theme in the score, also make appearances. Another highlight is at 5:12, with some great percussive work. This is a long piece with infrequent bursts of brilliance that fade away quickly. Disappointing.
In The Chamber of Secrets begins with a brief little snippet of Hedwig's Theme, a lovely little bit that even uses the same instrumentation. Later, this same snippet is played at a much slower speed on the brass. Unfortunately, the track resorts to pure orchestral dissonance at the level of Bathilda Bagshot from the previous score. Not particularly enjoyable, and a little too short. While the reference to John Williams is clear, it is distinctly lacking.
Battlefield carries on the incredible music from Statues and Panic in Hogwarts. The Order of the Phoenix theme opens it, though the track is followed with an awe-inspiring synthesis of choir, percussion, and strings. This is then followed up with some great brass work with string ostinatos strumming away in the background. The choir is used extensively, and it sounds absolutely beautiful, elevating the score to wondrous proportions. Hedwig's Theme is reintroduced here again, in fragmented form, and its been transformed into dark battle music. It fits surprisingly well. Simply put, it's one of the best cues of the entire year.
The Diadem is an interesting piece with some intriguing and strange themes, but they don't really factor into anything truly incredible. They're likable and apt, but not exactly brilliant stuff. The woodwind instrumentation is unique and interesting, and the use of strings and brass to play the themes with woodwinds providing the ostinatos is a unique take on Zimmer's methods. Some super low piano riffs here and there with a little brass dissonance does wonders for emotional buildup, and Howard Shore's orchestral s-tyles make an interesting show here. However, this piece seems more Goldenthal than Shore and is fairly unenjoyable despite the excellent instrumentation. 2:50 ushers in Hedwig's Theme yet again.
And, Desplat's interpretation of Zimmer appears yet again with Broomsticks and Fire, utilizing the brass to an extent that James Newton Howard used extensively in The Last Airbender, down to the four-note pattern of brass notes (this time descending instead of ascending). The choir provides more background, with the strings working to make a more disturbing feel. The track again ends on a false-buildup.
Following is an extension of the opening theme to Statues. Stretching on for two minutes, the powerful piece gives a feeling of impending doom. It still retains a sense of nobility, with the brass carrying on the theme well. The choir backs it up, and the strings elevate it all to massive heights. Calm percussion beats steadily in the background, providing what is possibly one of the best build-ups of all time. Absolutely incredible. The feel of the percussion and the slow beat actually remind hugely of Disc Wars from Tron: Legacy, another wonderful track (without the synth, of course).
This marks the end of the action music for now; from there, the tracks enter impressively dark and slow music. Snape's Demise begins with Hedwig's Theme, a throwback to days of old when Snape was merely a teacher. The instrumentation is wonderful. Sadly, a frustrating buildup enters, but quickly segues into a reprise of Lily's Theme. It feels much more dreamlike, aptly representing the sequence where Harry enters Snape's memories. Unfortunately, it seems as though Snape's Demise can be summarized as "Hedwig's Theme and Lily's Theme put together," which is slightly underwhelming as no original music composed specifically for Snape's demise. Still, it's not a bad track.
Severus and Lily is a disappointing piece. You'd expect more beauty, more melodrama in a piece with such a title. Instead, you wind up with lots of atmospheric stuff that isn't entirely enjoyable. Every now and then you get some nice snippets of Lily's Theme, and some nice instrumentation, but as a whole, the track lacks the gorgeous emotion it should convey. It sticks with Desplat's normal s-tyles, sticking to slow and meandering strings in the lieu of some of his work for Twilight: New Moon. Some of the same type of piano work is even featured. It ends on a good note, but still is disappointing compared to the rest of the greatness of this score.
Harry's Sacrifice is the type of melodrama we were all expecting from Severus and Lily. The theme is basically the second half of The Obliviation from the previous score; consequently, it's beautiful. The more you listen to it, the more you enjoy it. It's a wonderfully noble theme, and you would do well to put more emphasis on it. It ends on Hedwig's Theme, lending a tiny sliver of hope into an otherwise depressing track.
The Resurrection Stone is the best "long track" in the score. Generally, I define a long track as being longer than 4 minutes. It takes the instrumentation for Hedwig's Theme and gives it a rather innocent and beautiful theme to it. As the choir and strings enter, the track becomes better and better. It's beautiful, and it's hard not to love. This is what Desplat can do when he's inspired, and not limited by what's happening on screen. Lily's Theme is included several times, making it the dominant theme to the score as a whole (along with the theme of Courtyard Apocalypse). It ends rather abruptly, but still is a great piece.
Harry Surrenders begins in a rather dark and ambient way, but shortly segues into the first half of The Obliviation. This is a very clever move on the part of Desplat; whereas the previous score began with The Obliviation in order, this score concludes on The Obliviation with the themes reversed. It lends a sort of symmetry to the score, and simply because it was such an intelligent idea, this track lands a 5 star rating.
Procession is a depressing piece with a twisting of Hedwig's Theme and some intriguing filler work. It very aptly fits the scene of a funeral procession, and sounds brilliantly depressing. The sheer emotion conveyed through the piece is remarkable.
Neville the Hero begins in a sinister way that reminds of the Locket theme from the previous score. It picks up, and begins to reprise Courtyard Apocalypse's theme, but in a more heroic manner. The noble theme is filled with beauty, and even throws in some tiny references to the Order of the Phoenix's theme. At about 1:15 or so, a new brass theme kicks in, and the track continues to build up at a stunning pace with truly awe-inspiring orchestral harmony. The use of the brass is wonderful, and though the track concludes in a slightly abrupt manner, it still works. Very well.
Showdown is one impressive action piece. This time, Desplat blends his horror aspects of music into his battle music, making for some pretty darn impressive stuff. Tidbits of the Order's theme are thrown in for good measure, and some of the action feels to The Tunnel return. Sadly, this is a very fragmented piece. There's a lot of brass dissonance to be found, but as a whole, this isn't a bad piece. The orchestral harmony is highly impressive as well, and Desplat reprises some of Hedwig's theme in deep brass for good measure. At the 2:35 mark or so, you get a form of Hedwig's Theme that is transformed into an action track. From there, the track truly picks up with Courtyard Apocalypse's theme appearing yet again in another impressive show. It ends on this wonderful note, concluding a great track.
Voldemort's End is an intense piece. The brilliant theme here is epic and unbroken, allowing for unfragmented appreciation of Desplat's skill at writing music of this caliber. Though the beginning is a rather frustrating false buildup, the track continues into an orchestral presentation of Lily's Theme, albeit heavily modified. The choir, the strings, the brass, everything comes together so wonderfully and allows for the track to conclude in a way that isn't a false buildup, but a real buildup. This is what we've all been waiting for - Voldemort to fall - and Desplat scores the moment incredibly well. A final presentation of Lily's Theme appears just to round off the track, and closes off Voldemort's story with it - ironic, because his battle with Potter began after he killed her.
One may notice that for the final track, A New Beginning, I pegged it at a 5 star/1 star rating. Why 5 star? Well, the piece is beautiful. It's easy to enjoy. The piano and strings go well together. It's a happy piece. It's one of contentedness and peace. And it succeeds in that sense. It's not demanding. It's magical. So what's the problem? A 5 star rating should be obvious.
No. The problem is simple: This is the last track in the entire Harry Potter saga. The whole thing. It's the send-off, the good-bye, the "we loved you… please come again!" And it is underwhelming. It isn't just underwhelming; it's so utterly disappointing it's depressing. Why? Well, there's no major statement of any memorable theme. There's no glorious reprisal of Hedwig's theme in all its glory; no happy reprisal of the Order's theme; there's no true end to it. It's not bad; it's just disappointing.
- Awe-inspiring action tracks
- A slap in the face to Zimmer's acolytes
- Lily's Theme is well-written and well-performed
- Storytelling ability is nearly unparalleled
- Emotion conveyed is perfect
- Good references to John Williams' themes
- Courtyard Apocalypse
- The Resurrection Stone
- Voldemort's End
- Disappointing end
- Inconsistent feel to tracks
- Still not quite enough homage to John Williams
The score ends disappointingly, as discussed previously. But that isn't the only flaw. Another issue is that the tracks are quite inconsistent, especially in the middle of the score, where you have action beat, then calm piece, then action beat, then calm piece, etc. This isn't all that bad; the action beats are great as are the calm pieces, but it'd helped to have composed a suite for the action beats or calm pieces. Despite the rather inconsistent feel to the music, the tracks are still impressive and highly enjoyable. The constant interruptions of Desplat's imaginative and powerful music with differing feels to the music are a definite detraction, but as a whole, the music is incredible.
Also, the homage to John Williams is generally ok, but not amazing. Had Desplat included even more of Hedwig's Theme, the score would've been absolutely perfect. As it is, it comes close, but isn't quite there yet. Of course, 10s don't go only to perfect scores, because they are far too rare.
By the time one has reached the end of this score, they can scarcely believe how far they've come. From the uninteresting but apt brass action of The Tunnel to the impossibly epic Battlefield to the intensely realized sense of impending doom, the emotion and storytelling of this score is the likes of Lord of the Rings. By the end of it, you feel tired, like you've been through a harrowing journey and battle. You feel emotionally weighed down, yet slightly hopeful, because the music is simply that emotionally brilliant. The storytelling is also wonderful; each piece of music fits the moment perfectly, especially once you reach the track Panic in Hogwarts.
In the end, this is one of the best scores of this year. Its drama and emotion are weighty, the themes are glorious, and the storytelling is excellent. It's truly Oscar worthy, or at least Grammy worthy. All its missing is closure to the saga. I sincerely hope that in the film, Hedwig's Theme plays over the end credits. If not, I will cry tears of sadness. But if it does, I will cry tears of joy. What a way that would be to send out the Boy Who Lived.