This week Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit hits theaters and marks the 11th time he and that smiling Scottsman composer Patrick Doyle have worked together in the last 25 years. The film features an amazing arrangement of strings with such diversity and complexity it’s easily some of the best pensive spy music since David Arnold’s work scoring the Bond series. And seriously, no matter what country you’re from the stellar track “Ryan, Mr. President” may be the most swellingly patriotic theme you’ll ever hear.
Doyle’s works have such dense richness that they give each film an almost mythical atmosphere. One thing is for sure, he just knows how to get the most out of the string section of any orchestra and very few people bring a film to a close like he does. Among the many standout works in his catalog my all time favorite theme has to be the stirring track “Grand Central” from Carlito’s Way; a whopping 10 minutes of breathtaking music to complement some of the finest single-take scenes in cinema history. In honor of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and inspired by its score let’s look at films that similarly make wonderful and awe-inspiring use of any and all stringed instruments.
The following four titles in today’s match up have equally impressive scores but more importantly feature such a dazzling flurry of violins, cellos and the like for, in some instances, minutes on end. If it feels like an auditory workout listening to each of these full-bodied compositions just imagine the talented musicians trying to keep up with the music themselves. But which feisty film score will take the crown today? It is the charming story of a pint sized chef who truly proves that anyone can cook? Is it the saga of the digital messiah they call Neo? Is it the rousing underdog story of a boy and his pugilist robot? Or is it the learning curve experienced by Professor Xavier’s first class of gifted youngsters?? Find out below…
Ratatouille – In this film about a rat whose love of food takes him to dangerous places (like a kitchen) the whimsy created by maestro, and fellow Pixar alum Michael Giacchino is simply delectable and one colorful trip to a culinary candy store. Not only does it have a fine French flair but when Brad Bird turns up the heat in the kitchen Giacchino answers with a flurry of tasty tunes from the orchestra. It’s foreign, but accessible, tons of fun and when it comes to Giacchino’s end credit suite he showcases why his compositions are so incomparable.
(Favorite Tracks: 100 Rat Dash, Wall Rat, and End Creditouilles)
The Matrix Reloaded – From 100 Agent Smiths to the Final Flight of the Vigilant, the lines between Don Davis’ orchestral music and Juno Reactor’s pulse-pounding contributions get pretty blurred at times. But they work extra special symbiotic magic in the world of The Matrix. Take for example the freeway chase. It is a grand visual spectacle, second to none, yet it’s not only the eye-popping action that makes it so impacting – Davis’ fast and furious strings account for 2/3rds of the visceral intensity in all of that vehicular mayhem. Woah indeed. Do your self a favor and pick up the special edition – with so many fantastic suites and extended tracks you won’t be sorry.
Real Steel – Danny Elfman is a legend and capable of outstanding music beyond his regular Tim Burton collaborations. When you don’t realize it’s him who scored the film that’s when he really succeeds. Films like The Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook, even last year’s Epic had nothing close to the bum bum, deedly deedly we’ve come to expect of former Oingo Boingo frontman and Real Steel is probably one of the most rousing and inspirational scores to a sports film since Bill Conti’s iconic tune for Rocky. It’s a dizzying barrage of violins that make Danny, not Atom, the real people’s champion. The strings in the finial fight are so energetic you’ll be glad when you hear the bell ring.
(Favorite Tracks: Atom Versus Twin Cities, Final Round, and People’s Champion)
X-Men: First Class – It’s this score that Henry Jackman really outdoes himself and creates what is arguably the most exciting super hero theme in the past 10 years. It’s pensive, driving, hard-edged and gritty but at the same time very slick and incredibly inspirational. I guess that’s what you get being a product of Hans Zimmer’s School of Power Anthems (better known as Remote Control). Yes, it may seem a cheat to feature the same Jackman score seen in a recent FourScore match up, but in this case it’s fitting because it’s just that good – especially those extra special tracks on the “complete score” (pictured atop this post). Jackman’s work is superb and in that edition even moreso, those who are able to get their hands on it know what I mean.
(Favorite Tracks: X-Training, Let Battle Commence, and End Credits)
In terms of overpowering and unrelenting string strength, Don Davis’ contributions to The Matrix trilogy are exceptional, especially when they’re complemented by the impressive brass section. Runner up would easily be Danny Elfman as the sweeping music in the Real Steel finale is the very definition of sensational (really, if you aren’t on your feet then you’re not watching the right movie). But Davis swings for the fences and comes up with a sound so massive, mighty, majestic and extraordinary it blows away all the competition.
OK, Neo, you have some skill. But to us, Don Davis is “The One”.