Posts Tagged ‘deathly hallows’

Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 9 of 10: Deathly Hallows 2


This is the ninth article in a ten-part retrospective of the Harry Potter soundtracks. You may wish to refer to the previous entries in the series for more information.

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Given that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a direct continuation of the seventh film, and given that it was orchestrated by the same composer, Alexandre Desplat, as its predecessor, and given that we jump right into the story after only a few minutes of info-dump, I figure I can skip all the explanations about who the composer is and what I thought of his previous works both in and out of the Potterverse.

So, here we go.

Deathly Hallows 2 is the only Potter film I’ve not seen multiple times, and that’s only because I have no desire to buy another ticket. Therefore, my memory of exactly what occurs when may be slightly off. But I am certain that the opening track, “Lily’s Theme”, as well as the one just after it, “The Tunnel”, both contain the two main musical phrases heard throughout the soundtrack. The former is the sad/reflective music for the film, and the latter is the tense music. In fact, I thought that Desplat really kept the music for this film quite simple in terms of its thematic elements; the same cues are repeated throughout, even more so than in the first soundtrack. In some ways, that could be considered a detriment to the soundtrack, but on the other hand, having constant themes throughout helps tie the film together and doesn’t make a viewer have to think about what the music is supposed to mean*

If I have a problem with Desplat’s use of consistent themes in the soundtrack, it’s that the themes only slightly tied together with those from the previous. If viewers are supposed to consider the two films a single, four-and-a-half-hour piece of cinematic art, why wouldn’t the themes be more unified. Contrast it with Star Trek II and Star Trek III, with both soundtracks composed by James Horner. II’s main cue, heard during the opening credits, contained sections that became the main cue for III. Moving from DH1 to DH2, the only real cue I recognized off the bat was the quick violin bed used under much of the rest of the soundtrack and first heard in DH1’s “Snape to Malfoy Manor”.

Other notable cuts from this soundtrack include:

  • “Dragon Flight” — Desplat mixes “Hedwig’s Theme” with “Lily’s Theme” in a nice way here, fading down toward the end after the Golden Trio jumped off the dragon.
  • “Neville” — This track gives us insight into the importance of Neville throughout the film. Because of the way the books had to be cut down, we really missed out on some of Neville’s moments throughout the film series, but Desplat reuses portions of “Ministry of Magic” and “Polyjuice Potion” from the previous film to great effect, giving Neville his own theme that returns in his three major scenes.
  • “In the Chamber of Secrets” — Again Desplat reworks “Hedwig’s Theme”, and appropriately, since we’re in a place from early on in the series. Once the tempo picks up, I kind of lose interest because it gets too wild and annoying, but the parts before that are good.
  • “Neville the Hero” — You see it happening in your mind’s eye as you listen. No composer can ask for anything more. Plus, for a film that hasn’t had a whole lot of happy moments, Desplat pulls out a good triumphant theme.

This soundtrack is more about cycles than themes, though — I counted at least three of them. I approve of that style of orchestration — giving the major climactic sequence of the film its own series of specific themes and cues (all of them at least somewhat derivative of the other themes already established in the movie). The first is the Battle Cycle, which begins in “Statues”, using that track and “The Grey Lady” to set themes that are heard again in “Battlefield”, “Courtyard Apocalypse” (one of my favorites on the album), and “Showdown” (which brings in the cues established early in the film before hitting the Battle Cycle themes). It ends with, rather appropriately, “Voldemort’s End”, which, musically, you can kind of tell just by listening to that the hero is about to triumph before it actually happens. If anything, I think the actual death scene was kind of weak, and the composer didn’t have a lot of time or a lot of commensurate action on the screen to really give us the kind of death music Vodlemort deserved.

Another highly-anticipated series of scenes has music that I’m calling the Snape Cycle. It begins with “A New Headmaster” — not really a great track per se, but I did like the way he used “Hedwig’s Theme” and some orchestral stylings vaguely reminiscent of the first couple of films to remind us how we felt when we first saw Hogwarts and help to underscore how we feel now, seeing Snape in charge**. We’re reintroduced to it with “Snape’s Demise”, and Snape himself gets “Hedwig’s Theme” as well as “Lily’s Theme” — Desplat tries to foreshadow what’s coming using music, because it certainly wasn’t foreshadowed in any of the earlier films. Then we get “Severus and Lily”, which probably could’ve been called “Snape’s Redemption (for everyone who didn’t figure it out already)”. It’s this film’s “The Deathly Hallows”.

Finally, there’s the Harry Cycle — “Harry’s Sacrifice”, “The Resurrection Stone”, and “Harry Surrenders”. These are a little more juvenile-sounding — it’s the bells — but the underlying bass notes let you know that something really bad is about to happen***. There’s also an annoying chorus. Nothing against choral singers, but again… overused. “Harry Surrenders” is a little more like the Battle Cycle, but it fits.

If the soundtrack failed anywhere for me, it’s with the final track, “A New Beginning”. It was too light, too airy, and not nearly moody enough to really capture the end of an era. I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t get something like this at the end of the film.

Desplat still uses the “additional instrument playing a fugue or series of accents over the rest of the orchestra” technique that I wasn’t so much a fan of last time around, but I was expecting it this time, and I figured it was worth overlooking because… let’s be honest… this is my second-favorite of the Potter soundtracks after Goblet of Fire. I mean, it’s a big job to be told “your music is going to be associated with the end of what is possibly the biggest film franchise of the past two decades.” The composer pulled out all the stops and gave us an excellent soundtrack which included consistent themes, callbacks to previous soundtracks, and an intriguing use of cycles to move the listener from place to place in the film, making sure that the right mood is kept even if scenes aren’t adjacent.

This soundtrack was most definitely a fitting end to the Harry Potter film series. And it’s absolutely worth listening to again. I’ll definitely be keeping my ears open when I see the film next time.

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* Which isn’t to say that I didn’t notice the music throughout, because I did. But then, I do that sort of thing.

** Okay, seriously? At this point, how could anyone possibly still think Snape was the bad guy? Show of hands?

*** And, again, why didn’t Rowling just kill Harry? Imagine how much more powerful that would’ve been! Why the whole King’s Cross BS? WHY?

*Ahem.* I’m better now.

Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 8 of 10: Deathly Hallows 1


This is the eighth article in a ten-part retrospective of the Harry Potter soundtracks. You may wish to refer to the previous entries in the series for more information.

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Keen-eyed Facebook users may vaguely remember a group created shortly after Half-Blood Prince called Draft Nobuo Uematsu to Score Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Uematsu, you may know, is the composer of the Final Fantasy series of video games, and if you’ve heard his work, you know he’s perfectly capable of doing an entire film.

Well, we didn’t get Uematsu. Instead, we got Alexandre Desplat, well-known in France for many films with French names, and in America for The Golden Compass, The King’s Speech, and, for some reason New Moon. The studio hired Desplat to score the final two films — a good idea, given that they’re really just one four-and-a-half-hour movie with a little extra exposition in the middle — and he created. Because there are two separate films, I’ve separated the review into two separate articles. (Lots of separation there, I know.) This one focuses on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.

The score begins with “Obliviate”, a perfect musical backdrop to the beginning of the film, especially when Hermione casts the spell. It contains two themes: the four-note theme of the film (heard in almost every track in some form) along with a more-sweeping eight-note extension of same. The two themes are clearly heard throughout the film. Immediately after “Obliviate”, we get the four-note theme again, but this time descending instead of ascending, indicating that evil is afoot — and, I mean, it’s “Snape to Malfoy Manor”, so, yeah. Evil. And then we get another theme — a happier one — in “Polyjuice Potion”.

Clearly you can see why I enjoyed this soundtrack. The composer is fully aware of the whole point of using a theme throughout the movie. He did leave off “Hedwig’s Theme” until the end of the third track, but with so many other themes, it’s rather like what I said about Patrick Doyle’s Goblet of Fire soundtrack. He does rather adeptly mix “Hedwig’s Theme” in with his own themes in “Sky Battle” — probably the most exciting part of the film, and the music reflects that.

Other tracks I enjoyed include:

  • “Ministry of Magic” — This little sequence got its own “wizards doing wizard stuff” theme, although much more sinister, with the use of wooden clicky instruments (imagine several people hitting drumsticks together at the same time; I don’t know what they’re called) and a percussion part that’s like a ticking clock. Of course, now that we know the Ministry isn’t exactly doing their part to defeat Voldemort, the theme makes perfect sense.
  • “Lovegood” — Suitably weird, for use with all Quibbler publishers and Deathly Hallows enthusiasts. In the next paragraph, I do complain a little about the technique Desplat uses in this track, but in this particular track, I felt the effect worked well.
  • “Farewell to Dobby” — Let’s be honest: very few people who only saw the films probably appreciated Dobby. Even in the books, he was annoying. In fact, only Ministry of Magic managed to make me care about him with their song “Evanesco Dobby”. But as a cut to basically end the film, this track contains all the themes and all the foreboding that is necessary to close out the first half. A very nice track (despite the violin fugue at the end).

I was a little less impressed with the middle part of “Harry and Ginny”, which gives kind of a strangely-tempo’d and uncomfortable balletic violin hit to a nice piano rendition of the happier theme from “Polyjuice Potion”. He uses a similar tempo technique in “Dobby” that felt a little out-of-place. Then there’s the obligatory use of chorus to indicate “holy crap, danger for our heroes in the first act, which means get excited although none of them are going to die” (“Fireplaces Escape”); choral parts get overused, I think, in film scores. And, in “Ron Leaves”, the soap-opera-y violin part over the top is… well… over the top. And I think that’s the only major issue I have with this soundtrack: Desplat has an annoying tendency to put another instrument playing a fugue or sustain over the main part of the orchestra. I counted at least four tracks it happened in within the first half of a 29-track album.

I also didn’t care for “The Exodus”, but mostly because it was a montage of Harry, Ron, and Hermione going camping a lot and negative memories of that part of the film and book probably affected it. Also, the violin part annoyed my ears (though, if you listen carefully, you can just barely hear a John Williams-like musical phrase last heard in Chamber of Secrets… you’ll have to listen really hard, though, because it’s hidden pretty deeply in the orchestration).

Overall I was very pleased with Desplat’s soundtrack for the first half of Deathly Hallows. I was leery at first, but the studio really came through with a good choice for the film’s score, and I was quite looking forward to what he would do with Part Two. He proved he can do films, he can do homages, he can hint ahead at future tracks… basically, everything that I praised Patrick Doyle for — and, as I said, he wrote my favorite soundtrack of the series. But this one’s pretty good too.

Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 1 of 10: Introduction


This is the first article in a ten-part retrospective of the Harry Potter soundtracks.

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With the release of Harry Potter 7.2: Potter Harder or whatever they’re calling it, we’ve reached the end of the saga of the Boy Who Lived. The internet is home to hundreds of reviews — from the fangirl SQUEE to the more reasoned likes of Roger Ebert — and, while I certainly feel satisfied after seeing the film, I don’t think you really need my review to help you decide whether to see it or not.

But a couple of weeks ago, I was watching a special about creating the world of Harry Potter, one that focused on music and sound effects. It reminded me that, for completeness’s sake, I needed to purchase the 7.2 soundtrack.

So I did, and I listened to it, and I liked it.

Music is an integral part of a film, and something I’ve been specifically listening out for ever since my dad took me to see Star Trek V. I was waiting in line, straining my ears, trying to hear the ending credits music, because I was that interested in what it was going to sound like. And, for what is universally considered the low point of the Star Trek film franchise, Jerry Goldsmith’s score was pretty great — so good, in fact, that he reused some of its cues in Star Trek: Insurrection (also a movie that was panned a fair bit, coincidentally).

When you have a movie franchise as huge as Harry Potter — and, believe me, the producers knew they had a gold mine on their hands, both creatively and monetarily — you have to have the best of everything. From Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and Alan Rickman as the professors at Hogwarts to directors like Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron, Warner Brothers seemed to spare no expense to bring the magical world of Harry Potter to life.

The filmed version certainly made a convert out of me — I’d resisted reading the books, but one Thursday night my then-girlfriend and I decided “hey, let’s go see this Harry Potter thing everyone says is so good” and that, as they say, was that. I’m sure that story is repeated among many thousands of people; I can’t be the only one.

And one major part of the film was the music, composed by John Williams. The iconic composer, who’d previously scored Star Wars and Superman — walk up to anyone on the street and I guarantee they can hum the music from at least one of those — helped bring the film to life by defining the musical cue that, for all intents and purposes, is Harry Potter’s theme song.

“Hedwig’s Theme” contains the eight-note trill, the rising-and-falling violins, the “wizards doing wizard stuff” theme of Diagon Alley, and just about every other element of music found in the first film. Moreover, every composer (albeit reluctantly in one case — I’ll get to that later) has found a way to incorporate “Hedwig’s Theme” into his orchestrations.

While listening to the Deathly Hallows Part 2 soundtrack, I thought that it might be time to take a look back at the adventure of Harry Potter’s cinematic journey by listening to the soundtracks independent of the films. I pitched the idea to Escape Pod’s editors and they agreed, and here we are.

Note that I said “independent of the films”. I’m not going to go back and watch the movies with the soundtracks playing in my ears, or try to modify the audio coming out of my TV so that I only hear the music. Instead, I’m going to listen to the soundtracks and review them as their own elements of the film.

As some have said (I can’t find any quotes with a quick googling, but if you can, feel free to drop one in the comments), music can be its own character in the film. It’s not just atmosphere, not just accents; it’s almost like the chorus in old plays — it can tell you how you should interpret a scene, how it should make you feel (at least, according to the director), and even what the characters are thinking in a way that images alone cannot. So, from the sweeping nature of “Hedwig’s Theme” to Nicholas Hooper’s distinctive-yet-disappointing cues in Order of the Phoenix, from “Harry Potter’s Love” (meeting Cho in the Owlery) to the truly-beautiful music of Hermione obliviating her existence from the minds of her parents, we’re going to take a listen to the music of Harry Potter.

So join Messrs. Williams, Doyle, Hooper, and Desplat — and, of course, yours truly — over the next several days. And if you’d like to pick up the soundtracks, here’s some links:

Let the magic begin.

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Important Note: I am not a musician. Not really. I just appreciate music, and I have a limited understanding of the technique that goes into composing an entire soundtrack. I’m just writing from the point of a fan and average listener. You should expect that I’m going to mess up terminology and maybe occasionally completely miss the point of something one of the composers did. Just remember… not a musician.

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I tried to embed video, but something about the CMS keeps stripping it out. So I just linked to the videos for now. If I manage to figure out the embedding, I’ll come back and fix it.