Tag: "harry potter"

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Web Series Review: Harry Potter and the Ten Years Later

The following review contains spoilers for all seven Harry Potter books and the eight films that followed them. There are also minor spoilers for HPplus10, because when you only have a nine-minute episode it’s really hard to write a review without talking about the entire plot.

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The Harry Potter phenomenon has spawned countless fan-created works of written fiction, musical awesomeness, and re-cut music videos. It has inspired thousands of people to be more awesome than they might otherwise have been. And that’s good.

But now it’s over. The last film was released in 2011, and if you don’t subscribe to the EWE school of thought, we know what’s happening 19 years later: Harry and Ginny are married with three children, Ron and Hermione with two, Draco with one, and so on. However, lots of good fan-fiction* has changed the outcome of that epilogue.

Harry Potter and the Ten Years Later is the latest entry in that oeuvre, and, so far, it looks promising.

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

This is the tenth and final 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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Eight soundtracks. Four composers. A ten-year cycle of music and magic. And now, my list of the eight soundtracks, in order of preference:

  1. Goblet of Fire by Patrick Doyle — After the three soundtracks from John Williams, the franchise was ready for a change, and they got it with Doyle. Incorporating consistent themes throughout the soundtrack, he was able to create an entirely new character using the music, and if a few tracks didn’t really fit the rest of the album, as a piece of art it was, to my mind, the best of them. Favorite tracks: “The Story Continues”, “Foreign Visitors Arrive”
  2. Deathly Hallows, Part 2 by Alexandre Desplat — I actually think this soundtrack had better composition than Goblet, but Goblet is still my favorite. Still, DH2 is a close second thanks mostly to Desplat’s use of cycles in addition to themes. Favorite Tracks: “Lily’s Theme”, “Courtyard Apocalypse”
  3. Prisoner of Azkaban by John Williams — Potter finally gets mature and serious with Williams’s third and final soundtrack, and although the middle of the album feels a little muddled, the finale makes up for it in spades. Favorite Tracks: “Buckbeak’s Flight”, “Finale”
  4. Sorcerer’s Stone by John Williams — I’m surprised at myself for not ranking this soundtrack more highly, especially since it introduced “Hedwig’s Theme” (the musical theme most associated with Harry Potter), but it just didn’t resonate with me the same way the first three on the list did. It was too light in tone, I think. Favorite Tracks: “Hedwig’s Theme”, “The Quidditch Match”
  5. Deathly Hallows, Part 1 by Alexandre Desplat — Excellent uses of themes and a great battle sequence overcame a rather annoying tendency to score fugues, sustains, and accents over the main body of the music. Favorite Tracks: “Obliviate”, “Polyjuice Potion”
  6. Half-Blood Prince by Nicholas Hooper — Hooper really redeemed himself with this after what I felt was a lackluster effort in Phoenix, and I certainly enjoyed the soundtrack. It’s just that the others were even better. I also don’t think Hooper had a lot to work with in what is probably the worst of the Potter films. Favorite Tracks: “Opening”, “Dumbledore’s Farewell”
  7. Chamber of Secrets by John Williams — While the general tone of the soundtrack was less juvenile than Stone, the film itself was too slapstick-y in too many places to really justify a truly dark soundtrack. Williams did the best with what he had. Favorite Tracks: “The Dueling Club”, “Reunion of Friends”
  8. Order of the Phoenix by Nicholas Hooper — No real cohesive theme, a jumbled bunch of cues, a soundtrack out-of-order from the film, and far too much repetitiveness overshadowed Hooper’s clear talent at creating memorable musical phrases. Favorite Tracks: “Flight of the Order of the Phoenix”, “The Ministry of Magic”

And, finally, my favorite track out of all eight Harry Potter soundtracks:

“Flight of the Order of the Phoenix” by Nicholas Hooper. As I said above, Hooper definitely knows how to write music that you’ll remember and enjoy. He just swung and missed with the Order of the Phoenix soundtrack as a whole. Tell me you can click that link and not remember the flight through night-time London and I’ll… well, I don’t know. I’ll do something, I guess.

Anyway…

I think it’s really hard to do a soundtrack that completely misses the mark. I can’t remember a single one I’ve listened to that actually pulled that off. However, in re-listening to these eight soundtracks, I’ve come to the conclusion that a good soundtrack needs a few cohesive themes, not too much crazy orchestration, and the ability to make listeners re-enact the film’s scenes in their heads if they’re not actually watching the movie. Most of the Potter soundtracks do all three of those things — they all do at least two. I count that as a rousing success for the studio, the films, and the composers.

And now, as your reward for making it this far, here’s a little bonus: three of my favorite Wizard Rock songs, in video form, all by Ministry of Magic:

Thanks for indulging my little jaunt into Pottermania. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to plug in my headphones and start listening to them again.

by hobotehkitteh via DeviantArt

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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.

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Book Review: “H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education” by Mark Walden

Let’s say there’s a secret school populated by a secret subculture of people living in a world alongside ours. Let’s say there’s a kid who has no idea this subculture exists, but he’s been doing things that would bring it to his attention. Let’s say that, one day, he’s accepted into this secret school, where he’s the smartest kid in his year, naturally good at everything, and has some sort of special connection to the head of the secret school.

You’d think you’d know what the story’s about and how it ends, wouldn’t you. You’d think you’re reading Harry Potter, or The Magicians, or Percy Jackson.

But let’s say the secret school is the place where the next generation of super-villains learns everything they need to know about the future of world domination. Changes things a bit, doesn’t it?

Umm… maybe not.

H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education, by Mark Walden, is the first in a (so far) seven-book young-adult series of novels that borrows from the well-traveled genre tropes that gave us the three books I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.

H.I.V.E.‘s main character, Otto Malpense, is a white-haired thirteen-year-old British boy with the uncanny ability to comprehend everything he reads and understand the underlying principles of everything he sees. In general, he’s more a pragmatist than a villain — he came to the attention of H.I.V.E. not because he did something evil for evil’s sake, but because he was trying to save the orphanage that was the only home he’d ever known. It just so happened to involve making the British Prime Minister look like an idiot.

Otto’s contemporaries can be picked out of most any genre lineup:

  • Wing Fanchu, an Asian boy who’s good at martial arts and is very honorable.
  • Laura, a Scottish girl good with technology.
  • Shelby, an American cat burglar.
  • Nigel, the kid who’s there because his father was a super-villain and is only good at one class — go on, guess which one*.
  • Franz, an overweight German kid who only talks about food and is also not very good at most classes, although he takes quickly to the ones teaching students how to use politics and economics to take down the good guys.

Other than Nigel and Franz, Otto and his classmates are not happy to be at H.I.V.E. They think they’ve been kidnapped by the school’s headmaster, Dr. Nero, and all they want to do is get home. But to do that, they’ll have to fight off another genre lineup, this one comprised of schoolteachers:

  • The headmaster who “takes an interest” in the main character.
  • The absent-minded technology professor.
  • The drill sergeant who teaches physical education.
  • The one who was turned into an animal.
  • The second-in-command who also can control your mind.
  • Professor Sprout**.
  • The ninja.
  • The artificial intelligence/computer system that sees everything and knows everything, but really just wants to be human (and if it starts performing Shakespeare or tries to hold Commander Riker hostage in one of Dr. Crusher’s plays in a future novel, I’m hanging it all up now).

So far, I’ve given H.I.V.E. a lot of grief over its use of genre conventions, but I hope I’ve done it good-naturedly enough to keep you from being put off the book. I mean, it’s YA; it’s sort of YA’s job to use genre conventions to make characters relatable and understandable. And the story itself is something most kids can understand: being taken from your home because you’re special, but once you get away, all you want is to go back again. I mean, come on, how many of us (when we were kids***) have thought “I’m smarter/better/awesomer than this life I’m currently leading; when will I get to go to that secret school for wizards/villains/demigods?” I mean, you wouldn’t believe how hard I wished to be pulled 300 years into the future so I could go to Starfleet Academy.

It didn’t happen, obviously****. Hence my love for genre fiction (escapism) and a fondness for stories using the genre plot we see in H.I.V.E.

The storytelling is pretty good. The characters are well-rounded and often funny. The adventure is… um… adventurous. If anything is poorly-done, it’s the occasional forays into Dr. Nero’s world — we need them to forward the plot and explain whatever couldn’t be infodumped by the Contessa (Professor McGonagall) during the school tour, but they take away from the important part of the story, which is Otto and his friends. When Rowling did it in the Harry Potter novels, she confined it to the first few chapters, sort of a “meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice” thing before we got into whatever adventure Harry is facing in the current book, and I could handle that. But the whole point of third-person-limited is that you only see things through the eyes of your main character, and I think that, by using the Dr. Nero scenes to explain important plot points, the story misses out on the opportunity for more adventures or further characterization of our heroes. For example, they could’ve overheard Nero’s staff dinner because Laura was working on an extra-credit project or something, instead of the author just showing us said dinner.

Of course, that could also have just been a homage to your old-school heroes-vs-villains TV shows and movies where the hero’s journey is briefly put aside to show what the bad guys are doing right now.

I rather enjoyed H.I.V.E., to be honest. I think the storytelling moves at a good clip, the characters are funny, and the idea behind the story is novel enough that I’m interested in reading more books in the series. As a YA book, it reads quickly enough, and is short enough, that you can probably squeeze it into a week’s worth of lunch breaks. I’m not sure how the “intended” audience — young adults — would actually like it, but I know that I got a kick out of it, and I think you will too.

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Note to Parents: Because it’s a YA novel, H.I.V.E. doesn’t contain anything truly objectionable. There’s some bullying and some violence, but nothing more explicit than, say, Prisoner of Azkaban. So, if your kids can handle that, they can definitely handle H.I.V.E.. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

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* If you said “Herbology”… err, that is, Botany, give yourself a pat on the head.

** The one who is fairly nice and takes care of students who don’t feel like they belong. Also, she teaches Herbology. I mean Botany. Oh, whatever, it’s Professor freaking Sprout from the Harry Potter novels. Just go with it.

*** Or, you know, right now. Either way.

**** OR DID IT???

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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.

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Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 7 of 10: The Half-Blood Prince

This is the seventh 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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After the — in my opinion — lackluster step backward that was the soundtrack for Order of the Phoenix, I was greatly disappointed to learn that Nicholas Hooper would be scoring Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The book remains my least-favorite in the series (only narrowly edged-out by Deathly Hallows), and the fact that a composer I didn’t really like the last time he got a shot at the series was doing it again only added to my personal conviction that I wouldn’t like the film.

Fortunately, Hooper redeemed himself with the soundtrack for Prince, and I think it’s much better than his last outing.

Prince begins immediately with “Opening”, a track that gives us themes we hear several times through the film. I’ll call them “pensive”, “reverse Hedwig”, and “quick”, and I’ll be referring to them as I discuss this soundtrack. In this case, Hooper immediately rectifies, at least in my mind, the major issue I had with his previous soundtrack: that there was no really clear theme tying everything together. So that’s a plus. I mean, in this one, even Slughorn gets his own theme, and you actually hear it in all the scenes he’s the major player in.

Other standout tracks include:

  • “The Story Begins” — Right away we get the “quick” theme woven through this track, which deals with the introduction of Slughorn. See, Mr. Hooper? You can tie everything together!
  • “Ginny” — “Pensive” theme, “Hedwig’s Theme”, and even a riff on “Hedwig’s Theme” that manages to keep us in the mood despite the “quick” theme running in the background.
  • “Ron’s Victory” — The “quick” theme again, but riffed a bit so that we get the urgency of Ron playing Keeper and actually being, you know, victorious. There’s also a slight touch of “pensive”.
  • “Into the Rushes” — I actually really liked this scene in the film — it wasn’t in the book, but the screenwriter made a good choice in adding it to give a little more action during a slow part of the story. Hooper chose to reuse his “Death of Sirius” theme over the “quick” theme of this film. Plus we get another listen to “reverse Hedwig”, which hits in a big way later on.
  • “Dumbledore’s Farewell” — An excellent use of “reverse Hedwig” mixed with “pensive” (though mostly “pensive”). Hooper didn’t have to do much with this part, as the director handled it well with the wands-up-and-blow-away-the-Dark-Mark sequence.
  • “The Friends” — By this point in the film, we know that nothing will ever be the same and that Harry is going to go off by himself to find the horcruxes and kill Voldemort. In the books, it works very well as an Empire Strikes Back ending, but unfortunately someone made the decision that we had to have, if not a happy ending to Prince, at least one that wasn’t either totally depressing or directly leading into a sequel (think Back to the Future II). Hooper handles this well, although he doesn’t hit any of the main themes other than a heavily-disguised rework of “pensive” (well, three notes of it, anyway).

The sequence of Harry and Dumbledore going to the cave and finding the horcrux is also tied together by all three themes as well as by mood, and there are callbacks to other tracks like “Into the Rushes” and even “Dumbledore’s Foreboding”. After re-listening, I thought of it as more of a single piece of music with three movements — arrival (“Journey to the Cave”), Harry’s part, and Dumbledore’s part. The digitized, strobed voices in “The Drink of Despair” weren’t, to my mind, the best choice, but the “pensive” theme is used to great effect as Harry forces Dumbledore to drink the drink. Then, with “Inferi in the Firestorm”, other than the (to my mind) rather unnecessary use of a chorus and Khan-putting-Ceti-eels-in-Chekov’s-ear violin stylings, we get the “pensive” theme in full force, similar to “Finale” in Azkaban as Dumbledore destroys the inferi.

The Biography special about the music of Harry Potter took a few minutes to talk about Nicholas Hooper’s musical decisions in “Harry and Hermione” and “When Ginny Kissed Harry” — played mostly on classical guitar, which Hooper seems to be pretty adept at, I found them to be much more subdued than Patrick Doyle’s “Harry Potter’s Love”, although somewhat out-of-character with the rest of the film despite their use of all three themes. “When Ginny Kissed Harry” has a particularly touching musical phrase that’s repeated several times, and it does stick with you. Throughout the film, Hooper makes interesting instrumentation choices such as the classical guitar — we hear fiddles, jazz beats, pianos, and other instruments, all in the forefront in unexpected ways. It doesn’t always work for the mood of the film (see “Farewell Aragog”), but there’s 28 tracks. Dude’s got to stretch his wings somehow, right?

Despite a relatively good soundtrack, we did unfortunately have to deal with such… um… gems… as “In Noctem” — I’ve never, ever been a fan of soundtrack cuts that were just choruses singing with music behind them. “Living Death” was another lead-you-by-the-nose track, but given what was happening on screen at that time, I can forgive it. I can’t forgive it for reusing several themes from Order of the Phoenix in a way that really would’ve worked better in… well… that film instead of this one. But other than that, I didn’t really have a lot of bad things to say about specific tracks, although I will say that Hooper seems to have decided we needed a lot of counterpoint-style high notes (see “Snape and the Unbreakable Vow”) to offset the heavy, moody nature that many of the tracks required. And, speaking of heavy and moody, I was pretty disappointed by “The Killing of Dumbledore”* — it was mostly just “build, build build build build BUILD faaaaaaaaaaaaaaade”. Of course, it wasn’t a really great interpretation of the pitched battle in the novel, but when the director and screenwriter don’t give you much to work with, you do the best you can.

I also want to mention that there was only one use of “Hedwig’s Theme”, although the rest of the soundtrack, as with Doyle’s Goblet, made up for it in such a way that I really didn’t notice.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Wizard Wheezes” and “The Weasley Stomp”, which were pretty cool, but… well, they sounded more like what Michael Giacchino did in The Incredibles and really didn’t fit the mood of the film or its soundtrack**. Think “The Knight Bus” in Prisoner of Azkaban. “The Slug Party” was a more subtle version of the same musical style (though much more jazzy), so I have less of an issue with it than with the other two.

Overall, I think the Half-Blood Prince soundtrack was by far the better of Hooper’s two outings into the Potterverse. While I didn’t like the film almost at all — I’d put Deathly Hallows 1 at the bottom of the list, and this film just above it — I definitely got some enjoyment out of the soundtrack. It’s a solid piece of art, despite its overuse of bells and choruses, and it provides what I felt to be an excellent companion character to the film.

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* And what is it with this guy naming tracks after the deaths of major characters during climactic moments?

** I also didn’t like the choice to put “The Weasley Stomp” at the end of the soundtrack. It really detracts from the feeling Hooper engenders with “The Friends”.

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Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 6 of 10: The Order of the Phoenix

This is the sixth 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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Explain something to me, if you would: how does a soundtrack with some truly cool pieces of music that even to this day I find myself humming or whistling fail to end up even in the top half of the soundtracks for the Harry Potter films? At least, on my list?

Because it’s not a complete work of art.

After the excellence of Patrick Doyle’s Goblet of Fire soundtrack, I was really looking forward to what he had to give us on the next film. Instead, we got Nicholas Hooper, who, other than the two Harry Potter films he scored, hasn’t really done any scores I recognize (according to Wikipedia). Maybe that means something.

In any case, Nicholas Hooper scored Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, my least favorite of the eight Harry Potter soundtracks. Unlike Goblet or Chamber, Order really is nothing more than a collection of individual themes and cues without, to my mind, any real attempt at creating an organized theme throughout. Contrast that with the previous two soundtracks, which, as I noted, really felt like complete works of art with a beginning, middle, and end.

I did catch a very slight attempt to tie everything together, but it was really done with moods instead of cues and musical phrases. I guess you could say the “Professor Umbridge” cue was used for that, but it’s not really replicated or played with enough for me to consider it as the film’s overarching theme or musical phrase — it doesn’t appear in enough tracks, especially the big ones. Not my favorite style. Also, the soundtrack itself isn’t presented in the order in which the tracks play in the film, which makes it difficult to mentally play the film as you listen. (Or, at least, as I listen.) Also, this soundtrack felt to me like a return to the original John Williams score, which really tried to lead you around by the nose and make you feel things, instead of making the music its own character in the film.

Lest you think I abhor this soundtrack, here are some cuts I enjoyed:

  • “Fireworks” — More or less the Weasley theme, this is a rocking jig that is most enjoyable.
  • “Professor Umbridge” — The string hits in the song actually seem to be saying “Professor Umbridge”. Clever.
  • “Dumbledore’s Army” — A worthy successor to the “wizards doing wizard stuff” cue heard in the first two John Williams soundtracks. I wish it had been used more.
  • “The Sirius Deception” — The ending really redeems what was, up until about 1:30, a pretty lackluster track. Again, there’s a series of cues that would have been better served as more of a unifying theme for the soundtrack.
  • “Death of Sirius” — First of all, you can’t put the major climactic twist of the film into the song title. That’s just dumb. Now, for the actual music itself, I was pretty impressed — for a Boss Fight, it was pretty darn good, though again it would have benefited from being somehow tied into any of the other themes.

I’d like to also call special attention to two tracks that I really loved on this soundtrack, though I think you’ll find an underlying theme to my commentary:

  • “Flight of the Order of the Phoenix” — Possibly the best cut on the album, this is the song that played as Harry and the Order flew through London. It’s only a minute and a half long, and I so very wish there was an extended version because it’s really, really good. Skip ahead to about 30 seconds in.
  • “The Ministry of Magic” — We’ve heard about the Ministry for several films, but only now do we get to actually see it. Hooper gives it a grand theme with this track, although again I wish the actual good part was longer.

As for “Hedwig’s Theme” — the very theme of Harry Potter himself — I was only able to catch it clearly in two tracks. The first is “Another Story”, which isn’t even the first song on the album (although it is the first cut in the film). It pops up for just a moment in “A Journey to Hogwarts”, but really, that’s it except for vague snippets here and there. A disappointment.

Other tracks I didn’t really care for:

  • “Dementors in the Underpass” — The chorus sounded way too electronic. It was distracting.
  • “The Hall of Prophecies” — Poorly placed in the track list. Also, the first half is too quiet and moody, while the second is fairly standard “enemies chasing heroes” music, with quick-tempo strings and lots of large drums.
  • “Possession” — More choruses, more strings, and an attempt to evoke the feeling of “Finale” in Chamber that never really panned out.
  • “The Room of Requirement” — Despite a really catchy theme, I just did not appreciate the repetitiveness of this track. It was quite a long montage that it had to cover in the film — Malfoy, Filch, and the others trying to get in — and it was another one that leads you along by the nose instead of complementing what’s on the screen.
  • “The Kiss” — Aural wallpaper that gets a little overblown toward the end.
  • “A Journey to Hogwarts” — The beginning of this track was really, really promising, and I think that Hooper could have made what he did with “Hedwig’s Theme” into a true theme for the film. But I was left disappointed. The track is almost redeemed at the end, but there’s sort of a “French romantic comedy” feel to it that didn’t do it for me.
  • “Loved Ones and Leaving” — Again, a track with a lot of promise and a lot of potential for overarching themes, but almost none of them were used earlier in the film. Plus, I wasn’t a huge fan of the flute used in the crescendo. It seemed unnecessary and a little trite.

Overall, I think Nicholas Hooper is a talented composer, and I found several tracks I was able to enjoy as singular pieces of music. However, I thought the soundtrack of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a step backward in terms of soundtrack-as-character and soundtrack-as-complete-work-of-art. There was a lot of promise shown, and it was shown in may of the tracks, but I just didn’t feel like Hooper delivered on it. That’s why I say it’s my least-favorite of the Potter soundtracks, and why I was disappointed again that Hooper was chosen to compose the music for the sixth film. But, as you’ll soon see, my worries… well, they were pretty short-lived.

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Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 5 of 10: The Goblet of Fire

This is the fifth 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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After John Williams’s work on the first three Harry Potter films, who would the studio get to step up and take on the mantle of the fourth, and longest, and biggest-in-scope: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?

Well, I for one had never heard of Patrick Doyle — though apparently he had done films I’d seen, including Dead Again, Exit to Eden, and Gosford Park. Most recently, he’s scored Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor and the new Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Apparently the guy had the chops to be considered.

And he pulled off what I think is the best of the eight Potter soundtracks.

From the very beginning — “The Story Continues” — we’re told that this film is going to be darker and scarier than any of the others, despite what we know to be several action sequences and Harry’s first foray into romance. Astute listeners who are also fans of Family Guy will hear that the main “sinister” theme of the film sounds a lot like the phrase in the show opening that goes “lucky there’s a Fam-i-ly Guy…” It’s also heard again very prominently in horn form in “The Dark Mark”, which incorporates it along with some cues that sound very similar to ones heard in Star Trek: Nemesis.

I’m going to go ahead and call it the “Family Guy” theme from here on out.

Other standouts include:

  • “The Quidditch World Cup” — Ireland and Bulgaria get their own themes, with the latter to become Krum’s theme when he reappears at Hogwarts. The Bulgaria theme is particularly good at making you think all the Bulgarians (and therefore Krum) are evil.
  • “Foreign Visitors Arrive” — All three schools arriving: Hogwarts, then Beaubaxtons, then Durmstrang. Beaubaxtons has a theme that is particularly well-suited to them, but it also sounds like “oh, these characters are going to be completely useless in the finale”. It does, though, very neatly segue to the appearance of the Durmstrang ship.
  • “The Goblet of Fire” — Doyle weaves together three distinct versions of the same theme for the choosing of the names.
  • “Golden Egg” — I cover this a bit later, but this track gives us the first instance of the film’s “triumphant” music cue, and in similar fashion to other techniques Doyle has used to this point, he’s still weaving in the main theme of the film — “Family Guy” again. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t anything of “Hedwig’s Theme” in it, but I can forgive it. The same theme is repeated in slightly-less-bombastic form in “The Black Lake”.
  • “Cedric” — Although the music behind Amos Diggory as he realizes Cedric is dead is a little too overblown, it does the work that the film couldn’t do (but the book did) in making you care about Cedric enough to react to his death the way the author wanted you to.
  • “Another Year Ends” — A sweeping melody that really encapsulates the friendship of the Golden Trio. It’s a bit too positive, given that war has just begun, but I guess the point is to show you that, hey, despite all this ugly stuff going on, love still prevails — which, as we all know, is Dumbledore’s main point throughout the books (the importance of love).

I was a little less impressed with the “Hogwarts March” and “Hogwarts Hymn” — both had their place in the film, but they seemed to break up the soundtrack a little more than I personally would’ve liked. There were also the waltzes — Neville’s and Harry’s — which were completely in-place in the film, but when listening to the soundtrack they do make me put my head on one side just a bit. They’re placed in the soundtrack when they occur in the film, but they also provide a little break from some pretty heavy musical numbers.

“Rita Skeeter” kind of harkened back to the John Williams days in its leading-you-by-the-nose orchestration of “yes, this character is mean, but she’s also the comic relief, and she’s not really evil”, which to me made it a weaker track. “Sirius Fire” went a bit too heavy on the mood music, especially with the violins around 1:30. But the compositions themselves are good. And, for a 9:40 cut that’s supposed to underscore the graveyard fight with the Final Boss, “Voldemort” comes off pretty uninspired for the first few minutes — it fits with the theme and mood of the rest of the soundtrack, but coming right on the heels of “The Maze”, it was almost like there was too much mood, as if Doyle was trying to hammer into your head that “HOLY CRAP VOLDEMORT!!!!!!!!!!!!!” was about to occur. (At 4:20, there’s a nice musical phrase that I enjoyed based off the “Family Guy” theme, but by far the best part is about 8:00 in, when Priori Incantatem occurs and we hit the sad-triumphant theme which I found to be really well-done.)

Doyle’s strength with this soundtrack was to create a series of cues and themes — the “Family Guy” theme, the music and mood he used for the Voldemort sequences, the waltzes and love themes — that feels, for the first time, like a complete piece of art. He also “teases” upcoming tracks, such as the shift from “Harry Sees Dragons” to “Golden Egg”, which I find to be a really cool technique — basically priming you to hear more of what you just heard without thinking “oh, hey, here’s a new gigantic bombastic piece of music you’re totally unprepared for”. It happens again with “Neville’s Waltz” and the repeated themes from it heard in “Harry Potter’s Love” — a wonderful love theme and one that I occasionally find myself humming when I’m not paying attention. And then they both come together for “Potter Waltz”.

Though there are a few songs peppered in here and there that I personally didn’t care for, for the first time in the series, we’ve got a start-to-finish soundtrack that I can sit back and enjoy without occasionally asking myself what just happened. I was extremely disappointed that Doyle wasn’t brought back to score more of the films, but I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of his work, and this soundtrack is part of what makes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire such a great film.

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In addition to the orchestrated part of the soundtrack, a band was created to perform three songs under the name “Weird Sisters”. It featured members of Pulp, Radiohead, All Seeing I, and Add N to (X), and was fronted by Jarvis Cocker. The three songs they performed, including the one that ran during the credits, are at the end of the soundtrack. I’m not going to review them, except to say… they’re okay. Nothing good or bad to say about any of them.

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Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 4 of 10: The Prisoner of Azkaban

This is the fourth 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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So, I’m just going to come right out and say it: of the three John Williams Harry Potter scores, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the best of them. After the juvenile nature of Stone (music-wise) and the gradually-growing-more-serious nature of Chamber, audiences had grown enough with the character and the franchise for director Alfonso Cuaron’s dark treatment of what was, to date, the most serious of the Potter stories. I think that, when Williams saw just what direction Cuaron had gone with the bulk of the film, he felt it allowed him to make a more adult soundtrack, although it did still have departures from the general feel for the humor sequences.

The soundtrack begins with “Lumos (Hedwig’s Theme)”, a much more mature version of the iconic musical phrase. It feels more sinister than ever before, even though that part of the movie is just Harry trying to teach himself lumos maxima. (And why did he never use that spell again, exactly?) And then, with “Apparition on the Train”, we are introduced to the Dementors with music that intensifies their creeping evil-ness. At that point, we still haven’t hit the film’s signature riff, but it’s not a problem.

Other standout tracks include:

  • “Buckbeak’s Flight”, which I’ll cover later. The frenetic drumbeats notwithstanding, it’s a great one.
  • “The Werewolf Scene” — great ambiance and use of established themes from within the film.
  • “Saving Buckbeak” — very understated in the beginning, to underscore the need for Harry and Hermione to avoid being seen by anyone once they’ve gone back in time.
  • “The Dementors Converge” — there are two parts to this track; this is the first one, when Harry is trying to fight off the Dementors as they attempt to kill him and Sirius. You hear hints of the patronus theme and the triumphant theme throughout, and when listening to the soundtrack you almost want to go back and hear this one again after you’ve heard “Finale”, just to pick up on what’s happening.
  • “Finale” — and now, the second part, when Harry finally knits together the tenuous logical threads that lead to this point and figures out that he’s the one who has to expecto that patronum all over the clearing to save the souls of himself and his godfather. Williams absolutely nails the triumphant theme with this one in a very understated fashion — just a lone brass and the chorus/synthesized “aaaaaahhhhh” underneath. Then he ends with a reprise of “A Window to the Past”, when Harry says goodbye to Sirius and Buckbeak.
  • “Mischief Managed”, a mega-mix of the entire soundtrack that, in the film, was played over the ending credits. I really like these sorts of tracks. I wasn’t hugely impressed with the gigantic orchestral sting at the end, but otherwise it was cool.

Owing possibly to just how heavy the film gets toward the end, there are several humorous sequences throughout, and Williams takes the opportunity to stretch out. “Aunt Marge’s Waltz” perfectly captures the feeling of Harry blowing up his aunt, and the acid-jazz of “The Knight Bus”, while feeling very out-of-place amid the rest of the music, nonetheless fits the moment as it was presented in film (the book didn’t fill the Knight Bus scene with quite as much levity). There’s also “Double Trouble”, which introduces both the Hogwarts chorus and Flitwick’s magical transformation from a gray-haired old wizard to a young-ish bespectacled black-haired wizard. I have no idea why a chorus was included, but there you go. I guess the students of Hogwarts also needed some extracurriculars beyond Quidditch, the Gobstones Club, and Dueling.

If the soundtrack has a weak point, it’s “The Whomping Willow and the Snowball Fight”, and only for the latter part. I think it was pretty clear that we were supposed to get a good kick out of Malfoy and his friends being snowed under by an invisible Harry (Emma Watson’s fake hysterical laughter notwithstanding); the music was almost too much. I also didn’t much care for the latter portion of “Secrets of the Castle”, which was too heavy on the higher-register wind instruments. I don’t even remember hearing some of that music in the film; it may have been spread out across several scenes.

As for the signature musical phrase in the film, its first major appearance is “Buckbeak’s Flight” (it’s just barely recognizable in “Apparition on the Train” but I don’t really count it because you only catch it at the very end). In the film, you hear it when Harry and Buckbeak hit the air and Harry realizes that he’s not going to die a horrible death by falling. It’s suitably poignant and triumphant, a powerfully-written theme for a film that had more “bad” moments than any of the others. There’s also a secondary signature phrase, first heard in “A Window to the Past”; it’s evocative of Kamin’s theme in the Star Trek: TNG episode “The Inner Light”, mostly because of the wind instruments but also because it gives you a chance to relax and recover amid a pretty heavy series of compositions. And, finally, there’s the occasional use of “Double Trouble”‘s riff, although it’s not strictly Williams’s composition so much as his interpretation in that case.

While the Prisoner of Azkaban soundtrack isn’t my overall favorite of the entire series, I definitely mark it as my favorite of the John Williams scores. It’s the most mature, most serious one of his three, and the signature cues he introduces are ones that I find myself humming every now and then. While Stone gave us the main theme of Harry Potter, I think it was Prisoner that really showed us how the music of Harry Potter can make us feel.

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Music and Magic: The Harry Potter Soundtrack Retrospective — Part 3 of 10: The Chamber of Secrets

This is the third 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 the success of the first film, and of the book series in general, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets would be made. The film itself turned the tone somewhat darker and exposed, among other things, that maybe Hogwarts isn’t as awesome and perfect as we saw in the first one.

Composer John Williams — and many of his themes and cues from Sorcerer’s Stone — returned for Chamber, including the “Hedwig’s Theme” cue that you really must have if you want a real Harry Potter film. To that, Williams added another cue, an eight-note phrase that sets this soundtrack apart from the previous film; it kind of sounds like the music you’d hear in a dance-of-love scene. It’s first heard in “Fawkes the Phoenix”. Then there’s a “silly” theme, heard in “The Flying Car”, which is vaguely “Flight of the Bumblebee” in tone and is supposed to evoke panic and danger — but since it’s only a few minutes into the film, it’s highly likely that Ron and Harry will not die.

This being a darker film in tone, Williams has cut down on the sheer amount of bells in the soundtrack, preferring to use warm horns and strings for the positive moments and other musical styles for the negative ones. I’m pleased that the Chamber soundtrack feels less juvenile — I’m not sure if the director (Chris Columbus, who also directed Stone) gave Williams a little better direction, or if Williams just knew what the film needed. Since we do know the world now, the music doesn’t have to tell us what to feel about Diagon Alley, or Quidditch, or Hermione being petrified.

Toward the end, the “silly” theme becomes much darker — it’s heard again in the battle with the basilisk, which has Harry fighting for his life, which is a very heavily-orchestrated scene containing both the “silly” theme and the Chamber riff. I did feel as though the basilisk battle scene really contained the best music of the film, as it incorporated both the new and old riffs, as well as the more serious tone of the film — in it, Harry actually has to fight for his life using his limited physical prowess against a foe that is many times his size and could probably crush him just by turning the wrong way.

Some of the hallmarks of Williams’s previous composition in the series are still present, including the epic mishmash of triumphant musical themes heard at the end of “Prologue, Book II, and Escape from the Dursleys”. Also:

  • Wizards doing wizard stuff.
  • The first-sight-of-Hogwarts phrase, in “The Flying Car”.
  • Exciting happenings!, first heard in the Quidditch match in Stone.

But there’s lots of new stuff, including a theme for Fawkes, Dumbledore’s Phoenix, and a cute little riff for Professor Lockhart delivered in a low-but-jaunty series of string phrases. In fact, most of the new music for the film is delivered in a lower register than in Stone, which allows the music to do more in terms of supplementing the story rather than completely directing the mood of it — the music in general sets the mood, but doesn’t try to force you into feeling a certain way. And even when it does, those blasted bells aren’t used — it’s more strings and horns. You can hear this in “The Dueling Club”, which has a string treatment of the Harry Potter riff.

I also really liked “Reunion of Friends”, the track heard after Harry has defeated the basilisk and they’re in the Great Hall, when Hermione and then Hagrid return from their various difficulties.

In a special on the Biography channel, Williams explained how he used music to accentuate parts of scenes, and you can really hear that in the action sequences, especially when you’re not actually watching the film. I’m not sure I really like it, but he’s the artist; I’m just the critic. Also, due to scheduling constraints, Williams was unable to do the full orchestration, so William Ross stepped in. Just a bit of trivia there, really, although some of the tracks feel less like Williams and more like… well… someone else, although I haven’t seen any of the other films IMDB said he’d composed for, so I can’t tell you who. William Ross, I guess.

While Chamber is a darker film, as noted before, the soundtrack — while certainly darker — is still a bit too juvenile to really pass on the feeling of peril, at least for most of it. The danger sequences — the flying car, Aragog, anything to do with Lockhart — are orchestrated in a mystical fashion, but don’t feel serious to me. Although, if you think about it, in the film the danger sequences are punctuated with humor — Hedwig looking back at the train (flying car), being rescued by the car (Aragog), and McGonagall (or was it Snape) saying “now that he’s out of the way” near the end, just before Harry and Ron confront Lockhart. The battle with the basilisk is suitably powerful, but other than that, it was still a pretty light soundtrack. I’d say it’s an improvement on parts of Stone — specifically, the forced emotions that were absent in Chamber, but overall I’d say Stone was the better of the two in most ways.

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* When I originally got my digital copy of this soundtrack, the tracks weren’t in the right order, and that turned me off quite a bit to it. However, the digital version you can buy on Amazon has them more or less correctly. It does annoy me when the tracks are incorrectly-ordered. Unfortunately, this prevents me from giving too many track names in the review without having to re-buy.