Posts Tagged ‘nicholas hooper’

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”.

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.