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Score Review: The Adventures of Tintin

March 15, 2012

By Erin V.

This is quite possibly my favourite score of last year.  I’ve seen the film twice in theatres as well as heard the music several times on my own, and I must say, John Williams’ score for The Adventures of Tintin is so fresh and fun feeling, with its quick notes and bouncing themes that are interwoven throughout.  An orchestral, classy adventure score, this represents what the best film music is both in and out of film.  I may be deemed crazy by some for saying this, especially considering his extensive and impressive body of work, but I firmly believe this score is up there as one of Williams’ best.

The first several tracks on the CD (same order as in the movie) really set up the various themes for the characters and plot devices well.  The way that the themes are used feels fitting and genuine here, rather than seeming like they are obviously broadcasting the action on screen.  In this way, I found the score to have a very easy classic feel, where you allow the score to tell the story in tandem with what’s on screen.

Importantly, the first two tracks here set up the themes for Tintin and Snowy, and then in track three, we get what could be considered the theme for the plot – The Secret of the Scrolls.  This slow and mysterious theme strikes just the right tone.  Track four is really the first time that most of the main themes come together, and it works really well.  I found myself really liking the question and answer between instruments, and the way that the themes are woven throughout, something that continues throughout the entire score adding to the sense of continuity and fun as we follow the adventures across the globe with Tintin, Snowy, and Capt. Haddock.

As the score goes along, the themes are built on and developed, although never feeling repetitive.  One favourite of mine is track 7 which builds on the plot themes getting ready for the fuller expansion they will receive in track 9 (an amazing track and sequence in the film).  What I love is the way that the instruments mirror the action (e.g. a quick flick of a cymbal as swords strike each other).  It is this track that builds the basis that will be made even bigger in the final track of the CD.

While having to wait until midway through the CD (and the film) to get themes for some of the secondary main characters like Capt. Haddock and Red Rackham, this is what keeps the music feeling fresh.  Just when you are dealing with a few themes, another is introduced and added into the mix for consecutive pieces.  Some scores I hear after seeing the film and I can’t for the life of me remember without the track names what scenes they were tied to, but with Tintin, the music is so intrinsically linked for me, that even hearing it on its own, I can almost see the scenes play back in my mind.  This is especially true of some of the great set pieces from the film, which were driven so well by the score.  In my mind, the scenes and score are not separate but one.  What John Williams manages to do here – and it is no easy feat – is create a score that is both elevating the film it was written for, but also amazing to hear on its own.  Essentially, often you get one or the other – here you get both.

I’ll only mention a few more key tracks, because in all reality, I’m sure you just want to hear it for yourself rather than reading a written account of something you should hear.

It is worth a quick note that track 13 includes excerpts from “Rosina’s Cavatina” from The Barber of Seville (sung by Renée Fleming), which plays a key point in the film.  But what I love here is how well the score goes into this classic piece and in particular back out again.  It is a seamless transition and doesn’t feel out of place on this CD (or in the film) in the least.  Hearing the glass breaking in the last few seconds of track 13 is a nice touch too if you’ve seen the film.

As we get into the third act of the film, the suspense and music is the perfect case of balance between music and action on screen, because you need just enough score, without feeling overwhelmed by it.  Both the score and the script were written in such a way that the audience is able to follow and enjoy the story without being hit with nothing but action.  As you hear the score, you’ll realize just how much it oftentimes slows down during this third act, again allowing us to hear the themes in a new light.  The mysterious air of the second to last track (17) is a perfect ending to the film, before its last minute to thirty seconds drives directly into the exuberant credits track.

By the time you hear the last track on the CD, The Adventure Continues – a piece I consider one of the best single tracks of last year – it is the perfect culmination of everything that came before and some of the best recent adventure film music.  I must write briefly about this one now.

There is such power in this one piece.  While only three minutes long on the CD, it just sums everythign from the movie up for me in one swift action.  The false cadence thirty seconds from the end is great too.  How music affects you while you hear it can hardly be described in words and it is a task I struggle with in particular on my favourite scores.  There is not much I can say other than that I love this piece.  And on top of that, it’s incredibly well written.  It makes you leave the theatre with a grand sense of adventure.  And you immediately want to see it again.

Overall, what makes the whole score really memorable for me from recent scores, is the kinetic energy it has without being bombastic and overly action-y.  This is not like most modern action scores for an animated film, but rather like a classic adventure one for any film in general.  It never relies on being loud, rather gathering suspense through the impeccable use of various instruments  and speeds.  It is fun, light, and I love all of the quick little notes throughout.  But just as soon as it is quick, at times we get a theme with a more ambling rhythm, and it is this that makes the music never tiresome.  There is also a great range of octaves in the score that occur within a matter of seconds as do the tempo changes.

There is no doubt, this playful score by John Williams fits the film so well, and now that The Adventures of Tintin is on DVD, you should be sure to check this one out yourself.  And buy the CD – in my book, it is worth it all the way.  This is what an adventure score should be through and through.

___________________________________________________________________________

The soundtrack for The Adventures of Tintin was released by Sony Music Canada on October 25th, 2011.

The soundtrack has 18 tracks and runs for 1 hour, 5 minutes, 32 seconds.  The original score is composed by John Williams.

You can read our movie reviews for The Adventures of Tintin here.

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