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THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE (2005)

17 Tracks (Playing Time = 70:55; 13 Score Tracks = 54:35)

Music composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams.

Album produced by Harry Gregson-Williams. Performed by the Los Angeles Recording Arts Orchestra, the Bach Choir, Choir of the King’s Consort, and Lisbeth Scott, vocalist. Orchestrations by Ladd McIntosh, Walter Fowler, Suzette Moriarty, and Rick Giovinazzo. Score recorded and mixed by Joe Iwataki. Additional score recorded by Shawn Murphy and Pete Cobbin. Score recorded at Todd AO Scoring Stage, Los Angeles, and Abbey Road Studios, London. Album mastered by Patricia Sullivan Fourstar at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Creative direction by Steve Gerdes. Cover design by Ron E. Wong. Album design by Tim Hankins.

Also features: “Can’t Take it In,” written, performed, and produced by Imogen Heap; “Wunderkind” written and performed by Alanis Morissette; “Winter Light” written and performed by Tim Finn; and “Where” written by Lisbeth Scott and Harry Gregson-Williams, performed by Lisbeth Scott.

[Note: Besides the single CD under review, there is also The Special Edition Soundtrack that has a second disc -- a Video DVD with bonus features including "BEHIND THE MAGIC OF NARNIA FEATURING THE SCORE BY HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS" and "MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE FILM."]

Walt Disney Records 61374-7

Rating: ***1/2

 

For several weeks prior to the release of this album, there have been various launches of CDs with THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA splattered across their covers. There is a pop disc as well as a “Christian” music disc. Even the CD under review here has an additional four songs, one not even featured in the film. The good news is that unlike Disney’s release of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, the score makes up nearly the entire album save the final four tracks.

It is somewhat unusual for me to actually see a film before hearing the score release, but such was the case this time around. Having thoroughly enjoyed Gregson-Williams’ score for KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, I was looking forward to hearing this score. In the film itself, the score seems to work, but it sounds at times like it is trying to achieve the monumental sound of Shore’s scores for THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY and never quite matches the connectedness of that score. While the music at times reflects what smacks of the old Media Ventures committee score sound with many things seeming like it could be composed by Hans Zimmer, there are plenty of nuances in several tracks that remind you that Gregson-Williams is perhaps the better of the composers coming out of that musical conglomerate.

“The Blitz 1940” begins like many a Media Ventures action score. Ambient sounds and electronic percussion mixed in with a traditional symphonic score make it sound like something more from a David Arnold Bond score. Some nice touches here include a sound imitating an airplane mixed into the fabric of the music. “Escaping London” features a beautiful lyrical theme and then moves into a more updated symphonic sound with a bit of a pop feel. This blend of the two stylistic ideas does not always work well when they appear side by side one another in a particular track, however taken separately the styles work well. The music for “The Wardrobe” manages to convey the sense of mystery and “magic” attached to the huge object manifested in the addition of a children’s choir into the musical texture. Mr. Tumnus is given a Gaelic-flavored underscoring which allows him to be less sinister or frightening. Here is one of the many signs of Gregson-Williams guiding the viewer through the eyes of its characters. We sense and feel Mr. Tumnus through Lucy’s eyes and this is what transforms the music and scene. The scenes in the film that are scored this way prove to be most effective. “The White Witch” is an excellent piece of character underscoring communicating the frightening appearance of what might seem like an unimposing character otherwise. This is where readers of the book will have to allow some leeway. When reading about the White Witch, it is obvious that she is evil, but her subtle ways of bewitching others is not always so scary at first. Here she is perhaps not quite as evil as Tolkein’s Sauron, but her blackness is hinted at in Gregson-Williams’ underscoring of her scenes.

This first book from Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA is perhaps the hardest to bring off if one wants to get both the story and its religious subcontexts. The deeper theological explorations are there in the text but the meanings behind some of them are often obscured. The tale comes across as a nice fantasy story until one begins to reflect on the character of Aslan and the meaning of the stone table and other symbols in Lewis’ text. The film takes the symbols from the text at face value neither overtly exploiting their hinted meanings nor understating their purpose. For me, the climax of the novel is really the scene at the stone table when Aslan is “resurrected.” There lies the power of the “magic” but it did not have that power in the film. Instead the focus is the battle scene where all the CGI magic comes to the forefront. Still, the highlights of the CD are those that follow the sequence where Peter is knighted and that of the “witches Sabbath” at “The Stone Table.” “Knighting Peter” has a great overall sound but it sometimes feels like a cross between Shore’s LORD OF THE RINGS scores (the theme is quite similar) and the battle sequence from REVENGE OF THE SITH. But when Gregson-Williams’ theme appears the score really shines in all its glory with rich harmonic writing and excellent orchestration. In “The Stone Table,” Aslan’s theme is pitted against that of the White Witch and her army but the music gets overwhelmed on screen by the imagery. Here is the opportunity to hear at least some of it. “The Battle” is a cross between Zimmer’s scores for THE LAST SAMURAI and GLADIATOR and Debney’s score for last year’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. It did not seem to have the same passion that can be heard in Gregson-Williams’ scoring of battle sequences in KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (both those on the CD and those used in the film). The final track, “Only the Beginning of the Adventure” recaps some of the thematic ideas before fading out as it does in the theater to make room for the pop song du jour.

The CD closes with four songs of which “Wunderkind” by Alanis Morissette is the one which appears over the end credits. It is painfully obvious that this is done in imitation of the LORD OF THE RINGS films. It is a fine song but misses out on the nuances of the film which precedes it entirely and does not appear to understand the point of the novel. Even the sound is a cross between Annie Lennox and Enya which was not helpful in distinguishing it from LOR. This is less the fault of Ms. Morissette and more the result of the kind of commercial filmmaking decisions made these days. Taken on its own it is quite good otherwise yet Imogen Heap’s song, which precedes it on the CD, seems to be similar in sound. And did no one question the use of a German-sounding title (mispronounced) which seems to run counter to the novel’s pro-Allies 1940’s theme? Tim Finn’s song is more reflective than the other’s and seems to fit the film better, though ends up feeling out of place somehow. Finally, “Where” closes the disc. The song likely intended to close out the film’s end credits but then not used. It feels more like a fragment than an actual song.

It is not surprising that this score received a Golden Globe nomination, but I wonder had the two films Gregson-Williams scored been released in the opposite order if this score would have made it to the list. It has much to recommend it and continues to illustrate that composers can create masterful scores if they do not have to follow temp tracks. There are times when CHRONICLES plays like “new” temp music indistinguishable from its intended film. But when it is allowed to breath a bit and the thematic writing is integrated into the texture of the underscoring it works very well. This latter technique is one that Gregson-Williams is beginning to excel at with each project he scores moving the wall-to-wall synth and orchestra sound that Zimmer brought to his projects often keeping them from sounding terribly different from one film to the next to one where thematic development and motivic integration better link to a specific film. It is a technique that improves with each of Gregson-Williams’ scores and which is still in transition in this one.

 

--Steven A. Kennedy, 27 December 2005

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com


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