Who composed it?: Bear McCreary
Who released it?: Sparks & Shadows
Who’s it for?: Controller-throwers and button-mashers.
What’s the Lowdown?: Hey, remember James Rolfe, the Angry Nintendo/Video Game Nerd? The foul-mouthed, Rolling Rock swilling, cartridge-blowing Internet video sensation of yore? Well, he made a movie. I haven’t seen said movie, but I did watch a lot of those angry rants he recorded back when I was in college. If there’s one thing that stuck in my head from those videos, it’s the theme song:
“He’s gonna take you back to the past
To play the shitty games that suck ass
He’d rather have a buffalo
Take a diarrhea dump in his ear
He’d rather eat the rotten asshole
Of a roadkill skunk and down it with beer…”
Such an adorable little ditty. All snark aside, I admire the film’s composer Bear McCreary for realizing the song’s full potential. In his score for AVGN: The Movie, he turns the simple melody into an honest-to-goodness cinematic theme complete with chunky power chords, Mega-Man style chiptune arrangements, 8-bit synth arpeggios, face-melting guitar solos, and huge orchestral swells. I rarely use this word to describe scores, but McCreary has a crucial understanding of this concept: fun. This score is just plain fun. McCreary sampled synths from NES, Super NES, Atari 2600, and SEGA Genesis for the score, and the authenticity of his sounds is really pleasing. If you liked Anamanaguchi’s soundtrack from the Scott Pilgrim game, you’ll probably enjoy the hell out of Bear McCreary’s score for Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie. Buy it on Amazon!
- Theme from AVGN: The Movie
- Nerd Nightmares
- Humvee Chase
- Zandor’s Tale
- Source Music Medley
Who composed it?: Robert J. Kral
Who released it?: WaterTower Music
Who’s it for?: Those who stand at the intersection of anime, DC, and serious cosplay.
What’s the Lowdown?: Set in the same continuity as the Arkham video games, Assault on Arkham is another one of those edgier DC animated films. Based on my deflating interest for DC characters and my distaste for this kind of animated fare, I haven’t seen the film. Composer Robert J. Kral has worked on several other DC animated films, including Superman/Doomsday and Green Lantern: First Flight. His music for Assault on Arkham shows an odd dichotomy: there’s some of the Zimmer-influenced, stoic Batman stuff you might expect from one of the Arkham games, but since most of the film focuses of the zany behavior of Batman’s rogues gallery, there’s a ton of chopped-up, funky breakbeat, rock, and dubstep influenced stuff. It’s a weird tonal mismatch. It’s all over the place, and none of it is particularly compelling. Yes, it’s big and energetic, but like these DC animated films, it’s not quite my thing. If you think it might be your thing, buy it on Amazon.
- Criminal Montage
- Gearing Up/Beer Room Challenge
- End Credits
Who composed it?: Chris Bacon
Who released it?: Varese Sarabande
Who’s it for?: Those who like their Psycho a bit less shrieky-stabby.
What’s the Lowdown?: Composer Chris Bacon (previously credited as Chris P. Bacon, not kidding) is one of those composers whose names you might not immediately recognize, but he’s got an IMDb profile a mile long, and it’s full of movies you know. He scores Bates Motel with a surprisingly light touch, and with almost zero reverence to Bernard Herrman’s classic score for Psycho. Going that direction would have been the obvious choice, and something I like about the show and the score alike is that the obvious choices are usually avoided. One of these obvious choices was to make the show a genre affair. Horror TV is doing well these days, critically (Hannibal) and financially (The Walking Dead), but Bates took the more soapy (and less soupy) path. This non-genre approach to the show is apparent in Bacon’s score, which is to say there is almost no horror in the music. It’s pretty delicate stuff, but it’s also very palatable and traditional. That sounds like faintly damning praise, but I don’t mean it that way. The score breaks no new ground, but is very well composed. Piano is deftly interwoven into a layered and rich orchestral sound. Bacon worked as James Newton Howard’s protege on a handful of really big movies, and Howard’s influence is apparent. There’s a bigness to the score that elevates the show, giving it a more cinematic feel, even when it’s fairly small. Wander on over to Amazon to buy this thing!
- New Home
- Norma and Norman
- Motorcycle Ride
- The End of A Horrible Day
Who composed it?: Dario Marianelli
Who released it?: Back Lot Music
Who’s it for?: Lovers of fine cheeses and really good music.
What’s the Lowdown?: I have to be careful here, because hyperbole could be imminent. I just saw The Boxtrolls last night (in 3D, because Laika does it best), and while it’s not as narratively clever as The LEGO Movie, it’s a fierce contender for the year’s best animated film. Laika has made big strides since the enjoyable ParaNorman, which featured an understated score by Jon Brion. Dario Marianelli scores The Boxtrolls with an enormous orchestral sound, low on bombast but layered with beautiful detail. This is very classical composition, and Marianelli seemed intent on highlighting every single instrument in the orchestra. There’s some very odd instrumentation here, too: if you listen closely, you’ll hear theremin, music box, washboard, broken light bulbs, and even a typewriter. This was Marianelli’s first animated film, and he began his initial composition very early in the process. The final product is highly polished score, bursting with personality. Marianelli’s action cues are some of his best, and the way he uses the orchestra during action cues is not unlike John Williams: busy, reactive, shifting focus constantly to suit what’s happening on screen. It leads me to believe he’d make a killer Star Wars score. I’m highly recommending that you buy this at Amazon!
- The Boxtrolls Cavern
- Eggs’ Music Box
- Rooftop Chase
- I’m Sure I Am Delicious
- Say Cheese
Who composed it?: John Paesano
Who released it?: Sony Classical
Who’s it for?: Those who want to feel like they’re being chased on the treadmill.
What’s the Lowdown?: Another one I’ve just seen! The Maze Runner is a perfectly okay movie, with a perfectly okay cast, and a more-than-serviceable score by lesser-known composer John Paesano. Nothing in the film dips into mediocrity, but nothing ever brushes excellence, either. Luckily, the score is one of the better things in The Maze Runner, but you might not get that from seeing the film. The film’s sound mix is so jammed with effects and ambience that the score tends to get crushed. This is particularly apparent during action scenes, especially when the film’s lumbering biomechanoid monsters are on the attack. The soundtrack album is a rewarding listen, because all of Paesano’s buried cues come to light, and most of them are quite good. There are some interesting parallels between this score and Dario Marianelli’s Boxtrolls score: at their best, they’re channeling John Williams, and both composers were brought on board the films very early. Paesano even had the luxury of visiting the set, which is a rarity for a composer. Backed up by gigantic-sounding tribal percussion, Paesano’s memorable work on The Maze Runner will surely make him a bigger name. Hell, it’s already gotten him another job: he’s scoring next year’s sequel, too. Before that sequel hits (and it will, quickly), buy this sucker on Amazon.
- The Maze Runner
- What Is This Place?