7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2013
Atli Örvarsson's late replacement of composer Gabriel Yared was quite a shock to veteran film score fans. Yared, who has produced powerful and engaging scores throughout his career (namely his "unofficially released" work for Troy--which was also replaced), was a perfect match for the subject matter. Unfortunately, Yared was replaced; fortunately, Örvarsson was hired. The score he provided us with is a wonderful blending of traditional scoring techniques along with the Media Ventures/Remote Control sound popularized by Hans Zimmer. The themes are strong and memorable, the orchestrations are lush and intelligent (a full orchestra is utilize: strings, percussion, brass, and woodwinds. Woodwinds tend to be left out of MV/RC scores these days, much to their detriment), and the atmosphere is fantastic. All sorts of weird and creative electronics have been expertly layered into the score; though, the manipulation does get a bit abrasive during "Vampires and Werewolves." It's wonderful to hear a gothic fantasy score that has both powerful moments and sensitive moments. Yet, even with the two extremes of blood-pumping action and mournful contemplation, Örvarsson maintains a high dynamic of intensity. The gorgeous main theme is heard right off the bat in "Clary's Theme" and reoccurs much throughout the score. A few secondary themes and motifs weave in and out of the score, but Clary's theme remains at the forefront. While I gave this score a perfect 5 stars, it is really to be considered a strong 4 or a weak 5. Some of the action material is a bit generic and not up to par with the rest of the score. However, this score is one of the highest quality scores of the year, and I highly suggest it for any film score fan's collection. I know that I am certainly happy with it!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2013
The Mortal Instruments is a series of "young adult" fantasy novels written by Cassandra Clare, following the adventures of teenager Clary Fray. After her mother mysteriously disappears, Clary discovers that she is part of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret force of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. Teaming up with a larger group of shadow hunters, all of whom are invisible to regular humans ("mundanes"), Clary heads into a dangerous alternate version of New York called Downworld, where she and her cohorts attempt to rescue her mother, and stop the demons from spilling over into the real world.
The first installment of the series, City of Bones, forms the basis of director Harald Zwart's film, which stars Lily Collins in the lead role, and features Jamie Campbell-Bower, Lena Headey, Jonathan Rhys-Myers and Robert Sheehan. Despite being an immensely popular series of novels, the film has been criticized for its similarity to other entries into the fantasy genre, notably Harry Potter, Twilight and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, although a film based on the second film in the series, City of Ashes, has been greenlit and is scheduled for release in 2014.
The music for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is by Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson, whose late appointment as a replacement for the film's original composer, Gabriel Yared, left him with just nine weeks to write and record the entire score. Apparently Örvarsson was hired on the spot after director Zwart came out of a screening of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, having been enormously impressed by Örvarsson's music for that film - despite the fact that Zwart had previously rejected Örvarsson's score for his Karate Kid remake in 2010. Örvarsson is a composer who has both impressed me (Babylon A.D., The Eagle) and left me indifferent (Vantage Point, The Fourth Kind), but I have to say that throughout his career the positives have vastly outweighed the negatives, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is definitely a positive. The score is massive, written for a large symphony orchestra augmented by all manner of unusual percussive and metallic specialty instruments, a large Gothic choir, and a fairly large bank of contemporary electronics, all wrapped up in a mysterious, religioso soundscape that is compelling and interesting to the ear.
The opening piece, "Clary's Theme", is a whopper; it has a little hint of Hans Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes music to it through the use of a tinkling cimbalom, but whereas Zimmer's theme was all mischief and whimsy, Örvarsson's has a real sense of epic grandeur to it. A chanting Latin choir and string accents are gradually added to the mix, and by the half way point theme has grown into an enormous tour-de-force. A sensitive piano interlude brings things down a little, before the whole piece climaxes with a large, major key explosion of angelic strings-and-chorus. It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that this is probably the most powerful and emotional cue of Örvarsson's career to date.
Clary's Theme is one of several which weave in and out of the score, giving the piece a sense of itself, a structure, and a leitmotivic identity which captures different aspects of the story - listen especially for the creepy music-box version of the theme in "Demon Doll", and the excellent extended restatement of theme in the penultimate cue. A subtle piano love theme for Clary and her fellow shadow hunter Jace is heard at several of the score's more emotional more, notably in "Midnight in the Garden", and there is also a darker, more dance-like theme for the film's main antagonist Valentine Morgenstern, which is all chanted vocals, throaty brasses, dark electronic effects and unyielding, remorseless percussion.
Much of the rest of the score unfolds via the same palette; "City of Bones" uses a boy soprano to add an air of mystery to the proceedings, while the high-register metallic percussion, bells and chimes, and the unique use of an ancient string instrument called a viol continues to ramp up the score's liturgical air. The viol, which is performed by an specialist in ancient music named Richard Boothby, who is a professor at the Royal College of Music in London, acts as a musical marker for the "mortal cup" - one of the eponymous mortal instruments - an ancient and mysterious artifact which acts as the film's maguffin, and can be heard prominently in "Pretty Far from Brooklyn", parts of "The Angel Rune", the creepily imaginative "Madame Dorothea", and in the first moments of the enticing-yet-dangerous "Valentine" .
The action music is loud, fast, and complicated, especially in the way Örvarsson works in various distorted electronic textures, complementing the thrusting orchestral lines, and illustrating the concept of two vastly different worlds existing side-by-side, but apart from each other. Cues such as "The Angel Rune", "Magnus Bane", "Where's the Cup" and "J.C." are tremendously exciting, and at times reach quite monumental heights of power and volume. Some of the twisted, fade-in-fade-out synths remind me a little of the sort of thing composer Olivier Derivière wrote for the well-received video game Remember Me earlier this year, and are very impressive indeed; "Vampires and Werewolves" is a notable example of this.
Some of the choral crescendos, especially in the score's second half, are goose bump-inducing, spine-tinglingly good, especially when they combine with large-scale performances of Clary's Theme in cues such as the epic "You're a Morgenstern" and in the first half of "She's Not a Mundane", while the lovely finale, "The Portal", rounds out the score on a dreamy, hopeful note. With the exception of a few moments in Babylon AD in 2008, this is a side of Örvarsson we haven't heard before, but it's one I absolutely hope to hear in future.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is one of the most unexpectedly pleasant surprises in film music in 2013, a year which has, for the most part, failed to deliver many outstanding scores during its first eight months. Considering how quick his turnaround was from when he was hired, Atli Örvarsson's work here is astonishingly accomplished, emotional and exciting, with plenty of enjoyment to be gleaned from its three main elements: orchestra, chorus and synths. He continues to be a chameleon whose scores are impossible to predict beforehand, and this a good thing; I hope he continues down this road with his next series of scores.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Atli Örvarsson really wowed me with his score for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. It managed to craft a mythical soundscape yet sound modern and kick serious ass. I mention Hansel & Gretel because it was at the premiere of that film that Atli got hired for The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones. Director Harald Zwart was in attendance and was impressed with Atli's work so much that Atli basically got the job right then and there. Mortal Instruments is a very different score than Hansel & Gretel. Here Atli does indeed craft a beautiful mythological soundscape, but he infuses a sense of wonder and scope into it. There is an edge of mystery and magic behind the music. The score is wonderfully thematic, melodic and ultimately engaging.
The opening theme sets the stage for the wonderful journey that follows. I mentioned crafting a mythology, and the score does indeed do that. The music feels solely part of the world that the movie exists in, and that's important. It gives the listener a grounding quality for the characters in the setting. The music's approach utilizes high-energy melodies and choral arrangements to give it a large scope. The action is also executed in pure Örvarsson style. Övarsson's scores all have this pulsating energy that drives them, and Mortal Instruments continues that. He can build tracks to great effect to give them an epic fantasy scope. The choral work in the score is definitely one of the main draws. It's not as deep and brooding as say Lord Of The Rings, which Shore used to create darkness and impending doom. Here the chorus has enough weight to give it substance yet light enough to keep it ethereal and mystical. The music really ramps up in energy and intensity in the final act, and there are some fantastic action tracks. Electronics are used to give the music the hard modern edge it needs, but we still keep that other worldly mysticism all the way through to the end.
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones is some of Atli Örvarsson's best thematic work and it's a fantastically engaging score. The music is high-energy, but it also packs a lot of that grand fantasy to make the soundscape truly unique. Örvarsson's pulsating style works incredibly well here, and the choral arrangements really make a dramatic impact in the music. I've been a huge fan of Atli's music since the beginning of his career, and it's been great to see his sound gain strength over the years. Mortal Instruments is a wonderful example of Örvarsson's thematic sensibilities and pulsating action stylings.