Saturday, August 16, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 by John Powell (2014)

Review by Travis Elder


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With out a doubt my favorite score of 2010 was John Powell's How to Train Your Dragon.  The first film is about a young boy, Hiccup, who lives in a Viking village beset by dragon attacks.  The leader of the town and Hiccup's father is bent on destroying the dragons once and for all.  In a twist of fate, Hiccup ends up befriending a dragon, Toothless, and along the way helps his father and his people to turn dragons from foes to friends.  John Powell's score is one of the first film's most memorable characters with its adventurous main theme, rousing action sequences, and tender romantic passages that make your heart melt.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is no mere rehash.  While all the familiar themes from the first film are present they come with fresh twists and turns, but we also get two new strong themes: one for Hiccup’s mother, Valka, and another for the menacing foe, Drago.

Valka’s Theme is introduced ever so gently in Together We Map the World with plucking harp followed by tender orchestra and flute performances.  By the end of the cue the new theme is beautifully paired with the marimba and xylophone motif used in Forbidden Friendship from the original score.  Herein lies one of the score’s strengths because Powell takes the new themes and places them with orchestrations applied to his original themes creating a pleasing fusion that reminds of the old while giving variety to the new.  Part of the fun of the score is also hearing how masterfully Valka’s Theme and the other themes are varied and adapted throughout the score to fit different contexts.  For example, we get a spiritually moving performance of Valka’s Theme in Losing Mom/Meet the Good Alpha with angelic, booming chorus followed by tender piano.  This performance is reprised wonderfully in Two New Alphas from 2:55 to 3:53.   Next, in Flying With Mother we hear a whimsical flight of fancy, this time with the chorus singing the theme in a delightful and celebratory tone.  This excellent concert-worthy piece finds good company with highlights from the first score such as Forbidden Friendship and Test Drive.

Drago's theme is highlighted in Meet Drago and often features a male choir that lends a larger than life feel to Drago.  Like Valka's theme Drago's theme goes through several different variations.  As Meet Drago begins the theme conveys an eerie sneakiness, but by the end of the piece becomes more foreboding with its militaristic marching and booming chorus.  Without a doubt, however, the best performance of the the theme occurs in Battle of the Bewilderbeast.  From 4:22 to 4:44, the ears are awestruck by a crescendo of thundering male chorus answered by a retorting female chorus, clanging metal, emphatic percussion, and swelling orchestra.  The closest comparison I could make here is an epic sound similar to some of the thunderous passages of choral excellence in Jerry Goldsmith's Omen.  My only complaint is this short tease longs for a more extended performance.

As with the last score we are treated to lots of action music, but none is more cohesive or more satisfying than the previously mentioned, Battle of the Bewilderbeast.  In fact, this cue represents one of the best action pieces of John Powell's career.  Not only does it contain the best performance of Drago's theme, but features a whirlwind of satisfying variations of the original themes woven together in seamless perfection.  Starting at 5:05 the piece also concludes with one of my favorite performances of Hiccup's theme with a rousing and triumphant marching fanfare.

The sequel album benefits by a more balanced presentation of action verses more gentle and quiet moments.  The highlight of the latter include the touching and reverent duo, Stoick Saves Hiccup and Stoick's Ship.  Stoick Saves Hiccup features a gentle performance of Valka's Theme, before becoming more noble with soul stirring female choir at 1:33.  Stoick's Ship begins with quiet harp and soft female chorus that escalates to triumphant chorus backed by bagpipes.  The last third of the cue features a beautiful flute playing Valka's Theme and concludes with a reverent trumpet playing Hiccup's Theme.  

The score for How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a resounding delight.  More could be written about the excellence of this score, but if you have read this far, stop now and go listen to and appreciate for yourself one of the finest scores to come out this year or any year.

1. Dragon Racing (4:34) *
2. Together We Map The World (2:19)
3. Hiccup The Chief – Drago’s Coming (4:44)
4. Toothless Lost (3:28)
5. Should I Know You (1:56)
6. Valka’s Dragon Sanctuary (3:19)
7. Losing Mom – Meet The Good Alpha (3:24)
8. Meet Drago (4:26)
9. Stoick Finds Beauty (2:33)
10. Flying With Mother (2:49) *
11. For The Dancing And The Dreaming – Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson & Mary Jane Wells (3:06)
12. Battle Of The Bewilderbeast (6:26) *
13. Hiccup Confronts Drago (4:06)
14. Stoick Saves Hiccup (2:23) *
15. Stoick’s Ship (3:48) *
16. Alpha Comes To Berk (2:20)
17. Toothless Found (3:46)
18. Two New Alphas (6:06)
19. Where No One Goes РJónsi (2:44)

Total Running Time: 68 minutes
*ScoreCues 2014 Best Cues Nominee

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