Friday, 1 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Alexandre Desplat

...and so it came to pass, Harry Potter did (more probably than not, maybe he dies at the end... yeah, right) smite that bloke who can’t be named and probably will end up shacking up with some random C list character we haven’t previously seen much of and everything will be well. It seems like an age since the three variably talented kids set off on their magical adventures in Rowlingland. In fairness, they have got better (presumably much of Daniel Radcliffe’s improvement came from being on stage and undressed in Equus or being able to use his huge fortune to pay for acting lessons), but when it comes to the music, the series definitely front loaded when it came to talent.

The first four films had broad, dynamic and fantasty scores that set a tone that was then largely disguarded in the last four. Nicholas Hooper hardly set the world alight with his pleasant, but fairly slight efforts. After John Williams and Patrick Doyle, all but the best composers would have had trouble but Hooper seemed a pretty steep drop. We all hoped that Alexandre Desplat would provide a spike in quality when he took on the musical mantle for both parts of Deathly Hallows (HP7) but to many, part one was something of a letdown. Part two improves matters but it’s not the musical masterpiece everyone hoped for.

I’ve tried to work out exactly what it is that makes Desplat’s Potter contributions so disappointing and I think it’s that he takes it all a bit too seriously. Yes, these films are a long way from the frothy first couple but by parts 3 and 4, the films were pretty dark in places, yet Williams and Doyle, respectively, rose to the task admirably and managed to combine drama with fantasy. Ironically, Hooper's efforts for arguably even darker films are consirably lighter in tone. Desplat seems to have wanted to move into more gloomy territory and the result is that it's all a bit too subdued.

Even when the epic battles are playing out, Desplat sounds too restrained; whether it’s the orchestration or the mixing is hard to say. Even when the orchestra are going at it hammer and tongs with heavy percussion and brass, there’s a crystalline quality which isn't nearly as charming as it should be. A bit more density and heft might have worked better. Desplat’s penchant for delicacy serves him very well much of the time, but sometimes a bit of weight and grand guignol are required. You really do miss John Williams', erm, magical, touch. Even the slightly more promiment appearances of Williams' original themes only serve to emphasise how unmemorable Desplat's are. Only Patrick Doyle came close to matching the quality of Williams' work in this regard.

Having said all that and despite a couple of longeurs, HP7 part 2 is a distinct improvement on part 1. It is more heavily weighted toward an epic showdown rather than the low end noodling that plagued much of the first half. Then again, the (presumably) climactic battle between Potter and Voldemort still feels underwhelming. Compare it to (say) the climax of Revenge of the Sith and Desplat comes up short. Even compared to similar moments in earlier movies - notably Doyle's Goblet of Fire - and it's pretty listless. The final track is about as underwhelming as it's possible to get. The chiming brass finales of the earlier episodes may not be entirely appropriate, but the score just fizzles away to nothing.

This may all sounds like too much of a rail against Desplat, who is, after all, one of the finest composers around at the moment and one to give hope that film music isn't completely going down the pan, but it really isn't. Given that the director seemed happy with Nicholas Hooper's lightweight efforts (which are, I would add, actually very pleasing, just rather frothy and up against some strong antecedents), it's hardly surprising that Desplat's effort seems a little underpowered. Down the years, I would be surprised if much beyond Williams' original work will be remembered. Even now, film music concerts only include Hedwig's theme and that's hardly appeared for several movies, yet everyone still recognises it. A disappointing end to a once promising musical series.

Get on your broomstick and waggle your wand towards Amazon to acquire it.


dmc151 said...

Part two improves matters but it’s not the musical masterpiece everyone hoped for.


Stop speaking for everyone, this score is a masterpiece in my opinion.

Tom said...

A bit sweeping, I conceed. I should have said "most people hoped for". I do like Desplat a lot, but every time he tries epic fantasy (not that there are many examples), it never seems to be as good as *most* people hoped. Glad you enjoy it anyway!

NSB said...

Saying "it's not the masterpiece everyone hoped for" is not saying that "no one will consider it a masterpiece". Why would anyone hope for less than a masterpiece from something they were looking forward to? Everyone's looking for a masterpiece. Tom doesn't think it is one. That doesn't mean that nobody's allowed to think it is one.

Tom said...

OK, I promise not to make any more sweeping statements! :-P

Scorenut said...

The score underwhelms mainly because of Desplat's lack of musical vocabulary.

Much of Deplat's work can be described as follows: Waltz and pulsing ostinato. It worked nicely in Birth, in The Painted Veil and Lust Caution, but it hardly seems appropriate for more action or suspensful types of movies.

He is, alas, a two trick pony. I'm always surprised when I hear rants and raves about his music, but I guess that compared to his contemporaries he doesn't sound half bad. That is not saying much.

Perhaps if Christopher Young had been given the chance.